Toilet training during lockdown? Here's what you need to know

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If you're thinking self-isolation might be the perfect time to toilet train your toddler, then you're not alone.

In fact, even New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford are using the extra time at home to toilet-train their daughter, Neve.

"I mean it's as a good a time as any," he wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "Apologies in advance to the carpet."

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images) Photo: Hagen Hopkins

"Exactly what we're doing," one mum said. "Lucky we panic bought 2 x 6-packs of undies before the lockdown."

"All the toddlers in NZ will be toilet trained at the end of this lockdown," said another. 

"You read our minds."


Toilet training can be a challenge at the best of times, so what do parents need to know if they're attempting to ditch the nappies during the pandemic.

Psychologist and mum Jocelyn Brewer tells Essential Baby that while the timing will be perfect for some families, it won't suit everyone - and that's OK. Brewer says the decision to take the opportunity to toilet-train now depends not just on the age of your child, their temperament and their individual readiness, but how your physical environment is set up and your current stress levels.

"We know that parental stress is going to be a bit sticky and rub off on kids," Brewer explains, adding that while toilet training isn't a game per se, "we want to make it playful and no pressure." With this in mind, if an accident is likely to send a parent over the limit at the moment, then it's worth considering if now is the right time.

"We need to be conscious of vicarious stress with kids," she says.

"You're not going to get it perfect in two weeks," Brewer continues. " And part of the toilet-training process is accidents." But dealing with accidents takes patience, a sense of humour, and the ability to frame them in a way that doesn't promote shame - particularly with older children who are more self-concious.

"It depends on what you have to juggle," Brewer says. "It's very individual and you need to weigh it up."

That said, there's one big positive to being stuck at home - not needing to worry about accidents in public. "The tricky part of toilet-training is about working out when to wear undies out in public," she says. "But that aspect is removed."

 If you're ready to go, Raising Children suggests the following tips to begin:

  • Teach your child some words for going to the toilet – for example, 'wee', 'poo' and 'I need to go'.
  • When you change your child's nappy, put wet and dirty nappies in the potty – this can help your child understand what the potty is for.
  • Let your child try sitting on the potty or the small toilet seat to help her get familiar with the new equipment.
  • Let your child watch you or other trusted family members using the toilet, and talk about what you're doing.
  • Once or twice a day you might want to start putting trainer pants on your child – this helps him understand the feeling of wetness.
  • Make sure your child is eating plenty of fibre and drinking lots of water so she doesn't get constipated.
  • Put your child on the potty at times when you've noticed she often does a poo, like 30 minutes after eating or after having a bath. This doesn't work for all children – true toilet training begins when your child is aware that she's doing a wee or poo and is interested in learning the process.
  • Look out for signs that your child needs to go to the toilet – some cues include changes in posture, passing wind, going quiet or moving to a different room by himself.
  • If your child doesn't do a wee or poo after 3-5 minutes of sitting on the potty or toilet, take her off. It's best not to make your child sit on the toilet for long periods of time, because this will feel like punishment.
  • Praise your child for trying (even if progress is slow), especially when he's successful. You could say, 'Well done for sitting on the potty'. This lets your child know he's doing a good job. Gradually reduce the amount of praise as your child masters each part of the process.

Find more detailed information at Raising CHildren.