Learning to use the toilet is an important milestone for toddlers. It is a big step as they learn to understand their body’s signals and start being responsible for their own bodies.
Each child is different. Some seem to almost train themselves when they are ready, while others need some help from parents. The most important thing is that your child is ready and that you are relaxed and patient.
Are they ready?
While children learn at their own pace, many start to show the ‘readiness skills’ and physical maturity needed for toilet training between eighteen months and 2.5 years of age. This is also a time when they are starting to show signs of wanting more independence.
Toilet training works best in a relaxed and supportive environment. It helps when you make it as easy, effortless and fun as possible, and progress at the pace your child can manage. Avoid starting toilet training when your child is coping with other big changes, e.g. starting childcare or a new baby arriving.
Some of the readiness skills you might notice are your child’s ability to:
• copy your behavior and follow simple instructions • say words for wee and poo and show an interest in others using the toilet • pull their pants up and down • stay dry for two hours or more in the day - this shows your child has developed the capability to ‘hold on’ a little rather than their bladder just emptying itself when full like babies and younger toddlers • tell you they have just done a wee or a poo in their nappy, or when their bladder or bowel is full
• having bowel motions at a similar time each day that have a firm consistency • not wanting to wear nappies or showing interest in ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ undies • trying to pull off wet or dirty nappies or asking to be changed
Your child does not need to show all of these signs to be ready, but it does help to wait until they show many of the signs.
Getting ready for toilet training
Talk with your partner about what you will do to help your child learn to use the toilet. If your child is going to childcare or spends time with others, make sure everyone knows what you are doing. It helps to be consistent.
To help your child get ready for toilet training you could:
• Read a toilet training book or watch a DVD with your child. This helps them learn in a fun way that it is normal for everyone to wee and poo. You can get books and DVDs from your local library
• Let your child go with you to the toilet and talk about what you are doing if you feel OK doing this. Understanding what the toilet is for is the first step in learning how to use it
• Teach your child the words needed for toilet training, e.g. wet, dry, wee, poo, it’s coming. Choose words you are comfortable with
• Make sure the toilet area is safe. Keep household cleaners and toiletries out of reach
• Dress your child in clothing that is easy for them to get on and off, and easy to wash. Toilet training can be easier in warmer weather because there are fewer clothes to remove in a hurry
• Learn your child’s cues so you can be ready to guide them to the toilet in time. It is important to have the toilet or potty set up ready to avoid accidents.
Potty or Toilet?
Before you start toilet training you will need to decide whether to use a potty or the toilet. Many parents use both. It helps to find out which one your child prefers by having both ready.
If using the toilet, you will need a toddler toilet seat with a smaller hole that fits inside the big toilet seat. You will also need a step they can climb up on by themselves and rest their feet on while sitting. They need to feel safe and relaxed sitting on the toilet to be able to let the wee or poo out.
Some toddlers are afraid of being flushed down the toilet, even with the toddler seat in place. Even though you might want them to use the toilet, using a potty may be easier for them.
It can help them get used to the toilet and give a sense of control to flush the toilet so they can see what happens. Make sure flushing is only allowed after a wee or poo, otherwise it might become just a fun game that isn’t linked with using the toilet.
Many parents start toilet training with a potty. It is easier for a child to get onto a potty without help and they seem to feel safer because it is not so high. You can put it somewhere they can get to in a hurry because they get very little warning that wee is going to come out.
When you go out it can be easier to take a potty with you than to make toilets in other places safe and comfortable for your child.
Some parents have a potty out before the child is ready for toilet training. Children get to know how it feels and that it is their potty. You might leave it within easy sight wherever they are playing so they get used to it, or put it in a place they choose. Your child could sit on the potty at different times through the day with their clothes on without any other expectations. You could get them to sit teddy on the potty ‘to do a wee’. When confident with the potty they can then make the transition to the toilet.
The most important thing is to make it easy and fun for your child. If they are afraid or upset about the potty or toilet, don’t pressure them. Put training off for a month or so.
How long will it take?
Some children take three to four weeks to work out how and when to go to the toilet while some seem to manage within a few days. Some get control over wee first, for others it will be poo. Quite often girls manage toilet training earlier than boys, but this is not always the case.
If your child is not making progress after about four weeks, they may not be ready. Wait a few weeks and try again. There are many steps in learning to use the toilet and it takes time to put them all together.
Don’t feel pressured to start too early. It takes longer if your child is not ready.
What about becoming dry at night?
Becoming dry at night takes longer because it is not something your child can learn to control like day-time toileting. While children are asleep they don’t have any control over when their bladder empties. It is not something they can stop by ‘trying hard’. Genes are also involved in night-time bladder control so if members of you or your partner’s family wet the bed later than others, your child might too.
Bedwetting happens when the bladder becomes full at night but children don’t wake up. The bladder empties itself automatically rather than holding the wee. The ‘link’ between the brain and bladder needs to develop so the brain is able to ‘tell’ the bladder not to empty. This happens at different ages.
Often children become dry at night by about three years. Most are dry at night by five years although some wet until six or seven, or even older. Most pre-schoolers still have accidents from time to time and over 10% of junior primary school children still wet their bed.
If your child starts to wet often after being dry at night, you may want to talk with your doctor or health professional. Sometimes there can be a medical problem.
It is important to not criticize or tease your child about wetting the bed or talk with others about it in front of them. While older children can help by putting sheets in the laundry basket, getting young children to wash their bedding can feel like a punishment.
We hope you find this information useful as you navigate your way through toilet training!