Toilet training

Video courtesy of ERIC's Vimeo Channel

Teaching little ones to use the potty or toilet takes time and patience. They all learn and develop differently.

On this page we hope to give you some useful tips on when to start potty training, on what to do, how to deal with common problems and where you can go to get more help and advice if you need it.

When should I start toilet training?

A good time to think about starting toilet training is when your child is between two and two and a half years old. But some children won't be ready to start at this age and it's best to wait till they are a bit older.

It's also a good idea to start when there are no big changes at home or in routine, such as a new baby coming along or going on holiday. You don't need to wait until your child tells you that they are ready.

Some signs that your child might be ready:

  • Can they get on, off and sit on the potty or toilet (with a step and toilet/trainer seat)?
  • Are they showing signs of being dry for a couple of hours?
  • Are they having a poo at a similar time each day?
  • Do they notice they have had a wee/poo?

The aim is for your child to be dry and in pants by the time they start school.

Top tips and advice

  • You don’t need to buy expensive pottys or gadgets. A simple potty and/or child’s detachable toilet/trainer seat with a step for their feet should be enough.
  • Make using the toilet or potty normal. Children need to understand that this is an ordinary part of growing up. For example, you might keep the potty out in the bathroom before they start potty training and they might want to try sitting on it. If the bathroom is upstairs, keep another potty downstairs so your child can reach it wherever they are
  • Children will often wee or poo just after they wake up, after a feed, drink, or meal. This can be a good time to sit them on the potty or toilet.
  • Give praise and encouragement for sitting on the potty, whether there have been any 'results' or not!
  • Work with others who look after your child, for example grandparents or nursery.
  • Don’t worry if there is the odd accident, for example if your child gets excited or upset. But do look out for signs that your child is having a wee or poo, or is holding it back, such as fidgeting, pulling an odd expression or walking funny. If this happens, sit them on the pot.
  • Disposable or washable potty training pants (also called pull-ups) can be handy when you start potty training and can give children confidence when it's time to swap nappies for "grown-up" pants. They do not soak up wee as well as disposable nappies, so your child will find it easier to tell when they are wet.
  • If your child is not ready to stop wearing nappies and it's hard for them to know when they've done a wee, you can put a piece of folded kitchen paper inside their nappy. It will stay wet and should help your child learn that weeing makes you feel wet.

Children with additional needs

Some children, including those with additional needs and disabilities can find it more difficult to learn to use a potty or toilet, but it's important not to avoid potty training for too long.

Contact - the charity for families with disabled children - has expert advice and information on potty training for children living with a disability.

The charity Bladder & Bowel UK have produced an accessible leaflet with helpful advice.

Potty training problems

Some children take to using a potty quickly, others take more time. Either way, it's common to have questions and face setbacks as your child learns this new skill.

Talk to your health visitor about any worries or questions. They'll have helped lots of parents see their children through potty training, and can give you tips to make things easier for you and your child.

My child doesn't want to use the potty 

Try not to worry. Remind yourself that sooner or later, your child will want to be dry for their own sake. If they start to see potty training as a battle with you, it'll be much harder.

Leave the potty training for a month or so, then try again, slowly and calmly. A reward chart with stickers may help your child stay motivated.

My child won't stay sitting on the potty

  • Making potty training interesting for your child will encourage them to sit still on the potty.
  • You could keep certain books or toys in the bathroom especially for potty times.
  • There's no need to keep your child on the potty for more than a couple of minutes.
  • Praise your child when they manage to sit on the potty, whether or not they pee or poo each time.

My child keeps wetting themselves

You have 2 options. You could go back to nappies for a while and try again in a few weeks, or you can keep leaving the nappies off, but be prepared to change and wash clothes a lot.

Whatever you decide, don't let it get you or your child down, and don't put pressure on them. Talk to other parents about how they coped.

Don't confuse your child by stopping and starting potty training too often. If you do stop, leave it for a few weeks before you start again.

My child uses the potty sometimes, but has accidents other times

Accidents will happen for a while, so when your child does use the potty or manages to stay dry, even if it's just for a short time, tell them how pleased you are.

Even though accidents can be very frustrating, try not to show your child how you're feeling. Explain that you want them to use the potty next time.

If your child starts to worry about making a mess, the problem could get worse.

My child was dry for a while, but they have started wetting themselves again

If your child has been dry for a while, either at night, during the day or both, and starts wetting themselves again, it may mean they have a bladder infection, constipation, or type 1 diabetes. Ask your GP for more advice.

Alternatively, there may be an emotional reason. A change of routine or another disruption, such as moving house or a new baby arriving, can often have an effect.

The best thing you can do is be understanding and sympathetic. Your child will almost certainly be upset about wetting themselves and won't be doing it on purpose.

Stay positive and give your child gentle reminders about using the potty regularly.

My child's about to start school and still isn't dry

By this age, your child is likely to be just as upset by wetting themselves as you are. They need to know that you're on their side and you're going to help them solve the problem.

Talk to your health visitor or GP to get some guidance. They may refer you to a clinic for expert help.

(Information taken from the NHS website as at 23/08/23. Licensed under OGL 3)

Support for you

You can speak to your Health Visitor or GP if you have concerns.

You can contact the children's continence charity ERIC for information on potty training.

ERIC has a freephone helpline on 0808 169 9949 (Monday to Thursday, 10am to 2pm) or you can ask for a call back or email.

Better Lives Healthy Futures has further advice on toilet training and bedwetting