How to potty train your toddler

toddler on potty

Once your child is ready to start potty or toilet training, you'll need to be prepared. Here's how to potty train your child, including when to start, how to deal with accidents and other top potty training tips from parents.

In this article you'll find the following information:

How do I know if my toddler is ready to start potty training?

Tactics will only be successful if your tot is at the right developmental stage to start potting training. Here are the main signs they might be ready:

  • They're old enough to have bladder control

Toilet training is much easier with children aged two and upwards. Proper toilet training is virtually impossible for a child under 18 months because the sphincters (muscle outlets) of the bladder and bowel aren't yet under their control.

Bear in mind that there's a wide variation in how quickly toddlers start potty training. Lateness in acquiring bladder and bowel control can be genetic and boys may take longer to get the hang of it than girls.

  • You're changing fewer nappies

With bladder control inevitably comes fewer nappy changes. Once your child stays dry for a couple of hours, this may be a sign that they are developmentally ready to start potty training.

  • They know they're doing a poo or a wee

At around 18 months, toddlers often know that they're opening their bowels and, at this stage, are starting to link cause and effect. When it's happening, they'll likely stop what they're doing and wear a look of concentration on their faces.

They might also vocalise that they've done a wee or a poo and tug at their nappy or lie down in the 'change me now' position – a sure sign that they've noticed their nappy is soiled.

  • They're showing an interest in the potty or toilet

Your child has probably been following you to the toilet for some time now. If they start indicating that they'd like to try using the potty or toilet themselves, encourage this role play even if it doesn't initially produce any results.

What is a normal age for potty training?

Children tend to start potty training when they're around two years old, but it can happen anywhere between the ages of 18 months and three-and-a-half years.

This does, of course, depend entirely on the child and some children may not start potty training until after the three-and-a-half year mark.

How to prepare for potty training

If you think your toddler might be ready to give potty training a go, here's how to prepare:

  • Make sure your child is in good health

There's no point starting potty training while your child is feeling under the weather or ill. Start potty training when they're chirpy and in good health.

  • Is it the right time of year?

Summer is probably the best season for potty training. Your toddler can potter around the garden, or the parts of your home you don't mind getting dirty, without a nappy on.

She can then see what she's producing and, if there are accidents, your extra laundry and soggy rugs will dry more quickly in the sun.

  • Be positive

Be vocal with your toddler about the benefits of using the toilet and just how fun and natural it is, but don't downplay nappies too quickly as you're likely to be met with some toilet resistance.

  • Choose the right clothes

Potty training can be much easier for all involved if your toddler is dressed in non-fiddly clothes, pants or pull-ups. Not only will this mean a smoother process each time the potty is used, but will also hopefully minimise any mess.

  • Encourage good habits

Changing your child's nappy in the bathroom, where you'll likely store your potty, will help to bridge the gap between potty and nappies. Once potty training is in full swing, get your child in the habit of pulling their pants down and up before and after using the potty or toilet.

  • Provide a demonstration

Is there nothing toddlers love more than to mimic their parents? Demonstrating step by step how to use the toilet, including flushing, will allow your child to feel more prepared when they finally give it a go.

  • Choose the right potty for your child

Potty training will be a lot more appealing with the right potty or toilet seat. Let them guide you on whether a potty or potty seat is more appropriate and opt for a product that's sturdy and durable.

Also look for features like footrests for added stability or removable inserts that will make the potty easier to clean. Consider overall design too – the more attractive the potty or seat is, the more fun and less overwhelming the whole experience will feel, particularly for children who are nervous. Some potties also come with their own flushing mechanism and lid.

Parent-recommended potties:

Related: The best potties and toilet training seats

Young toddler on potty

How long does potty training take?

I let my second daughter go naked from the waist down for a week. By day two, she was going to the potty herself and now she tells me when she needs to go. My first daughter was not as quick, so don’t worry if it takes longer.

Bowel control often comes before bladder control and children may be wet in the night for some time even when they're dry during the day.

You can't teach toilet training in a day – it may take weeks or months, with minor relapses if your child becomes troubled or ill.

If you're lucky, your toddler may step out of nappies within a couple of weeks and never look back.

How to introduce a potty

Toilets can seem enormous to toddlers, who often worry they'll fall in and get flushed away. Try not to encourage this anxiety by reassuring your toddler that's there no chance of this happening.

Introduce your toddler to the potty in a casual way, letting them play with it and role play with teddies or dolls. Don't let the first introduction be their bare bottom on the chilly plastic with your face peering nightmarishly from above.

It may also be helpful to start with a low-pressure introduction by placing the potty in the bathroom and encouraging your toddler to sit on it before bath time.

