To switch successfully from nappies to pants, your child needs to learn a heap of skills.
You can help your child learn 90 per cent of the skills he needs to stay dry while he’s still got his nappy on, through fun games.
If you build positive associations with the potty before you even start, by having lots of fun and giving him loads of your attention, your toddler will start the potty-training process wanting to take his nappy off.
Play these games with your little one before starting potty training:
Make a drink for you both – it helps if it’s cold. Explain that when he drinks, the liquid goes down a tube into his stomach. If the drink is cold, he’ll be able to feel this.
Then explain that any liquid his body doesn’t need comes out of his willy, and this journey through his body can take a little while.
Finish your drinks and challenge him to a race. Whose drink will come out first? Keep asking, ‘Is your drink ready to come out?’
At this stage, it doesn’t matter if he just wants to win the game, and says it has after two minutes – you’re helping him be aware of his body and how it feels when a wee is coming.
When he does wee (you’ll soon recognise the blank expression on his face when it happens), help him to identify the feeling by saying, ‘Is that your drink coming out? Are you having a wee?’
Once you’ve played this game a few times, he’ll soon start to identify the feeling for himself and tell you. Keep playing, and he’ll start to identify the feeling of needing a wee too.
Has your child ever had a good look at his poo? Seeing that brown thing in his potty can come as a shock.
When you’re eating, explain that the food goes down into his stomach, where his body takes out the useful bits it needs. Then all the bits it doesn’t need come out of his bottom as poo.
Because a toddler doesn’t chew his food as well as an older child or adult, undigested food often passes through his body unscathed. This is especially true of hard-to-digest foods, such as sweetcorn, raisins and blueberries.
Eat some sweetcorn (or whatever your child likes) together and suggest that you see how long it takes for the food to come out as poo.
Help your child tune into his body signals by asking him later, ‘Where do you think the sweetcorn is now? Is it ready to be a poo?’
Talk about how your body feels when you need a poo. At first, he’ll identify the feeling of having a poo. If you keep playing the game, he’ll soon identify the feeling of needing a poo.
When you change his nappy, show him his poo once you’ve cleaned him up. Is this the sweetcorn poo?
Answer whatever questions he has as truthfully as you can. You can also teach him some basic hygiene rules concerning poo, such as not touching it. Show him where the poo goes next too by tipping it down the loo and encouraging him to say, ‘Bye-bye, poo.’
Once your child has worked out what it feels like to need a wee or a poo, this game teaches him the skill of getting to the loo in time.
So, if you’re not already sorting nappies out in the bathroom, move your changing station there. Let him know that you’ll all be weeing and pooing in the bathroom from now on – but still with his nappy on.
This game also gets him used to the idea of interrupting his play to go to the loo, which is a major stumbling block for a lot of children during potty-training.
You’ll need to set the challenge. So, whenever you need a wee, tell him, ‘I need a wee! We have to run to the bathroom!’
And make it fun! If he enjoys the game, then he’ll want you to run to the bathroom when he needs a wee too.
Giggle and let him win. When you get there, let him wee or poo in his nappy as usual – don’t put pressure on him by even mentioning the potty. Keep playing the game and having a wee or poo in the bathroom will be normal.
Sing the potty song
Toddlers can find being on a potty uncomfortable. After sitting on the soft cushion of a nappy, a potty feels hard and cold. This game gets them used to being on the potty and makes it fun.
Build a ‘potty song’ into your bedtime routine, at a time when he is naturally without a nappy. So, encourage him to sit on the potty while you both sing, and do the actions to, ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’.
Start with just the first verse, but gradually get him sitting on the potty for longer by adding another verse, and so on. A good time to play is when you’re running the bath, as the noise of the water may encourage him to wee. If he does, praise him!
Leave a bottle of bubble mixture in the bathroom and hand the wand to your child the next time he’s sitting on the potty, whether he’s got his nappy on or not.
Blowing out through pursed lips will make him push down the muscles in his abdomen, which will give him a similar feeling to when he’s doing a poo.
It’s a handy game to establish before you start potty-training, as toddlers who are anxious during the process tend to hold their poos in. And this little trick will help him to relax his muscles and let go of that number two.
Make a family chart
On a big piece of paper, make a chart with every family member’s name on it, even the dog’s! When someone goes to the loo, get your toddler to put a sticker on the chart.
It’s a great way for him to see that everyone needs to wee and poo. And it won’t be long before he wants his name on the chart too. Explain that will happen when he's wearing pants like everybody else.
Go on a loo hunt
Wherever you go, make a point of visiting the loo with your toddler. Find something you like about each one and tell your child, ‘I really like this loo-seat’ or ‘I really like this clever flush button’. Then ask him what he likes best.
It’s a simple way to reassure him that there will be a loo everywhere he goes, and to get him comfortable with all sorts of toilets.
Pulling pants up and down can be tricky, but you can make practising it fun.
First of all, you’ll need some pants – ideally a couple of sizes too big, so they’re easy to get on and off. Lay a few pairs around the living room, then ask your child to put on a pair over his nappy – don’t worry if he can’t pull them all the way up. Play some music and tell him every time it stops, he has to put on a pair of pants on top of the ones he already has on. At the end of the game, count how many he managed as you help him take them off, one by one.
Place a clean bucket in the centre of the living room, and fetch a stack of nappies. Challenge your child to a game of ‘nappy toss’ to see how many you can each throw into the bucket. Casually mention that you’ll soon be throwing his nappies away for real, as he won’t need them once he’s wearing pants.