Learning how to use the loo is a complex skill set for a little one to grasp. He must learn what poos and wees are, how to recognise when one’s on its way, how to pull his pants down – and back up – and what the loo roll is for and how to wash his hands. And that’s without the tricky business of actually doing his business. Teach your toddler all these other skills before removing his nappy and suddenly potty-training is a whole lot simpler. You can start this countdown from the age of 18 months…
10: Change his nappy in the bathroom
It's a big ask for a toddler to leave a game that he's absorbed in and go to a boring bathroom. 'If he's used to interrupting his play and going to the bathroom to do a nappy change, it will be easier for him to accept he must stop playing to use the potty,' says Judith. It's also a good idea to make your bathroom into a place where he likes to be. 'If he's comfortable in there, it will be far easier to get him to use the loo,' says Judith. Make a mini library, put up a poster or wall stickers, or collect a tub of easily disinfected toys. It's important to make the bathroom as appealing as possible so he's not in a rush to leave.
9: Take him to the loo with you
Your child will learn best by copying the people around him. Encourage him to come with you when you go to the loo. Talk him through what you're doing. Show him how much loo roll you use and explain why you wash your hands afterwards. 'Boys need to see their dads using the loo too,' says Judith. 'If Dad's not around, ask a man you trust to be the loo model.'
8: Choose the words he'll need
There's no getting away from the fact that, over the next few months, you're going to be talking a lot about poo and wee. So you need to find words to describe loo life that you're comfortable with and will be happy to stick to. Use language you find embarrassing and you'll make your child feel uncomfortable – and this could cause problems with potty training. Instead, find words that make you feel at ease and you're happy using in public. If saying penis or vagina makes you squirm, try willy and woo-woo. 'The best words to use are simple, plain ones that everyone understands,' says Diane. 'Choose ones you're happy using and be consistent about using them. Make sure any other care-givers knows the words you're using too. Otherwise your mum might babysit and say something confusing like, 'Shall we pay a visit to the little girl's room?'. Once the words you use are consistent, your child will find it natural to use them as part of his vocabulary.'
7: Explain what poo and wee is
Toddlers can be fearful of poo and wee leaving their body. 'Modern nappies are very absorbent, so children don't ever feel wet,' says Judith. Make the learning process into a game by both drinking a glass of water and seeing how long it takes to have a wee. Or have sweetcorn and see when it appears in your poo. You'll need to explain where the wee and poo goes too – try 'Poo Land' and 'Wee Land'.
6: Talk about going to the loo
'Children need to know it's normal to use the loo,' says Judith. 'Chat about using the loo.' Try asking 'does Captain Barnacle have his own loo on the Octopod?' or 'how old do you think your cousin was when she started using the big-girl loo?'.
5: Introduce a pre-potty reward chart
'Children respond well to instant gratification,' says Diane. 'So, put a pre-potty reward chart up in the bathroom and give him a sticker for every part of the routine he does well. It'll make him learn that routine much faster!'
4: Start a bathroom routine
It's time to take pre-potty training up a notch. 'Get your little one used to every part of going to the loo, except actually using the loo,' says Judith. You're still changing her nappy, but get her to do everything else (eg washing her hands) as if she was using the potty. 'Talk the process through, from turning the light on,' advises Judith. If you're changing a nappy with poo in, tip the contents down the loo and flush. 'Repeat the routine every time and she will get used to it.'
3: Choose a potty together
Let your child choose his own potty and he'll be far more excited about potty training. 'It's a good idea to have a plan before you go to the shops,' says Diane. 'Potties are all slightly different and you want your child to find one that he likes, but that's within your budget. Do some research before you go. Identify three potties that would be good options, then let your child choose one from the three.' Some children simply don't get on with potties and prefer a child's loo seat instead (again, let your child choose his favourite). If you can afford to, buy both so your child can experiment to discover which suits him best.
2: Make Teddy a potty
Everything is more fun with a friend – and a cardboard box is fine for Ted. Get your child to install his and Ted's new potties in the bathroom. 'Get your little one used to sitting on the potty,' says Judith. 'It's fine for him to sit on it in his nappy.' And encourage him to sit on the potty while you're mid-nappy change. 'That can feel very weird,' says Judith. 'Ask him to tell Teddy what he needs to do, to distract him from feeling uncomfortable.'
1: Play get-to-the-potty-on-time
Make a game with your toddler out of getting to the loo. 'Ask him if he can get to the potty before having a wee,' says Judith. 'It will help get him used to sensing when he needs a wee, and to start trying to hold the wee in.' Your aim should be simply to get him sitting on the potty in his nappy having a wee. Encourage him to go to the bathroom to do a poo too, though he may prefer to squat rather than sit on the potty. Master this last step, with the rest of the bathroom routine in place, and you've given yourself and your little one the very best chance of stress-free potty-training.