Toilet training

By Adamos Chatzipanagis, paediatrician

When should potty training begin?

  • Children under the age of twelve months have no control over their bladder or bowel movements, and little control during the next 6 months.
  • Between the ages of 18 and 24 months children show the first signs of being ready, but some children may reach the age of 30 months before they are ready.
  • Children should also be emotionally ready. Don’t pressurize your child if he firmly refuses to use the potty.

How do I know if my child is ready to be toilet trained?

  • The child remains dry for at least 2 hours during the day, or is dry after his midday nap.
  • Bowel movements become regular and predictable.
  • The child’s facial expressions, his posture, or his vocal expressions show that he is ready to urinate or defecate.
  • The child feels uncomfortable in his dirty nappy and wants to be changed.
  • The child is able to follow simple instructions.
  • The child helps you undress and dress him in the toilet.
  • The child asks to sit on the potty.
  • The child asks to wear underwear that adults wear.

What should I do, and what should I avoid?

  • Encourage the child to tell you when he is ready to urinate, or feels his bowels moving. If the child tells you after he has wet his nappy, reward him, and ask him to tell you earlier next time.
  • Explain to the child that getting a red face, and some bodily sounds mean that his bowel is about to move.
  • Carefully decide which words to use for the issue, and stick to them in order to avoid confusion.
  • When the child seems ready to urinate or defecate, take him to the potty. Let the child sit for a few minutes. If nothing happens, don’t be disappointed. Make the whole procedure seem pleasant and normal.
  • Make the use of the potty a part of the child’s daily routine. You can direct the child to the potty as soon as he gets up in the morning, and before he goes to bed at night.
  • Reward each of the child’s efforts with hugs and encouraging words.
  • Never scold the child if he makes a mistake! Remember that each child has his own rhythm and particularities.
  • Show the child how to wipe himself/herself properly after using the potty (especially girls, who should always wipe from front to back, so that germs are not carried from the anus to the vagina or the urethra).
  • Teach the child to always wash his hands after using the potty.

My child “can’t/won’t use the potty”!

Potty-training children requires patience!  It may take weeks or even months. Don’t show signs of impatience, and don’t scold the child.

Check if there are any factors that may be causing anxiety, for example, moving house, expecting a new baby, or a crisis in the family.

The paediatrician can always advise you if difficulties seem to be severe. Don’t forget, that even if the child has learned to use the potty, it is normal for accidents to happen for some time afterwards.


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