Potty training

Your tot will let you know when they’re ready to start potty training. And you’ll almost certainly get lots of advice from friends and family. Make sure everyone who cares for your child knows they are potty training and tell them the words you and your child use for the toilet.

Most people begin potty training when their child is around the age of two. Some children may not be ready until much later than that. Watch for the signs listed below, and don't pressure your child to start before he or she's ready. Remember: different tots will start potty training at different times. It’s no bother if your tot takes a little more time than his or her friends.

Is your child is ready for potty training: a checklist

  1. They tell you they’ve done a wee or a poo. At first this may be after, rather than before, the event! But never mind – it’s a sign they are becoming aware of their bowel and bladder movements.
  2. You don’t have to change their nappy as often as there are longer periods between wet nappies. They have a wet or dirty nappy after a meal or drink and then can be dry for a few hours.
  3. They show you they’re aware of bodily functions. They imitate you going to the toilet or show some other sign that they are aware of what’s going on inside their body such as stopping what they are doing, grunting or holding their nappy.
  4. You notice they’re becoming more independent in other areas of life. For example, they are feeding themselves and can follow simple instructions.

Tips on how to potty train – from parents like you

"I’d no idea how to start potty training Jess, but my sister – who potty trained her daughter last summer – suggested letting her sit on the pot with her clothes on at first to help her get the idea. It worked a treat." Sara, 28, Perth

"I noticed that Duncan was dry after his afternoon nap so I suggested he sat on the potty. Result! After that there was no stopping him." Alison, 24, Ullapool

"I got quite good at noticing when Anna was about to go and encouraging her to sit on the potty. It didn’t take her long to get the hang of it and once she did, she started asking me for the pot herself." Rosie, 20, Dumfries

Potty training without the tears

  • Get the right equipment. Getting the right equipment for potty training is always a good start. A child-sized potty or a special seat to attach to your regular toilet is a must. Whichever you choose, make sure your child can sit comfortably.
  • Extra help. You may also want to buy a picture book or video all about potty training that you can look over with your tot. That way, you’ll both be prepared for the training ahead.
  • Time it right. Pick a period when you have plenty of time on your hands and be consistent – don’t chop and change from nappies to underpants during the day. If your tot’s just about to start nursery, you’ve just moved house, you’re going on holiday, you’ve just had another baby or you’re going through any other upset it’s probably best to leave potty training until things are less hectic.
  • Create a routine. Try sitting your tot fully clothed on the potty seat once a day – after breakfast, before bath time, or whenever else suits you both. This will allow your tot to get used to the potty and accept it as part of the daily routine. If he or she doesn't want to sit on the potty, that's okay. Don’t force the matter. Put the potty away for now and try again in a month’s time.
  • Be prepared… If you live in a two storey house, keep a potty upstairs and one downstairs. Be sure to have a potty with you when you’re out and about. It’s a good idea to keep one in the car too and to take a set of spare clothes out with you.
  • Be prepared… for accidents! Lots of accidents are par for the course at first. If your tot has an accident, change him or her straight away and calmly encourage use of the potty or toilet next time. Your child may start having accidents again, after a period of thinking you had it sorted, if he or she is tired or busy. Just deal with it calmly as before.
  • Encourage your tot with praise. As always, praise is your child’s best teacher so say something like ‘Well done’, ‘You were a big boy or girl to use the potty’ when your little one uses the pot. But don’t make too big a thing of it. For example, don’t reward your tot with food or toys. Ignore the odd lapse and never tell your child off for failing to use the potty or having an accident.
  • Don’t hang about. At first, when you tot needs to go they need to go now, so don’t ignore it when the call comes. As your tot gets older, he or she will be able to wait longer.
  • Make it easy on yourself. The summer months can be an easier time to try potty training, as your little one can run around without nappies. Make a note of when your child goes to the toilet so you can pick the best times of day to suggest using it.
  • Get the clothes right. You don’t want to spend ages changing your toddler’s clothes, so make sure what he or she is wearing is easy to remove. You can try using training pants. Some toddlers like them, while others just think of them as a different type of nappy (which is confusing). Most toddlers are encouraged by having real underwear instead: it makes them feel grown up.
  • Let your little one set the pace. If you know when your child is likely to want to use the potty, encourage them to sit down. But make sure your tot feels that they’ve made the choice – you’ll know by now that your tot likes to feel in control.

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Last updated: 17 October 2012
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