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  • Shaken Baby Syndrome

    Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28
  • Amniotic fluid problems

    Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:54
  • Choosing a pre-school

    Friday, 10 April 2015 17:50
  • Newborn reflexes

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:49
  • Mastitis

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:41
  • Pelvic floor exercises

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:20
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Potty Training


Learning to use the toilet is a big developmental step for toddlers. As with all developmental milestones there are varying ages at which toilet training is achieved, as well as varying times that it takes to be toilet trained. Some children just seem to train themselves when they are ready, but most need some help from their parents.

Parents see toilet training as an important milestone for their children and often become very concerned if it doesn't all go smoothly. Some parents also feel pressure to achieve daytime dryness at a certain age to enable their toddler entrance to nursery school. For toddlers it is one of the many new things they are learning at this age. It is one more step towards independence.


When will my child be ready?

Most children are not ready to learn to control their bowels and bladder until they are at least two years old and some not until they are three. Often boys are later than girls. To be ready to use the toilet or potty, a child needs to be able to:

  • know when he has to empty his bowels or bladder, before he does it.
  • hold on for a short time so that he can get to the potty or the toilet.
  • understand that he is meant to use the toilet or potty.

The first sign that this will be happening soon may be that he tells you when he is about to wet or soil his nappy or when he has just done it. When he gets praise for telling you, he will soon be ready to move on to the next step of telling you before he does it.

Other signs of readiness are:

  • taking an interest in others using the toilet
  • pulling at wet and dirty nappies
  • telling you that his nappy is wet
  • telling you that he doesn’t want to wear nappies anymore.

When not to start toilet training:

Don’t try starting toilet training at times of stress i.e.

  • arrival of new baby
  • moving house
  • starting at a play group
  • parent returning to work
  • when the favourite word is no

Be prepared to wait until your child is ready. Most toilet training problems can be avoided if you don’t start too early. Don’t try and set a date by which you want your child to be toilet trained. This is almost a sure recipe for failure. It works best if there is a relaxed, unpressurised approach and you can toilet train your child at a pace he can manage.

Getting ready to toilet train

Teach your child the words needed for toilet training, such as wet, dry, wee, poo, it’s coming. Choose words that you are comfortable with.

Choose either a potty, or a special toilet seat.

A potty can be moved around the house but you may need to take it out with you if your child is not used to using a toilet.

If you choose to use a special toilet seat, a step or footstool is necessary, so that your child can get up to the toilet by herself, and can feel safe and relaxed there. He needs to be able to relax to be able to pass urine or make a poo. If your child will be using the toilet, make sure that he can get to it by himself all the time (door open, light on at night), and that it is set up for him all the time that it is not actually being used by someone else. There will not be time to set it up when he really has to go NOW.

Some toddlers are afraid of being flushed down the toilet because they don't understand yet that they cannot fit down such a small hole. For these children a potty is better or let them learn to flush the toilet with you or by themselves. You may need to flush it when they are safely out of the way. Make sure that the toilet area is safe. Keep household cleaners, deodorants and toiletries out of reach. If you feel comfortable about it, let your child go with you to the toilet and talk about what you are doing. Make sure your child is wearing clothing that is easy to get on and off, and easy to wash, such as trainer pants. In the warm weather toilet training is often easier because there is less clothing to remove quickly when “wee is coming”. You might like to let your child go without pants or nappies for some of the time. If you know your child’s signals, you can be ready to guide him to the potty or toilet in time.

Starting toilet training

It is best not to start toilet training at a time when your child is adjusting to other changes, e.g. when there is a new baby in the family or he is starting childcare.

If you think your child might be ready to start training, choose a time when you are likely to have the time a patience to give him your full attention. It is better to wait for a few days or even a couple of weeks until you have time, rather than try to rush it. Some toddlers can be introduced to toilet training by getting comfortable with the potty first, e.g. leaving the potty where he can see and touch it, or letting teddy sit on the potty ‘to do a wee’. You might start by noticing when your child is doing a poo in his nappy and tell him, “I think you’re doing a poo”.

Later watch for signs that he is about to do a wee or poo (such as expressions on his face or stopping very still for a moment) and guide him to the potty or toilet. You might say something like “Let’s see if there’s a wee coming”. Eventually he will be able to know and get there himself. If your child tells you before he does a wee or poo, thank him for telling you and take him to the toilet or potty straight away. Toddlers cannot ‘hold on’ for more than a few seconds. If he doesn’t get there in time at first, give him praise for whatever he has managed, e.g. pulling down his pants, trying to get to the toilet, or sitting on the toilet. Make sure he sees that the praise is for learning a new skill, not something he has to do to please you. For example you might say, “You did that really well” rather than “You are a good boy for Daddy”.

Children should not be made to sit on a potty or toilet for a long period of time. This feels like punishment to the child and does not help toilet training.

Reward successes with cuddles. Say things like "I am proud of you for trying'.

Be positive and praise small successes. Learning to use the toilet is a new skill and a difficult one.


Teach girls to wipe themselves from the front towards the back to avoid the chance of getting any poo into the vagina. Teach boys to shake their penis after a wee to get rid of any drops. Boys who are not circumcised need to be careful as the foreskin can trap some wee. Some parents have found it helpful in the early stages of toilet training to float a ping pong ball in the toilet for little boys to aim at. Some parents allow their boys to wee in the garden until they gain control over direction. Most toddlers don’t have the skills to wipe their bottom properly, so you will need to do this with them until they can get it right. Teach boys and girls to always wash their hands after using the toilet or potty.

