The ins and outs of toilet-training

Published on Wednesday, 01 May 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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As with many aspects of child development, there is no exact age when youngsters should move from nappies to undies.

Most little people will be ready for toilet-training sometime between 18 months and three or four years of age, but instead of pushing them to learn about the loo, it's important to wait for signs that your child is ready to embark on this new stage in their life.

How to tell if your child is ready for toilet-training

According to the early childhood experts at Starting Blocks, here are some indications that your nappy-wearer may be ready to start toilet-training:

  • Your toddler can stay dry for two or more hours due to their strengthening bladder muscles
  • They can tell you that they need to poo or wee whether by speaking or using signs
  • They can sit comfortably in one position for a long time
  • They can pull their pants up and down
  • They don't like wearing a wet or dirty nappy
  • They can follow straight-forward instructions
  • They show an interest in grown-ups and/or siblings going to the toilet
  • They are pooing at fairly regular and predictable times
  • They aren't doing poos in the night and they wake up dry after a nap

Toilet-training involves your child learning how to recognise they need the toilet and being able to hold on long enough to get there. Look for signs that they are cognitively and physically ready, then it's time to help them go nappy-free.

What are some tips when it comes to toilet-training?

Toilet-training is a new skill that takes time and patience, so it's important to focus on being calm, relaxed and supportive. The warmer months may be easier, with less clothing layers to tackle, but the main thing is to choose a time when family life is settled, and your child is showing signs of being ready.

Start by deciding whether to use a potty, a toilet or both. Some children find the potty less daunting and easier to access in a hurry, but a toilet is equally good and can be made more comfortable with the addition of a toddler seat, steps or a stool to rest their feet.

Once that is sorted, here are 12 pointers that can help your child transition from nappies to underwear. Cherry-pick the ideas that work best for your family:

  1. Start with a simple introduction. Familiarise your child with their potty/toilet by showing them where it is and sitting them on it with their clothes on.
  2. Be a good example. Children learn by copying others, so they'll understand the toileting process by watching you go to the toilet.
  3. Get the timing right. It's a good idea to take note of your child's normal toileting patterns and put them on the potty/toilet at regular times, e.g. for their 'morning wee' or 'after breakfast poo'. Give them enough time to try, but don't leave them on the loo for more than a few minutes if nothing is happening.
  4. Start a pleasant routine. Introducing a special book, finger puppets or The Wiggles' new tune, The Toilet Song around toilet time can make it more enjoyable.
  5. Get them hydrated. Another tip is to give your child lots of water to drink before their expected 'poo time.' This softens the stool and makes pooping easier.
  6. Celebrate their achievements. Praise your child for trying to use the toilet, even if nothing happens, and praise them when they are successful. Rewards like hugs, claps, stories or sticker charts can work well too.
  7. Ask the question. Busy children may forget that they need the toilet, so regularly ask your child if they need to go. If your child isn't keen, but you know they need a toilet break, then ask directly, "I think you need a wee, would you like to use the potty or toilet?", or try to distract them with a book or song.
  8. Dress them for success. Put your child in clothes that are easy to remove if they are busting to go or want to use the potty/toilet independently. Elasticised shorts are easier to pull down than those with press studs or zips. Introduce trainer pants or underpants when your child seems ready.
  9. Focus on hygiene. It's vital that you teach your child how to wipe their bottom well, flush the toilet, wipe the potty/toilet seat and wash their hands after using the toilet.
  10. Prepare for lights out. Night-time dryness usually takes longer to master than day-time dryness, so remind your child to use the toilet before bed and buy a good mattress protector. If necessary, you can also wake up your child for a wee during the night to avoid bed-wetting.
  11. Prepare for accidents. Carry extra clothes and wipes when you're out and about, and when accidents do happen, stay positive. It's important not to scold your child or stress them out, as this can discourage them from trying to use the potty/toilet again.
  12. Communicate with child-carers. It helps if your child has the similar routines and experiences at child care as at home, so share toilet-training strategies and insights with their educators and keep up-to-date with how their toileting is going at child care.

It's also worth remembering that toilet-training takes time, and while one child might learn to use the toilet in a week, another will go back into nappies until they are ready to try again. Sooner or later, your child will master this vital life skill, so offer them your support, encouragement and positivity as they make the journey from nappies to dry nights.


Starting Blocks

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