August 12, 2014

Toilet training is something we all need to face as parents.

At some point, your baby is going to go from nappies to using the toilet and it doesn’t always happen as easy as you say it.

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This is one of those simple things in life which ‘sounds simple’ but can get very complicated and overwhelmingly frustrating for everybody.

I have to confess that I do not remember having too many hassles toilet training our two kids (who are now 4 and 2) – it wasn’t really that long ago, but I honestly don’t remember the ordeal as clearly as I should. People ask me, ‘how did you do it?’ and I say ‘um, I don’t know. . . it just happened’

There were never any BRIBES

There were never many ACCIDENTS

There was never a –stop-start-relapse-stop-abandon-start- process

It just happened. Both around their 2nd birthday.

Since I have one boy and one girl, you would think I could differentiate between the two as labelling one harder than the other, but again, I don’t think it was that big a deal. I wonder, do we get a little bit caught up in making it a big deal?

I avoided sticker charts, fancy pottys’, treats, lollies, trips to the ZOO! (OK – I don’t know anyone who’s actually done that)– but that’s the extreme emphasis I see surrounding toilet training and I want to simplify it for people who are struggling or wondering how in the world you do it successfully!

Racking my brain, trying to dissect the fading memories, I can put what I did into 5 simple steps:

STEP 1: DECIDE

STEP 2: ACT

STEP 3: BE CONSISTENT

STEP 4: BE ENCOURAGING & POSITIVE

STEP 5: KEEP IT REAL

You and your toddler can learn together to do anything, if you apply consistency, offer direction, guidance and demonstrate positive examples. Children are teachable, if we offer good teachings.

I will break those 5 simple steps down into more detail:

STEP 1: DECIDE

Make a confident decision that YOU are ready to toilet train your toddler (based on the impression that you feel your toddler is ready to follow your lead).

This is not about letting the toddler decide for themselves.

Quite often they will want to remain in their ‘comfort zone’ which is continuing to do what they’ve always done, (which is freely go at anytime, anywhere, in their dacks!) the very thing you want to move away from.

You, as their parent /carer are there to lead them, show them and help them to become independent.

Think about when you (as an adult) have been required to make lifestyle changes. You don’t always ‘feel’ like applying what you know, because it’s ‘easier’ to stay the same in your old ways.

If we based our lives around our feelings we would end up a mess of confusion (because our feelings are so up and down). Sometimes you don’t ‘feel’ like doing something, but you know you have to do it.

We need to teach our children this self-discipline.

STEP 2: ACT

The whole toilet training saga is a process. You will not just decide today that you are going to begin and then expect it to be done tomorrow.

You need to take action, beginning right where you are. I found the following routine useful from about 21 months of age. . . every night before their bath, I would encourage the kids to get undressed and sit on the toilet, not a potty – the toilet (We had a special seat for this).

So they sit up there, all by themselves and I tell them it’s a good idea to do a wee in the toilet before we get in the bath. (Sometimes I would do one before them so they saw what I meant).

They didn’t wee, at first, or second or the sixteenth time they tried this. . . but we kept doing it and one day, unexpectedly, some wee trickled into the toilet, so I became a trumpet of ‘first time wee in the toilet EXCITEMENT!’ gave them a high five and let them flush.

STEP 3: BE CONSISTENT

The most important thing is to be consistent. If you want them to be wearing undies, then don’t put a nappy on them ‘sometimes’ ‘when it suits you’. (I’m against those pull-up training pants too, they’re just a fancy nappy).

The child will get confused. You are trying to teach them that going to the toilet is their only option. If there is an ‘easier’ way, they will use it.

For us – the toilet is our only option. We have no choice. Neither should they.

STEP 4: BE ENCOURAGING + POSITIVE

Try not to make this a daunting law-abiding experience.

If the child feels pressure to go to the toilet and like that’s what they have to do to be loved around here – then they will rebel. Just for the simple fact that they are human and that’s what we do.

If you ask them do they want to go to the toilet, respect their answer.

Don’t second guess them, (unless you see signs of fidgeting, then you can ask them why they are playing with it or tip-toeing their feet, to which they might conclude they actually DO need to go).

If they are confident they don’t need to go –respect that, say ‘ok, you tell Mummy when you need to go’. By doing this they become empowered to make their own decisions and ultimately, become independent.

When they wee in their pants and create a sopping wet mess for you to clean up, right after you’ve just asked them did they need to use the toilet, don’t get frustrated, don’t show disappointment or don’t feel like you should just give up with the whole idea.

Teach them; they made a mistake, a bad decision, help them acknowledge that they need to use the toilet when they feel the urge and move on to hopefully learn next time they will tell you when they’re about to wee.

STEP 5: KEEP IT REAL

Like I said before, it is a process.

But it doesn’t need to be a long drawn out back-step / front-step / side-step / round in circles – process. . .  it is a step-by-step, simple part of growing up. And when they move from thinking ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I am doing this’ there is no looking back.

Each step they conquer will boost their confidence to continue with the journey.

When there’s one wee or poo been deposited into the toilet – that should be enough evidence to let them (and you) see that they ARE capable of using the toilet (just like you and I).

At this point, there is no need to go back to doing it the lazy way (in a nappy). You’ve witnessed it, and they have experienced it. There is no need to doubt whether they can or can’t use the toilet.

