Potty training a child is often much-dreaded, but it is a necessity and needn’t be all that difficult. Our comprehensive guide will help you work out how and when to potty train your kids to get them ready to use the toilet.
It’s time for some toilet talk! Potty training is an important parenting rite of passage. It can lead to greater independence for your child, allow them to meet basic requirements for school entry, give your family more freedom and less travel hassle and is, of course, so much more environmentally friendly (even cloth-diapering mums will agree that it’s a great relief to cross the nappy stage!). But it’s important to ensure that you’re prepared for the nappy to potty transition, so this guide will help you decide whether your child and family are ready for toilet training, as well as discussing the possible approaches you can take.
Is Your Child Ready To Be Potty Trained?
As parents, we know that all children develop at their own pace and there’s no need to rush them before they are mature enough to be toilet trained. Before you start, it’s important to see if your child meets these criteria:
- Your child is at least two years old (don’t stress if it is slightly later for your child) or is as mature as an average 2-year-old.
- Your child has a few hours in the day when he or she is dry.
- Your little one is familiar with relevant language such as “potty,” “toilet,” “underpants” etc. The words you choose should be used consistently and are ones that you are comfortable saying in public.
- They should be capable of pulling their pants up and down, either independently or with minimal assistance (depending on the clothing).
- Your child is able to follow simple one-step instructions without difficulty, such as “come here,” and “sit down.”
- Your child should show awareness of the need to use the toilet after soiling a nappy. For instance, your child may point to the nappy, ask to be changed or take your hand and lead you to the changing area.
- Your little one should understand the concept of what the toilet is used for. You can teach this by modelling or reading books to your child about going to the toilet.
If your child seems to have difficulty with any of these skills, talk to a paediatrician before beginning potty training.
Is Your Family Ready For Potty Training?
Even if you can’t wait to ditch the diapers, you need to cross the following things off your own checklist as well.
- Make sure there are no stressful events taking place or coming up in the near future (such as moving house, changing helpers, etc.).
- Ensure you are ready to commit to this transition and will have the time to be consistent and patient with your child.
- Make sure everyone in the home (including domestic helpers, nannies and grandparents) understands the plan fully and knows what to do when accidents happen.
- Purchase a potty chair, stool or toilet seat adapter, so your child’s feet touch the floor for support (we’ve listed some options below).
- Keep all the rewards and incentives you need on hand. This can be toys, stickers, snacks, games, etc.
- It is important to toilet train children in big kid underwear/training pants. Getting your child to pick out new underpants can make this process more fun and something to look forward to.
- Be prepared! Read books or watch DVDs to learn more about the ways and means to potty train your little one.
Toilet Training Methods
Which one is right for your family? There are many ways to potty train your child, but most broadly fall into two categories – slow and steady, or intensive. Some of the more well-known ones that believe in taking it slow are the Brazelton, the No-Cry and Dr Barton Schmidt’s methods. The fast-track technique has been popularised by the Azrin-Foxx method and in Jamie Glowacki’s aptly-named book, “Oh Crap! Potty Training“. You can read more about these methods and commit to any one of them fully, or take portions from all of them and see what works best for your family. We’ve highlighted key points to consider for any of the methods.
Slow And Steady Potty Training
- Take your child to the bathroom with you so they can learn how it’s done from an expert. This often happens quite naturally in a preschool environment as children are taken to the toilet together and observe each other. Carers usually encourage older children to go first and heap plenty of praise to encourage them and others to follow.
- When you first purchase the potty chair, have your child practice sitting on it. This can be done as “pretend practice” with their clothes on. You can familiarise your child with the concept of a potty and flush through books and songs (suggestions below).
- Praise your child and show excitement when they sit on the potty. Gradually, start going without nappies for some period of time through the day.
- Next, have a potty schedule. Get your child to sit regularly on the potty throughout the day to provide lots of chances for them to use it properly. This could be each time he or she wakes up, before an afternoon nap etc.
- Remember to have your child sit even if they say they don’t need to “go” because sometimes children don’t recognise the urge until they are relaxed and not distracted by other things (e.g. playing or watching TV). Don’t force them to keep sitting down for an extended time though. It may create resentment.
- Once your child is used to the idea of the potty, there will be more acceptance about using it. Make sure to praise your kids each time he or she pees or poops in the toilet. You can use special rewards for encouragement as well.
