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Potty Training Tips

Written by Yvonne Heavyside on Friday, 27 September 2013. Posted in Toddler Tips

Dreading potty training? It’s a lot easier than you think especially with these tips from Yvonne Heavyside of The Family Zone.

Potty Training Tips

Have you noticed how trends in child-rearing tend to go in cycles? Routine, no routine, and now routines are very much in again. Breast feeding on 1 breast only, then both breasts and (I think, even I lose touch) we are back to 1 breast only again. Well watch this space but my prediction is that we are about to see a swing in the potty training trend. It is not unusual in the course of my work, for me to come across bright 3 year olds (usually boys) who are not potty trained but who have never even been exposed to the idea! The subject usually comes up, not as a problem, but a request for information about nursery schools who will accept 3 year olds still wearing nappies.


When I was a newly qualified health visitor in the late 70’s I used to carry around checklists of objectives to be covered at various developmental checks. At an 18 month check I would discuss potty training with the mother and would find most had started but hadn’t got far. At my return assessment at 2 and a half it was very unusual to find a child not potty trained during the day and most were well on the way to being trained at night.

So why has this trend changed so much? Partly due to the influence of a number of books and articles written in the 70’s and 80’s which suggested that babies who were potty trained too early would have long lasting psychological damage (which just about covers all of us born prior to this or who were raised in countries such as China were “potty training” starts at birth). Experts also warned mothers that using words such as “dirty” associated with nappies would have long lasting damaging effects on the child’s self esteem. Thus potty training became a psychological minefield so parents delayed its introduction.

Secondly a more obvious reason has to be the invention of the disposable nappy. Disposable nappies fit neatly and snugly. If you are an active 2 year old and you pee in your nappy it may feel a little heavier but apart from that it won’t disrupt your activities much. If you have ever seen a 2 year old wearing a wet or soiled terry nappy you will notice the difference. He will walk with his legs wide apart with a miserable expression on his face. Thus the child is keen to rid himself of this uncomfortable encumbrance!

Then of course there’s the mother’s perspective. Talk to any old lady about her child rearing years and her reminiscences are always associated with the nappy years. “I had 3 at one time still in nappies”. If you have to wash and dry nappies (and don’t have a tumble drier and live in a damp country), as well as look after the babies and husband, then believe you me, your number one goal is to get that baby out of nappies as soon as possible. I come across quite a few mums now in Hong Kong who are using washable nappies (mostly because they are sensitive to environmental issues but some because they believe it is more cost effective) and I will be very keen to see how quickly their babies are potty trained in comparison to the rest of the disposable nappy using population!

By the age of 2 the average child will have used 4,000 nappies. In some countries the use of nappies ceases after a few weeks. The baby is held over a sheet of newspaper at regular intervals as the carer anticipates when the baby will wee or poo. The baby is obviously not “potty trained” in the sense that he is aware and able to indicate when he wants to empty his bladder or bowels but he does quite quickly begin to learn when he is expected to perform at the appropriate time. Whilst this is clearly not the most practical of methods for the modern mum, it does demonstrate how quickly a baby can learn to indicate his need for the potty.


How to spot readiness

  • Child becomes aware of needing bowel movement. Squats, hides or says words such as “poo”

  • Stays dry for a couple of hours during day

  • Has a predictable time for bowel movements

  • Shows interest in you or other children going to the toilet

  • Attempts to pull nappy off after emptying bowels

  • Says “wee” “poo” or own words after going

Times to avoid potty training

  • During stressful times for the child such as: after moving house, after birth of baby, upset routine


Tips for potty training (day time)

  • Follow the child’s lead, usually around 2 years

  • Remember that under 20 months the bladder empties more often

  • Make sure the child is able to communicate his needs if only by facial expression

  • Have a good sense of humour and tons of patience!

Tips for potty training (night time)

  • Wait until child has good control over bladder and bowels during the day

  • An obvious time to start is when the child is waking up regularly with dry nappies

  • Explain to the child what you are doing

  • Cover the mattress with a waterproof protector

  • Have clean bed linen ready for quick change in the night

  • Leave a potty by the bed. If using a toilet by then, make sure a light is on so child can find toilet quickly

  • Use potty before going to bed. Toileting the child before the parent goes to bed works in some cases but in others may upset the child who is already in a deep sleep

  • Don’t restrict late afternoon and early evening drinks too much as this makes the urine very concentrated but don’t give large amounts of fluids in the evening and none after bed time

  • Don’t get mad if he has accident (a difficult one for a sleep starved parent)

  • Try a star chart. Offer some incentive. For example, 5 dry nights gets a trip to Disneyland.

  • Praise success, even if it is only for half a night

  • P.E.R.S.E.V.E.R.E.

What you do

  • Encourage and praise mildly (don’t go over the top) for good results

  • Don’t get mad if they don’t get the hang of it or put them under pressure “if you are out of nappies by summer I’ll buy you…..”

  • Don’t overdress them (summer is always easier)

  • Expect a mess on the carpet. Always carry tons of spare clothes if going out and a bucket full of wipes

  • Anticipate when they may need to go and be ready for the event (not in the middle of a shopping centre, for example)

  • Focus on this task for a few days. Don’t expect them to get the hang of it and fit in with your schedule immediately. Stay at home or if you go out make sure it won’t upset them if they wet or soil themselves

  • Let them pick their potty or toilet seat and be familiar with it. Don’t force them to sit on the potty. Look for signs they may need to go and ask “do you need a wee?” or “would you like to sit on your potty” .

  • Allow them to read their favourite book whilst sitting there. Say “let’s look, have you done anything?” every now and then. If they have, be gently impressed “ooh good, look at that Daddy”, if not try “not yet, maybe later”

  • Don’t compare them to their friends

  • Introduce them initially when they are in their best mood

  • Buy trainer pants or pull up nappies

  • Involve all the family. Especially explain to your helper what to do and what NOT to say

  • Remind them to go but don’t follow them around with the potty

  • If you are desperate for them to be trained (for example they need to be out of nappies to go to nursery school), then don’t let them know that

When to think again

  • If they constantly put up a fight or you have no success

  • Remember boys take longer usually

  • If they are scared of the potty or toilet

  • If they seem worried by it or upset when they have accidents

  • If they become constipated (this can be due to holding in faeces as they are afraid to go)

  • If they have other learning difficulties or seem uncomfortable passing urine or faeces you may wish to discuss this with your paediatrician


Sometimes they start off well and regress. Try to understand why they have regressed. If it continues, have a short break and start again. Remember, very few 5 year olds go to school wearing nappies. They will get there eventually. You may be even surprised how quickly and easily!


About the Author

Yvonne Heavyside

Yvonne Heavyside

Yvonne is a UK trained and registered general nurse. She is also a registered nurse in Hong Kong and a Health Visitor (maternal & child health specialist), Lactation Consultant, Further Education Teacher and First Aid & CPR Instructor.

Yvonne has over 30 years’ experience as a nurse both in the UK and in Hong Kong, and she previously worked in the Matilda International hospital running their well-baby clinic.

Yvonne founded her own company, The Family Zone, specifically to provide a personal, professional, hands-on service for new mums.

In addition to this wealth of experience, Yvonne is the mother of three children and grandmother to one.

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