How to toilet train your child

Set aside 3 to 4 days when you are at home to begin toilet training. Try to keep the same routine in the weeks that follow. 

Tell your child's crèche or childminder that you are beginning toilet training.

Potty or toilet

You can use either a potty or the toilet to start the training process. The potty is smaller and easier to manage.

Using the toilet helps them prepare for times when you are not at home or do not have a portable potty.

If you use the toilet, try a portable step or use a small toilet bowl insert to give them stability.

Start a routine

Start a routine of sitting your child on the potty first thing after meals and naps, and before bedtime.

We all have a natural reflex to go to the toilet after eating. Even if they do not do anything it’s a good way to encourage bowel movement.

Do not force your child to toilet train

Do not force your child to toilet train if they are unhappy or do not want to train. Stop and try again in 2 to 3 weeks.

Try not to worry. Your child will set their own pace. A reward chart may help your child stay motivated.

Place a potty nearby

If using a potty, have it nearby. For example, have one upstairs and one downstairs if your home is on 2 levels.

Watch out for signals

Watch your child for signals that they know their pee or poo is coming. They might hop up and down, hold their pants or hide. Get them to the potty quickly.

Clothes easy to pull up and down

Dress your child in easy-to-care-for clothes that they can pull up and down.

Trainer pants (‘pull-ups’)

Trainer pants or 'pull ups' can be useful when you start toilet training. They can give your child confidence when it's time to swap nappies for underpants.

But trainer pants are not essential for toilet training your child. They should be a step towards underpants, rather than a replacement for nappies.

Encourage your child to keep their training pants dry by using the toilet.

Do not start at a stressful time

It is not a good idea to start toilet training if you are about to move home or have a new baby. These big events could upset your child and affect their routine.

When they are using the toilet or potty

Let your child look at a book about toilet training or listen to music while they are on the potty.

Be with them

Help your child to manage for themselves on the potty or the toilet, but do not leave them to manage alone. Go with your child when they ask you to.

Praise them

Praise your child gently whenever they use the potty.

Be patient

Try not to get upset or impatient with your child while they are learning. Do not use language that shames. Think of learning to use the toilet as an important skill that you are encouraging in your child.

Do not make your child pee

Do not force your child to stay on the potty until they pee or poo. If they say they cannot, help them off and try later.

Children cannot make themselves pee like adults can. You can only train your child to ‘hold on’ once they get the urge to go.

Do not get your child to hold on to a poo. They may not be able to and it is uncomfortable to do so.

Sitting position for boys

It is best to train boys to use the potty or toilet in a sitting position first. He may want to poo as well as pee. When he is confident sitting on the potty, he can pee standing up if he wishes.

After using the potty or toilet

Get your child’s permission to wipe their bottom. Remember to wipe girls from front to back to prevent infection.

Teach your child to always wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet or potty.

Empty the contents of the potty down the toilet. Wash the potty out with warm soapy water and a disinfectant.

Let your child flush the toilet. Doing things for themselves helps your child's sense of independence and self-confidence.

Reward charts

Reward charts are a good way to motivate your child to do something.

For example, to reward your child for using the potty, you can stick a star on a poster of a toilet that you both coloured in.

Make sure to continue to praise your child even if you are using reward charts.

There is nothing more important to your child than your love and cuddles.

Do not remove a star from the chart if your child is naughty or has an accident. They earned the reward. Taking it away can discourage them.

Out and about

If you are going out, bring a few sets of spare pants, soft toilet tissue and baby wipes.

If your child starts wetting themselves again

If your child has been dry for a while and then starts wetting themselves again, it may mean they have a bladder infection or constipation. Ask your GP or public health nurse for advice.

A change of routine or another disruption, such as moving home or a new baby arriving, can often cause this. The best thing you can do is be understanding and sympathetic.

Page last reviewed: 25 January 2021
Next review due: 25 January 2024

Talk to a breastfeeding expert