Toilet training tips

Growing out of nappies is a learning process whereby children have to learn to control their urge to go to the toilet. No one is born with this ability. It is a maturing process that we need to guide children through until they can do it themselves.

As with all developmental milestones in children, there is generally no precise age at which this happens. Some start earlier than others, but children usually start to grow out of nappies between the ages of 18 and 36 months. It is up to parents to decide when their child is ready to take up this new skill. Certain signals demonstrating a neurological and physical maturity give clues to when children are ready:

  • Walking by themselves unassisted (fundamental to going to the toilet without help).
  • Getting annoyed when they have a dirty nappy and trying to take it off.
  • Letting their parents know when they want to go to the toilet by hopping around, crossing their legs, grabbing their nappy, hunching over, etc.
  • Showing interest when they see their parents go to the toilet, wanting to watch or trying to imitate them.
  • Being more regular with their bowel and bladder movements and can go for between two and four hours with a clean nappy.
  • Can pull their pants up and down without difficulty.
  • Letting their parents know when they have soiled their nappy by saying, "wee" or "poo".
  • Paying attention to their parents, able to play alone, cooperate and take turns.

How do I start?

The first thing to keep in mind is not applying pressure when starting toilet training. Don't scold your child or laugh if he doesn't get to the toilet in time and always wait for the right time to start.

Start with daytime control and, once this has been learnt, move on to nights. Children move through four stages before starting: Letting you know when they have soiled their nappy – make sure to praise them for telling you. Letting you know while they are soiling their nappy. Again, praise them and don't scold them for not letting you know in time. Telling you just before they do it. This is the time to ask them if they want to go to the toilet and to help them do so. The last stage is when they get up in the morning with a dry nappy for several days in a row.

It is important to dress children in comfortable clothing that they can pull up and down by themselves. Your instructions should be clear and simple. Leave the potty where it is easily accessible, conduct the training when things are settled (not when you are moving or before the arrival of a new sibling) and always praise them for their efforts.

To establish a routine for your child, put him on the potty every two or three hours to encourage him to use the toilet then rather than the nappy. Praise him every time he uses the potty successfully. When your child is able to use the potty every two hours, increase the interval to normalise the situation.

When your child no longer wets or soils his nappy, either because he asks to go to the toilet or because he goes unassisted, he will have learnt to control his sphincter during the day. Night-time is more complicated because it is difficult for children to realise they need to go to the toilet when they are sleeping. This second learning stage should not start until full daytime control has been achieved and until your child gets up with a dry nappy for at least three weeks in a row.

Some tips to stop bedwetting at night:

  • Explain your child that you are going to try he sleeps without a nappy.
  • Make the transition gradually. Have your child wear a panty/underpant-style nappy so that any accidents will not wet the entire bed.
  • Don't let your child drink too much before going to bed.
  • Always make sure your child goes to the toilet before bed.
  • Praise your child every time he makes it through the night without an accident. Don't scold or pressure your child if he has an accident but be patient and wait until he is ready. It may be that you have moved ahead too quickly.

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