Where do I begin?
Once you have all of the equipment – toilet seat, potty, training pants – and your toddler is indicating that they might be ready, then it's time for you to take the first step.
First inroads and verbalising
You will probably know by now the signs your toddler gives when they are about to do or are doing a wee or poo. Demonstrate to them how this can be expressed verbally, 'I think you're doing a wee' or 'Are you doing a poo?' You can then start to encourage your toddler to tell you when they are doing either. This gets them in touch with their bodily functions and brings the discussion out into the open.
Pick a day or a weekend
It's best to start off at home when you will be together for the day. During the day, try using training pants or just underpants and talk to your toddler about how they can tell you if they need to use the toilet or potty. If you know that your toddler is fairly regular when it comes to urination or bowel movements, you can pre-empt these moments by taking them to the toilet or potty and asking if they need to go.
Anything that moves your toddler away from relying on nappies should be praised. For example, if your toddler tells you they need to use the potty but they don't make it there on time, still say, 'Thank you for telling me you needed to go.'
Ask your child throughout the day, almost off-handedly, whether they need to use the toilet or potty.
Don't overdo it
Your toddler will not enjoy sitting on the potty or toilet for more than a few minutes. If nothing comes of the effort, just calmly say, 'Maybe we can try again later.'
If you have a son, teach him to shake the last bits of wee from his penis before he turns from the toilet or pulls his pants up. It's also completely fine to let your son wee sitting down.
While they're young, your toddler will need you to wipe for them. Although they might like to do it themselves, and until they develop finer motor control, your toddler is unlikely to do it comprehensively. Always wipe front to back, which you can educate them on from an early age. This is particularly important for girls.
Another skill you can teach from the beginning is hand washing. Toddlers are unlikely to have done this themselves before. Start getting them into the habit of washing after each toilet or potty visit.
How long does toilet training take?
Toilet training can take a few days, a few weeks or a few months – there is no set timeframe. Don't fall into the trap of comparing your child's progress to another's, and don't take stock of anyone else's comments regarding what stage your child is at. You will only discourage and prolong your child's development if you lose patience or put any pressure on them.
Leaving the house
When you're confident that your toddler has a good degree of control over going to the toilet, you might like to try leaving the nappies at home. It can still be a good idea to use training pants to begin with, and a change of clothes is always a welcome addition to your travel bag.
The best foods for encouraging regular bowel movements are those that contain high amounts of fibre. Increasing fibre through diet is preferable to supplement use, so make sure your toddler's diet consists of lots of foods like fruit, vegetables, lentils, wholegrain cereals and legumes.
When do I do away with nappies completely?
Initially at least, you will want to keep putting nappies on your toddler at night time or during daytime naps. The idea of toilet training, however, is removing the reliance on nappies. During the day you will want to use undies or training pants, despite any accidents that might occur. Once your child gains control throughout the day, you will then want to talk to them about going to the toilet at night and making it as easy as possible.
It's highly unlikely that the toilet training process will go smoothly. Along the way there will be setbacks where you thought there had been progress. If your child has an accident and gets down on themselves, don't stress them out by making a big deal of it. Reassure them that you know they're trying and that there'll definitely be another opportunity!
How to avoid an accident
- If you're noticing during the day that your child hasn't wanted the toilet, gently remind them that they might need to go. Toddlers and kids get easily distracted and caught up in what they're doing
- Before leaving the house; upon arriving at your destination; in the morning and before bed, ask your toddler if they need to go to the toilet
- Make using the toilet as easy as possible. Have everything ready for your toddler, or the potty in close proximity. Leave the toilet light on at night
- Encourage your toddler to wake you and tell you if they need to go to the toilet at night time. Not only will this help prevent accidents, but it encourages them to use the toilet and before you know it, they won't need or want your help
What not to do
As important a skill as being toilet trained is, try not to let your child feel any pressure. Keep these points in mind as you're toilet training.
- Don't expect that your child will be toilet trained by a certain age. Unrealistic expectations are unhelpful, and unmet expectations can be harmful
- Don't admonish your child if they make a mess while starting out. It's natural that children will want to play with their bodily functions (and the products of those functions.) As they get older and better toilet trained – if they are continuing to play with their wee and poo – reinforce that big kids and grown-ups don't play with theirs
- Don't expect that daytime trained means night time trained. Your toddler or child will probably take a few more years until they have complete control over their bowels and bladder at night time
- Don't allow toilet training to develop into a power struggle or a battle of wills. If your child is resistant, leave the training for a while and return to it in a few weeks
As with all things parenting, as long as you stay calm and keep a good sense of humour, your child is likely to pick up on your mood and relax. Give your toddler the best possible environment to learn in by employing all your patience and understanding and you will help them on their way to growing up.