Toilet Training in Toddlers: Don’t Let it Drive You Potty!

It’s been a busy few months in the Happy Family Hub household. As well as the big house move, we have also finally mastered potty training our toddler. Parenting is strange, in that at every stage you think “this is the hardest part of parenting”, and then wham bam like a sledgehammer along comes potty training. I would say that potty training is a huge parenting milestone, and one that comes with its frustrations and a LOT of mess. It’s also a cruel twist of fate that potty training is served with a side helping of toddler tantrums! However, when you get through the other side, you’ll be thankful and be pleased those nappies are gone! With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts from myself and other parents about the potty training process.

When should I start potty training my child?

There is much debate as to when you should start your child potty training. The general consensus is that they are mostly ready between the ages of 2 and 3. Some earlier and some later of course.

“We waited until our son was 3 before starting as he showed no signs. Wees were all sorted within a few weeks but it took longer for poos. We didn’t listen to anyone pressurising us to start sooner. My advice to anyone starting is wait until your child is ready. If you rush them you could be creating bigger problems and if people are saying you should be doing it sooner ignore them.” – Catherine (Passports and Aventures)

Children should start to show signs of readiness such as:

  • Showing an interest in bodily functions

Little C suddenly started showing a greater interest in wee and poo. She was also interested in following us to the toilet to see what was happening in there!

  • Able to sit on the potty or toilet by themselves

Your child should be able to sit up on the potty or toilet. You may find that your child prefers one or the other, and that’s absolutely fine. We found that our daughter preferred using a toilet at home but would (and still will) use a potty when we are out-and-about.

“My twins are 2 years and 8 months old. My little boy decided to potty train himself last week and it’s been so much less stressful than when I tried to push the issue in the summer. He took his nappy off one day last week and that was it. His sister definitely isn’t ready, so I’m going to stick with being toddler led and let her decide. We have the potties out and we ask her if she’d like to use them and talk to her about training, but my son has proven to me that it’s much quicker and easier if you wait until they’re really ready.” – Rebecca (Becca Blogs it Out)

  • Predictable bladder and bowel movements.

Eventually, it may become apparent that your child has a pattern to his or hers toilet trips.

  • Able to follow basic instructions. 

We found this extremely important. Our daughter could understand what we were explaining to her in terms of how to get on and off the toilet, letting us wipe and also hand-washing rituals.

“I feel the pressure when they turn two is just ridiculous. Why do we have this age in mind when it comes to potty training? I think if people are struggling with their child telling them when they need to go and having accidents they should just go with their child’s flow and hold off until they feel happy and confident to do it.” – Emma (emmareed.net)

NHS guidelines

The NHS have some clear guidelines about what age your child is able to control their bladder and bowels. Did you know that most children will be able to control their bowels before their bladder?

The NHS website states that most children will be reliably dry during the day by age 4. It usually takes longer for children to be dry throughout the night. Most children learn this between the ages of 3 and 5.

Potty training children with additional needs

If you have a child with additional needs, there are many websites to help provide the best advice for you such as ERIC (The Bowel & Bladder Charity).

Starting potty training

Before you start potty training, make an agreement with yourself that you will try it out with consistency and patience. It’s not an easy task and a very messy one, but it’s a necessary part of parenting. You’ve got this!

You may think you sound like a broken record (3 years and counting here!) but asking the questions “Do you need a wee?” or “Do you need a poo?” can help your child recognise when action is needed.

Helping them learn to use the potty

Start by placing your child on the potty once every 1-2 hours, or when you know they are ‘due’. If they don’t need to go, that is fine, and don’t be alarmed if even when they’ve sat on the potty or said they didn’t need a wee, then wet themselves a few minutes later. It’s all perfectly natural and helps them to learn. I thought my child would understand being wet but she didn’t seem to acknowledge accidents, maybe it was all happening up there and she was too embarrassed to admit them.

Talk through the actions with your child, make them feel relaxed and comfortable. We even read some books whilst she was sat on the potty. We also sang songs. Do whatever it takes and what suits you and your child.

Soon your child might even start telling you when they need the potty or toilet, this is great too and you should act upon any such warning sign immediately as they learn to control their bladder with time!

Essential items

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. That phrase certainly rings true for potty training. It’s absolutely essential that you’ve got the following items to hand:

Something to go into

  • A potty and/or toilet trainer seat. We had a cheap Ikea potty which we decorated with stickers to make her own. We also invested in a toilet training seat for the ‘big toilet’ and step so she could get up there herself.
  • A portable potty for when you’re out and about. We bought a Potette Plus and think it’s one of the essentials you can buy as a parent (along with a Perfect Prep Machine, Jumperoo and Ewan the Dream Sheep!). You can use it as a potty or as a toilet seat and it’s small enough to fold up and put in a large handbag. You use it with potty liners, little bags that contain the wee or poo that you can tie up and discard in a litter bin. These are great for when we can’t access a toilet (such as when we’re at the park!) and also help with the dilemma of where to empty the potty.

