Although there’s no book that makes it foolproof, arming yourself with some great advice and expert tips can help make the potty training process a little easier for everyone.
When’s the right time to toilet train?
Most mums long for the day when they can ditch the diapers – until they begin potty training and realize how easy life is when your toddler’s still in nappies! But deciding when to start can cause some parents more of a headache than actually doing it.
So how do you know when your child’s ready?
Sharron Gibson, Helpline Coordinator for ERIC, The Children’s Bowel & Bladder Charity, says ‘there’s no right age for potty training’.
‘Generally, children are ready to potty train between 18 months and 3 years but they need to show signs of physical readiness and staying dry first,’ she says.
The NCT advises starting to think about toilet training when your child is around 18 – 24 months-old, but stipulates that ‘every child develops at a different pace.’
6 signs your child could be ready for toilet training
Rather than focusing on age, The NCT says that looking out for the following signs can help you know that your child’s ready for potty training:
- She stays dry for a couple of hours each day.
- She takes an interest when you, your partner or older siblings go to the toilet.
- She has bowel movements at regular times of the day, say, after breakfast.
- You can tell when a bowel movement is taking place, by her squatting or making a grunting sound, for example.
- She lets you know she wants to be changed when his nappy is wet or dirty.
- She knows she needs to pee and says so in advance. At this stage, most children are able to tell you when they are about to ‘go’ – although it’s quite common for toddlers to be nearer three before they’re both clean and dry.
Top tips for starting potty training
The NCT offers some great general tips for starting potty training. Here’s what it suggests:
- Start using words related to the toilet around your toddler, such as pee or wee, poo or poop – whatever you say in your home. Whenever they do a pee or poo in their nappy try to encourage their understanding of what happened and why.
There is a vast array of equipment available to help with potty training, but a lot isn’t necessary. Before buying your potty it may be worth considering the following factors:
- Will it be stable and large enough for your toddler to sit on by themselves?
- Would you prefer a simple plastic potty with no extra parts? Although more cumbersome when emptying contents into the toilet, they are light and portable, making them easier to take out and about with you.
Would you prefer a potty with removable inserts?
- If your toddler is a boy, who has been training for some time, then you can buy a ‘potty for boys’ that will hang on the side of the toilet, allowing him to pee standing up.
- Get yourself whatever you feel you need – be that a potty, a special toilet seat plus a child’s step to allow him to reach the toilet easily and pants or pull-ups.
There are lots of different ways to potty train your toddler but Sharron offers these top tips for when you’re ready to start:
- Buy big boy/girl pants – once you’ve decide to go for it, it’s best to ditch the nappies all together and buy plenty of spare pants or try using washable training pants.
- Reward them – think about the reward system you are going to use to keep them motivated. Use stickers or put together a lucky dip bag of small, inexpensive treats.
- Think about the whole process – praise them and reward them for all the steps of toilet training, not just doing wees and poos. For instance, this is a good time to get them into good hand washing habits, too.
- Blow bubbles – any blowing toy will help push the poo out without straining and discourages children from withholding.
- The key is having a good toileting routine in place and being consistent.
Potty training problems solved …
Help, my preschool says she has to be potty trained before she starts
According to ERIC, by law, pre-schools and nurseries can’t insist that a child is out of nappies when they are with them.
‘We hear from lots of families who are struggling with knowing when the “right” time to train their child is and they often mention pressure from outside the home. This can all add stress to what is a major milestone in your child’s life,’ says Sharron.
We’re having a baby – should we start potty training before or after?
Sharron says that as well as making sure it’s the right time for your little one to start toilet training, it’s important that it’s the right time for parents too.
‘Parents know their child best so just because a family member or nursery are putting on the pressure to train, doesn’t mean it’s the right time to start.
‘It needs to fit in with family life – if there have been other big changes recently such as a house move or new arrival then it’s best to wait a while,’ she says.
We’re starting potty training – when’s it safe to venture out?
Experts often advise keeping a weekend (or bank holiday weekend for an extra day) free so that you can stay in the house and give potty training your full, undivided attention. If your other half is off work and around at weekends, it makes sense as you’ll have an extra pair of hands.
‘Starting in the summer is often helpful as you can let them play out in the garden and you won’t feel too housebound,’ says Sharron.
Although it’s best to wait until things are going well with potty training at home before you go out and about, that isn’t always possible. So when you do first head out, keep your first trips short, plan where you’re going and find out where your nearest toilet is.
‘Remember to take everything you need like the potty, wipes and changes of clothes,’ she says.
Should I do anything different for potty training a boy or a girl?
Although it’s the same premise, there are some obvious differences when potty training the different sexes.
Sharron says it’s a good idea to make sure little boys sit to wee.
‘If they always stand they never learn that sitting down feeling when they need to poo,’ she says.
What about alternative potty training methods?
There are various books and guides to toilet training available. Some methods that stand out are these:
Baby-led pottying – also known as elimination communication (EC) or nappy-free potty training – is based on the idea that after years of evolution, every child is ‘born ready’ to go without a nappy.
Advocates of the method such as Jenn, founder of the Born Ready website and national baby-led pottying workshops, claim that potty training from birth is just a case of honing a baby’s natural instinct.
The Born Ready website explains: “We evolved to manage without nappies and people everywhere did just that (or at least strived to minimize washing) until very very recently. […]
‘Babies (in common with many animals and birds) have a strong instinct not to ‘soil the nest’ or themselves. Most parents experience a newborn ‘waiting’ for a nappy change and then weeing all over everywhere. Baby pottying is all about honing that instinct rather than training it out of them.’
Baby-led pottying advocates say that going nappy-free is as easy as 1, 2, 3 … but other experts argue that baby-led pottying could cause long-term problems such as holding it in when they need the toilet, and that waiting till a more traditional potty-training age is a safer option.
One day potty training
Some books aim to get your child toilet trained in a day. Aiming to do it in any time frame puts unnecessary pressure on parents and children so keep this in mind if you opt for a speedy approach to potty training.
Straight to toilet training
Some parents find that skipping a potty altogether is an easier way to tackle toilet training. To do this, you’ll probably want to invest in a stool and child-friendly toilet seat.
There is also the no-nappies-at-all option, which the NCT describes as observing your baby very closely and learning to recognize the subtle signs he makes when he needs to empty his bladder or bowels, then holding him over a potty or toilet.
This is common practice in much of Asia and Africa, where the culture and open drain sanitation systems make it an appropriate option, but it can be more difficult to manage here.