Toilet training principles

Toilet training differs from person to person, family to family. The one constant, in people with no mental or physical impairment, is that they all eventually become toilet trained. The length of timing the process takes varies considerably as well as the starting age of trying to toilet train a toddler.

I had a relatively quick success with toilet training both my children. One was virtually trained within 3 days, the other 2 days but it was when they were ready. The first one we started training when she was 28 months old, the other we had a false start at 32 months and after a day I realised that he wasn’t ready, so left it until he was 36 months old and he was completely trained within 2 days and out of nappies during the night 1 week later.

There were some principles I applied to the process that I feel may help others who may be about to start toilet training or in the process.

  1. Get ready yourself.
  • Read up on it.
  • Buy supplies eg underwear (at least 8-12 pairs), potty, and have cleaning cloth, towel, disinfectant etc in an easy place for ease of use. My children helped pick out their underwear in the shop.
  • Be careful in asking too many people about what worked for them as everyone tends to have different ideas. Also be careful of comparing especially in Mothers Groups and Playgroups. Each child is unique and will toilet train at their own speed and the timing of being ready will differ greatly. Do not submit to peer pressure to start toilet training your child.
  • Clear the diary so that you can have at least 3-5 days based solely at home if possible. This will make it so much easier for you and your child. You will have the time to commit to it plus you will not be confusing your child by trying to get them to use the potty/toilet one minute and then putting nappies on them the next because you are going out. This only gives your child mixed messages and creates confusion.
  • Avoid trying this at times of stress eg moving house, Christmas, relatives visiting from interstate etc. Children are magnificent at picking up on any stress in their family and you want this to be as easy as possible.
  • Be as emotionally stable as you can be as it may well test your patience.
  1. Make sure your child is ready and wanting to become toilet trained. Some of the signs that they may be ready include:

Physical readiness:

  • Child can stay dry for longer periods of time, or overnight.
  • Child knows the feelings that signal he/she needs to use the bathroom.
  • Child can pull down their own pants and pull them up.
  • Child can get him or herself to the toilet.

Language and mental readiness:

  • Child can follow simple directions.
  • Child can point to wet or soiled clothes and ask to be changed.
  • Child pays attention to the physical signals even when she is doing something else (a challenge for many children, which is why accidents are so common).
  • Child knows the words for using the toilet, and can tell an adult when he/she needs to go.
  • Child has asked to wear grown-up underwear.

Emotional readiness:

  • Child shows interest in using the toilet.
  • Child shows curiosity at other people’s toilet habits.
  • Child is not afraid of the toilet.
  • Child wants to be independent.
  • Child likes imitating adults and older children.
  1. Please do not link their self-esteem with their ability to go to the toilet.
  • Be aware of how you phrase what happens. Be careful that you do not shame the child at all for ‘accidents’. Do not punish them for having an ‘accident’ and missing the potty/toilet.
  • Do not make a big deal over an accident. Be prepared for many ‘accidents’.
  • On the other hand, do not over praise for doing a bodily function.
  • Be very careful of the language you use. Don’t put pressure on them to be a ‘big’ boy/girl or ‘now you are 3 years old, you must use the potty’. Every child is unique and develops in their time.
  1. Use correct names/labels for the body parts.
  • Your children need to know the correct names for the body parts. It is not helpful to them at any stage of their life to use slang words for anatomical body parts.
  1. Some practical considerations:
  • Start when they appear ready. Try not to have too many false starts as that will create confusion.
  • Have the potty in a place that is easy for the child to access. We placed ours in the living room near the back door. It was placed on floorboards so they were easy to clean. Towels, disinfectant and wipes, along with the pile of clean underwear was placed nearby for easy access.
  • Give very simple instructions.
  • Introduce the concept and explain eg tomorrow morning you will not wear nappies during the day but will use the potty to go to the toilet.
  • On the commencement day, take their nappy off when they get out of bed and put underwear on them. Take them to the potty and explain that when they need to go to the toilet, they need to come to the potty, pull down their underwear and sit on it.
  • Get them to sit on the potty every half hour and try to go.
  • Reward them for every time there is a success of urine or poo in the potty. Keep the rewards simple but enough to enjoy.
  • If there are no successes in the first day, you need to ask if the child is really ready. I thought my child had been ready due to the interest shown but they weren’t. I agonised over what it would communicate if I stopped and waited a few months. Note to all parents – it will not scar them for life!! I waited until after their birthday and Christmas and then started again. Within 1 day they were successfully going on the potty 90% of the time.
  • Try not to be putting nappies back on them during the day for when you have to go out. This sends mixed messages and creates confusion. We kept a second potty in a plastic bag in the car boot, along with a towel, wipes and a few spare pairs of underwear for when the child needed to go to the toilet when we were away from home.
  • It can be easier commencing in the summer when it is warmer etc.
  • Nappies are designed to draw the wetness away from the child’s skin so nappies do not aid in toilet training. Keeping underwear on your child helps them to feel the wetness and doesn’t communicate mixed messages like letting your child run around naked at home whilst toilet training (unless you have a household that goes naked at home!)
  • Spend time snuggling with your child reading to them etc and making them feel loved during this time.
  1. For children with sensory issues or developmental delays, please take it slower and make adjustments.
  • There may be a fear associated with hearing the water flushing in a toilet.
  • They may need a training toilet seat inserted inside the adult toilet.
  • The seat itself may feel unusual on their bottom.
  • It’s a great idea to have a plastic step in front of the toilet so that the child can climb up to the toilet.
  1. Think laterally if there are problems.
  • One of my children was at a Kinder program and came home 2 separate days with wet undies and trousers. I felt this was strange as that child had never had any issues with accidentally wetting themselves. The Kindergarten teacher pulled me aside and gave me a talk about how stressed my child was and how it was played out in them wetting themselves etc. Once we left Kindergarten that day, I asked my child what happened. They simply explained that the toilets were kid’s toilets and were too small and we they wee’d, the wee went out over the front of the toilet and wet their clothes. After explaining that they could sit further back on the toilet seat, there were no further problems.
  • Be careful of expressing strong statements like “Phew that smells” etc as it is a normal body function to do a poo. Some children can have constipation as they may feel shame about a poo coming out of their body and the smell attached to it.

Friends of ours invented a product called “Wee Target” that is a target you can place inside an adult sized toilet for boys to aim at. It then changes colour when urine hits it. It is great at helping boys develop good aim and is available at chemists, baby product stores and from their website

Toilet training is not a reflection of you as a parent. It doesn’t matter years later at what age your child was toilet trained. Please be kind to yourself and your child by waiting until they are ready and also by not giving them mixed messages.