Is Your Toddler Ready for Toilet ‘Training’?

“I want to wear my pretty knickers today.”

After two little boys who had been fairly easy to teach about using the toilet – boys can have so much fun peeing on rocks and trees in the garden as they learn how their bodies function – my daughter simply didn’t give a damn about peeing in the toilet.

My encouragement for her was to buy a bundle of pretty undies, show them to her and tell her, ‘when you can pee in the toilet like Mummy you can ditch your nappies and wear these pretty knickers.’

She hadn’t been remotely impressed. Until today.

The thing is, we were going to visit a friend whom I had just reconnected with after several years of living overseas.  This friend had been a  relaxed, fun young woman when we were both childless party girls so I told my daughter, ‘if you pee in the toilet you can wear your pretty knickers.’  I popped the child seat on and she peed.

I still didn’t quite trust my very articulate two-and a -half year-old but I had to keep my word. I got her pretty knickers down and let her choose a pair, then I packed nappies ‘just in case’ .

It turned out my happy-go-lucky friend’s husband had a less than relaxed approach to parenting. As he chastised his own child for something very minor, I realised my daughter had wandered off in their super pristine home. Anxious she could be ‘making a puddle’ I searched, and discovered her in their bathroom – weeing in a potty! Whew!!

Of course, there were occasional ‘accidents’ but on the whole, my little girl was ready to ditch her nappies and pee in the toilet – actually I bought her a potty because she seemed a bit anxious about sitting on the big toilet, even with a kiddy seat.

The journey to toilet readiness

Being able to wee and poo on the potty is a complex process that can’t be rushed – your little one needs to be able to recognise when a wee or poo is coming, to hold on long enough to get to the toilet, to remember where the potty is, and to pull down her pants in time to wee without making a puddle. She will also need to be able to understand simple instructions or she won’t know what is expected of her or how to tell you she wants to go to the toilet.

 Steps to developing bladder and bowel control:

  • Your little one will become aware of having a wet or dirty nappy. This will happen sooner if your toddler is in cloth nappies or the newer type of disposable made especially for toddlers that lets him feel wet before the moisture is drawn into the nappy.
  • She will realise when she is doing a wee or poo – this usually won’t happen before about twenty months at the earliest but can take up to two and a half years or even later for some children. You can help your tot learn the words to tell you that she is doing wees and poos (if you haven’t already) as you change her nappy.
  • He can tell you before he needs to go. On average, toddlers reach this stage between two and three years.
  • She can control her urges to go so that she is able to ‘hold on’ until she gets to the toilet.
  • As well as being physically ready to control their bladder and bowels, your child needs to be emotionally ready for toilet learning: regressive stages are normal for toddlers as they work out their place in an ever-changing world and how much they can control it (or not). This can make some little ones want to cling to the security of things they feel comfortable with, and that can include nappies.

If you feel worried that your child is lagging behind, please be reassured that this isn’t a reflection of your child’s intelligence or a sign that he is lazy or dirty, any more than it is due to neglect on your part. Toilet readiness is linked to nervous system development and how your child receives and interprets his body’s messages. While most children show signs that they are ready for toilet learning by the age of three, at least 15 per cent aren’t ready by that age and a small number haven’t mastered the process by the age of four years.

 Is he ready yet?

Your child is generally physically and emotionally ready for toilet learning when:

  •  He asserts his independence in other areas by telling you, ‘Me do it!’ and ‘All by myself!’
  •  She can pull her pants up and down.
  •  He can sit on a potty without help.
  •  She knows what ‘wee’ and ‘poo’ are and can tell you.
  •  He is curious about what you are doing in the loo (yes, you need to talk about wees and poos, too!)
  •  Her nappy is dry for longer periods (at least two hours), showing that she has a good bladder capacity and is developing control.
  •  She can follow simple instructions – so she can understand what you want her to do.
  •  He is aware of ‘weeing’ and ‘pooing’. Some little ones get a faraway look as they stop what they are doing to fill their pants; others may wander off into a corner to poo – as though they need a little privacy to concentrate.
  •  She may tell you that her nappy is dirty or wet after she has finished and wants it changed.

Then (the final step in readiness), when she is aware that she is about to wee or poo before it happens, you can explain to her that she can use the potty instead of a nappy.

Even if your toddler is showing signs that he is ready to be encouraged out of nappies, please be mindful that if he is out of sorts or is experiencing a major upheaval, it is best for you as well as your child to wait a little longer.

Teaching your toddler to use the potty

If you have waited until your child is ready, teaching him to use the potty is really quite simple, in theory at least.

