So much happens in the first couple of years of your little one's life, but potty/toilet training can certainly be one of the more challenging milestones.
The stress surrounding potty training can often boil down to one fundamental reason - trying to get your little one to toilet train before THEY are ready.
So if you don’t have the time to read anything other than this, my take-home message from this whole blog would be:
Save yourself the time, laundry and headache and be child-led when it comes to potty training.
What do I mean by being child-led? I mean, not just starting potty training because Sue on your street has just started with her child of the same age and it has panicked you into starting too.
Remember, all children are different. Just because Sue’s kid is ready, it doesn’t mean yours is. Waiting until they are ready will save a lot of frustration, disappointment and stress. If you do start because you think they’re ready and it doesn’t go well, remember there's no harm in stopping and trying again a few weeks later, or when you think they’re more ready.
Having said all this, I feel like potty training is a bit of a rite of passage for many parents and they want to do it at a time that is convenient for them - perhaps you’ve got a new baby on the way - that’s totally fine and I get that. Ultimately you need to do what you think is right for your family.
So, if you want to carry on regardless, or if your child IS showing all the signs they’re ready, here’s what you need to know…
Signs they may be ready to potty train
If your little one is showing most of the following they could be ready:
Nappies dry in the morning.
Only poos in the day.
Aware of having a wee or a poo - maybe they hide in a corner, clutch themselves, or if they're verbal tell you.
Express interest in you or other people going to the toilet.
Asking to wear knickers or pants.
Getting the timing right
So we’ve already established part of the timing puzzle is waiting until your little one is showing signs they're ready. Another part is thinking about the time of year.
If your little one doesn’t get the hang of things straight away, you could be in for a lot of washing. So if you can, my advice would be to start during the warmer months. Over winter any accidents that occur may mean soaking through multiple layers if you’re out and about, rather than just a pair of shorts.
The last part of the timing puzzle is aiming for a time when your child isn't going through any other big changes, such as starting nursery, a house move etc and when they are feeling well in themselves. You want to give yourselves the best chance of success.
So you think you’ve nailed the timing and are ready to get going, there may be a few other things you want to get before you get started such as:
Some books about potty training. You could introduce these in the weeks leading up to when you want to start.
A potty - maybe get your little one to help you choose so they feel they have some control over the situation - but avoid using it as any sort of toy, it should be clear what the function is.
Toilet insert seat and a step stool - some kiddies prefer to go straight for the toilet and skip the potty altogether, so good to be prepared with this from the get go.
Cleaning materials such as wipes and floor cleaner within easy access so you can clean up spills without making it seem like a big deal to your little one.
Pants/knickers - again let your child choose. They could practice getting teddy to wear his pants too, role play will be your best friend throughout this process!
Some useful phrases to incorporate
You’re at the starting blocks now and ready to get going with potty training. Your gut instinct may be to pester your little one by repeatedly asking them if they need the toilet. Instead try saying something along the lines of:
‘Mummy/daddy is going for a wee, you can come and try too at the same time if you want?’
You’re encouraging them to consider they may need the toilet, without forcing them to actually go.
If they’ve had a lot to drink and haven’t been for a while and you’re pretty sure they need to go, again avoid nagging and seeming annoyed they won’t go. Instead try saying something like:
‘Wow you’ve had lots to drink this morning, mummy/daddy always needs to go to the toilet after a big drink, maybe you’ll need a wee soon.’
If you need to leave the house to go somewhere and want to encourage your child to go for a wee before you go, make sure you’re giving plenty of warning. Children do not like to be rushed. Five minute warnings work well, again make them feel as though they have some control over the situation.
Signs they may need a wee/poo
All children have their unique tells when it comes to needing to go, so it might take you a little while to figure out what your little ones are. They may:
Start to rock or squat.
Hold themselves at the front.
Fidget, squirm, bounce, hop from foot to foot.
Go into a corner (my kids favourite!).
Go very quiet.
We all live busy lives, so the two main things which may happen with the above is either you don’t notice they’ve started doing some of these things and may need to go, or you little one may be so pre-occupied playing they may not notice they need to go themselves. So trying to spot the early signs is key and frequent (yet not pushy) trips to the toilet are helpful if you can - especially if you're child is busy playing etc and distracted.
It can be tempting to initiate some sort of sticker chart or reward system for when they do have a successful trip to the potty or toilet, but verbal praise and encouragement and the accomplishment of achieving something so big, is normally all your child needs. Plus, if they think they’re going to get a reward, it may actually be teaching them to override their body’s own signals and when the treats do stop, they could take a few steps backwards - effectively, 'no reward, no wee mummy'!
S*** they won’t poo
Often toddlers may nail the wees quite quickly, but struggle a bit more with the poos. This happened to us with my first. To help them out you could try getting them to poo on the potty first before they upgrade to the toilet, the squat position may help move things along a bit easier! Also think about their diet, lots of fruit and veg and water with help avoid any constipation.
If your little one struggles to go and builds up a negative association with doing a poo, they may withhold going - which clearly is only going to make the constipation worse. This can be a stressful situation (I know, my son didn’t poo for a week when we were toilet training!), but try not to get frustrated with your child, this could compound the situation even more. Clearly being relaxed in this instance is the best position for your little one to be in.
Being dry at night
Whether you choose to tackle nights at the same time as days is a very personal choice. All I would say is, just because your child is successfully dry in the day, this doesn't always carry through to the nights.
A hormone that helps the body produce less urine at night will clearly develop at different rates in different children. If your child is still wetting the bed at night, they may simply not be producing enough of this hormone yet and this isn’t something you can speed up - however hard you try.
All the physical developments needed for your little one to be able to achieve nighttime dryness are not something that can be rushed - try and be patient.
If it helps, being completely child led and with the help of his nursery my son was dry with minimal accidents in the day by 2 and a half years. He was only dry at night, again led by him asking to wear his pants at night, just before he turned 5 - but because he was physically ready and it was led by him, we've had no accidents so far (touch wood!).
If you think your child is ready to be dry at night there’s some things you can do to help you to succeed:
Restrict fluids in the few hours before your child goes to bed if you can to give them a fighting chance - this can be harder in the summer months. But hopefully maximising fluid intake during the day should help.
Be prepared. You can buy big absorbent pads to put under the sheets and a waterproof mattress protector is probably a good idea. Have a change of bedding and some fresh PJs close to hand, so if any accidents do occur, it doesn’t seem like a big deal and gets sorted quickly. Again, we don't want any negative associations with the process.
You could try lifting your child to the toilet for a ‘dream wee’ at the time you usually go to bed to help them get through the night.
Make sure they go to the toilet before they go to bed, however much they protest, explain this is all part of the process of being dry at night.