Ready For Potty?

You may be ready to start toilet training, but is your child?

Ready For Potty?


Toilet training can be stressful for parents. I remember cleaning up countless puddles and trying to entice my son out from under the table where he hid while having a bowel movement. The process is made even more difficult when parents try to rush it. Using the toilet is something you can’t make your child do; he must have the desire.

Children don’t develop muscles to control urine flow and bowel movements until they are between the ages of 18 months and two years. Realistically, you and your child will have more success if you wait until she is two years old to start the process.

Watch for signs of readiness

A child who is ready for toilet training is able to:

√ walk steadily
√ pull pants up and down
√ get up from a seated position
√ say words to express her needs
√ understand instructions and follow them
√ wake up dry from a nap most of the time
√ understand things belong in certain places, i.e., books go on the shelf, toys go in the basket
√ make some choices
√ tell you when he needs to be changed

When you notice your toddler showing these signs, you can encourage the process by buying a potty or a seat for a regular toilet. Using a potty chair is probably easiest for beginners. Children need to be able to anchor their feet on the floor or a stool to feel comfortable and safe.

Encourage your child to dress and undress himself; most toddlers are beginning to figure this out and want to “do it myself.” You might encourage him to go “bottomless” so that he can really see what is happening and feel the sensations.

Teach your child the words you want her to use and are comfortable with. This is a good opportunity to label body parts. There are a variety of children’s books and DVDs available on the subject. Encourage hand washing so that it becomes part of the routine.

Children this age learn through imitation – let your toddler watch you use the bathroom. Let her practise flushing; the sound can be scary at first. Encourage her to sit on the potty. She may like to do this with her clothes on to begin with, or to sit a stuffed animal on the potty instead.

Once your child is ready

Here are some tips to guide the process of toilet training once you feel your child is ready:

★ Buy big girl/boy underwear – your child can help pick them out.

★ Choose a time when there is less stress in your 

family. If you have a new baby, are moving, or your child is sick, wait to start toilet training.

★ Plan to stay home for a day or two so that you can be close to the bathroom and follow your toilet training routine as closely as possible.

★ Set up a schedule: encourage your child to sit on the potty after she wakes up, before snack and lunch, and before naps.

★ Teach your child the steps you want her to follow: tell mommy or daddy you need to go, go to the bathroom, pull down your pants, go, wipe (front to back for girls), pull up your pants, flush, and wash your hands.

★ Always go with your child to the bathroom while he is learning.

★ Children may enjoy looking at a book while they sit on the potty.

★ Praise all successes with genuine, descriptive praise; for example, “You remembered to tell mommy that you had to go to the potty. Well done!”

★ Remember, accidents will happen and may continue to happen for months. Always carry a change of clothing when you are outside of the house – don’t forget the socks! If your child has an accident, help her get cleaned up and changed in a matter of fact manner. Never criticize or respond in anger if she has an accident.

★ Some children respond to stickers and rewards. Examples of rewards would be: “When you have gone to the potty, we will go to the park.” Or “First wash your hands, then we will read a story.”

Remember, children will learn this important skill when they are ready. Provide support and encouragement. This is one more step to independence!


Toilet Training Dos and Don’ts


  • Make it fun? Put blue food colouring in the toilet, and see if your child can turn it green.
  • Dress your child in clothing that can be easily removed.
  • Be aware of self flushing public toilets; they can be frightening!
  • Take a break from toilet training if your child is resisting.


  • Get into power struggles
  • Make him sit on the potty for long periods of time.
  • Scold or use an angry tone of voice
  • Set deadlines or plan to have your child “trained” by a certain date.

Author: Nancy Doherty

Nancy Doherty is a registered Early Childhood Educator at the Peterborough Family Resource Centre.

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