When to start toilet training

Getting the timing right is key to successful toilet training. Research suggests there is a window of opportunity during which it is best to toilet train a child. Some research suggests between 18 and 24 months of age while some recommend between 24 and 27 months. Most health professionals recommend toilet training a toddler between 2-3 years of age.

Deciding on the right time for your child is an important decision, and one only you can decide. It’s ok sit your toddler on the potty or the toilet for a couple of minutes prior to their bath or first thing in the morning before ‘active toilet training’. The main thing is for you and your child to be relaxed about toilet training and not to get into a battle. 

It should be a time when there aren’t too many other stressors or things going on in the house, because you have to be prepared for accidents. Often parents choose to try over the summer months because it is easier to do the washing and a child is wearing less clothing. 

Signs that your toddler may be ready for toilet training

Common signs include: 

  • they can stay dry for two-hours or after their afternoon nap
  • they can follow simple instructions 
  • they can pull their pants up and down. 

Some toddlers will even tell you they have wet (weed) or soiled (pooed) their nappy, or that they want to stop wearing nappies – both are excellent signs that they are ready for toilet training.

Toilet training tips for parents

Preparation

Children learn by imitation or copying, so it is a good idea from a young age to let your child to watch or see you siting on the toilet. You can even get your child to sit on the potty when you’re on the toilet before starting the toilet training. 

Be prepared with a potty or toilet seat insert, a foot support/stepladder. It is important your child feels safe on the toilet and doesn’t fall off. You will need plenty of clean underpants. You can even let your toddler choose the underpants. There are many themed or fun underpants designs to choose from. Your child can even help choose the potty, toilet seat insert and steps. 

Borrow books from the library or purchase children’s picture books about toilet training to help your child’s learning. Try to get your child excited about toilet training, because removing the nappy might not make much sense to them; after all, they have been wearing one all their lives.  

Timing

Timing the trips to the toilet is also key for successful toilet training. The best times to sit your child on the potty or toilet are:

  • when they get up in the morning
  • 20 – 30 minutes after a meal or snack 
  • after their afternoon nap
  • only get them sit on the potty of toilet for 2-3 minutes initially

If your child happens to have a regular time when they open their bowels (do a poo), then put them on the potty or toilet at that time. 

It is important to make sure your child’s bowel motions (poos) stay soft and regular, because hard poo can make toilet training regress and more difficult. If that’s the case, encourage foods that help keep the bowel motions regular, such as pears and kiwi fruit. 

If there is any sign of constipation make sure you see your GP or pharmacist as your toddler may require a laxative.

Stay positive

It is important to stay relaxed and positive.  Use positive words and body language and avoid saying things like “you stink” or “pooey”. 

Praise behaviour you want and ignore behaviour you do not want. All clean-ups need to be no fuss, no frills and preferably in the toilet or bathroom.   

Small rewards such as sticker charts, cuddles or high fives may help your child stay on track. It’s important to reward not only when they wee or poo, but even when they sit on the toilet when asked even if they don’t wee or poo.

Also be aware that it’s not uncommon for toilet training to sometimes go backwards.  This might happen, for example, when there is a new sibling in the house, when your child may be sick, or the timing might not be quite right for them. 

And remember, it is OK to take a break from toilet training if things get too stressful or hard for you or your child.  

How to toilet train - TEP

  • Timing: Make sure the time is right for you and your child
  • Equipment: Step ladder with toilet insert or potty, underpants, mop & bucket. Story books or u-tube clips on toilet training.
  • Plan: Initially you can prompt toilet training by asking your child to sit on the toilet (“ít’s time to sit on the toilet now please’’) every 1 ½ hr to 2hrs for 2-3 mins. It is a good idea to get your toddler to sit on toilet first thing in the morning, 20-30mins after a meal and prior to their bath. 

Once your child is in the routine then you can change your language “What is it time for now?’’

As your child is becoming reliably dry and more independent you can then ask your child “Do you need to go to the toilet?” As they begin to toilet independently, they will tell you when they are going to the toilet or just take themselves. Young children will need help wiping their bottoms.

Rewards high five, cuddles, stickers if your child does as you ask and if they do wee or poo in the toilet.

Stay positive. No fuss, no frills clean ups in the bathroom or toilet.  

Ask for help. If you have another child it may be a good idea to get someone else to look after them so you can concentrate on your toddler. Maybe have pre prepared meals in the freezer or easily prepared meals while helping your toddler toilet train.

It’s not uncommon for toilet training to sometimes regress; when a new sibling arrives, or your child may be sick, or the timing might not be quite right. 

Remember, it is OK to take a break from toilet training if things get too stressful for you or your child. Remembering every toddler is different.

Seek help

Most children are daytime toilet trained of bladder (weeing) by the age of four. If a child regularly wets during the day after this age professional advice is necessary.

Call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66, Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm or speak to your Maternal Child Health Nurse.

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Last Updated: Fri 27, Nov 2020
Last Reviewed: Tue 17, Mar 2020