Potty training

17 August 2015

Today there’s a significant choice of potty styles, shapes, colours and sizes to choose for your child. In addition there are numerous books providing advice on how to potty train.

The age range for a child to be ‘ready’ to start potty training is between 2-3 years of age. For some children this may not be until they are nearer to four. Each child will be ready in their own time and what worked for one child may not necessarily work for the other, even with siblings of the same sex.

You may have heard stories about a baby that was potty trained before they could sit up on their own, but these are rare and perhaps with time have become a little embellished. 

Signs that your child may be ready include:

  • Being able to pull up/down their trousers, pull up nappies etc. This is an important skill which will enable your child to become confident at using the potty/toilet.
  • Being dry for about 2 hours or more for urination (doing a wee), and having regular predictable bowel movements (doing a poo).
  • Being able to tell you if they have done a wee or poo, or if they need to go.
  • Showing an interest in using the potty or toilet or how other people use it.

With some children, it may be a case of just trying and seeing how you get on. You can always come back to it a few weeks or months later if it doesn’t go to plan the first time. The important thing is to not make it stressful for either of you.

Top tips for potty training:

  • Be prepared - Before you start trying to get your child to sit on the potty it can be helpful to read to them books about potty training specifically written for young children. There are a number available, for girls and boys, and some are non-gender specific.
  • Involve your child - Children like to feel involved and that their opinions are important, even from a young age. Perhaps take them with you when you go to buy a potty or a toilet seat. They are more likely to want to use it if they choose it. The same goes for their underwear: make a special trip out of going to buy their first pair and help them choose.
  • Be a good role model - You may be used to having an audience of little ones watching you go to the toilet, so it can be good to use this to your advantage and talk through what you do, for example: ‘I always flush the toilet after I’ve used it’ and ‘now I’m going to wash my hands with this lovely smelly soap’.
  • No need to rush - Start potty training when your child is ready. Potty training can be quite a competitive task amongst parents, with a perceived badge of honour if you potty train your child quickly at a very young age, if they are dry through the night, or even how long it took. Don’t be rushed, go at your child’s pace, even if it means they’re not ready for the potty at the same time as their peers. 
  • Be a cheerleader - Praise and encouragement go a long way and it positively reinforces any attempt your child makes to sit on the potty to have a wee or poo. 
  • Reward good habits - Reward charts often work very well, the promise of a sticker can help achieve good results (as does enthusiastically clapping and cheering when a wee or poo lands in the potty!).
  • Be positive - Don’t be negative about the accidents. Accidents may happen at first and it’s to be expected. How you handle the accidents may have an effect on the success of potty training. Gently saying ‘never mind, it’s only an accident, let’s try to use the potty next time’ will work better than telling a child off or conveying disappointment.
  • One hurdle at a time - Bowel movements often come later. It’s common for children to get to grips with using the potty for a wee before they do a poo. Being dry through the night will take longer, concentrate on getting your child dry through the day first.
  • Dress for success - Make sure your child is wearing clothes that make it easy for them (and you) to get nappy/pants down in a hurry. Elasticated waists work well, whereas button-up trousers or dungarees can be a little more fiddly. You’ll probably find that there’s little warning between your child telling you they need to go and then actually going.
  • Consistency is essential - Make sure everyone involved in your child’s care are doing the same thing when it comes to potty training. Children can get confused if one parent is doing it differently to another, or if a potty is used at home, but a toddler toilet seat is used at nursery.
  • Plan ahead - If your child regularly has a poo after a meal, encourage your child to sit on the potty/toilet straight after they have finished their meal. Sitting quietly on the potty with a book for a little while may help.
  • Be flexible - If your child isn’t keen on using the potty, they may prefer to go straight to using a toddler toilet seat, after all, we often encourage our children to be a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ and some children may want to use the toilet just like their  sibling or parent
  • Ask for help - Don’t be afraid to seek help if you have any worries. Your health visitor will be able to offer you advice on potty training.

Where to go for advice

There are a number of good parenting websites such as:

Many have forums where you can seek advice from other parents as well as articles on how to potty train.