Understanding how to potty train your toddler is a big event. It’s a stepping stone between infancy and the move towards childhood for your toddler.
But before you start spending that nappy money elsewhere, you first have to navigate the challenge that is potty training.
We have created an ultimate guide for you to help you navigate your way through potty training…without losing your mind!
Our ultimate guide on how to potty train your toddler
Remember that every child is an individual. You may have a friend whose child is out of nappies earlier than yours but don’t panic. As is the case with all developmental milestones, your child will get there in the end. Never try to rush your child out of nappies. Putting extra stress on your little person can have an adverse effect.
What age should you start considering potty training?
Most toddlers enter their potty training between 16 months and 2.5 years. When a toddler enters their third year (between 2-3) their bladder capacity increases. This means they can hold their wee for longer.
You may also notice your toddler recognising the feeling of wanting to wee, or poo, at this age.
Sometimes parents try to rush their children out of nappies. This can end up causing both parents and toddlers lots of unnecessary stress.
Don’t feel pressured into forcing through potty training because your child might be going to pre-school or a childminder. Both resources are more than capable of potty training your toddler and they have seen it all before. Speak to your childcarer as they may have invaluable advice as to how to support your little one to potty train.
Potty training is a sensitive and touchy subject for many parents. It is not uncommon to hear stories of family and friends falling out with each over how best to potty train their children.
If you feel yourself stressing out over potty training, take a breather. Remember, there are lots of studies that show if parents start potty training too soon it can actually prove to be counter-productive and be met with resistance.
We need to remind ourselves that the age of our toddler has absolutely nothing to do with their intelligence or our parenting skills.
Potty training: Lay the right foundations
Potty training can be a slow repetitive process. We can make it a lot easier by laying the right foundations and breed the right behaviours from the start.
When your toddler is around 16 months old, you can start displaying behaviours that let your toddler observe what it is that you want them to do. This will let your child see exactly what ‘going to the loo’ means.
Do as I do…
Toddlers learn by watching and copying. When you or your partner use the toilet, make sure your toddler is with you. As you are using the toilet talk to your toddler about what it is you are doing. Make the experience appear exciting and reinforce that it is for ‘big boys/girls’.
Explain the toilet process
Tell your little person what happens when the wee and poo goes into the toilet. Flushing, closing the seat, washing your hands should all be reinforced over and over again.
It is best to leave the Potty where it is visible at all times. Have some dotted around the house and definitely have one in your main toilet at home. Talk to your child about what the potty is for and allow them to play with it (when it is clean obviously!).
Introduce potty training into your evening routine
Some parents like to read a bedtime story to their little one right before they go to sleep.
There are lots of great books about potty training, which help socialise the potty and its use to your toddler. This type of visual reinforcement is brilliant. You should also make sure your child is taken to their potty in the bathroom just before bed to encourage them to take a wee before going to sleep.
Everyone knows multicoloured fluffy Giraffes use potty’s too…
Try to incorporate fantasy into the potty training. Try asking your toddler if their favourite toy would like to come to the potty to take a wee. This is a great way of getting your toddler to make a game out of using the potty.
Recognising the signs that your toddler is ready for potty training
After working hard with your child to lay the foundations for potty training, it’s now time to recognise if they are ready to take the leap or not.
Here are some signs to watch out for that might suggest your child is ready to take the next step:
- Your toddler can recognise a wet nappy and asks you to remove it
- You notice their nappy is drier for longer
- You are noticing that your baby is taking themselves away to poo (this is a big sign)
- Pooing and weeing seem to now have patterns (i.e. pooing at the same time every day)
- ‘I’m a big girl now, Mummy!’ – your baby is telling you they want to sit on the potty!
- They love helping you go to the toilet and want to flush the chain and be involved
- They ask to sit on the potty even if they are not using it yet
You need to put aside a set amount of time to start the training
If there are signs that your toddler is ready to start potty training pick an amount of time (a few days) for you and your partner to dedicate support for your toddler’s transition from nappy to potty.
Do not follow our how to potty train your toddler guide if…
- You have a lot of outside life events taking place that tend to disrupt your day
- You are about to start pre-school or childminder support imminently
- There is anything on the horizon that is likely to impact on your baby’s normal routine (for instance, the imminent arrival of a sibling).
- The weather has just hit the coldest part of the year. It is no fun for you or your child to potty train when you have to remove four layers of clothing off six times a day (including accidents).
The stars have aligned
Ok, so you have successfully started the socialisation. Your toddler is displaying all the right behaviours. The weather is fine and you have a few weeks of a stable calendar. So, what now?
Choose a method to potty train your toddler and stick to it
We have outlined two popular approaches to potty training. A full inclusive method and more relax chilled approach. Both methods are tried and tested.
They both work (in the end) but you need to decide which one best fits your personality, lifestyle and your childs needs.
