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Toddlers and potty training

Toddlers are full of fun and energy but they as they grow, develop and explore they can really test your patience to the limit.

Find out where to get advice, guidance and support to help you respond to and deal with the challenges and demands of looking after a toddler.

Potty training problems

Read time: 1 minute

You're not alone if you are having problems with potty training, it can be a tricky skill for a toddler to master! Your toddler will develop bladder and bowel control in their own time. You'll need to recognise this developing control. It's how you'll know when your little one is physically ready for potty training. This is the key to success!

How do you know if your toddler is ready for potty training? The NHS suggest you look out for the following signs:

  • your toddler knows when they've got a wet or dirty nappy
  • they know when they're peeing and may tell you they're doing it
  • the gap between wetting is at least an hour. If it's less, potty training may fail, and at the very least will be extremely hard work for you)
  • your toddler shows they need to pee by fidgeting or going somewhere quiet or hidden
  • they know when they need to pee and may say so in advance

Try not to compare your toddler with others. Remember, your toddler is an individual who is developing at their own unique pace!

Top tips from the NHS for successful potty training

Read time: 3 minutes

Getting ready for potty training

  • Using a potty will be new to your toddler, so get them used to the idea!
  • Leave a potty where your toddler can see it and explain what it's for.
  • When you're changing their nappy, see if your child is happy to sit on the potty for a moment. And when you get them dressed for the day or ready for bed at night.
  • Talk about your child's nappy changes as you do them, so they understand wee and poo and what a wet nappy means.
  • If you can, always change their nappy in the bathroom when you're at home. They will learn that's the place where people go to the loo!
  • Children learn by watching and copying. If you've got an older child, your toddler may see them the potty or toilet, which will be a great help. It helps to let your child see you using the toilet and explain what you're doing.
  • Helping you flush the toilet and wash their hands is also a good idea.
  • Using your toddler's toys to show what the potty is for can also help!

How to start potty training

  • Keep the potty in the bathroom. If that's upstairs, keep another potty downstairs. You want your toddler to reach the potty from wherever they are! And put them in clothes that are easy to change and avoid tights and clothes with zips or lots of buttons.
  • Encouraging them to use the potty to wee will help build their confidence for when they are ready to use it to poo.
  • As soon as you see that your toddler knows when they're going to pee, encourage them to use their potty. If they slip up, mop it up and wait for next time. It takes a while for them to get the hang of it!
  • If you don't make a fuss if they have an accident, they'll not feel anxious and worried. And they'll be more likely to be successful the next time.
  • The idea is to make sitting on the potty part of everyday life for your child. Encourage your child to sit on the potty after meals, because digesting food often leads to an urge to do a poo. Having a book to look at or toys to play with can help your child sit still on the potty. (Just for a few minutes and only if they want to though - you don't want them scared of the potty!
  • If your toddler does a poo at the same time each day, leave their nappy off and suggest that they go in the potty. If they are the slightest bit upset by the idea put the nappy back on. Leave it a few more weeks and then try again.
  • Your toddler will be delighted when they succeed! A little praise from you will help a lot. It can be quite tricky to get the balance right between giving praise and making a big deal out of it. Do not give sweets as a reward, but you could try using a sticker chart.

Look after yourself

Getting stressed because of your toddlers lack of progress in the potty training department? Try to stay calm, as reassurance, understanding and patience are usually the secret to overcoming potty training problems. Parenting is a tough job, so don't forget to be kind to yourself!

If things are getting you down and unsure of the best approach to take, don't worry. There are many helpful websites and support services. Try to stay positive, and if you feel you need a helping hand, reach out. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

Action for Children have 5 short articles on potty and toilet training, including coping with potty training and potty training at night.

CBeebies have a fun article on six ways to survive potty training.

ERIC (Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity) has a website called Let's go Potty that offers information from experts to guide you through the process of getting your child out of nannies and into pants for good, including blogs and tips.

The NCT have nine articles on potty training, including tips for potty training girls and tips for potty training boys.

The NHS have an article on a range of potty training problems and how to respond.

Family Space Barnardo's have a really helpful page on managing toddler behaviour. It talks you through the Pause for Thought system, which you might find useful.

Struggling and need to talk?

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

The Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity ERIC have a free helpline with expert advisors offering information, practical tips and confidential support if your child is struggling with potty training or bedwetting. Call on 0808 1699 949 Monday to Thursday from 10am to 2pm. If the line is busy, please try again. Lines are usually less busy from 11am to 1pm.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Face-to-face support

You could also talk to your health visitor or your GP.

Useful videos for potty training

ERIC (Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity) have a helpful video on when your child will be ready for potty training:

The NHS also have a handy video on when you should start potty training. Scroll down to the bottom of the NHS webpage Potty Training Tips to watch it.

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Child and Family Health Surrey has a great free downloadable guide 'What is toilet training?'

ERIC (Children's Bowel and Bladder Charity) has a range of useful guides to potty training that are free to download

The Institute of Health Visiting have a detailed help sheet on toilet training that you can download for free.

The NSPCC has a great guide on positive parenting with a helpful section on setting boundaries.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.

Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021