Being able to wee and poo on the potty is a complex process that can’t be rushed.
Pressure to hurry up the progress with potty training only makes it more stressful and difficult for everyone involved.
When a wee or poo is coming, your child must learn to recognize it, 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 is potty ready or wants to go to the toilet.
There is little evidence to support specific potty training methods, so your child’s individual readiness is key.
When to start potty training your child
Some studies have found that the potty training process can be expected to be completed early into the third year, and starting too early might only prolong the toilet training period. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends parents avoid pushing their child into toilet training.
There isn’t a set time to start toilet training. Once your child is mobile, however, it’s much easier, as being able to recognize when she needs to use the potty and being able to get to it on her own are important keys to potty training success.
You can buy a small, portable potty seat and encourage the child to sit on the potty regularly, without forcing anything and respecting the child’s own pace. Potty training children has to be stress-free and rewarding for everyone involved, especially the child.
There are also disposable training pants and pull-ups that can help you potty train your child.
Potty Training Tips
There are several readiness steps to developing bladder and bowel control. Let’s look at them.
#1: Awareness of wet or dirty diapers
Your little one will become aware of having a wet or dirty diaper around two years of age, this will indicate that they are potty ready. Some children will do it earlier and some will do it later and that’s absolutely okay. This awareness will happen sooner if your toddler is in cloth diapers or the newer type of disposable diapers made especially for toddlers, which let them feel wet before the moisture is drawn into the diaper.
#2: Realisation of doing a wee or poo
She will eventually realize 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 longer for some children. You can help your child learn the words to tell you that she is doing wees and poos (if you haven’t already) as you change her diaper.
#3: Telling you it’s time to go
She can tell you before she needs to go. On average, toddlers reach this stage between two and three years of age.
#4: Controlling urges to go
She can control her urges to go so that she’s able to ‘hold on’ until she gets to the toilet. This tends to happen from about three years onwards.
#5: Emotional readiness
As well as being physically ready to control her bladder and bowels, your child needs to be emotionally ready to start potty training. 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 diapers.
If you feel worried your child is lagging behind, please be reassured that this isn’t a reflection of your child’s intelligence or a sign that she 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 her body’s messages. While most children show signs they are ready for toilet learning by the age of three, at least 15% aren’t ready by that age and a small number haven’t mastered the process by the age of four years.
How will I know when my toddler is ready for potty training?
Your child is generally physically and emotionally ready to start toilet training when:
- She asserts her independence in other areas by telling you, ‘Me do it!’ and ‘All by myself!’
- She can pull her pants up and down
- She can sit on a potty without help
- She knows what ‘wee’ and ‘poo’ are and can tell you
- She is curious about what you are doing when you use the toilet (yes, you need to talk about wees and poos, too)
- Her diaper is dry for longer periods (at least up to 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
- She 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 might wander off into a corner to poo as though they need a little privacy to concentrate
- She might tell you her diaper is dirty or wet after she has finished and wants it changed
- She is aware that she is about to wee or poo before it happens, and you can explain to her that she can use the potty instead of a diaper. This is the final step in readiness.
Even if your toddler is showing signs she is ready to be encouraged out of diapers, please be mindful that if she is out of sorts or experiencing a major upheaval, it is best for you, as well as for your child, to wait a little longer.
If you have waited until your child is ready, teaching her 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 newly ‘trained’ toddler) 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 a puddle (or worse).
After all, when she learned to walk, you didn’t expect your child to do this without an occasional trip or fall. And you didn’t scold her if she fell over, did you? Your toddler isn’t being naughty if she wets her pants after managing a few dry days, so relax and try to see toilet learning in a similar light.
Remember, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Meanwhile, try these toddler tactics to encourage fuss-free toileting:
- When your toddler is able to tell you she is wetting or soiling her nappy, suggest this: ‘You can wee or poo on the potty or toilet, like Mummy and Daddy, if you have a child seat’. You might even like to let her to help you choose a potty chair. Be sure to leave the potty where she has easy access to it and you can keep an eye on her — 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 big kid underwear — show them to her and tell her that when she can pee in the toilet she will be really big, and then she can wear girl’s underwear just like Mummy or her big siblings (and whoever else seems impressive to her), but please don’t shame her by comparing her with her peers. Then put the underwear 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 and accompany them to the bathroom. Toddlers will do that anyway, so you might as well make the most of it and tell them what you are doing on the toilet.
- You might be able to clear your diary and stay close to home for a week or two as you make a concerted, consistent effort at encouraging toilet skills. On the other hand, the very thought of being stuck at home could send you potty yourself. If staying home and totally focusing on it isn’t your style, if you have to keep to a schedule for older children, or if you work all week outside the home, you can take a slightly slower approach by having the potty seat 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 potty training with her carers. They might even have a few practical potty training tips for you. After all, they will have been through this with lots of other children.
Signs your child is not ready for potty training
Sometimes the parents are ready to begin potty training but the child is not.
It’s very difficult to potty train a child if the child doesn’t want to.
Parents need to understand that starting potty training when the child is not ready isn’t a good idea. It’s best to follow the child’s own pace.
You don’t want a frustrated potty trained child but a happy one – even if that means she stays in diapers a little longer.
Here are the signs toddlers are not ready for potty training:
They can’t sit still
Of course if they are so little they still cannot sit properly they’re not ready for potty training yet.
There is another method called elimination communication. It isn’t exactly toilet training. It’s a method used from as early as birth and is about learning the baby’s cues when she’s about to void and sitting her on the toilet or the potty. In a few weeks the number of soiled diapers will have diminished considerably. This method requires a lot of time and patience from the parents.
To find out more, read our article Elimination Communication | What Is It?
They can’t get their pants off
There are some children who can identify when they need to go to the toilet and they can sit on the potty but their mechanical skills are not well developed yet. Their clothes require a big effort to be removed and they cannot make it to the potty on time.
If this is the case try leaving the child naked from the waist down or just wearing underwear, whenever this is possible.
When you’re outside you can do potty breaks and help your child sit on the potty, or on the toilet, even when she doesn’t have the urge to use it immediately. When you’re starting potty training and removing the clothes fast enough is the biggest burden for your child, pull ups or easy to remove potty training pants are also a good idea.
They make a fuss about sitting on the toilet
When a child doesn’t want to sit on the potty or toilet it’s because she’s already making a negative association with this activity. The most likely cause is that parents have started potty training before the child is ready. As time goes on and she’s still not ready, higher expectations are still on her, resulting in pressure.
If your child is not ready to be potty trained remove all the pressure from this act. Go back to diapers, leave the potty visible, don’t shame your kid, and just celebrate when she takes a small step towards toilet training.
Pressuring her will only make things worse.
They aren’t worried about being wet or dirty
If your child is not bothered by this, it’s very difficult that she’ll potty train; she doesn’t yet see the need for it.
Leave the potty where she can see it or reach it and use pull up diapers. Invite her to use it when you can see she’s about to void and celebrate every little achievement towards toilet training.
They’re going through upheaval
No matter how old your child is, if she’s going through a lot of change you might want to postpone toilet training until the situation becomes ‘normal’ again. If there is a new member in the family, you’ve just moved house or city, or the family is going through a loss (like separation or the death of a loved one) the child is also going through a lot, no matter how much you’re trying to keep her away from it all. Let the child get used to the new situation and then you can start potty training.
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