Toilet training your toddler can be a milestone that’s as eagerly anticipated and it is dreaded! So turn potluck into a lucky streak with our expert potty training tips that show you the best way to potty train…
When do I start potty training?
While the average age a child started potty training was between 15 and 18 months in the 1950s, today, thanks in part to the wider availability of affordable nappies and parents’ longer working hours, the average child is now 3 ½ by the time they are fully trained. “The optimum age is around 2 to 2 ½,” says potty training expert Amanda Jenner, director of the Potty Training Academy. “Children need to be able to understand verbal commands and also have bladder control i.e. not just muscle control but also the ability to recognize the signals that their bladder is full and they need to go to the toilet.”
Boys tend to be ever so slightly slower than girls and if your child has toilet-trained siblings they may be quicker.
Of course, there are also times when a new toilet training regime is a no-no. “If you’ve recently moved house, a new sibling has arrived or they’ve started nursery, hold off on the potty training for a month or two until everything has settled down. They need a nice, stable home life to get started properly,” adds Amanda.
Is my child ready for potty training?
We’ve all done it. Your friend tells you 20-month-old Oscar is “dry all day” and you go into a spin of self-doubt and criticism that your child isn’t at the same level. “Every child is an individual and every child with potty train differently so don’t beat yourself up,” says Amanda.
Look for these five signs that you child is ready to pee and poop in the potty:
- “When you see them stop in their tracks when they are playing, or go away and hide each time they do a wee or poo in their nappy,” says Amanda. “This means they are aware and acknowledging that something is happening.”
- The gap between wetting and soiling their nappy is at least an hour.
- They have the physical ability to sit on a potty and get up from it.
- They respond to, and follow simple verbal commands.
- “Some children will pull off their nappies and demand to be changed when they are wet,” says Amanda. “This is a good sign that they want to be out of those nappies!”
How long does potty training take?
With more than 500 toilet training successes under her belt, ‘toilet whisperer’ Amanda has honed her technique down to three days, but she says you have to realistic about what you can achieve. “While I might be able to sit with the child all day and help them train, most parents won’t be able to do this as they have lots of other commitments. Understand that your child is learning a new skill, and that you are learning too and this can take time,” says Amanda. “Toilet training takes from a few weeks to a month on average to master but all children are different. Boys tend to be ever so slightly slower than girls and if your child has toilet-trained siblings they may be quicker.”
Your potty shopping list
You’ve seen the signs, now it’s time to buy the tools…
- Potty: Buy a potty a couple of weeks ahead and leave it around the house so your child gets familiar with it. Take a look at our Mother & Baby potty training award winners here.
- Underwear: Amanda says: “Go to the shop and buy ‘big girl or ‘big boy’ pants together. Involving them from day one can really improve their chances of success.”
- Stickers: “Brilliant for reward charts to celebrate their little victories and also to decorate their potty and make it their own,” says Amanda. “Most children don’t want to potty train and need lots of encouragement. Give them a reason to want to do it.”
- Storybook: “A week or so before you plan to start training, buy a good story book for your child that gets them used to the concepts and the words associated with toilet training,” says Amanda.
- Soap: Get them used to the idea of washing their hands early on. “A really nice children’s hand soap can add a bit of a fun to a routine task,” adds Amanda.
- Step stool: Handy for getting to the sink and, eventually, transitioning to the big toilet.
How to potty train: the toilet training timeline
- A few weeks before: If you always change their nappy in the bedroom start transitioning to the bathroom so they start associating this with where people go to the toilet.
- A week before: It helps if your child can see you or siblings using the toilet. Explain what you’re doing and let them ask questions.
- A few days before: Start talking about the fact you will be beginning potty train and what this means. Use your child’s toys to show them what will happen. “Always stick to normal words when you are talking about going to the toilet i.e. poo and wee,” advises Amanda. “I’ve had parents who talk about ‘stars coming out’ but this only confuses the child.”
- One day before: Build up to the event and start encouraging them to try it, without pressuring.
