Toilet training

Date Published: 28/05/2021

What do I need to know?

Toilet training is one of many developmental stages in a child’s life. There’s no one ‘right’ age when children are toilet trained, though most need to be between 18 months and three years of age before making a start. Some children learn to be toilet trained very quickly and others take their own sweet time. When they are ready and their body and brain mature enough, it progresses quickly.

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Age and time to start toilet training

The general agreement is that less than 18 months is too early for toddlers to start toilet training. Their brain and nervous system are still too immature. Children under this age can be ‘toilet timed’ which is more about luck, and parents predicting the most likely times their child is about to wee and poo.

By around two years of age, most children can recognize they need to wee or poo and can name both.

Pick a calm time in your household to make a start. Going away, illnesses, having a new baby in the family, starting day care are all potentially stressful times and not ideal to start the process.

It can be helpful to get the whole family involved by normalising going to the toilet and having a matter of fact attitude.

Signs of toilet training readiness

Some children display very clear signs when they are ready to start toilet training. Others are more subtle and without prompting would quite happily continue to wear nappies.

Look for your child to:

  • Show interest when you are going to the toilet.
  • Be able to follow simple instructions.
  • Recognize when they are wet or dirty and can name wee and poo.
  • Tell you when they are about to wee or poo.
  • Have a dry nappy for two hours or more in the day.
  • Be having regular, formed poos.
  • Become more independent, e.g. they can say “I” and “no”.
  • Wake up dry from their daytime nap or are waking up dry in the morning.
  • Dislike wearing nappies and take them off. Wanting privacy when they are pooing in their nappy – some children go off to a quiet place.
  • Start developing skills in getting undressed and can pull off their pants.

Toilet or potty, which is better?

There’s no definite answer. Some parents prefer to introduce toilet training with a potty and then transition to a toilet. Others start as they mean to continue by introducing a toilet from the beginning. It also depends on how easily your child can get to the toilet and the layout of your house.

Potty advantages

  • Smaller and for some children, less frightening than using a toilet.
  • Portable and can be used anywhere it’s needed.
  • Can be used at the same time by the child when the parent is sitting on the toilet. Toilet advantages
  • Cleaner and easier to manage. Cleaning out a potty can be unpleasant.
  • No need to transition from a potty if the toilet is used from the start.

Toilet training steps

When your child is showing signs of toilet training readiness:

Talk with them about toilet training and what’s involved. Show them how to open the lid of the toilet, how to sit and how to flush. Teach them the steps and be patient as they learn what’s involved.

Stop using nappies and put them in underpants, training pants or pull-up nappies in the day. Summer can be an easier time for children to toilet train because of fewer clothing layers to remove.

Take them to the toilet every couple of hours; when they show signs they need to go, when they wake up and after meals.

Get your child’s attention fully when you ask them if they need to go to the toilet. If they’re distracted they’re unlikely to hear you.

Sit on the floor beside your child when they’re on the toilet or potty. Talk calmly to them and ask them to do a wee or a poo. Don’t make them sit for longer than a couple of minutes if they haven’t done anything.

Still put nappies on your child when they go to bed. Many children continue wearing night nappies until pre-school and some even into the lower primary school years. There is a genetic link between the ages when parents were dry at night and when their children will be.

10 top toilet training tips

  1. Be patient and kind. Shame and punishment has no place when children are learning how to use the potty or toilet.
  2. Expect ‘accidents’ for a few months or even a year as your child learns what’s involved.
  3. On average, night time wetting (enuresis) continues for a year or two longer than daytime dryness.
  4. Toilet training has nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with maturation of the nervous system and learning new skills.
  5. It helps for parents to stay calm and not to invest too much energy and emotion into their child’s toilet training.
  6. Make it easy for your child to get up onto the toilet. A step can be very helpful.
  7. Use a foot support and/or toilet seat insert to help your child feel more secure. Some children have a fear of falling into the toilet.
  8. Remove all chemicals and cleaning products from the toilet area. Poisoning is a real risk for unsupervised children.
  9. If possible, send your child to the toilet with their same gender parent. This way they can learn what’s involved. Teach your girl to wipe from front to back. Expect to still need to wipe your child’s bottom until they’re 3-4 years of age and can do a thorough job themselves.
  10. Teach your child how to wash and dry their hands when they’re finished. Make sure they can reach the tap, soap and towel.

If there’s no progress with toilet training:

Forget about it for a couple of weeks. Perhaps your child is still too young, or they’re just not ready. Think about the language you’re using around toilet training and don’t discuss your child’s progress with other people, especially if your child can hear you.

Avoid getting angry or disappointed. Some children just take a little longer to get there.

Use a sticker chart and praise your child, even for trying. Learning new skills can be hard work.

Make toilet training fun. If you have a boy, ask him to aim his penis at a ping pong ball floating in the toilet water or a smiley face drawn on the back of the bowl.


If you are worried about your child’s development or lack of progress with toilet training, it could be helpful to speak with your child health nurse or GP.

Written by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.