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Parent’s guide: potty training

teddy on potty

Welcome to our all you need to know guide to potty training!

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into everything you need to know about this important milestone.

We'll explore the best time to start potty training, how to prepare, tips for getting started, and strategies for night-time training.

Plus, we've included practical advice, tips, and additional resources to support you and your child through this journey.

Let's embark on this exciting adventure together and make potty training a positive experience for both you and your little one!

So, let’s dive straight in.

Using a potty is a new skill your little one will learn – just like with any other skill this will take time, patience, and encouragement.

Therefore, it’s best to start slowly and go at your little one’s pace, staying calm whatever happens.

Children can control their bladder and bowels when they’re physically ready to (and when they want to be dry and clean).

It’s important to remember that every child is different so never compare your child with others.

Did you know…most children can control their bowels before their bladder?

Let’s take a quick look at the NHS approximate age guide to children’s bladder and bowel development:

  • By age 1, most babies stop doing poos at night.

  • By age 2, some children are dry during the day, but this is still very early.

  • By age 3, most children are dry most of the day, but all children have the odd accident, especially when they’re excited, upset, or busy with something.

  • By age 4, most children are reliably dry during the day.

It usually takes longer for children to learn to stay dry throughout the night. Although most learn this between 3 – 5, 1 in 5 children aged 5 sometimes wet the bed.

time to potty train

When should I start potty training?

If your little one is not ready, then you can’t force them to use the potty.

With some time, they will want to learn to use one as they won’t want to go to school in nappies. While you wait for this time, it’s best to just encourage the behaviour that you want.

Most parents will start to think about potty training when their child is around 2 – 2 ½ years old but there’s really no perfect time. Some parents said they found it easier to begin in summer as there are fewer clothes to take off and washed clothes dry faster.

Choose the right time not just for your child but also for you! If you’re busy with a new baby or moving home, then potty training is not a good idea. The disruption to your usual routine can also confuse your little one.

If your child shows one or more of these signs, they may be ready to start potty training:

  • They know when they’ve got a wet or dirty nappy.

  • They get to know when they’re wetting and might tell you they’re doing it.

  • The gap between wetting is at least an hour.

  • They show they need to pee by fidgeting or going somewhere quiet or hidden.

  • They know when they need to pee and may say so in advance.

On a final note, before getting ready; prepare for accidents to happen. Whatever stage they’re at, potty training is a learning process that takes time and practice to master.

What’s the best way to get ready for potty training?

Using a potty will be new for your little one so it’s important to get them used to the idea over time, here are some top tips:

  • Get your child involved in the nappy changing process. Change them standing up, talk through the process and get them to help with their clothing. You can also have them flush the toilet and wash their hands.

  • See if your child is happy to sit on the potty for a moment when you’re changing their nappy.

  • Always try to change your child’s nappy in the bathroom when you’re home, this will help them understand it’s the place people go to the loo.

  • Choose a potty together, leave it where your child can see it and explain what it’s for.

  • Children learn by observing and copying so encourage members of the family to leave the bathroom door open and allow your child to know what they are doing. Alternatively, you can also use their teddy bear to demonstrate.

  • Read related picture books together! We’ve listed some below.

  • Ask your health advisor or key person for advice or if you have any concerns. They will be able to point you towards additional resources.

Child and potty

How do I start potty training?

Once you feel it’s time to give potty training a go the most important thing is to build up a routine. Don’t ask your little one if they need a wee or poo as they may have not learnt to recognise this yet, just say ‘it’s potty time’ every couple of hours.

Keep toys or books ready to play with while they’re on the potty so that they’re happy to sit there for about 3 minutes.

Keep the potty in the bathroom. If this is upstairs, keep another one downstairs so your little one can reach it easily wherever they are. The idea is to make sitting on the potty in the bathroom part of their everyday life.

Even when you go out, take the potty with you so that they can understand that you want them to wee or poo in the potty every time they need to.

It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to sit on the potty after meals as digesting food often leads to an urge to do a poo.

If your little one regularly does a poo at the same time every day, leave their nappy off during this time and suggest they go in the potty. But if your child is even the slightest bit upset by this idea put the nappy back on and leave it for a few weeks before trying again.

Encouraging them to use the potty to wee will help them build confidence which will help them get ready to use it to poo.

It’s important to not make a fuss when they have an accident. If you do, they might start to feel anxious and worried, making them more likely to have these in the future.

Top Tip: It’s natural for your little one to have accidents when learning, so put them in clothes that are easy to change and avoid tights, clothes with zips and lots of buttons.

Should I get pull-ups or training pants?

Disposable or washable training pants/pull-ups can be useful when starting potty training but are not necessary.

They can give your little one the confidence for when it’s time to swap nappies for ‘grown-up pants’. They don’t soak up wee as well as disposable nappies so your little one will find it easier to tell when they are wet.

But training pants are a step towards normal pants and not a replacement for nappies. So, if you’re at the stage where you’re both confident about introducing normal pants then there’s no need for training pants.

If you do decide to give these a go, encourage your child to keep their training pants dry by using the potty.

If your little one is not ready to stop wearing nappies and it’s difficult for them to know when they’ve done a wee, you can place a piece of folded kitchen paper inside their nappy. It will stay wet, teaching your child that weeing makes them feel wet.

Teddy on potty

What about night-time training?

Focus on getting your little one potty trained during the day before you move on to night-time training.

If their nappy is dry or only slightly damp when they wake up for a few mornings in a row, they might be ready for night-time potty training.

Ask your child to use the potty right before they go to bed and make sure it’s close by so they can use it if they need to at night.

It’s natural for them to have a few accidents so we recommend using a waterproof sheet to protect their mattress.

Just like with daytime training, it’s important to praise your little one’s success. But if things aren’t going to plan, don’t make a fuss, just stick with nappies at night for a few weeks and then try again.

How can I get my little one to start using the toilet?

Some children start using the toilet instead of the potty earlier than others.

When you feel like it’s time (this is when you’re confident they’re happy and used to using a potty), choose a children's toilet seat together and a step that is high enough to give them support under their feet when they sit on the toilet.

If you have a boy, encourage them to sit down to pee. If they also need a poo, sitting down will encourage them to go.

But as with the rest of your potty-training process, if your little one seems anxious or isn’t ready, give it some time and revisit in a few weeks.

What if my child has a disability or long-term illness?

Some children with a long-term illness or disability find it more difficult to learn to use a potty or toilet. This can be challenging for both the child and parent but it’s important to not avoid potty training for long.

Contact is an amazing charity helping families with disabled children. They have put together an all you need to know guide to potty and toilet training which you can view by clicking here.

Books we recommend

Pirate Polly's Potty & Pirate Pete’s Potty by Andrea Pinnington - click here to view Pirate Polly on Amazon or here to view Pirate Pete.

No More Nappies by Campbell Books

No More Nappies by Campbell Books - click here to check it out on Amazon.

On My Potty by Leslie Patricelli

On My Potty by Leslie Patricelli - click here to check it out on Amazon.

Who's in the Loo? By Jeanne Willis

Who's in the Loo? By Jeanne Willis - click here to check it out on Amazon.

Additional resources


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