Learning to use the toilet is an important step towards independence. Children are usually ready to start between 22 and 30 months but some children may be younger and others older. The important things to look out for are the signs that your child is beginning to understand what is going on and what is expected of them.
Deciding when to start
It is a good idea to wait until you can answer ‘yes’ to most of the following statements:
Your child is interested in watching you use the toilet
Handy tip: Children have to learn what the toilet is for so do talk about this and let your child find out by watching you on the toilet. As your child becomes ready to use the toilet, make sure that nappies are changed in the bathroom. Let your child watch while you empty the contents of the nappy down the toilet and let them help to flush it.
Your child is showing an awareness of being wet or dirty
Handy tip: Look out for little signs. Some children may tell you that they have a dirty nappy while others may fidget, perhaps by pulling at a wet nappy or showing discomfort when walking in a soiled nappy. They may also become quiet or assume a particular look!
Your child shows a consistent response to the words used at home for urinating and bowel movements, for example, wee and poo
Handy tip: Decide as a family what words you will use with your child. Pick words that you are comfortable with and then use these consistently. Tell your wider family (and the child’s early years setting if they attend one) which words you will use so that everyone uses the same language.
Your child sometimes stays dry for around two hours
Handy tip: If you’re not sure, put your child a pair of pants on, or put a piece of kitchen roll inside their nappy and check every half hour for wetness.
Your child has plenty to drink
Handy tip: Your child should drink a minimum of 6 to 8 drinks every day. Water or milk is the best although well diluted fruit juice or squash is okay. Don’t limit drinks as this can affect how your child’s bladder works. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, for example tea, coffee or cola.
Your child has regular bowel movements
Handy tip: your child should pass a soft poo between 3 times each day and 3 times each week.
Your child understands and follows simple instructions and tries to carry out some self-care tasks independently
Handy tip: Talk to your child about the fact that they are getting a little older and that it is really good that they are trying to do things for themselves, such as feeding and dressing.
Your child shows some anticipation before they have a poo
Handy tip: Signs can be hard to see and may only last a few seconds. Your child may briefly look up from playing, become quiet for a second, their eyes may widen or they could make a particular sound. Other signs may be more obvious such as your child disappearing behind the sofa to fill their nappy.
Your child is happy to spend short periods of time without a nappy on
Handy tip: Encourage your child to spend some time without a nappy on. It might make more sense to your child if you do this in the morning before getting dressed, after a bath or after a nappy change.
If you can't answer ‘yes’ to most of these statements, wait a few weeks and then go through the list again.
How to toilet train your child
Read the NHS guide to toilet training.
Children in care or those who have recently been adopted
It is important to make sure the child has time to settle into your home and to build up trust before starting potty training. Nappy changing time can be an important opportunity for you to show gentle, sensitive, nurturing care towards your child and can help with the bonding process. Don’t worry if this means they may be potty training later than their peers.
If they show particular fear or anxiety about going in the bathroom or sitting on the toilet, you may have to build up to this gradually. Sometimes children who have had difficult early life experiences can use toileting as a way of trying to exert some control on their lives and those around them so continue to wet or soil. Over time, and as your child learns to trust you, these incidents will lessen. If your child sees that this behaviour causes you to become angry or frustrated it is more likely to lead to further incidents.
Children with special educational needs or a disability
If your child has a disability, learning needs or a medical condition, this might mean that learning to use the toilet can be more difficult. Some children will take longer, may need different equipment or different methods to learn to use the toilet. Talk to the health or education services who are already involved if you would like some further help with this.
There is also information on continence support on the Derbyshire Local Offer.