To Pot or Not to Pot? - Some Thoughts on Potty Training and How to Survive It

Hot topic at Scallywags just now is potty training.  How to do it?  When to do it? Pants or pull-ups?  With my years of experience the one thing I can definitely say for sure is that “it depends”.

Let’s start with a few anecdotal items:

  • Girls tend to potty train sooner than boys
  • Awareness of “poos” comes quite a lot sooner than awareness of “wees”
  • A simple reward system can make the whole process more fun for you and your toddler
  • The more consistent you are in your child’s potty routine, the easier it is.
  • Think “fun”.  For example, at the risk of embarrassing my own sons, they loved flushing and watching everything disappear.  You might want to make up a special “tinkle” song or give a “high-five!” when your toddler has successfully used the potty.  “Ridiculous!” you may feel but it all goes to making this a stress-free time for you both.

So, when can you start potty training your toddler

Most expert websites advise between 18 months and 3 years.  Start watching you child’s behaviour from about 18 months. Do they ask to be changed if they have done a poo? Do you use fewer nappies in a day? (Shows that their bladders are getting stronger and can hold more.)  Do they take themselves away to a quiet place when they do a poo?  These are all signs that your child is getting ready to be potty trained. Some people like to wait until warmer weather to train their children.  There are fewer clothes to be pulled down (and washed, in cases of accidents).  Perhaps more important, your toddler can “feel” a bit more with fewer clothes on and may be able to anticipate needing to go to the potty more easily.

Are you ready to be potty training? 

  • Timing is important in potty training.  If you are moving house, or you have out-of-town relatives/friends who will be staying for a long visit or even if you have a holiday booked in the near future, this can make potty training really difficult.  Toddlers can get a bit worried or sad by such events and this will affect their ability to focus on their potty training.  Top tip – if you have any of these things coming up, maybe it would be an idea to postpone potty training until you can have a nice quiet interlude at home.  You don’ have to be housebound, of course, but the idea is calm routine with nothing too unexpected happening.  That way you are less likely to experience difficulties or, if your toddler is starting to get the idea. backsliding.
  • Make sure you have the sort of potty that you want to use.  Keep it someplace out where they can “play” with it and you can start talking about what it is for.  From my own experience, the “throne” type (ie is basically a low chair with a removable pot) is the easiest one for both boys and girls to use.  It’s also less likely to tip and spill if your child is a bit ungainly getting up from a squatting position.  There are proponents of the squatting pot because they feel it puts children in a more “anatomically correct” position for doing the business.  The only thing here is to choose one and to stick with it until your toddler is feeling more secure about using the potty.  Personally, I have never really managed to find a potty seat insert for the toilet that didn’t end up shifting around or pinching my sons’ bottoms.  Please let me know if you have had a different experience.
  • Let your toddler choose the pants.  If you decide to use cloth pants rather than pull-ups, let your child choose which ones they want and make sure you have plenty of them (or the ability to wash and dry them quickly).  For myself, I bought some nice pants but then hit my mummy network for hand-me-downs.  Charity shops often have second hand children’s clothing which means you can have lots of spares and not worry too much that you are ruining good clothes.
  • Are you in the right mental/emotional space for this?  Sounds like a silly question but if you are feeling anxious or are under stress from other quarters or you simply are pushed for time, maybe you should hold off for a little bit.  If that isn’t an option, just try to stay composed, calm and confident (I call it the “3C’s” of motherhood) for the time you are potty training.  The last thing you want is for anxiety to be associated with using the loo.
  • Decide, as a family, what sort of reward system you are going to use.  Personally, I like to keep food out of it so no sweets for my lot.  Far preferable are things like stickers, star charts or, simple effusive praise.  You would be surprised how far you can go with “Clever boy!” and “What a big girl you are!”  My boys loved having a star chart where they could put the stars on themselves.  If they got 10 stars, they got a special story with their daddy.  A whole week’s worth meant a small outing to someplace they liked.  Don’t worry, you can give up the chart pretty quickly after your child is dry and clean in the daytime.  Never give up on the praise though.
  • Are you potty training for the right reasons?  That is, is your child is making the right signals?  Believe me; I know the pressure young mums come under to get their children pushed on to various milestones.  Whether it is from your NCT friends, your toddler’s grandparents (my own mother-in-law claimed her children were potty trained by the time they were 1 year old!  Actually, I think she was the one who was trained to know what times to “catch” things) or some nursery school which refuses to change nappies or give you a place until your child is toilet-trained, be strong and don’t give in to pressure.  The whole process is quicker and less traumatic for all concerned if you wait until your child is actually ready.  What age toddlers are potty trained at is not indication of later success in life, so try not to sweat it.

Will my child stay potty trained?

  • Backsliding happens. Oftentimes children backslide if there has been some major disruption to their routine.  This disruption usually comes in the form of a new baby in the house.  In these cases, the older child may see the attention the new baby is getting and want to “be a baby” again.  Try to be patient and go back to step one and the reward system.  It won’t last long and if you keep praising your toddler and feeding their self-esteem about being “big”, you’ll both be fine.
  • Don’t expect your child to be “reliable” in any true sense until they are four or five.  You know what it’s like yourself– “I’ll just hold it a little longer because I want to finish…. “  or “I will wait because I am having far too much fun doing…..” and then you have to make a run for it.  You see where I am going with this – your child will continue to have accidents for some time if something bigger and better is happening so don’t be angry or discouraging.  A simple “Oops” will suffice – your child will feel embarrassed enough.

I hope you have found my musings useful and maybe a little amusing.  Remember – I am not an “expert” – just a mum with kids of my own and over 20 years dealing with toddlers.  For the experts, try these websites:

NHS Advice:

NCT (National Childbirth Trust):

Parenting Magazine:


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