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The ultimate guide to toilet training your toddler

Two toddlers sit back to back on their potty during toilet trainingJust when you thought the ‘baby days’ were over and life with your little one was getting easier … along comes toilet training.

Toilet training a toddler can be frustrating for parents. It can be messy and it can be exhausting.

But there are ways to help make toilet training easier on you and your child. There are a few things you should both know before you start and there are signs to watch for so you know your child is well and truly ready for toilet training. There’s no rush to toilet train a toddler and waiting until they are ready should make the toilet training process a little easier.

We have compiled this Ultimate Guide to Toilet Training for you – we give you advice on when and how to start toilet training, specific tips for boys and girls as well as support for when toilet training problems and issues arise.

And most of all – keep calm and good luck!

Step 1: Prepare your child for toilet training.

Before you start toilet training your toddler there are a few things you can start doing that will make the process a little easier.

  • Help them recognise when they are doing a pee or poo and if you notice the signs ask them ‘are you doing a poo?’.
  • Teach them the words they need to be toilet trained. Pick words you’re comfortable using – pee, poo, wee etc
  • Let them watch you or your partner use the toilet if you’re comfortable doing that.

Step 2: Make sure your toddler is ready for toilet training

Just like all developmental milestones, every child is different. So how do you know if your toddler is ready for toilet training? Here are some signs to watch for …

  • He tells you when he is about to do (or has done) a poo or pee
  • He is uncomfortable in a dirty nappy
  • He pulls at his nappy
  • He’s interested in the toilet habits of others
  • He is able to follow instructions
  • He is physically capable of using the toilet (can walk to the bathroom and climb onto the toilet or potty)
  • He takes some pride in accomplishment
  • He understands the words used in toilet training and can convey them to you
  • He can pull down and pull up his own pants

Age-wise it is generally between 22 – 30 months but some children won’t be ready until after their third birthday.

READ: More information about the signs your toddler is ready for toilet training.

Step 3: Buy everything you need for toilet training

There are a lot of toilet training products on the market so you’ll have to decide how you’ll toilet train before you go out and buy the lot. The essentials are:

  • underwear
  • potty or toilet insert
  • step to help them climb on toilet and wash hands at sink
  • something to clean up accidents
READ: We have an article about the potty versus the toilet – pros and cons as well as more information on what toilet training equipment you can buy that might make the experience easier.

Step 4: Pick a good time to start toilet training

To give yourself the best chance at successfully and quickly toilet training your little one, it is essential that you time it right. Here are some tips for choosing the best time to start toilet training.

  • When the weather is warm – letting them go nude can help them tune in to their bodily functions, there won’t be too many layers to remove in a hurry and they won’t be cold and uncomfortable sitting on the toilet.
  • When there are no other upheavals in their life – if you don’t leave enough time between toilet training and a major event (moving house, new baby, starting day care etc) you might find your child will regress.
  • When you have a time. Pick a time when you can watch your child constantly. Ask for support if you have other children. Earmark a long weekend or a time when you have two parents or carers at home.
  • When you don’t need to leave the house. You’ll have more success if you stay home, devote all your attention to your child and begin developing routines around the toilet training.

Step 5: Start toilet training – Day 1

Once you’ve chosen a perfect time to start toilet training you should read our more detailed article on how to start toilet training – day 1. The main points are listed briefly below:

  1. Take off their nappy and put on some ‘big girl’ or ‘big boy’ pants. Unless your child is usually dry at night, it may be easier to just focus on day training at first.
  2. Take your child to the toilet and explain what they need to do. Make sure they know the right words ‘pee’, ‘toilet’ etc
  3. Watch for signs they need to go – crossing legs, passing wind, going quiet – and take them at predictable times – after a nap, after lunch etc.
  4. If you think they need to go or if they start to go take them to the toilet. Don’t make them sit for long if nothing happens – they may feel like they’re being punished.
  5. Praise, praise, praise. If you get a pee in the toilet on Day 1 then that is certainly something to celebrate.
  6. Chances are though that you won’t get many pees in the toilet on the first day. This is the day when your child is learning to identify the need to go, don’t be discouraged.
  7. If your child has an accident don’t make a big deal out of it.
  8. Teach them the correct wiping technique – although you will have to wipe your child’s bottom at first. Also teach them the correct hand washing technique.
  9. Congratulate yourself and prepare yourself for tomorrow!

Tips for toilet training boys versus girls

For the most part toilet training girls is no different from toilet training boys but there are a few things that are specific to each gender. Here are some tips:

  • Teach girls that they need to wipe after a wee as well as a poo. They also need to wipe from front to back. This is more hygienic and can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections
  • Boys need to be told to shake off the last drops of wee or else they’ll get on his pants
  • Decide whether you’ll teach your boy to pee sitting down at first or standing up.
  • Make sure you teach you boy to aim. Trying putting some rolled up paper in the toilet as a target.

Toilet training for night

If your toddler wakes up with a dry nappy most mornings they are probably ready to toilet train for night. If their nappies are still full in the morning you might decide to wait longer. Here are a few tips for successful night time toilet training:

  • Make sure your child isn’t absolutely exhausted when they go to bed. If they sleep too deeply they won’t notice if they need to pee.
  • Invest in some good quality, fitted, waterproof mattress protectors just in case.
  • Make sure they go to the toilet right before bedtime.
  • Don’t stress if they continue to wet in the night. If they’re not ready, then they’re not ready. Put them back in nappies for night.
  • And don’t stress about occasional accidents. Many children wet the bed until they are 7 or 8 years old.
READ: Read our more detailed article about toilet training for night plus check out our articles on bedwetting.

Common toilet training issues and set backs

Most children will have some issues or set backs when it comes to toilet training. Commonly the issue will be one of the following:

  • Frequent accidents
  • Won’t poo in the toilet
  • Scared of the toilet
  • Constipation
  • Regression
READ: We have a more detailed article on the common toilet training problems with some tips on how to deal with these issues.

Tips for successful toilet training

  • Don’t punish your child for accidents
  • Don’t set a time limit for toilet training your child
  • Go at an easy pace
  • Praise each positive step, no matter how small


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

Image credit: oksun70/123RF Stock Photo

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