Potty Training

Home / Parents / Tips and Tricks / Potty Training

Shouldn’t they be dry yet?

Learning to use the potty or toilet is part of growing up and like many other skills children learn at different rates, in different ways at different times. It is an important step towards independence but in the beginning it is usually the adults around the child who are eager to get started. From the child’s point of view, everything is just fine the way it is!

Children are usually ready to start learning to use a potty or toilet somewhere between 24 and 36 months old but many children may be older before they are ready. The important thing to consider is not the child’s age but the signs that they are beginning to understand what is going on and what is expected of them.

So when should we start?

It is a good idea to wait until the answer to most of the following questions is ‘yes’:

  • Is the child interested in going into the toilet with adults to out find out what goes on in there?
  • Is the child showing awareness of being wet or dirty, perhaps pulling at a wet nappy or showing discomfort when walking in a soiled nappy?
  • Does the child show a consistent response to the words used at home for urinating and bowel movements?
  • Can the child stay dry for at least 2 hours?
  • Does the child have regular bowel movements?
  • Can the child understand and follow simple instructions?
  • Does the child show some anticipation even if it’s only a few seconds before something happens?
  • Can the child help to pull pants up and down?
  • Is the child settled and happy (and not in the process of adjusting to a change like starting nursery or coming to terms with a change in the family)?
  • Does the child show a wish for independence?

If the child is not ready or becomes distressed when you leave their nappy off there is little point in trying to teach them to use the potty or toilet. Wait a month or so and then go through the list of questions again.

In the meantime…

Children have to learn what the potty or toilet is for so do talk about this. Talk about ‘wee’ and ‘poo’ in a positive way, particularly while changing the child’s nappy. As the child becomes ready to use the potty or toilet, let them watch while you empty the contents of the nappy down the toilet.

It is often a good idea to let the child play with a favourite doll or teddy to show what is involved in using the potty or toilet. If the child likes story books, there are some excellent early books that talk about children learning to use the potty.

Before you start teaching the child to use the potty or toilet, make sure that you have the time and energy to devote to this. Similarly, the time has to be right for the child. Just after starting at a setting when the child may be anxious, may not be a good time.

When you begin teaching the child make sure that he or she feels comfortable and secure when sitting on the toilet or potty. There are lots of toilet seats and styles of potty around so make sure that you use one which suits the child. If you are using the toilet you might want to think about getting a step so that the child is able to keep his feet on a solid surface whilst sitting.

It often helps to start teaching a child to use the toilet in warmer weather. You will find it easier to cope with the accidents and the child is likely to be wearing fewer clothes, so that it is easier to realise what is happening!

It is also a good idea to make sure the child is wearing clothes that are easy to take off. You may not get much notice!

Getting started

You need to decide how often you are going to sit the child on the potty and then keep to regular routine. The more times you try, the more likely you are catch the child when they need to wee and so the more chance you will have to reward. However if a child is expected to visit the toilet too often they may become bored or frustrated with the process.

Never force the child to sit on the potty or toilet and do not expect them to sit for longer than two minutes each time.

Make the potty or toilet area exciting by putting up pictures or keeping some favourite toys nearby. You may find it helps to link sitting on the potty to a regular event, for example, a few minutes after a meal or snack. Make sure the child always knows where the potty is in case they want to use it.

All children need to be encouraged and praised for their efforts. Many children will find a reward very motivating. Give the agreed reward as soon as you can after the event and remember to reward every time and for every effort, however small. Be clear about what you are rewarding for.

Be prepared

Do not expect immediate success. Learning to use the potty or toilet could take some time. Be prepared for ‘accidents’ and try to be relaxed about it. It will not help you or the child if you are tense and anxious. Remember ‘accidents’ are more likely to happen if the child is unwell, on medication, anxious, sleepy or absorbed in something else. All children go through this stage and it will pass.

Working together

It’s likely that parents and carers will play the most active role in teaching the child to use the potty or toilet. It is important that you liaise with each other, so it is consistent across both home and nursery. Using consistent language is important so that the child is not confused by different words or instructions. If the family are using a sign or gesture to help the child understand what is happening, make sure that everyone at nursery uses this too.