Child development calendar - potty training

potty, training, development, child, todller

No one wants to stay in nappies all their life and that includes your child. Eventually almost everyone gets the hang of urinating (known in our house as having a wee) or defecating (doing a poo) in the toilet. Whether your toddler wants to come out of nappies when you want them to, is another matter.

Don't try for toilet training too early - it is much easier when children are approaching two and upwards and virtually impossible under 18 months because the sphincters (muscle outlets) of the bladder and bowel aren't yet under their control.

If you manage to catch a wee in some potty then it's luck on your part rather than sphincter mastery on the part of your child. There is wide variation in how quickly a toddler gets out of nappies - some of which is probably genetic.

Is it in the jeans genes?
Lateness in getting bladder and bowel control runs in families and boys may take longer to get the hang of it than girls

Bowel control often comes before bladder control and children may be wet in the night for some time after they are dry during the day. Toilet training is not something you can teach in a day - sometimes it may take weeks or months with minor relapses if your child becomes troubled or ill. You can be lucky, however, and your toddler may step out of nappies within a couple of weeks and not look back.

Take your cues from your child - it is best not to make this a battle of wills - although if a nursery place depends on your toddler being toilet trained then this will put pressure on the process. Unfortunately this is a process unsuited to being hurried - its best to be gently encouraging and sympathetic rather than insistent and disgusted at any failure. Talk to the nursery - its unlikely that all their children have got the hang of being continent of both their wee and poo.

Most people aren't relaxed about their bodily functions - struggle not to pass your hang ups on to your child. Phrases like "Phoar you smell - the stink from your nappy makes me feel sick" will be counter-productive. Your toddler will think you find them disgusting.

Extravagant praise and financial rewards for using the potty successfully make too big a deal out of the process. Punish and you risk having a toddler who develops constipation - best not to poo at all than risk depositing it in the wrong place.

Whatever your parents and your in-laws think about potty training, don't be bullied into starting before your child has given any indication that he or she is ready. It's unlikely that poor potty training leaves lasting trauma but you wouldn't want your child discussing your technique 20 years later with her therapist. It might not always be easy but at least try to act calm, unhurried and natural about the process. Try to make it as driven by your toddler as possible. Consistence once you've started is essential.

At what age should I try?

Don't try before the age of 18 months because toddlers have no voluntary control over where and when they urinate or open their bowels. From one year on they may pull faces when they open their bowels - which gives you a hint of what's happening even if they aren't sure.

Wait for a sign

At 18 months toddlers often know they are opening their bowels and stop playing for a moment - maybe standing still with a look of concentration.

Your toddler may tell you he or she has done a wee or poo and pro-actively tug at their nappy or lie down in the 'change me now' position.

If your child is at nursery or has older siblings he or she may work out for themselves what's expected and start indicating they'd like a go at using the potty - sometimes when they feel they are about to do a poo.

If your child wees while her nappy is off and gazes with interest at the puddle and maybe clutches herself, she is linking effect with cause and may be ready to try the potty.

Hello potty

It's worth splashing out (no pun intended) on a potty - adult toilets can seem enormous to toddlers, who often worry they will fall into them and get flushed away. The potty type doesn't really matter although the little cars with lids on are tasteful. Get at least one that can go with you on car journeys.

If you are rich then put potties in rooms all over the house - time is of the essence and when your child first says "potty" its best not to have to wrack your brains to work out where you last saw it.

Introduce your toddler to the potty in a casual way, letting him or her play with it. Don't let her first introduction be that of her bare bottom onto plastic with your anxious face peering encouragingly. She should sit on it with her clothes on. This is a low-pressure introduction, not a full-blown preview. If she's not interested, you and the potty should back off.

Read some books on potty training with your toddler such as Tony Ross's I Want My Potty. Discuss what's involved in potty training in a simple, not physiologically detailed way.

Let her make her own way to the potty. She's at the stage where independence is desirable and achievable.

The best time to try potty training is in summer months when your toddler can go around the garden or uncherished rooms in your flat without a nappy on. She can then see what she's producing.

Sometimes children poo at roughly the same time, for example after meals, each day. You may casually suggest she sits on the potty at these times, gently guiding her there. If she doesn't want to sit down and wait for any time then let her get up again. Suggest at various times that she try the potty but don't become a potty nag. Toddlers like to feel they're the ones in charge. If you promote something too heavily it usually turns them against it.

Encourage her when she sits on her potty and praise her when she deposits a poo in it. Hugs and kisses are better than expensive new toys. You're not meant to be that fussed whether or not she uses her potty.