- On the day: Make sure your child is dressed in their new pants and has loose fitting clothes that they can take on and off easily. “Have the potty in a visible place in the main room you and your child use the most, and every 20 minutes ask ‘do you need a wee’ – especially after drinks and meals,” says Amanda. “You will sound like a robot and drive yourself mad but it easy for them to get distracted when they are playing with toys or watching TV! When they do go, give them lots of praise and encouragement. Empty the contents into the toilet so they can see where it goes and, above all, make it fun: give rewards and stickers.”
- Next steps: “Stick to this routine at home for a day or maybe over a weekend, but then get out! A mistake a lot of parents make is staying in for a week and then when they go out the child doesn’t know what to do,” advises Amanda. “They need to learn from the word go what happens when you leave the house, and you must take the potty everywhere – don’t expect them to sit on a public toilet.”
What happens if they have an accident?
It’s easy to get frustrated if your child has an accident but you have to try and keep calm and upbeat (even if you don’t feel it). “You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t get upset when they stand in front of you and poo!” says Amanda. “But rather than say ‘don’t worry, it’s okay’ be firm and say ‘that’s not where the poo goes is it, that’s not right”. Pick up the poo in their pants, pop it in the potty and take it to the toilet so they can see where is should go. It’s much better to say this is right and this is wrong than ‘never mind’. Give them lots of praise and attention when they do get it right.”
The less anxious you are about the whole situation the better. “If you show you child you are worried or cross they will feel like there are doing something bad. Be consistent, patient and calm,” says Amanda. “And above all, make sure everyone who looks after your child i.e. nursery teachers, child minders, grandmas, are informed about how you are potty training them and what you expect. Communication is key.”
How do I start nighttime training?
Never start nighttime training when you child is potty training in the day. They should be fully toilet trained in the day for at least one month before you consider bedtime training, and have several nights in a row of dry nappies. “If they are still having three to four accidents a day, they’re not trained,” says Amanda. “It’s all about their bladder being capable of holding on to fluids for longer periods – and it pays to wait. Getting up at 3am is a massive upheaval for the whole family and everyone is likely to get upset, setting your toilet training back.”
Ensure you buy some nighttime kit such as a mattress protector, so if there are any accidents it’s not so difficult to clean up. Put a potty in their room at first as they may not be able to get to the loo in time, and buy a night light so they feel happy getting up in the night. “And ensure there’s no milk before bed!” adds Amanda. “Avoid drinks 30-40 minutes before bed, and this includes fruit and fruit juices. They are still young and their bladder cannot hold as much as an adult’s overnight.”
8 steps for potty training success:
- Relax: Your child might be physically and mentally ready, but you need to feel ready too!
- Remember accidents will happen: Your child is trying to reach two physical milestones when potty training - learning how to open and close their bladder, plus learning how to use it as a muscle to hold in wee. As your child practises holding on, he'll often have a big accident because he's holding on to a lot of wee. Despite seeming like a step back, this is a good thing!
- Keep giving reminders: Remember to keep asking your child if he needs a wee every 20 minutes or so.
- Be patient: It's important to teach your little girl to wipe herself from front to back after a wee, but don't expect your little one to be able to wipe their bottom - they won't have the dexterity to do that until they are around four.
- Try and see the funny side: Be prepared, you'll probably find a poo behind the sofa or under the bed at some point!
- Remember potty training is easier at home: If your child goes to nursery, you might find they have more accidents there than they do at home - this is normal. When a child feels confident at home is often different to when they feel confident out of the home. Stick to your routine and try and get support where you can.
- Give positive attention: It's common for potty-trained children to have accidents again when a baby sibling comes along as a way of getting attention. Other situations that contain a degree of stress, such as moving house or divorce can aslo cause accidents. Try and ignore them and give positive attention when your child is being hepful.
- Nighttime nappies: Remember until your little one is reliably dry in the daytime, leave the nappy on during the night.
What to read next?
Take a look at our guides on how to potty train boys and how to potty train girls and the best products to help your little one. What's more, we've rounded up the best travel potties on the market here.