There will be setbacks along the way (so take wipes and clean clothes when you go out with your toddler as he is learning), but if you take the approach that potty learning is a bit like any other stage of development, you will get things into a better perspective when you have an ‘accident’.

After all, when he learnt to walk, you didn’t expect your child to do this without an occasional trip or fall. And you didn’t scold him if he fell over, did you? Your toddler isn’t being ‘naughty’ if he wets his pants after managing a few dry days or even a few dry weeks. So please relax and try to see toilet learning in a similar light. Remember, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

Toddler tactics to encourage fuss-free toileting:

  • When your toddler is able to tell you he is wetting or soiling his nappy, suggest, ‘You can wee or poo on the potty or toilet (if you have a child seat), like Mummy and Daddy.’ You might even like to take him to help you choose a potty. Be sure to leave the potty where he has easy access to it and you can keep an eye on him – perhaps in the bathroom with the door open or in the playroom. And dress your toddler in clothes that are easy to remove.
  • Buy your little one some fabulous undies – show them to her and tell her that when she can pee in the toilet she will be really big, then she can wear knickers just like Mummy or her big siblings (and whoever else seems impressive to her, but please don’t shame her by comparing her to her peers). Then, put the undies in the cupboard (there is no pressure) until she decides she wants to try going to the toilet.
  • Some parents find it helps to show their child what to do by using a peeing doll or favourite toy to demonstrate; others simply let their child follow them around – they will anyway, so you may as well make the most of this and tell them what you are doing on the toilet.
  • You may be happy to clear your diary and stay close to home as you make a concerted, consistent effort at encouraging toilet skills for a  few days or longer, or the very thought of being stuck at home could send you potty yourself. If staying home and totally focusing isn’t your style, you have to keep to a schedule for older children, or you work all week outside the home, you can take a slightly slower approach by having the potty around (even perhaps taking it out with you) and waiting for your child to lead the way.
  • If your child is in childcare, discuss what you are doing regarding toilet learning with his carers. They may have a few good practical tips for you. After all, they will have been through this with lots of other children.

For more great tactics to help you get through the terrific toddler stage, see Pinky’s book Toddler Tactics . Or, if you are time poor and enjoy listening as you multi task, check out the audio book version of Toddler Tactics HERE.

Pinky McKaypotty trainingToddler nappiesToddler TacticsToilet learningtoilet training
Comments (0)
Add Comment
  • Liz Young

    Thanks for the great tips. I especially liked the reassurance that some kids just aren’t ready until later than three… My Mr 3.7 is still in nappies as I made a conscious decision early on never to push toilet training, telling people ‘I would rather he was really ready and it take three days, than pushing the issue and it take three years’. In theory I feel good about this decision, but I am really finding it hard now that he is approaching four and all his peers have been toilet trained for a year or so. He can tell me when he’s done a wee or poo in his nappy, but every time I mention him running around outside without pants on he freaks out and gets very panicked. We have read stories, let him watch us in the toilet, talk about what we are doing (‘I think I need to do a wee! I can feel it wanting to come out. Quick, let’s go to the toilet so I can do a wee!’), providing a range of jocks which he was allowed to choose at the shops (‘for when you are ready’), and providing a toilet seat and walking him through the process of using it (‘when you’re ready’). I feel like he’s never going to be ‘ready’! I have had a few people tell me ‘Boys are never ready, you have to push them into it a little bit.’ Do you think this is true? Surely he won’t like nappies forever!

    • Cathryn Blake

      Hi Liz
      I totally get what your saying! I have a 3yo too and she wont even sit on the toilet/potty. I am the same as you.. Never pushing, but it just seems that it will never happen! All of her friends learned to use the toilet about a year ago too so im getting a bit over the “Oh she isnt toilet trained yet” comments esp when its infront of her!
      Sorry I cant offer any advice but sometimes its just good to know there are other people going through the same thing. I feel heaps better after reading yours lol!
      And I promise you he will get it!

  • Alouk

    To be honest, I was surprised to hear some of your stats Pinky- particularly “She will realise when she is doing a wee or poo – this usually won’t happen before about twenty months at the earliest…”.

    My son has known when he was doing a poo since he was about 6 months old/ started solid food. It was pretty obvious to him and me so accordingly he has exclusively used the potty since then to do poo and to wee about 50% of the time.

    By about 9 months old he would look down to the floor/ his crotch when he was about to do a wee- then he would do it and have a good look at the puddle or pull at his nappy. By 11 months old he started to climb onto his potty when he needed to do a poo, and now at 12 month he is starting to seek it out when he needs to wee. I assist him to hop on it properly!

    I feel like the approach above underestimates children’s capacity for body awareness and I wish more people would be open to exploration at an early age- think of how many disposables would be saved and how few cloths would be washed!!

