When should we start potty training?

Potty training your toddler requires parents and carers to have lots of patience and a calm approach. There's no set age to say when a child should potty train as all children are different however there are some tell-tale signs that can indicate that your child is ready for potty training. Most children are usually ready between 18 months and 3 years of age.

How will I know my toddler is ready for potty training?

The children bowel and bladder charity recommend looking out for the following signs:

  • Your child being physically able to sit on the potty and get themselves back up when they’ve finished

  • Keep track of your child’s wee and poo habits, if they can go two hours in between each one then this indicates that their bladder and bowel has developed some control to hold their output and could be ready 

  • Does your child let you know when they have done a wee or a poo? Do they tell you or point to their nappy or get ready to be changed? 

  • They might try to remove their nappy themselves 

  • You might see them wiggling and jiggling about because they’re noticing they’re wet which can be a great time to start

  • They’re able to understand and follow instructions and are getting more independent at getting dressed

  • They’re excited to wear big boy/girl pants or show interest in using the potty/toilet

Please take a look on the ERIC website to see a video on how to recognise if your child is ready for potty training.

It's important that potty training is a positive experience for you and your child. If they're not showing any signs or wanting to use the potty, leave it for a few weeks, keep the potty nearby and attempt it later when they're engaging. 

Don't compare your child to others or pressure yourself to get your child potty trained because other children at the similar age or younger have. 

Each child reaches these milestones at different stages and forcing them can create a negative experience that creates a regression or avoidance in using a potty completely.

When to start potty training will depend on the individual child. Every child is different; they learn to walk and talk at different times and they learn how to use the toilet at different times too. However, most children are ready to be potty trained between 18 months and 3 years old.

You know your child better than anyone else so don’t feel you have to start potty training just because other people think you should.

It has to be the right time for toilet training to start; when you can devote lots of time and effort to it. If you’re moving house or there’s a new baby on the way, it’s probably not the best time to start teaching your child to use the potty.

It helps if you can:

  1. Get your child involved with changing their nappies. Change them standing up in the bathroom/ toilet where possible, get them to help with their clothing and wash your hands together when you've finished.

  2. Talk about wee and poo. Tell them if their nappy is wet or dry when you change them and talk about the wee or poo inside to help them gain an understanding of what their body does and where everything comes from, this helps them make sense and prevent it being fearful.

  3. Keep the nappies in the toilet and change your child in there so they associate wees and poos with that room.

  4. Plan a reward system like a sticker chart. Reward every little step towards potty training like getting dressed or washing their hands, each praise will help motivate them to want to engage in potty training.

  5. Read picture books about potty training together. There are some available in the ERIC shop.  

  6. YouTube provides a variety of story videos that can help prepare little ones with this journey.

  1. Show that you do wees and poos too! Leave the toilet door open and ask family members to do the same. Young children learn by watching and copying, older siblings can be particularly helpful at demonstrating and encouraging their younger siblings.
  2. Leave a potty visible and encourage your child to have a sit on it, praise them when they show interest, encouraging the potty as part of a morning and bedtime routine can help to introduce it, but don't pressure your child.
  3. Talk to your health visitor or children's centre for potty training advice. You can also talk to the ERIC helpline or download ERIC’s Guide to Potty Training.

  • When you’ve decided it’s the right time to start potty training, ensure you’re prepared for accidents, positive in your mind set and have patience. Potty training takes time, it doesn’t happen overnight. Be mindful that it is a big life skill your little one is learning. Using a toy or book to help them stay interested to sit there can help.
  • Encourage your child to sit on the toilet after having a meal, digesting foods often leads to a poo. If you’re aware of a pattern in which your child has a poo at a certain time each day, suggest they go to the potty or toilet at that time. Leave their nappy off, if they don’t like it then don’t rush, put it back on and try again in a couple of weeks.
  • When your child has an accident, remain neutral, do not make a fuss or be frustrated, if you create a negative experience they’ll feel anxious and worried and aren’t likely to succeed at potty training. Use comfy clothes that are easy to change, don’t moan when cleaning up and give them a narrative about keeping clean and dry. 
  • When your child succeeds, give them huge praise and help them feel positive., using a sticker chart is a good idea. Avoid sweets as a treat, toddlers wee a lot, that would be a lot of sweets, impacting their mealtimes and increasing a risk of tooth decay. 
  • Some children want to wear pants which will be a smooth transition from nappies, however some like the comfort of the nappy they’ve always worn. It can be hard to tell if they're wet as disposable nappies are so good at soaking up wee and keeping it off the skin. Putting some tissue into the nappy which will stay wet when they do a wee may help, as well as letting you know when they’ve done a wee, it may also help your child connect the feeling of being wet with weeing.
  • Some children will prefer pull ups, be consistent with what you use and advise, use these as a step to pants not a replacement nappy.  Reminding your child to use the toilet and to talk to you when they feel the need to go. 
  • Use language they can understand and repeat back to you such as “do you need a wee wee?” “shall we use the potty?” “can you feel if you need a wee wee?” This helps them to build on their language and communication and let you know their cues for needing the toilet.
  • If your child prefers to use a toilet instead of a potty, you can get a small seat that clips onto the toilet to adjust the size and make it safer for them to feel more confident. They're also good for travel.
  • If using a potty, take it in the car and on outings to maintain the consistency. Be conscious of your child’s patterns if they’ve had a lot to drink, avoid taking them out of the house without emptying their bladder and don’t let them fill up on fluids prior to going somewhere with no toilet access, this would be setting them up to fail, explain they have a journey where they might need the toilet. Using puppy training pads on car seats can help protect them from urine. 
  • If you have a boy, encourage them to sit down to pee. If they also need a poo, sitting down will encourage them to go. A further resource when potty training is to have a step to help getting onto the toilet, but also to place a child’s feet and legs in the correct position to help them pass a bowel movement.

Focus on the day potty training before attempting the night, continue to use a pull up or nappy and look out for it being damp or dry this can be a sign that they're getting ready for the night.

  • ensure the last drink is one hour before bed

  • avoid caffeine or fizzy drinks such as tea and hot chocolate as this will cause your child to wee more often

  • double void, this means take your child to the toilet when getting in bed, read a story and further return to the toilet to ensure the bladder is empty before bed

  • for some children citrus and blackcurrant drinks can over stimulate the bladder and cause an urgency and frequency to urinate

  • it’s recommended that all children drink 6-8 cups of water throughout the day

  • if your child wakes in the night, ensure they try for the toilet as this might be what’s woken them up, but they may not have realised

It can be common for children to refuse to poo on the potty at first. If your child poos less frequently than 4 times a week, you notice the poo is small, hard and round, it smell offensive or it’s loose, this could indicate constipation and can impact on potty training. Contact your local health visitor for advice and support with this.

Potty training with a disabled child can be challenging for them and you, but don’t avoid trying. Use the same approach when potty training a child with special needs. Your occupational therapist will be able to give you advice about special seats or equipment to allow your child to safely potty train. Look out for cues of when your child goes to the toilet.

The charity Contact, for families with disabled children, has created a guide to support parents and carers of disabled children with potty training.