Along with introducing solids, first words and beginning to walk, toilet training is a huge milestone for both parents and children. And for most parents this can bring great stress and anxiety. When should I start? How do I do this? What if I fail? All of these questions cross a parent’s mind at the thought of beginning toilet training.
In this blog, I am going to give you some helpful tips and suggestions to help make the process a little smoother for all involved. Unfortunately, this is not a foolproof guide because, like all things parenting, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model. You know your child best and therefore will know which of these tips and tricks will work best.
My first tip is to ensure you never pressure your child when toilet training. This can very quickly backfire and can instil fear and anxiety around toileting. Many parents have a perceived idea around the age a child ‘should’ be toilet trained. Just like with other milestones, children will be ready in their own time. If you are determined to try and train your child at a certain age, for example, before the birth of a sibling or before they start kinder, just be mindful to be gentle in your approach and also be prepared that your child may just not be ready yet.
My children were both toilet trained around the age of three. There are some people who think this is quite late, yet it was the age we were ready. However, both were very different and therefore my approach also had to change. We did try and start toilet training around four months earlier with Cristian but it was very obvious that he was not ready. It only resulted in me cleaning up after him and both of us becoming frustrated. I am so glad that I read the signs and decided to leave it for a little longer. For both Cristian and Sofia, I used a combination of the below to successfully toilet train them.
Here are my top tips for toilet training and how they worked (or didn’t work) for my own children.
Are you ready?
It is always important to ensure that you and your family are ready to start toilet training. It is often useful to choose a time when there are less distractions as well as more time spent at home. Obviously, it is much easier to clean up accidents at home as well as easy access to the toilet and the ability for you to keep an eye on your child and see the signs of needing the toilet.
You may also need to ensure that your house is prepared. This may sound silly, however thinking about carpets, couches etc is important to make this easier on you. We chose to roll up our loungeroom rug and just use towels for the kids to play on instead. We also set up a seat on the couch that had a change mat and some towels on it. Lastly, we put towels down on the carpet in the hallway to the toilet. This made cleaning up accidents much easier. Yes, there was more washing but we were able to save the couch, carpet and rug from any disaster.
Something you also need to decide on is whether you will use a potty or a toddler seat on your toilet. This really can come down to personal choice for you or even what your child feels more comfortable with. For both our children, we chose to use a toddler seat with steps on our normal toilet. The reasoning for us was that we didn’t then want to wean from the potty and then almost retrain on the toilet. And to be honest, it also saved us from constantly emptying and cleaning the potty. Cristian and Sofia were both happy to use this step and loved the idea of using a toilet like a grown up. When were out we also ensured that we got them used to balancing on a normal toilet seat (with our help of course). Many choose to use a potty as they can keep it in the living area. Children can then access it quickly and will also often sit on the potty for a period of time whilst watching the television. As you can see, either is fine but it is something you want to decide before you begin the process.
If you choose to use a reward chart or instant rewards (as mentioned below) it is important that you have them ready. A child will often respond to rewards that are readily available in the moment. A toddler will not want to wait until the next time you go to the shop for their reward. If using the reward chart either negotiate the final reward before you begin or be prepared to head to the shops quickly after it is filled.
Day training only or cold turkey
Do I take nappies away completely? Do I just toilet train during the day? When do I take away the night nappy? These are more questions you may be asking yourself. This, like most parenting questions, do not have a definitive answer. Most parents I have spoken to started with day training only. There are parents out there who go cold turkey from the beginning. This comes down to your personal choice and your child’s age and readiness. I would suggest to begin the first couple of days with only day training and then take it from there. Both my children were different when it came to this part of toilet training.
With Cristian we decided to only train during the day to begin with. He successfully stayed dry during the day, very quickly. We left the night nappies on for almost six months as he was still waking up wet. We decided to give him time and not deal with the wet bed and sheet changing. We thought this would bring more stress and anxiety rather than be effective. In his own time, he began to wake dry for about a week or two and that is when we took the nappies away completely. This worked very well and resulted in no bed wetting incidents.
