Toilet Training

Toilet Training

Toilet Training

Toilet training is a major milestone for children. Parents look forward to it, because it signals an end to diapers. When is the best time to toilet train? How is it done? These are questions you may have. Read on to find answers.

Resisting pressure to start too soon 

No doubt, like many other parents, you face pressure from others to toilet train your child as young as possible. It can begin feel like others are judging your parenting ability by whether your child is toilet trained or not.  This type of pressure often comes from people who confuse 'toilet training' with 'toilet timing'.

It's not possible to toilet train a child who's not ready to be trained (toilet timing is a different matter). When your child is ready to train has nothing to do with how good a parent you are or how intelligent your child is. It relies on the development of nerve pathways that carry messages to your child's brain, so that he can recognize when his bowel or bladder is full and needs emptying. 

In much the same way that you have no control over the development of your child's teeth, the development of these nerve pathways are "pre-set" into his genetic make-up and is not something that can be rushed by placing him on a potty.    

Attempting to train your child before he's developmentally ready will place unnecessary work and stress on everyone involved. But by patiently waiting until your child shows signs of readiness before you begin, toilet training will generally progress quickly and smoothly, with minimum stress.  

Toilet training versus toilet timing

There is a difference between 'toilet training' and 'toilet timing'. Toilet training involves active participation on the part of the child. To toilet train a child requires a child to have some degree of control over his bowel and bladder to delay emptying. 

In previous generations parents were encouraged to toilet time their babies as young as 1 year old. This involves placing the child on a potty or toilet at frequent and regular intervals throughout the day. Many mothers were (and still are) very successful in anticipating when their child is likely to pee or poop and could "catch it" in a potty. This involves no deliberate participation on the part of the child.  

Although parents at time called this 'toilet training', today this practice is called 'toilet timing' to differentiate between the level of involvement on the part of the child.

Readiness for toilet training

Most children are not ready for toilet training until they have matured enough developmentally to learn to control their bowel and bladder. This occurs somewhere between 2 and 3 years of age. While a small number of children are ready for toilet training as young as 18 months, some may not be ready until 4 years. Girls often show readiness for toilet training at a younger age than boys. 

Signs that indicate your child is ready for toilet training include...

  • He shows interest in the toilet and how others use it.
  • He can tell you when he's wet or soiled.
  • He shows a desire not to wear wet or soiled diapers.
  • He can pull his own pants on.
  • He can wait and control the urge to empty his bladder or bowel.

Starting toilet training

1.  Choosing the right time to start

Toilet training can take many weeks, so choose a time to start when you know you will be available to provide the extra time and attention toilet training requires.  Parents often choose the warmer months, when a child will not be as restricted by layers of clothing.

2.  Getting ready

  • Provide your child with either a potty or a special child's toilet seat and a footstool. (Some toddlers become afraid of sitting on the toilet). Allow your child to play with it and sit on it whenever he wants.
  • Talk about the potty and what it's for. Explain the steps on how to use the potty. (Any step that your child remembers should be encouraged and praised)
  • Allow your child to follow you to the bathroom and see the steps you go through when using the toilet. Talk to him about what you are doing.

3.  When training starts

  • Dress your child in clothes that are easy to remove. Put him in 'trainer pants' so that he can become aware of when he's wet or soiled.
  • Watch your child for signs of wanting to go to the toilet or ask him whether he wants to go from time to time. (Some children will tell you when they want to go but most will not).
  • Take notice of what time of the day your child usually wets or passes a bowel movement. When you think it's time, sit him on the potty or toilet for 3 - 5 minutes. Other times to offer the potty or toilet include...
    • shortly after waking up
    • after meals
    • before going out
    • when you come home 

4. What to avoid

  • Starting too soon. Most toilet training problems can be avoided if you wait until your child show signs of readiness.
  • Getting into battles over toilet training. Everybody loses with this sort of battle. Your child will have 'accidents' while he's learning. Ignore any accidents and gently remind him about the use of the potty. If after a couple of weeks of training he still has regular accidents, it may be best to give up training for a while and try again in a few weeks.

5.  Additional tips

  • Potty training can be more enjoyable by reading a story or watching something on television.
  • When teaching boys to urinate (pee) in the toilet, it may easier to encourage him to sit down first, before teaching him to urinate standing.
  • When teaching a girl to wipe herself after a bowel movement, the correct method is to wipe from front to back, to prevent infections.
  • Continue to use diapers (nappies) at night until your child regularly stays dry through most nights. Bed wetting can occur occasionally (or regularly) for a few years.
  • Encourage your child to wash his hands after he sits on the potty or toilet.

How long will training take?

There is no set time for a child to be toilet trained.  Every child will be different and will progress at his/her own pace. It may take as little as 3 - 4 weeks for some children but for others it may take months.  Many children will still accidentally wet or soil their pants for a year or more after being trained.

Be aware that any stress in your child's life e.g. a new baby, moving house or starting child care, may result in a set back regarding training.

Staying dry overnight

Many children will continue to wet overnight, long after they are dry during the day. Some children will continue to wet the bed at night, either occasionally or regularly, up to the age of 8 years and this can be completely normal. (This occurs more often with boys than girls). Bed wetting is not something a child can control! Most children outgrow bet wetting naturally. 

Bed wetting up until the age of 8 is rarely anything to worry about. However, it is always wise to have your child thoroughly checked by a doctor to make sure there is no medical problem that may be overlooked.  


Soiling is a word generally used to describe when a child, who is already toilet trained, does a bowel movement in his pants. (This can be either a partial or complete bowel movement).

Bladder control is often easier for children than learning to poop in a potty or toilet. Many children, who have mastered the skill of peeing in potty or toilet will wait until their diaper is back on before they poop. This is very normal behavior.  It's important not to pressure your child. Be patient, he will learn in time.

In a small number of children soiling can be a more complicated problem. Where a child may have experienced pain or trauma related to bowel movements, which can occur due to an illness, constipation, or being punished in some way for soiling, this can result in him try to hold back his bowel movements. Eventually his bowels become too full to manage and a small amount of poop leaks out, smearing his underwear. If you feel that your child is deliberately holding on to bowel movements  for long periods, it's very important to discuss this with your child's doctor.  In this situation if this problem is not handled well, it can become worse.

When to see your doctor 

  • If your child is wetting more often than normal.
  • If he has any pain when he does a pee.
  • If there is any blood in his pee.
  • If his pee smells.
  • If he starts wetting again during the day after he has been toilet trained.
  • If he is older than 4 and is still wetting during the day.
  • If you feel your child is deliberately holding back his bowel movements.

Written by Rowena Bennett. 

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