Emma's journal, week 2: toilet training frustrations

potty training
potty training 

Emma’s son Thomas is 18 months and has just started toilet training. Read Emma’s first journal entry, or read on to see how Thomas is faring in his second week. 

Here’s me thinking the longer we use the potty the easier it will become – but not so. I actually think we’ve had less success this week than in week one. 

I’m getting pretty frustrated with it all. Never mind Thomas’s signs of readiness, I’m wondering if there were some mummy signs of readiness I should have achieved before starting out!? 

Thomas is happily clambering onto the potty and will sit there for a good 10 minutes with my trusty iPhone. He knows when he’s done a wee and will immediately get off the potty to cheer and have a good look. However, he also cheers and claps when he does a wee on the floor. I’m certainly not praising his accidents, so how can I teach him that it’s weeing on the potty that’s the aim, not just weeing anywhere? 

Things have improved at daycare, however. He’s happy to sit on the potty there twice a day but hasn’t yet had any success. He’s in Pull-Ups all day and I wonder if he’s a bit confused. Have you got any advice? Should we just forget the potty at daycare and focus on it at home? 

Finally, Thomas has never been a great sleeper, but since starting potty training I’ve noticed he’s been more difficult to settle and has had the occasional night waking. Could the two be related? 

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

The toilet training journey can be a turbulent one, especially when children are relatively young like Thomas. Just when you think you’ve reached the top of the hill, you can slide halfway down again. The good news is, however, that the next time you climb it you will do it much faster. 

While independent toileting represents a significant developmental milestone like talking or walking, it differs in the sense that once children start walking they are less likely to regress back to crawling, as walking is easier and more efficient. This isn’t the case when it comes to toileting – after all, what’s easier than doing a wee in your nappy? You don’t have to stop playing, pull your pants down or run to the toilet! 


The trick to successful toilet training is making children WANT to use the potty. It needs to appear much more appealing than doing a wee in their nappy. This is the very reason why we recommend not embarking on this journey until children are showing true signs of readiness – the most important one being a desire to be out of nappies!  

During these early days of toilet training the best way to manage accidents is to simply ignore them, countering this through celebration of his successes. Thomas will soon learn that it’s not just doing wee that excites you, but doing wees in the potty. If he continues to experience difficulty differentiating between the two, you could begin to introduce more tangible rewards for when he wees in the potty; stickers and a reward chart are often a popular option and will provide Thomas with a visual reminder of how well he is going.  Make sure to give him the sticker straight after he does a wee in the potty as this will help reinforce that the potty is where we want the wee to go! You can also put the chart near the potty, further strengthening the association. 

Remember, at this early age, the time between feeling the urge to go to the toilet and actually going is quite minimal, so accidents are to be expected and will be more common than successes ... at least for the first few weeks! 

Reassessing readiness 

Feeling a little frustrated with the process is perfectly normal, but if your feelings of frustration outweigh your feelings of jubilation it may be a sign to reconsider whether either you or Thomas are truly ready. 

Once they embark on the toilet training process, may parents often feel they need to continue down this route. But never be afraid to reassess the signs of readiness, and if you feel that Thomas is disinterested or unmotivated it’s perfectly fine to put things on hold for a while, then revisit the process once he exhibits renewed interest in using the potty or toilet. Pushing ahead with an unwilling or reluctant child can be traumatic for both you and him and will result in a very lengthy toilet training process. 

Toilet training at daycare and home

Be consistent across contexts, so if you plan to continue to use Pull-Ups at home, he’ll need to use them when he is at daycare, too. The tricky thing with wearing Pull-Ups all day is that he’s not learning to respond to the wetness liner. Talk to his teachers and ask them to remind Thomas to come and tell them if he feels wet. When they change his Pull-Up they can remind him about doing his wees on the toilet. During these early stages it’s perfectly fine to reward him (through praise and encouragement) for just letting you know he is wet. 

Toilet training and sleep disturbances

As toddlers develop there are many factors that can impact sleep patterns, including teething, illness, over-excitement and, yes, toilet training.

Sleep disturbances often occur at times when children hit significant milestones like walking and talking. This is in part because the mind is working hard, in overdrive, toward achieving this significant new skill. Toilet training may also result in nighttime waking or disturbances due to the toddler’s increased ‘body’ awareness, when they are becoming more responsive to bodily reactions, particularly with respect to a full bladder. This sensation may result in a more alert mind responding to signals sent from the kidneys saying “I’m full and need emptying!” This occurs outside Thomas’ conscious awareness, but can result in sleep disturbance. 


Dr Cathrine

Talk to other parents about toilet training in the Essential Baby forum