Toilet training troubles

Remember that a toddler is not able to ‘hold on’ to a wee that is ready to come out. Children are often busy with what they are doing, so they don’t always notice that their wee or poo is coming until it starts to come out, or it is too late to run to the toilet. They will have lots of ‘accidents’ while they are still learning.

Learning to control bowels and bladder can be a big task for your toddler and sometimes there are problems:

Starting too soon can cause problems. It can be difficult for some parents to wait until their child is really ready because of pressure from others, or hopes that he will be ready by a certain time (e.g. when he turns 2 or before you go on holiday).

If the child feels pressured by his parents, learning is hampered. He may become afraid of making a mess, and it will be hard for him to get it right. Toilet training works best when there is no pressure for either the parent or the child.

Children and parents getting into a battle over toilet training doesn’t help. Parents cannot ‘make’ a child let go of wee or poo, and little children don’t know how to do it if they are upset and tense. Any stress in your child’s life, such as a new baby or starting childcare can set him back. Temporary loss of control is common when children are unwell or stressed. It is common for toddlers to relax and ‘let go’ as soon as they stand to walk away from the potty. He may not be fully ready for toilet training if this is happening a lot. If you find that you are getting angry, even feeling like he is not trying, leave it for a while and try again in a few weeks when things are less tense. Punishment does not help with toilet training.

Hiding when doing poo

Quite a lot of children start hiding in strange places when doing a poo, while they are being toilet trained. Some research has suggested that more than 50% of children do this at least a few times. They may do poo behind the sofa, inside a cupboard, outside in the garden or anywhere that they feel safe. It is not known why they do this (they certainly cannot explain it). They also stop doing it, probably without parents having to do anything much to stop it other than encouraging them to do poo in the toilet. Check that he still has easy access to the potty or toilet, and that he still has the footstool and special toilet seat in place if using the toilet. It is possible that he needs the potty to be in a more private place. Punishing toddlers for doing poo in the wrong place will not help.

Spreading poo around

Doing a poo feels good, and parents show a lot of interest in poo while toddlers are being toilet trained, so it is very normal for toddlers to be interested in their own poo. Most normal toddlers get some poo on their hands and spread it around at least a couple of times. This is unpleasant to deal with, but toddlers are not trying to upset their parents or caregivers. Punishment does not help, but you do not have to pretend to be happy about it either. There are germs (viruses and bacteria) in poo, but hot water and normal household cleaners are usually enough to clean cots, walls and other furniture.

Physical problems

Sometimes a child who has been dry during the day starts to have many wet pants again. This might be a sign of a health problem (such as a urine infection) or some big change in his life. If it lasts more than a couple of days, or if he seems unwell, have him checked by your doctor.

Signs that might mean there is a urinary infection include:

  • passing urine very often
  • pain when passing urine
  • blood in the urine
  • wetting frequently during the day after the age of two
  • if your child's urine has on offensive smell
  • a child of four years or older still wetting during the day.

When a child has never been fully dry

Any child who still has some wet pants by the age of 4 years (or even 6 months earlier) needs to be checked by a doctor. He may be having urine infections or have some abnormality of the bladder or other part of the urinary system.

What parents can do

It is important for your child to feel he has your support in learning to use the toilet or potty. If it is not working he needs at least a few weeks with all the pressure off. In the meantime spend lots of time making him feel good.

If you have a new baby, your toddler will see you happily changing the baby’s nappies; this can cause some regressive behaviour. If he asks to wear a nappy or have a bottle again for a while, let him. Once he feels secure again within himself and his place in the family he will be able to go forward again.

The first step towards a new beginning is to tell your toddler whenever and wherever he does his poo, that poo is good and doing poo is good for him. This will help him to feel free to tell you when he is doing it, or when he is ready to.

Be careful not to show negative emotions at smells or colours or to use negative language in relation to poo. If she is relaxed about it you could take him to the toilet or potty at a time when he usually does poo (such as soon after a meal), or soon after a sleep if he wakes up dry. The first praise needs to be just for sitting there for a short time, or for pulling up his pants or whatever he can manage.

Children learn new tasks in small steps and each step can be praised. Don’t wait until they can do the whole task properly before praising them.

The more that you can take the pressure off and help your child to feel that success will be his own doing, the quicker success is likely to come. When children feel tension or anger in their parents, it makes them tense and then it is harder for them to learn new skills.

Once your child is using the toilet, don't be disappointed if there are a few accidents. A few accidents are to be expected even when children are trained. Try to avoid getting cross because, if your child sees that you are upset or angry, it is likely to set back all your good work! Sometimes toilet training can go backwards when there is a new stress or something is troubling your child. This is normal.

Some parents may put a nappy back onto a child at times when it may be difficult to get to a toilet in time to prevent an accident, such as a long car ride or on a shopping trip where public toilets are inaccessible. Remember to explain to the child why a nappy is being used again so that it is not seen as a loss of a newly found independent skill.


  • Toilet training is a difficult new skill to learn.
  • Start toilet training when your child shows he is ready.
  • Don't try to set a date by which you want your child trained - it puts pressure on both of you.
  • Give praise for small steps - don’t wait for the success of being toilet trained.
  • Go at your child’s pace, and don’t expect too much.
  • If there are any setbacks, stop for a few weeks and then start again.
  • Don’t get into battles over toilet training. It needs to be your child’s achievement that he can be proud of.
  • Punishment has no place in toilet training.