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Common toilet training issues and setbacks

Parents stare at a potty wondering how to toilet train their toddlerToilet training is rarely a smooth, mess-free process.

Some children will just ‘get it’ but most will have issues or setbacks at some stage.

Accidents are common and usually decrease over time. But what if your toddler doesn’t seem to be improving at all? Or they’re fine with pees but won’t poo on the toilet? And what happens when your already-toilet-trained child starts to go backwards?

Here are some common toilet training issues and setbacks.


Frequent accidents

When you first start toilet training your toddler you can expect many accidents. Remember that your child is only just grasping the concept of going to the toilet. It is not easy learning to physically manage the process of knowing when to go and holding on until you get there. Accidents should start decreasing as they begin to ‘get it’. You should see small amount of progress over time. If you don’t, ask yourself if your child is really ready for toilet training. You’ll save yourself and your child a lot of grief if you wait until they are ready.

Try not to make them feel bad about accidents. Clean them up without a fuss and reassure them that there’s always next time.


Some tips on avoiding accidents:

  • Take your child to the toilet at predictable times (first thing in the morning, after a nap) and watch them to figure out what their patterns are.
  • If your child hasn’t done a poo or pee for a while ask them if they need to go. Some children just get too absorbed in their play to pay attention to the signs.
  • Keep an eye out for telltale signs that they need to go (dancing around, holding on, crossing their legs, hiding, squatting, going quiet)
  • Ask if they need to go before you leave the house or will be busy for a while (like before lunchtime).
  • Make sure it is easy for them to get to the toilet. Make it easy to access and make it easy for them to get out of their clothes.


Won’t poo in the toilet

It’s common for toddlers to be toilet trained for No.1s before No.2s. For some children the time between isn’t long, but many others take a while before they stop pooing in their pants. It is all part of the process and of course one day they will eventually learn to use the toilet like the rest of us. Sometimes all you need is time (and bucketloads of patience) but there are a few things that could help quicken the process, depending on the reason behind your child’s reluctance to poo on the toilet.


  • If your child runs away and hides when they poo, it could simply be because they don’t like being watched. Try giving your child privacy on the toilet when they have to poo. Some children just don’t like an audience – even if they are OK with you watching when they pee.
  • If your child hides to poo (and privacy isn’t the reason) then you could try directing them into the bathroom/toilet when they run off to hide. At some stage they might decide that taking off the nappy and sitting on the toilet isn’t such a bad idea.
  • Some children will hold onto a poo all day and go the moment you put them in a night nappy. If this is your child, try involving them in the process of tipping the poo out into the toilet. Tell them poo belongs in the toilet and praise them for any involvement in the process.
  • If your child will only poo when wearing a nappy you could still sit them on the toilet to do the poo – but letting them keep the nappy on.
  • Some children are scared of falling in the toilet. Make them feel secure by buying a seat insert and footstool.
  • If your child is scared of the flush maybe let them leave the room and flush later. Or you could try them on a little potty first, then move on to the big toilet later.
  • Some children feel like their poo is part of them and they are reluctant to flush it away. Encouraging your child to ‘wave goodbye’ to their poo can help with the separation.
  • Children who suffer from constipation can stress about having to poo which will cause issues when toilet training. It becomes a cycle of being constipated, becoming anxious about doing a poo, delaying going to the toilet and, as a result of the delay, becoming constipated again. Chat to your health care provider about ways to deal with the cycle of constipation before you continue toilet training. Ask about other related issues such as encopresis.


Regression – toilet training going backwards

It is very frustrating to think that you are done toilet training only to have your child regress. It isn’t unusual for a child to start having accidents again, ask for their nappies back or refuse to use the toilet and often they will be back to normal soon enough. Usually it follows or a major upheaval in the child’s life such as a change in caregiver, starting daycare, moving house, illness, injury or a new baby in the house. Patience is the key here but there are a few things you can do to help them get back on track faster.


  • Try to identify the source of the stress and chat to you child to help them feel secure before moving on with toilet training.
  • Go back to the start and reinforce all the same toilet training messages and tactics you did the first time around.
  • As much as you can, keep other changes to a minimum while your child gets back on track.
  • Keep praising little achievements and stay patient if there are accidents. Try to treat your child the same way you did first time around, no matter how frustrating it is.



For more info, including free printable reward & toilet training charts, and access to the forum to chat about your experiences, check out our Toilet Training Hub.


Image credit: danr13/123RF Stock Photo

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