Use pull up nappies or ordinary pants so she can feel the difference, although it may be better to wait until you're going for bladder control for the latter. If she has an accident change her immediately, she will not learn anything from being left in poo or wee. Calmly sympathise and encourage her to have a go at using the potty next time. Be patient but be consistent - encourage her also to pull her own pants down - so dress her in clothes that are easy to whip off. Toilet training is about her gaining some independence - not only about you saving 10 pounds a week in nappies.

Try a trainer seat over the big toilet seat when she's mastered the potty - but she will need a step up and ideally something to hold on to. Don't flush the toilet immediately she's finished or she may get scared. The toilet is not as available as a potty so you may need to visit it a bit and certainly leave longer to get there.

A tummy bug with a bout of diarrhoea is likely to lead to accidents. If your child can be kept home with diarrhoea then this is kinder for her. She will probably be disgusted and upset. If you want to you can reassure her that this also happens with adults who have tummy bugs. She may be even more disgusted and upset.

Trying to get dry

Toddlers, like adults, urinate more often than they poo and have less time between being aware that they need to go and going. It comes upon them suddenly.

Try her without a nappy but be prepared for lots of puddles. Let her take the potty around with her and every so often ask her if she needs to do a wee and wants to sit on her potty.

Encourage her use the potty after she's woken up - first thing in the morning for example - but this may not work if she usually wakes up clingy and grumpy.

Try reminding your child to use the toilet and watch for signs that they really need to go - children often hold themselves or fidget.

Be sympathetic about accidents and work on stressing the joys of no nappies rather than the delights of weeing in the potty. Don't make a drama out of wet pants - children, especially when they are older, are often ashamed enough already. Can't you remember your bladder letting you down as a child?

Toddlers can't go just in case, in the way we can, before a long journey. Inevitably they will want to go when you are travelling 70 mph along a motorway. Take a potty with you but do not risk all your lives to avoid a puddle in the car. One more reason to delay buying that Porsche.

If your toddler is absorbed in playing, or is somewhere where she isn't sure where the potty/toilet is, accidents will happen. Where to wee is not of paramount importance to a child and probably that's just as well. Trainer pants may be worthwhile for trips out.

This forgetting or not bothering to go often happens after your child has got the hang of using the toilet.

Don't worry if your child has accidents after the age of four - it does happen. Just check it doesn't hurt them to wee - an indication they may have an infection.

Always take changes of clothing - more than one. Children should have their clothes changed promptly - it's horrid to sit in soaked or soiled pants and illogical to think this will reinforce their need to go to the toilet.

Children may start being wet in the day again if they are stressed. There are usually other signs but it is worth gently asking if they are bothered by anything.

Night time

One in ten six-year-olds is regularly wet at night. Most grow out of it but being wet at night runs in families and boys may be slower to become dry than girls.

Don't rush night time dryness. Many children aren't dry until they are four. Wait until daytime dryness has been comfortably achieved and she has had some nights in which the nappy is dry in the morning before leaving nappies off at night.

The reason why most children aren't dry at night is probably because their nervous systems are not mature enough to trigger that their bladders are full and need emptying.

Discuss with your child the issue of leaving nappies off at night and put a plastic sheet under the sheets. Be relaxed - reassure your child that it doesn't matter if they wet the bed - you can wash the sheets and change their pyjamas. Let them know they are bound to get the hang of it soon.

Wet sheets are infuriating but trying to keep them dry won't necessarily help your child. Restricting late drinks is now thought not to reduce accidents - the bladder adapts and can't hold the new smaller amount. Lifting your child into the bathroom before you go to sleep is likewise unhelpful to the child - best to wake them up to feel their bladder is full and they need to empty it.

If your child continues to be wet at night after the age of six, you should see your GP. Even better, contact the support group Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) on 0845 370 8008 (10am to 4pm) or online at The centre's address is 34 Old School House, Britannia Road, Kingswood, Bristol BS15 8DB.

A word about our development calendar

Please remember, not all babies and children develop at the same time and in the same way, so our development calendar may not always match your child. Development milestones vary widely. It's not uncommon to have isolated pockets of late development, such as late walkers and talkers, and some babies are slower to develop because they were born prematurely or because they're twins (or triplets). But a minority of babies and children do have delays in development that may need specialist help. If you are at all concerned, go and see your GP. No health professional should ever trivialise a worry you have about your child. If your child has special needs, you can get advice from other parents in our special needs Talk forum. We've also got pages with advice about diagnosis, support and benefits, plus our Special needs webguide.

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Last updated: about 1 year ago