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How and when to start toilet training?

What is second nature to us as parents, is a completely new skill for toddlers, who have thus far been unaware they have been going in their nappy. In order to qualify for some pre-schools, and definitely for Primary school, kids need to be able to tell an adult when they need to go, be able to hold on, and be able to sit on a toilet and let it all out!

There are horror stories of wet clothes, wet beds and embarrassed children (not to mention the parent mopping up the floor of a supermarket), and there are thousands of tried and tested ways to help toilet train children. Everyone from paediatric specialists to the Granny next door will be able to offer you advice. At all times, remember to have fun with the experience, wait for your child to show signs of readiness and try methods that sound reasonable to you until one works for your family’s needs.

How do you start toilet training?

When it comes to using either a toilet or a potty, the choice is up to you (and perhaps your toddler), some parents decide to use both. Involve your child in as many decisions as possible to help them get enthusiastic about it. Potties make children feel safe from falling, while toilets are what you use and therefore could be of more interest to them.

Dress your toddler in clothing that is easy to put on and take off and is easy to wash. Avoid belts, tights, long dresses, onesies and tight clothing. Pull-ups and nappy pants are also a good tool to help familiarise your child with the process of going to the toilet or potty.

You will need to carry extra gear incase you need to clean up spills (paper towels, an old cotton towel and wipes), and of course extra clothes for accidents.

On the ‘big day’ when you decide to begin training, watch for signs that show your child needs to go to the toilet and guide them to the toilet or potty. Continue with nappies or nappy pants until you can see that there are consistently dry nappies for at least one period of the day. At this time, try swapping for underwear. Have fun and buy some fun superhero undies or ones in their favourite colour.

At regular intervals throughout the day, ask your child if they need to go to the toilet. Gentle reminders are enough. If they refuse, just leave them be, and try again later, rather than forcing the issue.

Keep your child seated on the toilet/potty for a few minutes at a time as it will take time for them to learn how to relax the muscles that control the bowel and bladder. Try reading a story or singing a song to distract them and help them settle. If they want to get up, let them get off and try for a bit longer the next time.

For boys, it’s easier to begin urinating while sitting down as he may be reluctant to sit when it is time for number ‘twos’. He can switch to standing later on.

You’ll need to wipe your child’s bottom at first. When your child is comfortable using the toilet or potty, the next step is to encourage them to wipe themselves. Help your child flush the toilet and wash their hands. Be sure you teach your child how to wipe correctly including how much toilet paper is enough. Girls should wipe thoroughly from front to back to prevent bringing germs from the rectum to the vagina. Boys should shake their penis after urinating to get rid of any drops.

Teach your child from the very beginning how to wash their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, even if they haven’t done anything.

If your child has mastered toileting and then appears to go backwards – don’t get discouraged – this is perfectly normal. Setbacks and accidents might be triggered by life events or changes in routine, such as a new baby brother or sister, moving houses or an illness. Setbacks can also occur if toilet training starts too soon or your child feels overwhelmed by pressure from you.

When is the best age to introduce toilet training?

There is no set rule for the age to start toilet training your child. Many children start to show signs of readiness between 18 to 24 months of age, but some may not be ready until 30 months or even later. Don’t panic if your child shows no signs – they will!

Children 18 months or younger have limited control over their bladder and bowel so may not recognise the urge to go to the toilet. Premature toilet training may even lead to more accidents and this could make the training a negative experience. So look for signs AFTER your child is 18 months old.

What are the signs that toddlers are ready for toilet training?

Readiness for toilet training means physical, mental and emotional readiness. When your toddler is showing some of the signs listed below, that’s a good time to start thinking about toilet training. Here are the most common signs your child might be ready:

  • They can move around independently and can get themselves to the toilet or potty
  • They can pull up and down their pants with minimal assistance
  • They complain if their nappy is dirty or expresses a dislike of wearing them
  • They have regular and somewhat predictable bowel movements
  • They can recognise the feeling that they need to go to the toilet (e.g. by using facial expressions, holding onto themselves or making noises)
  • They can follow simple instructions and understand what you are saying
  • They can communicate to you when they need to go
  • They show interest in watching others go to the toilet

How long does toilet training take?

This varies greatly. Some children may get the hang of it quickly, while others may need much longer! Generally, daytime toilet training takes between 3 – 6 months. If your child is really ready, training may only take a few days. Please note – it may take months or years before they can achieve night time bladder and bowel control. Most children are able to stay dry at night after 5 years.
Added to this, your child might have not have mastered the art of wiping their bottom and getting themselves properly cleaned until after the age of five years.

Toilet training your toddler takes time, so it is important to be patient during this period. We already provided you with numerous tips on how to get your toddler to settle and make the experience a little less daunting for them. Of course, it does require a tremendous amount of energy of you as a parent, so it does not hurt to pat yourself on the back sometimes for a job well done. Once your child is toilet trained, you can then enjoy the fruits of your hard labour and watch them grow up in the right way.

We also need to state that not all toddlers are easy to toilet train, because each toddler has his or her own character and temperament. While this may be frustrating for parents, there is much help around for parents who are struggling to get their toddler toilet trained. The internet is filled with valuable information, which is not only provided on websites such as ours, but also on forums where parents meet to discuss their experiences. So, if you are struggling with the toilet training of your son or daughter, do not hesitate the browse the web and look for parents who went through a similar experience. Based on their experiences, you may come up with a solution to the problem your toddler is facing.