There is plenty written about “Potty” or “Toilet Training”, some of which raises high expectations that it can be achieved in just a few short days!  Children are individuals; for some children it may be a quick process but for others this may be a tall order.  In reality, achieving toileting independence is a long-term, cumulative, learning process which starts early on as children achieve various milestones. Certain developmental stages have to be reached before a child is in a position to learn how to use the toilet and become nappy free.  Preparation on the part of parents is key and practicing “pre-potty” skills helps towards the day when they wave goodbye to nappies once and for all.

 Top Tips

  • Purchase a potty or two early and have one near the toilet
  • Help the child to sit on a potty when they are competent at sitting upright
  • Find times to use a potty before they are ready to be out of nappies
  • Be relaxed, positive and encouraging
  • Use the words that they will later use to ask for the potty
  • Drink plenty of fluids so they know what a full bladder feels like
  • Teach skills such as pulling pants up and down and wiping
  • Encourage independence as they get older
  • Expect accidents!

 A set of skills

Did you know that children need to acquire around forty different skills before they are ready to begin to use the potty effectively?

However, you don’t need to wait until a child is “potty ready” to begin to practice some of the basic skills. A level of “pre-potty learning” will make things easier for when you are ready to begin potty training in earnest. 

It is possible for you to sit your child on a potty from around the age of 6 months old when they can reliably sit upright.  A potty is then not an alien object which some children may feel scared of.  A potty does not have to be an elaborate item (there are many of those on the market) it simply needs to be functional, there to collect wee and poo. It also needs to be easily cleanable and often the more basic the potty is the better it is to keep clean.  Use a portable potty when you go out as this helps with consistency and routine.

Practice sitting on a potty at times when you think a child may want to wee: after meals; at bedtime or waking up; or other times when you recognise your child normally has a bowel movement.  If your child is at all upset about using the potty, then don’t insist and try again at a later date.  It is not helpful to give the child bad associations with the potty by putting pressure on them.

Make it fun – Use a doll to show how to sit on the potty.  Let the child sit with a book or a toy and take their time. Find children’s books that talk about using a potty to familiarise them with the process. Some children may prefer to go straight onto the toilet with a reducer seat and a step stool.

Practice sitting down and getting up.  At this stage you can put their nappy back on standing up if that is easier. As they get older help their independence by beginning to manage their own clothes.  Use the words early on, that you expect them to use later when they are ready to ask for the potty.

Body awareness

A level of bodily awareness of bladder and bowel functions develops from around the age of 18 months and most parents begin to potty train around 2 years old.  Potty training before this time may not be successful. Most children have yet to develop the ability to interpret signals to the brain that the bladder is full; they simply wee and poo as they need to.

Bowel control starts earlier than bladder control. Most children by age 1 have ceased to poo at night. By age 2 most children will be dry during the day. The majority of children can be toilet trained by around 3 years old.  At 4 years old most children are reliably dry during the day.  It takes longer for children to be dry through the night and 1 in 5 children still wet the bed at 5 years old.

Modern nappies are highly absorbent and children often don’t know what it feels like to be wet.  When you think a child is becoming ready to potty train, it is sometimes helpful to put some paper or material inside a child’s nappy, so that they can actually feel wet. They may then be able to indicate to you that they have had a wee. Ensure that any material does not stay in the nappy for long to avoid nappy rash.

Whilst many children are not ready to embark on potty training as early as 18 months, it is also not advisable to leave potty training too long as it can become harder as they get older. Boys commonly potty train later than girls.  As children get older, they recognise that other children no longer wear nappies and this can help to motivate children who are initially reluctant. Few children like the idea of wearing nappies to school.

Some parents opt to try potty training in the summer months when there are less clothes to wash. However, if a child is ready then it is best not to delay it simply to wait for that season.

Signs that a child is ready to potty train

  • They know they have a dirty nappy
  • They may tell you they are wet
  • The gap between wetting is regularly over an hour
  • Their body language shows they need to wee
  • They may tell you they want to wee
  • You are aware they have a bodily routine

If a child is able to tell you in advance that they want to wee then potty training may not take long.  Accidents are more likely the less able they are to communicate their needs.  However, there will always be some accidents when they are distracted or cannot get to the toilet quickly enough. It is important that you stay positive and are relaxed about events like those.

How to go about potty training

When you feel the time is right for you and your child, ensure you can devote a good amount of time to the initial potty training exercise.  It is best undertaken first on a quiet weekend when you are not distracted by work or social events.  Leave their nappy off and have no clothes on from the waist down.  This way they can concentrate on sitting on the potty first rather than having to grapple with clothing which may not be removed in time.  You can then move on to pull ups, pants or trousers without pants, to get them to practice pulling them up and down.  Make sure the child drinks lots of fluids so they can actively feel the sensation of needing to wee.  If you have a boy, encourage them to sit on the potty for both wee and poo to start with.  Teaching a boy to aim into the toilet or the potty may be a step too far at this point. 

Check that your child is not suffering any constipation and that they are having a soft poo at least once a day.  If there are constipation issues it is not advisable to stop wearing nappies until this is resolved.

When you think your child is ready you can make a big moment of saying goodbye to daytime nappies to indicate that this is an important transition for them and from now on, they will be using the potty or toilet (with a reducer seat) when they need to.  Try to avoid going back to nappies to give consistent messages.

Ensure you communicate with the nursery about starting to potty train; they can advise and support you and your child.

Preparing, Practicing and Perfecting

These are the three steps that contribute to potty training.  It won’t all go right all the time but if you prepare yourself and your child and practice prior to taking the step to a nappy free life – it will make it as easy as possible.


For more information:

How to potty train – NHS (

Potty training: how to start & best age to potty train – ERIC

Five signs your child is ready for potty training | Baby & toddler articles & support | NCT