One of the developmental milestones in childhood is learning how to use the toilet. For some children toilet training, or ‘potty training’, is a simple and quick process; for others, it takes longer. There is no particular age when children should be toilet trained, since individual and genetic factors all play a role.
When should you start toilet training?
Most toddlers aren’t ready to start toilet training until after 18 months of age. Between 18 months and 3 years, most toddlers are mature enough to transition from wearing nappies to using a potty or a toilet.
How will my child show they’re ready for toilet training?
While every child is unique and develops at their own pace, there are some common signs that show toilet training readiness. Your child may be ready to start using the toilet when they:
- know they are about to wee or poo or, they’ve already soiled their nappy and tell you
- wake up dry after a daytime nap or wake up dry in the morning
- can ‘hold on’ and not wee or poo for 2 hours or more
- become irritated by wearing a nappy, especially if it’s wet or dirty
- are pooing at fairly predictable times of the day
- show interest in using the toilet or potty or in other children using the toilet
- can take their nappy off and pull their pants up and down
- can follow simple instructions
- can sit comfortably in one position for a little while
Do I start with the potty or toilet?
It’s up to you and your child. Some parents find that introducing a potty to their toddler is a gentler transition than using a big toilet straight away. Toilet training or potty training uses the same basic principles.
If emptying a potty doesn’t appeal to you, there’s no harm in your toddler using a toilet. However, you need to make sure they can climb onto the toilet easily with a step or stool. There should be an insert in the toilet seat so they feel more secure.
Tips for toilet training
- If possible, wait to toilet train until the warmer months. Fewer layers of clothing to peel off will make it easier.
- Plan for a time when the household is calm and there’s not much else going on.
- If possible, have the parent with the same gender as the child take the child to the toilet – or take the parent with you – so the child can see what’s involved. Don’t be shy and speak candidly.
- Ask the child to “do a wee (or poo)”. Be patient and kind while they’re learning.
- Take your toddler to the toilet after meals and at regular times during the day. Every 2 hours should be enough.
- Praise your toddler’s attempts — even sitting on the toilet the first few times will be an achievement. If they do wee or poo, consider this a bonus.
- Stay close by when they’re sitting on the toilet. They need to feel secure and safe to ‘let go’ and wee or poo.
- Take your child to the toilet just before their sleeps.
- Continue using a nappy on your toddler for day sleeps and at night until they are regularly waking up dry.
- Show your child how to flush. This can be scary for some children who think they’re going to disappear as well! Stay calm and give simple, clear reassurance.
- Show your child how to wash and dry their hands.
Toilet training tips - video
Video provided by Raising Children Network.
Toilet training and hygiene
Learning good hand hygiene is an important part of toilet training. Teach your child to wash their hands after each visit to the toilet, even if they don't do anything.
Start by making sure they have a foot stool, so they can comfortably stand at the sink.
- using clean, running water (not too hot), wet their hands
- lather their hands with soap
- make sure to wash their hands all over — in between fingers, back of hands and wrists for 20 seconds
- rinse the soap from their hands and dry well with a clean towel
Toilet training differences between boys and girls
Girls always sit on the toilet and boys can either sit or stand when doing a wee. You may find it easier to start your boy sitting for both wees and poos, then change to standing for wees.
Don’t expect your boy’s aim to be perfect at first. Some parents make a cross with a permanent marker at the back of the toilet bowl or place a ping-pong ball in the water to help with aim.
Teach your boy to shake his penis to get drops of urine off and into the toilet bowl. If he’s uncircumcised, there’s no need for him to hold his foreskin back to wee.
Expect your child to still need help wiping their bottom for a while after they’re first toilet trained. Teach them to wipe from front to back, especially with girls. This is because you want to avoid any bacteria from their bottom.
Toilet training and child care
It's important that you speak to the staff at your child care centre about how you’re managing toilet training at home. This is so training is consistent between home and childcare. You should also:
- pack extra nappies and clothes for childcare in case of accidents
- let the carers know if there are any words or signs your child may give when they want to use the toilet
- show your child where the toilet is at childcare and explain how it may be different to at home
Important toilet-training tips
- Expect accidents and wet and dirty pants – as well as some regression – while toilet training.
- Avoid punishing your toddler if they don’t understand your instructions or have an accident.
- Try not to let your child become constipated, which can cause pain when pooing. Water and fibre in their diet from fresh fruit and vegetables will help.
- Keep the potty in the bathroom, not in front of the TV and don't use other electronic devices to keep them occupied while they are sitting on the toilet.
- Avoid making your child wait if they’re showing signs they need to go to the toilet. ‘Holding on’ can cause your child to be upset if they have an accident.
- Know that boys tend to be slower than girls to toilet train.
- There can be a difference of up to a year between training for wees and poos.
- It’s normal for some children to still be bedwetting in their lower primary school years.
- There is a strong genetic link between the age children are dry at night and when their parents were as children.
- Pull-ups and training pants can be expensive. Consider your own budget before transitioning from nappies to pull-ups.
- If your child shows no interest and isn’t progressing with their toilet training, wait until they’re a bit older to try again.
Where do I go for help?
Your child will learn to use the toilet at their own pace. It could take just a few days, or several months. And it might take a few attempts to get them started.
It's important not to show any frustration or anger as this might mean your child could avoid using the toilet or potty.
If you are concerned, or just need some help with toilet training, speak to your child health nurse. It’s normal for children, especially boys, to wet the bed at night into their lower primary school years. However, continence therapists can be helpful in building skills in bedwetting.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse who can provide advice and guidance on toilet training.
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Last reviewed: September 2020