Emma's journal, week 1: is he too young to toilet train?

Toilet training
Toilet training 

Emma, mum of Thomas, writes ...  

I'm mum to an 18 month old little boy called Thomas. He's a typical toddler – into everything and he's just beginning to know his own mind.

We've made the decision to potty train early which might or might not be a crazy idea. I've been noticing some signs of readiness for a while but have been a little put off by everyone else's scepticism. But Thomas has been telling us he's done a poo in his nappy for about a month -  not every time, but he's got a pretty good strike rate. He's also interested when my husband or I go to the bathroom, stays dry for a couple of hours and has a keen awareness of tidying away and putting everything in its place, which I read somewhere is a developmental stage tied in with readiness.

Week 1

We set aside a four-day block to stay at home so Thomas could be constantly nappy free. A few weeks before this we'd bought him a potty and chosen some big boy pants.

Day 1 and Thomas ran around nudey very happily. He sat on the potty every 30 minutes or so with the incentive of some kiddie apps on my iPhone. And he peed. He peed on the balcony, he peed in the kitchen, in the bathroom and in the lounge. But he didn't wee on the potty.

The following day we got a wee and later a poo on the potty. Thomas got a star sticker and a chocolate button. He also loved being allowed to flush the contents of the potty away.

As the week has gone on we've had more success but also a lot of accidents. Thomas has worn Pull-Ups to daycare and they’re putting him on the potty at regular intervals. He's still happy to sit on it and is also very aware of when he's done a wee. But he’s the only one in his room that’s not being put on the change table, so I’m worried how he feels about that.

He hasn't yet told me he needs to do a wee and I haven't picked up on any obvious signs he's about to do one.


So how do we continue? I feel we could still have a long road ahead but I also think with a bit of persistence it will click.

Response by Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, early childhood education and child development expert: 

You have clearly given this a great deal of thought and are cued into the signs and signals of toileting readiness.  When it comes to finding the perfect time to start, quite frankly this just doesn’t exist. But there are ‘imperfect’ times to start, which include times of significant change (like moving house and the birth of a sibling) so it’s wise to plan ahead and avoid times like these. 

But to start or not to start … that is the question.

One thing I do say, time and time again, is that successful toilet training depends upon readiness – that is, willingness and preparation on behalf of the parent as well as the emotional, social and intellectual readiness of the child. In light of the background you have provided I would say Thomas is certainly exhibiting some signs of readiness and you are more than prepared to embark on this exciting journey – however, as with all journeys, you may find the need to change your route along the way, or stop off at one or two towns for a little longer than initially anticipated.  

From a personal perspective, I too started my eldest child at the age of 18 months as she was demonstrating true signs of readiness. She also attended day care and was one of the few toddlers in her room to begin the toilet training process. The outcome for me was that the whole process, while enjoyable, probably took a little longer, due to both her age and the fact that I couldn’t be alongside her watching for those telltale signs and cues. This is also a big ask for carers and teachers at daycare. 

My approach with my next child was to hold off until he showed more complete readiness, with independent toileting being achieved in just under two weeks – he may have been eight months older than my daughter but he was also much faster. So if you do decide to continue with this process, and the length of time isn’t an issue, just be aware that it is perfectly normal to experience more misses than hits during this early phase – and that the early phase may last a little longer than initially anticipated. 

If, however, you do not experience any real increase in successes after three or four weeks, or he becomes disheartened at his lack of success, then it may be worth holding off for a while and revisiting the process when he shows renewed interest.  

How to proceed  

Bare bottoms are always effective when toilet training – the less clothes children have to remove in order to get quickly to the potty, the more likely they will experience success. Throughout the training process it’s important not to revert back to using nappies (with the exception of night time). The wetness liner built into the Pull-Ups provides a very important cue and will help Thomas develop the association between feeling wet and needing to empty his bladder. It’s also essential for independent toileting to be achieved, for children to learn to pull their pants up an down.

One of the keys to toilet training success is to make the whole process enjoyable; this holds for home as well as daycare. Talk to his teachers and explain he is confusion surrounding the non-use of the change table – open communication between you and his teachers will be an important component to toilet training success. Thomas needs to feel that he is special and that he is a big boy, while at the same time we do not want to make toilet training the sole focus of his day as this will place too much pressure on him to succeed. This is the very reason while we encourage parents during the early stages of toilet training to ignore misses as much as possible, and to celebrate all successes – even the small ones. 

Encourage independent toileting behaviours 

The potty can be a real novelty at first, so the initial excitement of sitting on the potty or that very first wee can be as exciting as playing with a new toy. But as with all new toys, it can become less attractive with repeated use. Toys, however, that are engaging and encourage interaction are much more likely to sustain children’s attention and interest. 

At this age there’s a tendency for toddlers to sit on the potty for less than a minute then get off and wet themselves 20 minutes later. Toddlers are highly active with relative short attention spans; you can encourage Thomas to sit on the potty for longer periods by reading a book to him or singing a song. Books about toilet training are a great way to reinforce to young children all the behaviours and routines that are involved with toileting.  

Independent toileting depends largely on the toddler’s ability to be able to detect bodily signals telling them that they need to empty their bladder or bowels. Given Thomas is not yet able to anticipate this, I would start by helping him to identify these early signs. Young children will often go off to a secret corner or hide behind the couch when they need to do a poo – if you see this happening, quickly suggest that he may like to try the potty. The wee dance, as I like to call it, when children shift weight from one foot to the other, is also a telltale sign of a full bladder. You can encourage this level of independence by rewarding him for the times he does tell you that he needs to go, even if he doesn’t make it to the potty in time – just the act of letting you know is worth celebrating during this early phase. Continue to encourage independent behaviour by getting him to help you empty his potty into the toilet – even allowing children to flush the toilet can be a reward in itself and motivation enough to do it all again. 

Good luck!


Dr Cathrine