How to toilet train your toddler

Tips for when and how to potty train your toddler.
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  • Updated:7 Jun 2011

01 .Toilet training 101


Toilet training is an area of raising toddlers that many parents get in a knot about. It’s a messy business that’s unlikely to be mastered overnight so you’ll need to be patient.

This article has some tips to get you started and advice on things to keep in mind while potty training a toddler.

Here’s some things to think about before you start toilet training your little one:

  • Your child won’t learn to go to the toilet if he always has a nappy on. He will make the connection between the sensation of weeing and what is physically happening much faster if he can actually see the wee prior to potty training. So, long before you're even thinking about tackling toilet training, take his nappy off and let him have a run around without it. Either take him out into the garden or be prepared for a few puddles on the floor.
  • Toilet training your child in less than a week doesn't make him - or you - smarter than all the other kids on the block. Don't follow any toilet-train-your-kid-in-three-days books because you'll only set yourself up for disappointment. Toilet training isn't a competitive sport, so be prepared for some potty related setbacks. Some kids understand potty training in a matter of days, while others take a long time.
  • Don't expect your child to gain control over these key bodily functions without there being some toilet training accidents. Don't be precious about his clothes or the floors - if you've got carpet, try to keep him outdoors or confined to non-carpeted areas.

When should I start toilet training?

Most toddlers are generally ready for toilet training somewhere between two and three although some children are early starters and show signs of readiness to start using the potty at 18 months. Day-time toilet training is usually accomplished long before night-time training, which may not happen until age five or six.

Your child is ready for toilet-training if you notice some of the following signs:

  • She begins to have dry nappies during the day - this indicates that he is starting to learn control of her bladder.
  • She tells you when she's done a wee or poo - if she starts telling you in advance that she needs to do a wee, she's well on the way to toilet training.
  • She tries to take off her nappy when it's wet or dirty, or complains about it being wet or dirty.
  • She no longer does “baby” poo, instead she produces soft but properly formed poo.
  • She is curious about what goes in the toilet.
  • She is interested when you go to the toilet - by watching you go to the toilet, she'll quickly learn what is supposed to happen there. She'll also start to learn about basic hygiene practices.
  • She is interested in completing tasks independently.
  • She understands and can follow simple instructions.
  • She can get her pants up and down independently.

Potty-training products

There’s a lot of products available to help with potty training – some are essential while others are optional.


Yep, your child will need undies! But before you go out and buy expensive ones to celebrate their new life-stage, remember that you might be throwing a few pairs away if there are accidents. It's always nice if he's excited about wearing them so you could take him to the store with you and let him choose them. Buy at least 12 pairs, the last thing you want to worry about is running out of underwear.


Potties of all varieties are on the market. You can spend a fortune or you can buy a very basic potty. The 'bottom' line is that you want a potty your child likes and wants to sit on. So if a potty that plays music or features his favourite cartoon character will motivate him with potty training, go right ahead.

A bathroom step

Many kids do go straight onto the big toilet, in which case a bathroom step or stool will be necessary in fortoilet training made easy. If you don't have one, you'll probably find it a wise buy because he'll need one to reach the sink and wash his hands, anyway.

Toilet seats

For toddlers who train on the big toilet rather than a potty, you might consider a toddler toilet seat insert which sits atop the normal toil;et seat making it smaller and less scary for little ones who can be afraid of falling in.


Kids love to read about what's going on in their lives; it makes it all seem normal - even when on the potty. Look in your local bookshop or ask friends if they can recommend any good children's toilet-training books. You might be asked to read it about a million times, so be prepared!


There are all sorts of videos available to help your child make the transition from nappies to the potty or toilet. But beware, most include chirpy and catchy songs about sitting on the potty, wiping and hand-washing which you could be hearing over and over again.

Toilet training reward systems

There are many toilet training kits on the market now. Many contain reward systems such as wall charts and stickers for each successful toilet/potty trip. Others include gimmicks such as targets for boys to aim at and “toilet biscuits”. Some parents swear by certain reward systems but remember you don’t have to spend a fortune - you can draw up a simple wall chart and buy some stickers for a cheaper DIY option.