“I couldn’t have survived without a Potette in the early days of going out without a nappy and they have to go there and then, it’s basically a foldaway travel potty with a little disposable bag that has a liner! Small enough to fit in my bag and saved many accidents!” – Heidi (Southern Mummy)

Something to keep clean

  • New pants or knickers. To mark the monumental potty training occasion and create a sense of excitement, we took Little C out to buy some new knickers that she chose herself (pink paw patrol ones, swiftly followed by Disney Princess knickers when we needed to buy some more). Useful hint: Buy two or three times as many knickers as you think you might need. Our optimum amount was 20 in the end, one day potty training we ended up with 15 pairs going in the laundry in one go!
  • Spare clothes to take with you EVERYWHERE. Whilst your child is mastering potty training, you may find that some clothes end up wet or soiled. Having extra pairs of trousers (and tops) in the bag was a great idea and ensured there were no embarrassing moments and everyone stayed dry and clean. Don’t forget a plastic bag to put inside yours for the dirty ones.
  • Carpet Cleaner. As many parents will tell you, accidents can and will happen. They just need to be cleaned up! We got a carpet cleaner spray which cleaned the carpet and also had an odour eliminator. I can’t recommend this enough.

“My son absolutely refused to poo on the toilet and would hold it all day until he had a nappy on for bed. This continued for months until one day he had an upset tummy, cue panicked “Mummy, there’s a poo coming and I can’t stop it!” I grabbed him and threw him in the toilet just in time. When he was done he said “Mummy, pooing on the toilet is brilliant!” Problem solved.” – Josie (Me Them and The Others

Encouragement & Goals

  • Books & Television. Although not strictly necessary, these can be helpful in explaining how the potty and toilet works, and for your child to recognise when they need to go. The Pirate Pete’s Potty book proves quite popular with parents, and even has a ‘cheering’ button that your child can press. We all know how much a toddler loves a noisy book! On television, we watched CBeebies Bing’s toilet train episode several time whilst potty training. Hearing Bing’s whinging was worth it to have Little C recognise when she needed to catch the toilet train!
  • A Reward System. Children love positive praise. Positive praise can really help your child to learn how to toilet train. You just need to find what sort of reward system works for you. Some children would do anything for a chocolate button! Our child did better with the promise of toys so we used a reward chart for her. You can buy these in the shops or create your own. When she got 15 smiley faces for successful potty or toilet trips, we took her shopping to buy a special present – in this case a Pink Fingerling Monkey!
  • Songs. Children love a song. Emma (B and Me Make Tea) has even come up with a special song ‘poo patrol‘ (to the tune of ‘paw patrol’). That’s your toilet training earworm sorted!

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again

It is worth pointing out that our first couple of attempts at potty training were not successful, and “poomageddon” will permanently be etched on my mind. It was third time lucky (over a period of a couple of months). Everything suddenly clicked into place for her, and she’d got the hang of it. Like with most things, she prefers to learn for herself by just ‘doing’ and this seemed to be the best way for her. Alongside promises of a prize with the reward chart.

Although it didn’t make the checklist as you can’t actually physically buy this, you need lots and lots of patience. This cannot be underestimated. Your patience will be tested, as there will be many accidents. It’s just the way it is. Unfortunately patience isn’t yet available in the shops so creating your own is the next best bet!

“After a lot of stress, little Miss just worked it out for herself. She didn’t bother with the potty and once she sussed it was dry with no accidents. I wrote this post about it because it was very stressful getting to that point.” Suzy (We Made a Wish)

Potty training is not for the faint-hearted!

I remember shaking my head and thinking to myself ‘no-one tells you about the joys of this part of parenting!’ when we first started potty training. It definitely wasn’t on my radar when I was a mum of a newborn. I couldn’t believe how frustrating it was and how many accidents our child could accidentally have in one day (this might have been whilst I was pegging out her entire collection of underwear to the washing line!). However, you can and do (eventually) come out the other side. It’s messy, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Don’t feel pressured, just wait for the right time and if you don’t know if it’s the right time or not you soon will.

“We tried….we failed! Iv come to the conclusion you can’t force it and they will do it when they are ready. My little one speaks in full sentences and is so independent I thought she would get it really early! But I guess they all just get different things at different times and she’s still not ready but there’s no rush. She will do it in her own time.” – Amy (Living the Harmon Life)

It’s a huge task that requires you to be constantly on the go, cleaning up, giving encouragement and praise and repeating as needed. As long as your child is ready, you will get there, however strap yourself in for a ride. Treat yourself to a reward when you get there too!

How was it for you?

What are your experiences? Are you a seasoned pro or are you ready to start on the potty training journey? Let us know using the comments box below or joining the conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links, however all views and opinions are my own and of those quoted. Thanks to Soph Obsessed, Fab Fat Mama and Mighty Mama Bear for contributions towards the creation of this blog post too.)

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