Potty training is one of the most important developmental milestones for small children… and their parents! Indeed, most parents find potty training harder than children do and they anticipate it as eagerly as they are terrified of it. Very few moms and dads are prepared for the time toilet training can really take, and a lot of confusing information out there makes things even harder. Is potty training really so complicated?

One of the most common ‘mistakes’ parents make is to overestimate their child’s readiness to start potty training. Psychologically, for the children, it is a challenging task and a pivotal stage of their lives. There is no rush and there is no right or wrong time. Every child is radically different from the others, and you shouldn’t fall for comparisons; false expectations will only work against you and your child’s effort. Forcing a child to learn something new when he/she is not ready will make the process much longer than needed and will leave the child feeling demotivated.

I have gathered some of the most common questions women ask me on the subject and I have tried to answer as simple as possible – potty training is not  rocket science:  it is easy, as long as it’s done with love.

How will I know if my child is ready to start potty training?

Some children are ready to start potty training when they are just 18 months old while others are not really interested until the age of 3 or more. To start with, before you get ready to throw away the nappies, consult the checklist below to get an idea at what stage your child is at.

Physical signs

  • Is coordinated enough to walk, and even run, steadily.
  • Urinates a fair amount at a time.
  • Has regular, well-formed bowel movements at relatively predictable times.
  • Has “dry” periods of at least two hours or during naps, which shows that his bladder muscles are developed enough to hold urine.

Behavioral signs

  • Can sit down quietly in one position for two to five minutes.
  • Can pull his pants up and down.
  • Dislikes the feeling of wearing a wet or dirty diaper.
  • Shows interest in others’ bathroom habits (wants to watch you go to the bathroom or wear underwear).
  • Gives a physical or verbal sign when he’s having a bowel movement such as grunting, squatting, or just telling you.
  • Demonstrates a desire for independence.
  • Takes pride in his accomplishments.
  • Isn’t resistant to learning to use the toilet.
  • Is in a generally cooperative stage, not a negative or contrary one.

Cognitive signs

  • Understands the physical signals that mean he has to go and can tell you before it happens or even hold it until he has time to get to the potty.
  • Can follow simple instructions, such as “go get the toy.”
  • Understands the value of putting things where they belong.
  • Has words for urine and stool.

(Source: Babycenter)

Assess your child’s capability following the checklist above, bearing in mind that pressuring your child to start potty training when they are not ready is extremely counterproductive.

When is the best time to start?

It is always advisable to choose a time when there are no major changes in your child’s life. If, for example, he/she has just started a new school and needs time adjusting to that, or has been ill for a while, or if you moved to a new home, or if you will be traveling a lot in the next few days – this is NOT the right time to start toilet training.


You should also assess your own readiness for this challenging process. Potty training requires a lot of patience, understanding, comforting attitude and a dash of humor. If you are stressed, overworked or too overwhelmed to devote the time needed, then don’t just start yet. Potty training boils down to a few weeks or months of daily encouragement for your toddler. If you are on the last trimester of your pregnancy or you have just taken on a new job, wait a while until things calm down before you start.

Above all, you have to make sure that you, the primary caregiver, and your toddler are in a good place in your life. Timing is one of the most important elements for successful potty training.

The majority of women I talk to choose to endeavour on this ‘toilet adventure’ during the hotter months of the spring or the summer, when toddlers can walk around in their nappies, on bare floors.

Choose a day and time of the year that suits you the best. If your toddler goes to nursery or kindergarten then it’s maybe better to start the training during the next big break.

How do I create a routine?

First, you will need  to buy the right equipment. Figure out what you think will be  better for your toddler, either a child-size potty or a special adapter seat that attaches to your regular toilet. You can then go to the shop together and he/she can help you pick one out.

[quote_box_right]If sitting on the potty with or without clothes is upsetting to your toddler, don’t push it. Never restrain her or physically force her to sit there, especially if she seems scared. It’s better to put the potty aside for a few weeks before trying again. Then, if she’s willing to sit there, you know she’s comfortable enough to proceed.[/quote_box_right]

‘If you’re buying a potty chair for your son, look for one without a urine guard or with a removable one. You may have to wipe up a little more stray pee, but the guards tend to bump into and scrape a boy’s penis when he sits on the potty, which can discourage him from training.

If you’re using an adapter seat, make sure it’s comfy and secure, and buy a stool to go with it. Your toddler will need the stool in order to get up and down from the toilet quickly and easily, as well as to brace his feet while sitting, which helps him push when he’s having a bowel movement’.

Now, every parent has their own method of creating a routine and getting their child get used to the potty. A good way is to let your child play with it for a while that way becoming more familiar with how it looks. You could have a conversation with your child, explaining what a potty does, how it can be used and why. I used to take the portable potty with us everywhere round the house and was asking my daughter, quite often whether she needs to go to the toilet.

At first she really loved the ‘freedom’ feeling that the lack of nappy gave her. ‘Children learn by imitation, and watching you use the bathroom is a natural way to understand what using the toilet is all about. If you have a son, it’s simpler to teach him topee sitting down at this young age. Later, when he’s mastered that, he can watch his dad, older brother, or friend pee standing up – he’s bound to pick it up quickly with just a little encouragement.’


It is helpful to talk your toddler through every step of the way showing her how to wipe, flush and wash her hands. It is important to teach your daughter to wipe from to front towards the back, especially after a bowel movement to avoid the risk for urinary tract infections.

Expect that your child will require to use the potty many times in a day without actually doing what is intended. That is normal and fine; at the end of the time this is a new toy and it needs to be treated as such.

I awarded my daughter a sticker for every time she successfully went to the potty which worked more times than it didn’t. Also expect to have a few accidents along the way which is fine and in which time you are asked to show understanding, explain to your child that accidents like these do  happen and show encouragement and comfort. Under no circumstances should you punish your child or show disappointment!

When do I introduce night training?

Use nappies during the night until your toddler manages to stay dry all day for a few days/weeks. Every child is different and while some children learn the habit in 5-7 days, others require months. It is perfectly normal for a child to occasionally keep wetting the bed at night until she/he begins school!

When you are ready to start  night-time training, place a waterproof cloth in between the bed sheets and the mattress, and have the potty close by so it’s accessible quickly when needed. Some parents keep the pull up nappy on during the night but encourage their children  to wake up and use the potty if they need the toilet.

Others take the nappy off completely when their child is ready to embark on night training. At this stage, do what feels best for you and your child. Try a couple of alternatives to figure out the easiest method for your toddler. There is nothing you can do to help things along, other than trying  to limit liquid intake before bed.


Whatever you do, don’t lose faith, and keep encouraging the little ones – they are the ones going through the life-changing experience! It won’t be long before your toddler sleeps entire nights dry, and nappies are a distant nightmare. You have done it!

The key to potty training is to ensure that your child is physically and mentally ready to learn this new skill. If that one condition is met, then the process will be easy for both of you. There is no deadline, there is no pressure or rush; let your child take his time,  and trust your instinct. Besides, when did that work against you?

Do you have your own potty training story or advice to share? We’d love to hear from you!

Psychologist, world citizen, mother - Effie is one half of the alwaysladies.com founding pair. She can bring to life any party with either a smile, or a strong opinion. If like us you can't get enough of Effie, visit her blog at www.thethinkingmomblog.com

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