Waterproof bed sheets

As well as traditional mattress protectors you can now purchase special sheets designed specifically for toilet training toddlers. These waterproof sheets are very effective at keeping sheets and mattresses dry and can make night-time accidents a lot easier to clean up. They usually fit over the top over the bottom mattress and can simply be pulled off without the need to remake the bed.

Pull-ups and pyjama pants

There is a lot of debate around the idea of pull-ups. Some people argue they are just an expensive nappy that doesn’t aid with toilet training because the child doesn’t feel wet just like with a regular disposable. Other people swear by them as a way to avoid accidents when out and about with a toilet training toddler.

Getting started toilet training

The best time to start is when the weather is a bit warmer and your toddler is lightly dressed. So as spring or summer approaches have your plan ready.

  • Pick a day to start and commit to it. Try to choose a time when you can spend a couple of days at home.
  • Begin by withdrawing nappies while he's awake and while you're at home - it's fairly unrealistic in the early days to take him out in the car, shopping or visiting friends without a nappy on. Once you're both more confident, start taking him on short trips away from home without his nappy, but take spare clothes for the inevitable accident.
  • Make sure that she can quickly and easily get her clothes on and off. Avoid overalls as they will slow her down - and when she needs to go to the toilet, she'll need to get there quickly! You may prefer to let her run around in her underpants only.
  • Encourage him to sit on the potty (or toilet) regularly. By this age, many children are doing regular poos so you may like to take advantage of this and sit him on the potty then. If, however, he resists and insists that he doesn't need to go to the toilet, don't force him.
  • The old trick of running water really does work, so if she's hopping on and off the potty unsure whether she wants to go, try slightly turning on a tap so you can hear a gentle trickling and encourage her to sit for a couple more minutes.
  • Make sure he's drinking plenty of water and eating fibre-rich food, both of which will make the “going” easy and regular.
  • Be attentive - once you've tuned into her, you may start to see the signs that your child needs to go to the toilet before she does.
  • Be lavish in your praise when he gets it right - he'll be excited and you should be too!
  • Never get cross. If she's wetting his pants more often than she's getting to the potty, don't be negative. Instead she needs encouragement and you may have to re-think your toilet-training strategies.
  • Ask him if he needs to go to the toilet throughout the day - but don't bug him with it as he may just start tuning you out. Suggesting that he go to the toilet before you leave the house, before and straight after his nap are logical times to ask, too.
  • If she's still sitting on the toilet after five minutes, chances are that there's nothing's happening so get her off!
  • You may find that if he's frightened of doing a poo in the potty or toilet (and many children are), he may wait until you've put a nappy on him at bedtime to do his poo. While this is OK in the short-term, once he's really bladder toilet-trained you may like to try having story-time in the bathroom while he sits on the toilet before bed.
  • Leave teaching her how to wipe her bottom until she's fully toilet-trained - under the age of 3 years, she'll only do a bad job (if she does it at all!)
  • Show him how to wash his hands properly.
  • The bathroom can get pretty stinky with all the little misses, so keep a bottle of disinfectant handy and give the toilet and the surrounding floor a quick clean each day.
  • Remember, the key is to not push your child. Relax and let nature take its course - for some, toilet-training can take weeks or even months. Always be encouraging and just quietly persist.

Sourced with permission from


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Toilet training setbacks and accidents

Night-time toilet training

There are a few children who throw away the nappies completely when they begin toilet training, but for most they will continue to wear nappies at night for at least a year after they have moved to underpants during the day to get used to night-time toilet training. Some children still wet the bed at six or seven, and beyond.

If you're one of the lucky few who has a child who is waking each morning with a dry nappy, try a couple of nights without putting a nappy on him and see what happens. For the rest of us, we'll need to wait another year or two until our child begins to have the odd dry nappy overnight.


Some parents find that after months of successful toileting and at the exact moment they are congratulating themselves on a job well done, their child begins to have the occasional accident.

This is often because as you relax your focus on toilet-training, so too does your child. Without the constant reminders to monitor his bladder and bowels, he will get distracted by much more interesting things and suddenly realise that he has to go to the toilet NOW, when it's all too late.

Try not to be too concerned about this - all your hard work is not being undone! With a few gentle reminders, you child will be back on the right path and ultimately he has to learn to listen to his own body - even when he's deeply involved in an exciting game - instead of relying on you to monitor his body.

