This blog is written by Claire Burgess – Family Consultant from Bespoke Family. Claire is a director and family consultant and has many years experience working with families throughout the UK.
Toilet training is the one thing that all parents want to get sorted out as quickly as possible – just think, no more nappies to change! However, all children are different and will do things when they are developmentally ready. Most children are ready to be toilet trained around 2-3 years old (some may be earlier and some later), but an important thing to say is not to start toilet training just because other people think you should, you know your child the best, so trust your instincts and start toilet training when you feel your child is ready.
How do I know when my child is ready?
Indications of readiness are that they:
- are dry for at least 2 hours in their nappy – this indicates that they are able to hold their bladder / bowel. You will notice that you are changing less nappies in a day.
- are physically ready – can they sit themselves on the toilet/potty and stand up when they have finished?
- are aware of what they have done and indicating to you that they have done a wee or a poo in their nappy.
- want to be changed straight away.
- take themselves off when they know that they need to a poo and want privacy. Your child’s bowel movements start to become predictable.
- can follow simple instructions such as ‘give the ball to mummy’ and let you know what it is that they want and need.
- are generally becoming more independent when completing tasks.
What do I do next?
The first thing to consider is whether there are going to be any major changes in your child’s life coming up such as moving house, having a new baby sibling or starting nursery etc. If there is going to be something, it can all be a bit overwhelming if toilet training is started at the same time and so it is a good idea to let things settle before you start.
If things are settled in your lives and you think that your child is starting to show signs of being ready (as above), begin to change their nappy in the bathroom so that they learn this is where toileting takes place. It is also good to talk about wee and poo when changing their nappy so that they start to hear the words and become familiar to them in context. After nappy changes encourage them to wash their hands so that this also becomes part of the process. If your child comes with you when you go to the toilet, let them flush the toilet and again wash their hands with you. You are your child’s role model so they are watching and learning from you!
Start to observe watch your child’s toileting pattern prior to moving over to using the toilet or potty. Look at how many times a day they are going for a wee or a poo so that you can start to gauge what the timings might look like when they start to wear pants and use the toilet / potty.
The potty or toilet seat really don’t need to be anything fancy, but it does help with the process if you ask your child to help choose it. It can be simple but your little one might want to decorate it with stickers of their favourite characters.
Always use positive language in relation to weeing and pooing – such as “wow that’s a great wee” or “what a nice big poo”. Avoid using language which talks about things being stinky or yucky.
Talking about having a potty or using the toilet and what they need to do is also useful and there are some great books out there which you can read with your child to help them get the concept.
Here are some examples:
Anyway, back to what happens next.
- If using a potty then this should be put into the bathroom and shouldn’t be used anywhere else in the house (after all this is where we go to the toilet and your child needs to know that). If you are out, it depends where you are but it is likely that there will be a toilet. If not, then have a portable potty available, but when they need to use it make sure that you find a place where you are away from lots of people so there is some sort of privacy.
- As soon as your child indicates that they are doing a wee or that they “need a wee” take them to the potty, take their nappy off and get them to sit on the potty – you might not catch any of the wee or poo in the potty, but this starts to let them know what they need to do.
- Don’t take your child to the toilet too frequently or this can make them resistant to wanting to go if you keep removing them from their play etc. Try to find your child’s pattern, so, for example try 20-30mins after breakfast, then again mid-morning, after lunch, a couple of times in the afternoon and then before their bath. If you can see your child is fidgeting, holding themselves, going quiet or going off to another room, then calmly take them to the bathroom. At the start avoid asking your child if they need a wee or poo as they will not necessarily understand this, but make it more of a routine so call it “toilet time” or “potty time” and just take them there every couple of hours or when you think that they will go in line with their normal routine.
- If your child doesn’t wee or poo after 2-3 mins then take them off the toilet / potty and go back when they are showing signs that they need to go. Sitting on the toilet / potty for too long can put them off and might mean that they start to resist going.
- The next stage is to buy some ‘big girl / big boy’ pants. Again it is useful to get your child to come with you and choose their own pants – it helps to make them feel involved and excited about this next stage.
- For boys, get a potty which comes up quite high at the front so that it helps to keep things tucked down. When doing stand-up wees (this does tend to happen once toilet training is more established, but at the start always encourage sitting as they might need a poo too) try putting a ping pong ball in the toilet so that your little boy has something to aim at and it won’t flush away! (There are even ones which light up too!)
- Put your child in easy to wear clothes so that they (or you) are not having to fiddle with buttons, zips etc in a hurry! Things like leggings and jogging bottoms are ideal.
- Don’t give food as a reward. Give praise but make sure that it is balanced and not too much as this can then make the child feel overwhelmed. Stickers for the early days might work as that initial praise.
- Don’t deny drinks – sometimes we can be tempted to reduce how much we let children drink, but this is not helpful as you want your child to experience a full bladder and to know when they need to do a wee. This in turn means the child has more chance of success J. Ideally your child should be having 6-8 drinks of water-based fluid to help to keep them healthy with their toileting habits.
- Help your little one to wipe themselves and always front to back.
- If your little one goes to nursery or is looked after by relatives make sure that they are clear on how you are approaching potty training so that they follow this too. The more consistent you are the more likely you are to have success.
My child keeps having accidents – what do I do?
There will be accidents (and you can be certain some will be in the most inconvenient places!) but again, don’t panic and remain calm – don’t get cross with your child they really can’t help it and any negative attention may provide stress which could then impact on how well potty training will go! Just clean up and move on!
When out and about always make sure that you take
- spare pants (lots of)
- several changes of clothes
- nappy bags (for soiled pants and clothes).
Portable potties are really useful when out and about as they save the mess of having to wash out the potty etc – you can just bag it up and throw it away like you would a nappy or wait until you get home to empty it out.
If after a week your child is continuing to have accidents, you are not having any success with getting them to go on the potty/toilet then it may be that they aren’t quite ready (see above), but don’t panic or make any fuss, just go back to nappies for a little while until they start to show signs that they are ready. Don’t let your child become distressed or worried – if your child is very resistant then they are not ready.
Should my child wear a nappy at night?
Initially, yes. This will be the last thing to ‘click’ for them – it’s a long time between going to bed and waking up in the morning! Take them to go to the toilet before they go to bed and first thing in the morning. Once they are dry during the day you will then start to see that they are having drier nappies in the morning. For some children this can happen soon after day dryness, for others it can take months but just let your child adapt in their own time. Often you will notice that your child’s nappy will be warm where they have had a wee when they have woken up, this is again a sign that they are likely to be ready to start going without a nappy at night. If you can catch your child before they do this morning wee and get them to do a wee on the toilet first thing in the morning you will start to see that they will start to wake up, hold and then wee when they get up. Once you are confident that they are dry at night you can take the nappy off, but make sure you have a mattress protector on the bed and easily accessible change of bedding in case there are any accidents in the night.
Stick with it once you have started toilet training (unless you can see that your child isn’t ready) – it may take a few weeks but eventually it will all come naturally!
For more information about toilet / potty training have a look at this information from eric, the Children’s Bowel & Bladder Charity https://www.eric.org.uk/Pages/Category/potty-training