- Even if your child takes a poop in his or her diaper or underwear, if you are at home, make sure to drop it into the toilet bowl and flush it down to reinforce the point that it belongs in the toilet.
Intensive Potty Training
If regular toilet training is not successful, you can try a more intensive method like the weekend fast-track. Some children may require intensive toilet training for a number of reasons (e.g. family convenience, urgency due to school entrance deadlines etc.) For this process, it is helpful to keep kids “pants-free” (wearing underpants and a top only) at home for the weekend.
- The first step is to choose a weekend or a few days when the family can devote their full time and energy at home to potty training.
- Next, ditch the nappies!
- The next step is to increase fluids by giving your child at least one cup of liquid every hour. Consider varying the beverage so your child will continue to want to drink. This is a way of creating a predictable pattern of peeing.
- Next, begin reminding your child to use the potty every 15 minutes and taking them to sit on it. This will help your child learn to self-initiate and recognise the need to go. As your child learns to request the potty and urinate with more independence, you can spread out the time between sits/reminders (15, 30, 45, 60 minutes).
- Complete pant checks (dry pants vs. wet pants) at the same time you give the reminder. If your child is dry, give praise for the accomplishment (for example, “Great job, you still have dry pants!”) but if they are wet, follow through with the compulsory toilet sit and then clean up the accident.
- Don’t have lengthy discussions about the accident, just move on. Instead, focus your attention on positive accomplishments.
- Just as hydration is important for regular peeing, it is important to give enough fibre to help your toddler poop. Constipation can seriously reverse potty training progress. If you follow a certain pattern, say fruits in the morning, there may be some predictability in your little one’s bowel movements as well.
- Each time they sit on the toilet, praise your child for listening. Remember, this is not necessarily fun for them either! Provide a small treat or time with a preferred toy each time they urinate or have a bowel movement in the potty. When your child self-initiates and uses the toilet, make an even bigger deal out of it because it is cause for celebration! Have something special planned for when this happens (keep new toys, books, stickers, etc. ready for these occasions).
- By the end of the weekend, you should be giving reminders and having toilet sits every 1 to 2 hours.
Tried And Tested Potty Training Resources
At the Sassy Mams office, we are potty training pros. We sourced these ideas from all the mums at work and hope it works for you as well.
Summer Infant My Size Potty – Sassy Mama Editor, Alex, and her daughter love this one, especially because of the flushing sound the handle makes. Quite a treat for toilet success! Available at Baby Central.
Potette Plus 2-in-1 Portable Potty – While her babies were little, Sassy Mama Editor Anita never travelled without this. Even on long flights and road trips, she didn’t need to switch her kids back into diapers and they learnt to get comfortable with toilets outside the house. Available at Mothercare.
Potty Training Books
On My Potty (a humorous look at a toddler’s thoughts while debating using the big kid’s toilet)
Thomas & Friends: My Thomas Potty Book (your child will love the stickers – Sassy Mama Partnerships Manager, Elle, says it’s a sure-fire way of getting kids to use the toilet!)
Potty Training Songs & Videos
Cocomelon‘s Potty Training Song – Because everything Cocomelon just works for children!
Little Baby Bum‘s Potty Song – Rather basic but effective.
Daniel Tiger‘s When You Have To Go – All kids find it difficult to stop playing and making their way to the toilet. This video will help them understand why it’s important to.
Potty Training Tips And Recap
The most important thing to remember throughout this phase is just how much your child values your attention! Learning any new skill takes time, practice and positive feedback, so stay calm, be patient and keep your sense of humour! One of the Sassy Mamas in the office successfully potty-trained her sensitive daughter (who was afraid of sitting on the pot) by concocting an elaborate story about poop wanting to be flushed down the toilet to meet its poop parents (innovative & effective!).
Even after your toddler has learned to use the toilet, you may want to consider keeping the nappies on at night for a while longer. Children take longer to be consistently dry at night vs. during the day. If you are not seeing progress, or your child experiences unusual or unexpected reactions, stop the training and contact a professional (physician, paediatric psychologist, etc.) right away. More often than not, the complication can be easily addressed and your family can be back on track in no time!
Keep this checklist in mind when you and your baby decide to take this big step! Click on the image to download.
Editor’s note: This article was originally written by Dr Rebecca Dogan on 17, September 2014 and was most recently updated in July 2021.