We took the same approach with Sofia, but she was dry from the second day. Even overnight. At first, we thought it was simply a coincidence. I even began to worry that she may have been just holding it in. A few weeks later she was ill and began wetting again overnight but that only lasted a couple of nights. The only reason we left a nappy on her for a little longer was because she was still in a cot and therefore wouldn’t be able to get out and go to the toilet when she needed to. If she were in a bed, we would’ve taken the nappy away after a week or so of dry nappies.
This is another example of truly reading your child’s signs and deciding upon what you are prepared to deal with. Some parents want to go cold turkey and are happy to deal with some sheet changing. Others feel that this is unkind to the child and it may add unnecessary stress overnight. You may not know which approach will work for your child until you are in it, but you should give this some consideration before you begin.
The positive signs
There are always some signs to look for before you begin toilet training. Everyone talks about children being ‘ready’ to start toilet training. These look different for every child and they do not have to display all of these to be ready. Some of the signs your child could be displaying are as follows.
· pulling at a dirty nappy or wanting to be changed quickly
· hiding to wee and poo
· displaying an interest in others using a potty or toilet
· having dry nappies for a longer period of time
· refusing to wear a nappy
· telling you they are doing something, about to do something or just did it
I believe that lots of conversation and excitement around toilet training can help your child feel encouraged and eager to try it out. This can look different for every child and it is important at this stage to focus on your child’s interests and motivators.
After a ‘failed’ attempt a few months earlier, we decided to give Cristian some time before even talking about it again. With his third birthday approaching, and lots of positive signs, we began discussing buying undies and preparing to become a big boy. There was lots of talk about the undies he wanted to buy and the reward chart he chose to print. We used a very excited tone at all times, and this quickly rubbed off on Cristian too. He was eager to share his excitement of this upcoming milestone with family and friends.
Sofia has always looked up to Cristian and therefore the biggest motivator for her was that she would be just like Cristian by using the toilet. She often followed him to the toilet and was intrigued. As the school holiday were approaching (I then had more time at home to toilet train) we would talk to her about the idea of needing to go to the toilet, what we did in the toilet and the process. She would sometimes just want to sit on the toilet for fun as well. Just like with Cristian, we also let her pick the undies she wanted and the reward chart we would use.
One of the biggest questions about toilet training are “How will I know when they need to go?” and “Can I avoid accidents?”. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule to avoid accidents. Often when you begin, your child may not be completely aware of the feeling of needing to go. They are more likely to only be aware of it when it is just about to happen.
The biggest tip I was given was to use a timer, but this won’t work for every child. The idea of a timer to remind you to ask your child if they need to go. And at this point, you would also ask your child to try and go. When your child sits on the potty or toilet they may be able to do something although they didn’t realise they needed to. You may need to play around with the time but we worked with a time between 20 and 30 minutes. Once they begin to understand the feeling in their body you can begin to wean off timer and wait for them to go. For a good while, I would still be sure to ask and remind them.
Cristian responded really well to the timer. He would quickly and happily head to the toilet every time and often he was able to do something. This often avoided many accidents. He then began to understand the feeling in his body and therefore would go when he needed. We used the timer for about 2 days with Cristian and by that point we only continued with random reminders, mainly when we had to go out.
Sofia, on the other hand, hated the timer. She hated the idea of being told when to go to the toilet (as with most things with her) and it began to backfire very quickly. We decided to stop this and unfortunately this led to more accidents. This is what she needed to begin to learn the feeling. Within 2 days she was able to understand the feeling and would only have very small accidents before running to the toilet.
This is a true example of how some tactics work for certain children and not for others. It is important to stop if something isn’t working. Sofia would’ve quickly begun to avoid the toilet and it would’ve been a negative experience for us all.