The fact is, they JUST DID!  If it’s a positive experience, they’ll remember that and remember the feeling of accomplishment for next time. I don’t believe there should be bribes or prizes. The ‘reward’ at our house was the privilege of flushing the toilet.

If there was activity, they were allowed to flush. If there’s no activity – they walk away, knowing they can come back and try again later (all the while, anticipating the thrill of flushing the toilet! Or getting a high five!). Real and Simple.

I understand that some kids are not so co-operative when it comes to making changes. Different things work for different people. But taking it back to the fact that we are all human, we eat and . . . well . . . you know . . . the same way. It shouldn’t really be that hard or complicated or wearisome.

Remember . . . they’re growing up, becoming independent and learning to do what grown ups do. They’re not learning rocket science.

They are no different than anyone else who has ever lived before them. It’s just something that we do. We use the toilet.

If you can emphasise that going to the toilet, instead of in our nappies, is what we are going to do from now on. . then your child will admire your leadership and endeavour to meet your expectations.

High fives all round!!

I won’t say “good luck” at this point. I will instead pray that you have wisdom and an enthusiastic child to put the above simple 5 steps into practice.

Love to know what worked for you!


  • yeah cool 5 steps. thanks sherree

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  • I am like Sheree, it just happened for my three too. I think the key is not to put too much pressure on yourself or the child!

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  • I guess I was the unlucky one.

    One day out of the blue, my daughter said I don’t want nappies and that’s it. No more nappy since.

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  • I wish your post was right… I have a 3 year old who is putting me through hell. It goes through at least 10 pairs of undies a day. Was really good when she was younger but has just stopped trying. I can ask her if she wants to go & I get “NO!” 1 minute later she has wet herself. Half the time she wont even say anything when she has had an accident. If I try and force there is a tantrum or runs away. *sigh

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  • yep keep toilet training simple and it will be alright

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  • I did use a sticker chart only as my little dude was learning. Once, he got the hang of it. It was gone. Now, he’s sleeping in his undies of a day time and wakes up dry. We are moving soon so I’m not bothering about Night time training just yet. He has accidents every so often. The biggest thing is not to stress.

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  • Great read, my daughter just turned 2 on Saturday and I’ve been sort of starting the toilet training thing for a few weeks but not consistently. I will definitely try these 5 steps and keep at it.

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  • Thank you I’m going to give this a go

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  • We don’t know why but Mr 2.5 y.o. has suddenly stopped using the toilet. We were advised to give him a break and try again in a few weeks. He has been sick so that may be why he suddenly lost interest.

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  • I think EC needs to become more mainstream. It seems silly to tell kids one thing for the first 2 years of their lives and then expect them to change completely. Why not just start on the potty/toilet before they form habits?

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  • Persistence, consistency, encouragement & time.
    Real advice with real strategies. It’s wonderful to see this being promoted so positively.

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  • This article caught my eye….do I need to pick-up another tip to add to my quite full bag of tricks…sure do!! Any hints that can help or perhaps take a different approach are fantastic, though I will concede that there really isn’t anything new under the sun :) I’m a Mum of 4 and the age of my children are 15, 12, 10 and….then….2! A sweet lil surprise addition to the family and a good shake up of reality. I never thought I’d be discussing toilet training again….haha, and here I am! I don’t remember a great deal about the feats of toilet training with the first 3, I just remember I got it done. I’m know for a fact that I had my battles and the good days of celebration too. I must have done a good job as my sister in-law gave me her son to have toilet trained a the week whilst she went away….mmmmm, that’s another story ;) AND yes, he was trained BUT he was ready as well at the age of 3. My 2 1/2 year old….not so keen. My Grandma recently contacted me and asked how things were progressing with toilet training the little man. She really was keen to remind me that my cousins have their little ones well and truly trained and I’m behind the eight ball. I listened to her, and quickly replied that one thing I do know, my older 3 have no problems in going to the toilet and no longer need nappies, so I’m sure Charlie will be just fine! She agreed and had a little giggle :) I’m confident that Charlie will be toilet trained most likely before school and it’ll be super quick when he’s ready and I don’t get stressed out about it. Being stressed out about toilet training only causes heart break between you and your child…so yes, enthusiasm, encouragement, and building their self confidence is what it’s all about….other than that, it’ll happen! What I think is to relax…I promise they won’t be in nappies by the time they’re 10…just speaking from experience :) I think your steps are great, how the steps are achieved are as individual and unique as the relationship with the parent and the child…..as for me, I like the lolly rewards.. it works :) Funnily the other kids make smart remarks that they need a lolly to go to the loo too….such silliness always to be had. Thanks Sheree for sharing your point of view; it’s helped remind me of a few key things :)

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  • Wonderful and informative article, great points to help those going through toilet training.

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  • I agree that I toilet trained my eldest 2 with ease.
    My third was a little different until i worked out to do it her way….she refused to sit on a potty…there was no way at all she was interested. It turned out she just didnt like it at all but as soon as i purchased one of the toilet seats with the handles to hold on to and the steps…that was it…toilet trained the same day…no accidents and never looked back.

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  • Love summer for toilet training thankful all but 1 where really easy to train

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