If a trainer seat is more appealing and 'grown up' to your toddler than a potty, put one over the toilet seat and add a step stool if your child struggling to get up onto the seat. Of course, the toilet is not as convenient as a potty, so you may need to visit it more frequently to help your child get used to it.

To get your toddler interested in potty training, if they're not already, trying reading a potty training book with them.

Parent-recommended potty training books:

Related: The best potty training books

Lulu's Loo seems to work the best. After reading it several times, my DD refuses to wear her nappy and is much happier letting me sit her on the toilet.

How to potty train your toddler

1. Explain what you're doing

Talk to your toddler, make sure they're aware of the plan, and let them know that you support this new phase in their development as this will reinforce their decision to start using a potty or toilet.

Rewards, such as stickers or a small sweet treat, will also help them to feel more encouraged.

2. Eliminate the pressure

Potty training success can vary dramatically from child to child and it's important that parents don't cause any unnecessary pressure. Patience and encouragement is key so as to not diminish self-confidence.

3. Ditch the nappies

No nappies or pants around the house is often the order of the day once you start potty training, but buying your child some training pants will help them to feel more grown up.

Some parents prefer disposable pull-ups to get started (they offer absorption in the event of an accident), but if you're environmentally-conscious, reusable training pants are a good place to start.

Your child will then feel the difference and start to associate wearing their training pants with going to the toilet.

Parent-recommended reusable training pants:

We used the Bright Bots and Bambino Mio ones. They still get wet in them, but it stops that total flooding you get without.

Related: The best potty training pants for toddlers

4. Encourage regular potty visits

For the first day or two, sit her on her potty every half an hour or so. Encourage her to use the potty after she's woken up – first thing in the morning for example – and teach her to check for dryness.

5. Use technology as a helping hand

When it comes to potty training, no strategy is off the table. One mum found Amazon's Alexa to be very helpful in aiding her son's potty training, using her Amazon Echo Dot to set potty reminders every 40 minutes.

Related: Top toddler parenting tips

A parent's potty training diary

This Mumsnet user's diary is an example of what you can expect when you start potty training your toddler:

  • Day 1. We stayed in all day. Potty in the lounge. Sat him on the potty every 15 minutes for five minutes or so. If he did a wee while he was on the potty, we would cheer and give him stickers etc. If he did a wee on the floor, then we just said, “Never mind. We'll get it in the potty next time and get a sticker.” No pants or trousers – just a naked bottom half all day.
  • Day 2. More of the same, with more wees on the potty than on the floor.
  • Day 3. Still stayed in all day, but only sat him on the potty every two hours or so – I worked out from the previous couple of days that he wees about every two hours. He mostly managed to hold it in for the whole two hours each time and then did it straight away when I asked him to sit on the potty.
  • Day 4. The same again. No accidents.
  • Day 5. Stopped reminding him every two hours. Said at the beginning of the day, “If you need a wee then ask Mummy. Your potty is here. OK?” A few accidents.
  • Day 6. Same again, but he got the hang of it without me reminding him and started asking to go.

Reacting to accidents

Be sympathetic about accidents and stress 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're older, can feel ashamed whenever their bladder lets them down.

During the early days, a tummy bug or diarrhoea is likely to cause accidents. If your child has diarrhoea and is upset about it, reduce any additional stress by staying home (if possible) and reassure them that diarrhoea is also experienced by adults.

Don't treat toileting as disgusting

Most people aren't relaxed about their bodily functions, so it can be difficult not to pass your hang-ups on to your child. Phrases like “Ugh, you smell” will be counterproductive. Control your revulsion, even when scraping up poo from the living room carpet.

Potty training out and about

It's so hit and miss with my son. Just as I think we've made progress, he has a setback. We carry a potty in the car and, if tells me he needs a wee, I pull over, he uses it and then gets praised.

Toddlers usually can't go to the toilet 'just in case' before a long journey. Inevitably, they'll want to go when you're travelling at 70mph along the motorway. Take a potty with you, but don't risk life and limb to avoid a puddle in the car.

Trainer pants may also be worthwhile for trips out, but always bring a change of clothes with you as well.

Getting your toddler dry through the night

Don't rush trying to get your toddler to stay dry through the night. Only dispense with nighttime nappies once daytime dryness has been comfortably achieved and she has had some (or all) nights in which the nappy stayed dry.

If your child isn't dry at night, it's probably because their nervous system isn't mature enough to trigger a signal that their bladder is full and needs 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 it doesn't matter if they wet the bed and that you can wash the sheets and change their pyjamas. Let them know they're bound to get the hang of it soon.

One in 10 six-year-olds are regularly wet at night and most grow out of it. But if your child continues to be wet at night after the age of six, visit your GP or seek advice from ERIC, the Children's Bladder and Bowel Charity.

Read next: 8 tips for getting out the door with a toddler