As with many things, rewards are a great way to engage the behaviours we want to see. Many may believe that tangible rewards shouldn’t be used for things like toilet training. However, I feel that for some situations it can definitely help the process along.
Rewards can come in many forms. You, as the parent, can obviously guide the reward system to suit your child and your own beliefs. The main part of the rewards, is the visual reward chart. Here your child can place stickers (or ticks) every time they successfully use the toilet. They can then receive an agreed upon reward at the end of the chart. The visual chart can be very encouraging to your child and it gives them a sense of achievement.
When it comes to the reward itself, that is completely up to you and the interests of your child. If the reward you choose doesn’t interest them, then they are less likely to strive for it. Our rewards were similar for both Cristian and Sofia. The first reward we introduced were ‘m & m’ chocolates. It was an agreement that they would get 1 chocolate for wee and 2 chocolates for poos and along with the treat they would place a sticker on the sticker chart. Again, this comes down to personal preference and can be replaced with something you believe suits your child.
While introducing the reward chart, we would negotiate what the reward would be at the end. This conversation would obviously be guided towards what we would be happy to supply. Our rewards came down to a toy robot for Cristian and Sofia chose a Polly Pocket. The excitement of heading to the shop to buy these once the chart was filled was beautiful. Having spoken about the reward before beginning the chart also meant that they were focussed and really wanted to get there.
Screen time also became a reward we needed to use to get Sofia to go to the toilet after sleeps. When Cristian was toilet training, I never wanted to allow a screen to encourage toileting. However, like with most parenting moments, you never know what you need to do until you get there. I was worried about Sofia holding it in for too long, therefore, I preferred to give her the iPad for a timed amount of time in the morning and after her nap in order to ensure she would go. This definitely worked for Sofia as she really enjoys screen time.
It is important that you have the rewards organised and readily available in order for them to work. Make your child part of the conversations and they will want to do what they can to get it.
Keep it cool
This may seem obvious but also very difficult in the moment. When children are toilet training they need to feel encouraged and not be reprimanded for accidents. Although it can become tiring and frustrating to be cleaning up after your child and keeping up with the number of laundry loads, you cannot let your child sense your anger.
When your child has an accident, ensure that you calm your child if they get upset by the incident. Remind them that accidents happen and that they will continue to learn when to go to the toilet. If you feel the accident happened because your child chose to not go when you asked or is resisting the toilet and choosing to have an accident, it is still important to remain clam. If this is ongoing, it may be a sign that your child is not ready for toilet training.
Weaning the rewards
Weaning the rewards are in important part of the process and sometimes require just as much thought and conversation. It may need to be something that you agree on before you start the process. With both Cristian and Sofia, we discussed that it would be one reward chart and one packet of the chocolates only. After these rewards were finished it would mean they were ‘big’ and now finished toilet training.
Make sure you celebrate every single success as this will feed their enthusiasm to continue trying. With both kids we had a ‘happy toilet dance’ that we would do when they successfully used the bathroom. We also celebrated smaller milestones like only wetting themselves slightly or only one accident for the day. Whatever the achievement is, make sure you make a big celebration about it.
When it doesn’t work
No matter how prepared you are, how amazing the rewards are and how many positive signs there were, sometimes a child is just not ready. You need to make sure that you are not pressuring your child to be toilet trained and ignoring signs such as persistent accidents, resistance to use the toilet and holding it in.
If you begin to feel that there is little to no progress, it is key to stop and give your child a break. Be sure to not make your child feel as though they have failed because the truth is, this is something that does not have a time or age limit on it, every child will toilet train in their own time. Have the conversation with your child about how proud you are that they gave it a go, and that you are going to try again.
After some time has passed, you may begin to see more signs of readiness from your child or sometimes it may be a better time for your family. Review what worked well and what didn’t the last time you tried and then begin the process again. Of course, being sure that you enter the process positively and motivated with your child.