Method 1: The full inclusive method
Some parents want to get this over with as quickly as possible.
The Inclusive Method works best with a slightly older toddler who has shown strong signs that they are ready to embrace the potty-training process.
If you are not a parent that likes to be stuck indoors for a long period of time then you will probably want to avoid this method. You need to make sure you can commit to an inclusive programme and that your diary can handle an intensive approach.
What does the inclusive potty training method involve?
The inclusive potty-training method involves staying at home and removing the nappies completely.
Put your toddler in underwear and throughout the day, frequently at first, introduce them to the potty. You need to continually reinforce the need to use it to do a wee. Keep reminding them it’s time to sit on the potty to try and do a wee.
There will be accidents, but you should start to become very adept at predicting and preventing these ‘spillages. You need to continue with this method on a daily basis until it all sinks in.
This method of potty training makes it challenging to leave the house. Make sure your partner is on hand to provide the support you need to get the job done. Ideally, try to do it when you have a few days where you will not need to be out.
How long will the inclusive potty-training method take?
We are joking of course! Your child will start picking things up within a few days. You’ll notice that they will start asking for the potty quite quickly.
Remember not to become angry when your bundle of joy nonchalantly trots into another room leaving a gigantic wee puddle on your beautiful floor.
Accidents will happen. It’s part of the process. Hang in there and make sure you have lots of tissue, wipes and disinfectant at hand.
Oh, and have lots of spare underwear on hand too!
What are the benefits of the inclusive potty-training method?
- Consistent messages about where and how to wee and poo and toddlers love the consistency
- It is the quickest method for you and your child
Are there any negatives?
- Cabin fever (stuck at home)
- There will be accidents!
- You need to be prepared for a relapse! This is absolutely normal in toddlers who have learnt something new through intensive repetition
Method 2: The chilled parent method
The chilled parent method to potty training adopts a much more leisurely approach than the full inclusive. It allows potty training to be conducted around your normal routine.
What type of parent is best suited to the chilled potty training method?
If you are a parent who likes being out and about and involved in all sorts of toddler activities and groups then a relaxed method may suit you better. This type of potty training will fit well around your current schedule.
Some parents are totally laid back about potty training and happy to simply ‘go with the flow’.
What does it involve?
When you are in the house follow the same rules as the inclusive approach to potty training. Remove the nappy, give them underwear and offer the potty regularly.
The key difference with the chilled approach is when you are out and about and in transit with your toddler. You need to take a portable potty with you and make sure you are committed to changing your toddler from their nappy into underwear once you are fixed in a location for at least a few hours.
What are the advantages of this method?
- Very little stress and certainly less mess!
- You and your toddler can carry on with your normal routine
What are the disadvantages of the chilled parent method?
- You have to be committed (chilled) to changing your toddler from a nappy to underwear and back a number of times throughout the day
- You need to take a portable potty with you everywhere you go (ideally)
- It will likely take a lot longer than the intensive method.
How long will the chilled method take?
There is no way of predicting how long potty training will take if you choose a relaxed approach to the change.
Your child might find it incredibly easy to swap between nappies and the potty, but there is a danger that the dual approach will simply extend the learning process and add a bit of confusion.
Potty training: Breaking through with that first success
When your toddler does their first wee or poo in the potty, it is an exciting moment. Celebrate as if they have just won a gold medal in the Olympics. Remember to reinforce this excitement. Encourage everyone in the house to come to the bathroom to celebrate! Make a huge fuss out of your toddler.
Praise will reinforce the good potty behaviour so make sure you spoil them with love, kisses and lots of hugs.
Should I give rewards for good potty behaviour?
There is lots of advice available online suggesting reward ideas for good potty-training behaviour.
Rewards can work well to help your child learn that certain behaviour brings certain treats. But you should be very careful about how you approach rewards for actions.
Try to focus potty rewards on your child creative energy, like offering crayons and colouring books upon the first few times your child successfully uses the potty. Be very careful rewarding your child with a treat because your child may only want to use the potty if they are given a treat upfront.
Treats for poos is a behaviour that is very difficult to remove once it exists!
Potty Training: When puddles and wet clothes appear
When your toddler doesn’t make it to the potty in time it’s essential to react calmly and give plenty of reassurance. If your toddler feels pressurised to use a potty then they will likely become stressed and agitated.
If there’s an accident, make sure they are aware of what they have done but never scold or reprimand them for their mistake. Just let them know that this was a mistake, reassure them, clean up the mess and start again.
You will need lots of patience, persistence and positive corrections but behaviours will change and sooner than you think. Before you know it they will get the hang of using the potty and be very proud that they did.
Potty training when you are out and about
Once you find that your toddler is making some solid progress now is the time to take your toddler into the big wide world.
