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.