Avoiding accidents:
  • If your child tells you he has to go to the toilet, act quickly! In the beginning, he won't be able to hold on for long.
  • If he's busy in play, you may need to physically remove him from the game before you can get his attention and ask him if he needs to go to the toilet.
  • If your child doesn't seem bothered about having wet pants, try regularly taking him to the toilet rather than asking him if he needs to go - he may just say no regardless of how full his bladder is.
  • Ask him to go to the toilet before you leave the house. If you make a point of going to the toilet yourself before a trip, he'll see that it's just part of a routine.
  • When you are away from the house, make sure you know where the closest toilet is at all times (even if it is just a big tree in the park). You don't want to get stuck trying to find a toilet when your child has 30 seconds before he'll wet his pants.
  • Remember that every child will have accidents and they are really just part of the whole toilet-training experience. While they can be momentarily embarrassing when you're in public, as long as you're prepared with a change of clothes, there's no damage done and they can be dealt with quickly and without fuss.

Refusing to poo in the potty

So, your child is using the potty like a champ and proudly wearing her underwear. There's only one problem: she refuses to have a poo on the potty or the toilet, so she holds it in and gets painfully constipated. This can often mean you find yourself involved in an epic power struggle, and you're worried she's in pain. Why won't she just relax and go on the potty? What can you do to help her?

Getting comfortable

First of all, remember that this is a really common toilet training situation and although it seems insurmountable, it is totally normal, and just a potty training accident.

Your child's reluctance may result from initial constipation, or the constipation may be a result of the reluctance. It can be difficult to tell what's causing what. (Some small children withhold from having a poo for so long that they become impacted, which can cause involuntary leaking of feacal liquid; parents may misread this as diarrhoea or a child with anal incontinence, when really what's happening is extreme constipation.)

Whether it's a cause or an effect, constipation is something you can directly address. Try increasing the amount of fluid or fibre in your child's diet. Talk to your GP about the situation; there may be a stool softener they can recommend. The first step is making sure having a poo is not painful - that might be an easy way to solve her problem.

But it may also take a little more work on your part. Here a few other things to try:

  • Back off and offer her a nappy or a pull-up nappy when she needs a poo. Then, when she's finished, empty the poo into the potty or toilet and gently remind her that poo goes in the potty. 
  • If she does want a nappy, encourage her to do her poo in the bathroom. At first, let her choose whereabouts in the bathroom. Then gradually encourage her to sit on the potty, even if she's still using a nappy, she's still associating the potty with a poo. From there, you might be able to undo the nappy as she poos and then eventually remove it. Some parents have even cut a hole out of the bottom of the nappy, so the poo goes in the potty, even though she still has the sensation of wearing it.
  • Don't lose your cool when she asks for a nappy instead. Remember: she's not doing this to make your life miserable. And she will get it eventually.
  • Take a break from potty training and let her go back to her nappy or pull-up for a while. Not all kids are toilet trained at the same time, and yours may just need a bit longer.

Top tips for toilet training

  • For boys, nothing beats pointing them at a tree when they start to do a wee. They love nothing better than to “water” the plants.
  • Girls are generally more pernickety about making messes so they're often more motivated to use the toilet properly. Try dressing her in a skirt or dress while she's learning - that way she can easily manage her own clothes as well.
  • Move to using proper underpants as soon as you can - a large part of successful toilet-training is learning to manage getting pants down and back up and knowing how they feel. Wet undies are also very uncomfortable which makes for a great motivator!
  • Most children learn to control their bladder before their bowels. Don't be concerned if he seems unwilling to do a poo in the toilet - lots of children find this idea scary. When you know he has to do a poo, try to sit him there for a couple of minutes and encourage him but if there's no progress, just put a nappy on him.
  • Many children become temporarily constipated whilst toilet training because they hold onto their poo until they get a nappy on at night. Make sure he's getting enough fibre in his diet so that he won't be too uncomfortable.
  • At a certain point, you will have to begin leaving the house with your child dressed in underpants. Take plenty of spare pairs wherever you go - along with back-up sets of clothes and a towel - and don't try anything too ambitious on your first outings. Go to the park or the beach, or go for a bike ride. Avoid going to the supermarket or taking a bus ride!
  • Keep a potty in the car for emergencies. You may never need to use it but you'll always be glad it's there.

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