Be mindful of preparing to travel. If you are travelling by car make sure you try to have your toddler take a wee stop before you set off on the journey at home. Don’t forget to pack a portable potty and always pack at least two change of clothes.
Potty training regression
Lots of children do very well potty training, only to seemingly lose all memory of everything they have learnt. If this happens to your toddler, relax, it is very common and forms part of the potty-training process. This is actually a big part of how children actually learn new skills.
Very often potty-trained toddlers need to be re-reminded of all the good work they put into telling mummy and daddy that they need to use the potty. If this happens to you, we recommend you hold firm on putting them back in nappies apart from one scenario…..which you can read about below.
I am not pooing in that!
Ok, some children simply won’t poo in the potty. Theses toddler tend to become agitated and, in some cases, very anxious when asked to poo in the potty.
Taking a wee in the potty tends to be a simple ask for most toddlers. But for others, there can sometimes be a fear of taking a poo.
This fear is often related to having to push a poo out, whereas a wee seems to come out all by itself.
Toddlers can find pooing scary. Does your child have a favourite place to hide away to do a poo? In these cases, your potty-trained child may ask for a nappy. This is perfectly normal behaviour.
If your child asks for a nappy to poo we recommend that you try to put them on the potty and encourage them to poo, but then put them into a nappy if that technique fails to have the desired effect.
Read on to find out how we can overcome a toddler that won’t poo in a potty.
I’ve never done this before!
Many children have a fear of new things and the unknown.
Does your child run headfirst into new environments and tasks, or slowly feels out new things? Have a think about your child’s personality and adapt your methods accordingly.
With cautious children, you could try asking them to sit on the potty in their nappy and encourage them to take a poo on their new environment.
This technique often works well. Once you have this behaviour in place you can then cut a hole in the nappy under their bottom, so when they poo it falls into the potty!
This will allow them to become comfortable with the feeling, the noise and of course…. the smell!
My poo is my poo!
Lots of children hate the feeling of their poo dropping away from their body. Some toddlers can become agitated seeing their poo flush down the toilet.
To a child a poo being flushed away can seem like a bit of them is being lost. Remember to reinforce the notion that poo is dirty, and needs to be cleaned. Keep reinforcing this behaviour.
Let’s talk about poo.
It is never too early to start talking to your toddler about poo. Tell them where it comes from and why we need to flush it away down the toilet.
The sooner your toddler starts to process everything, the easier potty training becomes. You will find that your toddler links poo with being clean and this will help them to actively seek you out when they need to poo.
Involve them in the flushing process
Try creating a story for your child that ends with them helping you flush the poo and wee down the toilet.
Involving your toddler in the flushing process can have a huge impact on their willingness to poo in a potty.
Potty training and constipation
You might find that the fear of taking a poo in a potty transcends itself into constipation. Always keep in mind that a good poo is a poo that is out.
If your toddler asks for a nappy always offer them one after trying once to place them onto the potty. Constipation can lead to longer-term health issues. If you ever find yourself concerned or worries about your toddler’s constipation make sure you seek the advice of your GP.
Potty training little boys
When your little man first starts using a potty, they will take a pee sitting down (obviously). Be sure to make sure his penis is pointing in the right direction in the potty when he sits down. Don’t forget to start educating your little man on the importance of shaking after a wee and you can also introduce them to wipe with a little bit of toilet paper.
At some point, after your little dude is confident at weeing and pooing in the potty, you will need to start thinking about teaching him to wee standing up. There are lots of really useful products available online to help with this behaviour.
Lots of young men find it very satisfying once they learn how to wee standing up. Unfortunately, overconfidence is common, which is why we recommend you investing in the ‘Weurinal’ product to keep the mess in your bathroom at a minimum!
Potty training little girls
Little girls tend to take to potty training (and other development milestones) earlier than little boys.
You can apply the same approach to your little angel as you would do for little boys. The key difference is that you will need to wipe your little girl for her.
Now is a great time to teach the correct wiping stroke. To avoid infection this needs to be from the front to the back. Remember little girls clothes are sometimes different to little boys, so you may need to lift up dresses so these don’t dangle into the potty.
Transitioning from a potty to the big toilet
You might find that transitioning from a potty to a big toilet happens quickly and accidentally.
Many parents find themselves out and about with their toddler (think shopping centres) when they first have to expose their child to a big toilet.
Sometimes you will be in a situation where your toddler simply needs to go to the loo and you will need to put them on a big toilet.
It will only be a matter of time before your toddler asks to use the big toilet. When that happens you need to think practically about some safety issues. Can they reach the toilet safely? Do they need a foot stand? Are they sitting back properly on the toilet to allow their muscles to relax?
Don’t forget to introduce them to hand washing hygiene very quickly, especially when they start handling toilet seats and touching toilets in public places.
Good luck with the potty training!