Toilet Training

When to Start Toilet Training Your Bub

Here, we break down when to start toilet training, how to start toilet training and share some of the most useful toilet training tips for parents. You’ve got this!

Bubs Australia

Toilet training is a huge milestone for your little one and something that fills many parents with excitement… and others with dread! For some children, toilet training is a quick and easy process, while for others, it can take a little longer (and a little more encouragement). But there’s nothing to fear when it comes to teaching your little one to use the toilet.

When to start toilet training

There’s no magic cue for when to start toilet training your little one. The toilet training journey will be led by your child’s readiness to start, and they’ll give you some clear physical, emotional and developmental signs they’re ready for this step.

It’s important not to start toilet training or force your child to use the potty if they don’t want to or before they start to show signs of toilet training readiness. Putting pressure on a child to use the toilet or potty before they’re ready or when they feel anxious or upset is likely to cause problems and make the toilet training process take longer.

What is the best age for toilet training?

There’s no set age for when to start toilet training your little one, but most toddlers are ready to start toilet training at around two years old – though some are ready as early as 18 months, and many begin toilet training when they’re closer to three years old. This is because the muscles that control your baby’s bladder and rectum aren’t mature until they’re around 18 months to two years old, meaning they can’t physically control when they go. This is why it’s essential you wait until they show signs that indicate they’re ready – if you start too early, you’re more likely to encounter accidents along the way. The most important thing to remember is that every child is different – and that is perfectly normal.

Signs of toilet training readiness

So, what are these signs of toilet training readiness? There’s quite a list of physical, mental and emotional markers to look out for.

Physical toilet training signs

Your child may be ready for toilet training when they:

  • Can walk steadily without help.
  • Stay dry through naps or for periods of up to two hours (this shows that their bladder muscles have developed enough to hold urine).
  • Have regular, fairly predictable bowel movements and well-formed stools.
  • Have the ability to pull their pants up and down themselves.
  • Show physically that they recognise the need to go – for example, wiggling around on the spot, grasping at their crotch, making funny facial expressions or going to a secret area to poo.

Mental toilet training signs

Your child may be ready for toilet training when they:

  • They understand and can use language for ‘wee’ and ‘poo’, and may talk about them when you change their nappies. 
  • They can follow simple instructions (e.g. ‘Go and get the book’) and understand the concept of putting things where they belong. 
  • They understand the signals that they need to go and can communicate them to you before it happens.
  • They are aware of having a dirty nappy and tell you or complain about it. Some tots may even try to take it off themselves after they’ve gone!

Emotional toilet training signs

Your child may be ready for toilet training when they:

  • Can sit still for a minute or two without being distracted. 
  • Show an interest in others’ toilet habits, such as watching you on the toilet or wanting to wear underwear like you or their siblings do, or even outright asking for these things. 
  • Start to show a desire for independence and to do things on their own (you might hear them say, ‘I do it!’ more often than not).
  • Takes pride in the things they do, and responds well to praise.
  • Isn’t resistant or going through an uncooperative developmental stage.

How to start toilet training?

Before you embark on your toilet training journey, decide if your little one will use a potty or go straight to the big toilet. There is no right or wrong here, and it’s completely up to you and your child. For some, using a potty before the toilet is an easier transition, while others prefer their toddlers to start with the big toilet right away to eliminate the need to empty and clean a potty.

Whichever you choose, you’ll need some equipment – either a freestanding potty seat (which can be emptied into the toilet) or, for those using the toilet, a step or stool to help your little one climb up easily and a smaller toilet seat insert to make them feel secure when they’re sitting.

Before toilet training starts, let your child watch as you use the toilet and talk about what you’re doing. Teach them the words they’ll need, too, like, ‘I need to go’, as well as wee or pee, poo or poop, potty, etc.

Try to start toilet training when life is relatively stable and there aren’t any big changes happening, such as moving house, new siblings arriving, starting daycare or going away on holiday. It’s also important to ensure your little one is eating plenty of fibre and drinking enough water to avoid constipation.

Make going to the toilet or potty a regular part of your little one’s routine, encouraging them to use the toilet in the morning, before or after eating, when their activity changes (e.g. Between playtime and lunchtime), and before they go to bed. Also, encourage them to go if they show signs of needing to use the toilet, like wriggling around, clutching at their genitals and going quiet, and have a process in place that they understand (for example, you might tell them that when they need to go, they need to come and tell you and that you will help them).

It’s important never to force your child to go and if nothing happens after 3-5 minutes of sitting on the toilet or potty, let them get off, so it doesn’t feel like a punishment.

What is the best way to toilet train?

The best way to toilet train is the one that works for you and your little one. Offering plenty of praise and encouragement is always essential, not only for a job well done when they do go but also for trying or simply sitting on the potty or toilet. Try not to get frustrated or angry if your child doesn’t make it in time or fails to tell you – simply clean up the mess without any fuss and remember to keep praising them for their efforts.

Top toilet training tips

  1. Accidents always happen during toilet training. Stay calm, and make sure your child knows that accidents are okay! There’s nothing for them to worry about.
  2. If your little one shows signs of needing to go, take them to the toilet or potty as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of accidents. Similarly, if they say they need to go, don’t delay.
  3. It often takes longer to train for wees than poos – in fact, there can be up to a year’s difference.
  4. Boys tend to toilet train more slowly than girls.
  5. If your child isn’t progressing or shows no interest in toilet training, don’t force them. Put it to one side for now and try again when they’re a little older. 
  6. Minimise accidents by making sure the potty or toilet is easy for your toddler to get to.
  7. If your little one is doing something they enjoy, they may forget about the toilet (or not want to stop!). If they haven’t gone in a while, remind them they may need to and that they can return to what they’re doing.

Night toilet training tips

  1. Include a trip to the toilet as part of your bedtime routine, asking them to wee before bedtime, and encourage your little one to use the potty or toilet again upon waking in the morning.
  2. During toilet training, continue to use nappies at night. While a toddler might understand the feeling of a full bladder when they’re awake, they won’t notice it while asleep.
  3. When your toddler starts to regularly have dry nappies when they wake up in the morning, you can try stopping night-time nappies. 
  4. Bed-wetting is totally normal, even when your tot is toilet-trained during the day. Toddlers can take months and even years to stay dry through the night.

Toilet training is something that can’t be forced or rushed, but whether it takes days, weeks or months, your little one will get there! Patience, praise and a positive attitude are the key toilet training tips for parents to keep in mind, and always remember to consult your healthcare professional if you have any concerns or to find the approach that suits your family and your little one.

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