    • Jo

      I agree with you Alouk. We’ve been practicing elimination communication, focusing on poos, with our little girl since she was born, and at 3.5 months, we have almost zero pooey nappies (the exceptions are when she is babysat by someone else) – she does all her poos with us holding her on the toilet. We started EC with her on the wees 2 weeks ago, and she now gets agitated when she needs to wee, so that we take her to the toilet. I would say we are catching 50% of wees in the toilet as well. She is not toilet trained as such, but she definitely have self awareness in terms these bodily functions.

    • Angelica

      I don’t fully agree with this article as my 16 mo has had great part time success with using the potty. We have been using elimination communication, part time, since birth. Since she was 14 mo she knew when she would have to go. Sometimes she would tell me after the fact (tap her diaper and say pee pee) although there was already pee or poop in there. Now, at 16 mo if we lwave her diaperless she will walk to her toilet, sit down, and pee or poop. All on her own. Other times, i will sit her on the toilet and cue her (pssss) and she will pee. Its been very casual, nothing forced, and she has never had an aversion to the toilet. Now she likes the big potty bc she can wave bye bye to the pee pee after she flushes!!

  • Melanie

    My daughter will be 3 in September. She can do both wee and poo on the toilet but refuses to go without a nappy. She simply doesn’t want to go to the toilet all the time. I have bought her a reward for when she decides to use the toilet without nappies but it hasn’t motivated her like I thought it would. I’m getting a bit frustrated but trying not to push her. She has an older sister (toilet trained by 2.5) and younger sister (under 1- still in nappies). We are a pretty busy little house and live out of town, so it’s almost impossible to stay at home all day. Any suggestions?

  • pottytrainingapps

    My Husband and I had been trying for nearly a year to potty train our boy to no avail. One day after a long search My Husband told me about this method pottytraingapps We tried it, and it worked. While there were some accidents thereafter, that day was the major turning point in our potty training saga. I plan to use the same method with our other children. It works!

  • Lucy

    I’m feeling really confused about toilet training now that my child is over three years old. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to let them lead. And he completely refuses to go near a toilet or a potty so I guess that means he’s not ready?

    He announces when he’s about to do a wee or poo but insists on doing it in his nappy. The problem is that now he’s started refusing nappy changes too. And his nappies (which are cloth) are getting too small and they don’t really make them big enough for him. And so I bought some disposable pull-ups but he doesn’t like them and refuses to wear them. So I feel like there’s no options left. I give him the choice and he chooses to keep wearing his old nappies but complains that they hurt him all the time because they’re too tight. Lately I’ve been having to give him a bath every time he does a poo because by the time he lets me change him, it’s all stuck, and sometimes I have to just throw the nappy out because I can’t get it clean. It’s quite disgusting to be honest.

    In the past I’ve tried just taking the nappies away and leaving him pants-less. So he did every wee and poo on the floor for four days. But that was nearly a year ago. I hoped he might initiate some change but he hasn’t. Should I just try again and stick to it longer in the hope that eventually he’ll agree to go on the toilet? (We live in a rental property with carpet, so eek!) He won’t even go on the hard floor in the kitchen or outside, but insists on doing it on the carpet.

    He fights pretty hard, kicking and screaming, when I try to put him on the toilet (though to be honest I haven’t tried for months and months) but will sometimes agree with his dad.

    • Lucy

      I just thought I should add that he’s 3 years and two months and we’ve tried a lot of things. Like for example, when my son had a special doll, we used to get her to sit on the toilet and make believe that she was doing a wee or a poo. He doesn’t play with the doll anymore. He watches us on the toilet and we talk about it.

      I feel like I’ve missed the window or something because he already is aware of so much, and advice seems to be aimed at toddlers who would still have trouble with the words. We’ve read toilet related books, and watched videos of Elmo and other kids on the potty. I bought him a book about the digestive system, so he knows that food goes down his oesophagus, into his stomach, into his intestines, and the undigested food comes out of his anus. I bought him a layered human body puzzle and a human body book so he’s familiar with the digestive system. He knows all those words and will happily tell me that poo is made of “water, undigested food, old blood cells, and bacteria”. He’s fascinated with sewer systems. We’ve read books about them too. He has a Trash Pack sewer playset with a toilet, where he can flush pretend poos down a pretend toilet, and he plays with it every day. He changes the words of nursery rhymes so they’re all about poo.

  • A Mum Thing – 6 Easy Steps to Gentle Toilet Training

    […] with, I first gathered information and inspiration from respected parenting advisors such as Pink McKay, Janet Landsbury and Raising Children Network, as well as talking to the other mums in my […]