While the idea of toilet training your toddler is one of the more stressful stages of your child's development, it is also a big and exciting time for your both. While most parents can't wait to ditch the nappies and have their child independently toileting, it's the in-between time that creates anxiety! The trick to ensuring you are successful the first time, is to wait for signs that your child is ready to be potty trained and then don't give up!
When to start
Most children are ready to be trained between about two and three years old, while some may be ready as young as 18 months old and others may be older than three. Rather than deciding your little one is ready based off their age, look for some of the following signs that indicate they might be ready:
- Taking an interest in other people's toileting
- Asking or trying to sit on the toilet or potty
- Pulling down or taking off their nappy
- Asking for underpants
- Their nappy needs changing less often
- They don't like having a dirty nappy
- Telling you when they have done wee or poo in their nappy
Once you have decided that your child is ready to begin toilet training, you need to decide if you want to start training with a potty or a toilet with a training seat.
Some children find that a potty is less intimidating than a toilet to start with and it has the advantage that it can be moved around the house as needed, while some parents prefer toilets as they are easier to clean. If you do decide to use the toilet with a toddler-sized seat, ensure there is a step for your little one so that they are able to get up and down easily, and also to help their posture when sitting on the toilet. If you choose to use a potty, ensure it is one that can be easily cleaned, is portable and won't tip over while they are on it.
Once you have decided what you will use, you will then need to decide when to begin. Choose a time when you are able to clear the calendar and have a few days mostly at home. If you can keep excursions to a minimum and for just a short time when essential, makes it much easier for your child as they will always be near a potty and it will be easier for you as a parent to stick to, as you won't have any events coming up that you might be tempted to put a nappy on for! Also ensure you steer clear of any other times of significant change in your little ones life, such as the arrival of a sibling or moving house.
Your last steps before beginning is to start using the language around going to the toilet such as wee, poo and toilet/potty. Reading a book that uses the words you choose, might help too! Also begin to give them plenty of nappy-free (bare bottomed) time if you haven't been already.
To begin your child's training, show them the potty and talk about what it is for. Let them watch you using the toilet and tell them what you are doing. Now is not the time for being coy or embarrassed! It will make it much easier if they see it is not scary, frightening or embarrassing.
Take their nappy off as well as their pants and tell them that now they are growing up into a 'Big Kid', they are not going to need to use nappies anymore. Now they are going to use the potty instead.
This is when you will need to ensure you are focused on your little one. Watch them to see any signals that they may need to go. It may take a few accidents before you pick up on this, so be prepared for this! If possible, spend as much time as you can in areas that are easy to clean, such as floorboards or tiled areas. Some of the more common signs are fidgeting, stamping feet or a look of concentration. If you see this, quickly take the potty to them, or help them to the toilet. Even if you're too late, sit them on the potty anyway. The more times you 'catch' the wee, the easier it will be for them to make the connection. Initially, you may need to encourage them to sit on the potty every hour or so as well.
When your little one starts to realise they are going and even if they only get a little bit in the potty, praise them for trying and reiterate that you are proud of them for learning this new skill. As time progresses, they will reach the potty more times than they miss! You may want to start putting them in underpants once they become more reliable, but make sure they practice and are able to pull them down. Some parents also like to introduce a rewards system. Decide what works best for your family!
Teach your toddler how to wash their hands after going to the toilet. Ensure they have a step up to the sink so they can do this easily and so it becomes part of their regular routine.
Once your little one is getting the hang of it, you will need to start leaving the house again more regularly and for longer periods of time. If they haven't yet, this is time to put on pants or a dress but steer clear of overalls or clothing that your little one can't remove to go to the potty.
Initially, you may also need to bring the potty with you when you leave the house! This will help your little one adjust to being outside, but also use what they feel comfortable with. Over time, they will become more confident with using public toilets in all sorts of places! Shopping centres with parent rooms often have toddler toilets too and can be a great starting point for venturing out without the potty!
Finally, be patient. While you may hope your toddler is all trained in a few days, for many children it may take several weeks and then even longer to stop having regular accidents. While it is tempting to go back to putting them in nappies at points during this time, it is better to avoid this as it sends a confusing message to your toddler and will only make it more difficult next time you try. Perseverance during this tricky time is the best way forward while remember to not show your disappointment at any accidents. Your reaction may deter your toddler and make it harder in the long run, while your praise and recognition of this big change will go a long way to easing this transition.