How to toilet train your toddler: A farewell to nappies

A one month countdown to trouble-free toilet training.
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Learning how to use the toilet is a major milestone for toddlers and it can be a big step for you, too.

Toilet-training can be messy, frustrating and time consuming, and it requires a bucket load of patience, encouragement and commitment.

But you’ll have more chance of success if you prepare ahead and pick the right time for your toddler as well as you, so you’re not too busy or stressed. Check out your calendar – and our one month countdown to the big day – so you can approach the task armed with lots of good advice, helpful know-how and plenty of clean-up cloths!

One month to go

Using the toilet is a skill that requires toddlers to recognise they need to go, and then taking action to get there in time! Keep an eye out for signs your child is ready for this next stage in his development, which might include being dry for two hours at a time, becoming interested in the toilet and feeling uncomfortable in wet nappies.

Child psychologist and M&B expert Sally-Anne McCormack says this can happen around the two-year mark, but some children start earlier or later. “Tugging at his nappies because they are wet or telling you that he needs to go are signs he has become aware of what’s going on down there,” she says.

toilet training

A potty is less daunting than a toilet.

Three weeks to go

Let your toilet-trainee see you use the loo. Sally-Anne says this can be encouraging, as your child will watch how you do it and realise that it’s not as scary as it looks.

“It might be especially useful for little boys to see how Daddy does it,” she says. If your child is already watching you sit on the toilet and asking you questions about what you are doing, this may be another clue he is ready to be toilet-trained.

Two weeks to go

Decide whether you will use a potty or a seat that can be placed over the toilet. A potty is fun and is mobile, but needs to be rinsed out each time it’s used. A seat over the toilet is convenient as you don’t need to deal with any solids or liquids afterwards, but your child can be reluctant to use the big toilet.

“There are advantages and disadvantages to both,” Sally-Anne says. “A potty is less daunting than a toilet as it is smaller and mobile but, if you do decide to use one, you will have to eventually move your child onto the toilet anyway.”

Stick with one or the other, as switching between them may confuse your little one. Leave the potty around so your child becomes familiar with it, let him sit on it and start talking about what it is going to be used for.

One week to go

Take a special trip with your toddler to buy ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ undies. “I recommend using a nice pair of ‘special pants’, ones that may have his favourite superhero or Disney character on them,” Sally-Anne says. “If you tell your child they are his best undies, then he will take care not to ruin them, which may help you with the training process.”

You could also try training pants, with an extra-absorbent section around the crotch which provides absorbency but also helps your child recognise that wet sensation afterwards.

Potty day

Toilet-training takes prompting, patience and energy, so watch for those signs and pick a time when you have the stamina for the task. Choose a day you’re going to be around home, then go nappy-free!

Generally children start by weeing in a potty before moving onto poos, as weeing is more frequent. “To start with, explain to your child he has to tell you when he needs to do a wee,” Sally-Anne says. He’ll need lots of reminders, so make a trip to the potty or toilet at regular times, such as when he gets up from his afternoon sleep, after lunch, before he gets into the car or into bed.

When starting out you might need to encourage more frequent tries – but keep it fun, and don’t insist he stay on the potty for a long time. Take him off after a few minutes, praise him for trying and suggest he tries again later. He could be feeling pressure to go or just doesn’t need to.

“If you leave him on there for more than a few minutes, he may feel like he is being punished,” Sally-Anne says.

Now the nappies are off, don’t switch between sometimes on, sometimes off. Commit to it, at least for a few days, even for the afternoon nap.

What to do when … a wee hits the potty!

It’s working. Your bub is gradually getting the hang of the sensation of needing to go and, even with plenty of reminders from you, is getting to the potty or toilet more often than not. Reward your child if he manages to go by himself. You want him to keep doing it.

“Try doing a fun dance or clapping your hands to let your little one know how proud you are of him,” Sally-Anne says. A reward sticker chart stuck on the back of the bathroom door is a fun way for him to see his progress.

What to do when … a wee hits the floor!

Puddles galore, perplexed looks from your toddler and exasperation from you. If you aren’t getting anywhere after a few days then leave it for a couple of weeks and come back to it. Accidents will happen, and when a puddle forms on your newly-cleaned floor, try not to get cross. Just wipe it up in a no-nonsense way and maintain your encouragement and positivity, even if it’s the third one that day.

Avoid making a fuss about accidents. “If he feels uncomfortable, he might hold on and not release his bladder and this can lead to urinary tract infections,” says Sally-Anne.

You can stop and start until your child gets the hang of using the toilet. It’s more important to be consistent during the periods you are giving toilet training a go. Take the pressure off yourself and your child, and try to remember it’s a new skill that can take some time to learn.

“There’s no set age for when a child needs to be toilet-trained,” Sally-Anne says. Each child is different: some get the hang of it in a few days and others take longer. Try to stay calm, patient and positive and, pretty soon, you’ll be strolling down the undies aisle rather than the nappy aisle.

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