Emma's journal, week 3: toilet training outside the home


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

We're coming to the end of week three now, and there has been some definite progress with Thomas's potty training. We've got into a great routine in the mornings and after dinner with a wee on the potty and hardly any accidents. Hooray! 

The rest of the day is still a bit of a struggle, and unless Thomas is bare-bottomed I have no idea if and when he needs to go. I'm hoping that will gradually come, and the fact we have seen such progress this week has given me (and I'm sure Thomas) the encouragement to keep trying a while longer. 

There's still been no success at daycare and this week we also spent a few days at Thomas's grandparent's house. He sat on the potty here but, like at daycare, didn't go for a wee. Is the fact Thomas is more confident at home a normal part of the process? 

Also, we haven't had a poo on the potty for a while. Thomas only goes once a day and nearly always in his nappy first thing in the morning, or straight after his nap, so I'm not there to see any signs. Any advice about how to deal with this?

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

It’s great to hear things are progressing well! If you can get into a routine where Thomas sits on the potty after each meal and before bedtime, this will definitely increase the number of ‘hits’. Most toilet training methods have a behavioural training strategy at their core. Behavioural training processes essentially work on the premise that children learn through association, modelling and reinforcement. The more Thomas wees in the potty, the more he’s reinforced for this success, and the stronger the association will be so he’ll learn wees belong in the potty and not in his Pull-Ups.

Continue to praise his successes and ignore (where possible) any failures. The daytime routine and awareness will come – remember that during the day you’re competing with lots of other activities that steal Thomas’s attention. Even older preschoolers who have achieved daytime continence continue to experience the odd accident, especially when playing.

If it works for you I’d try to keep Thomas bare-bottomed whenever possible – that way, he’s more likely to respond to bodily cues, and he’ll soon learn that it’s quicker and easier to stop whatever he’s doing and go to the potty than have to stop his play for even a longer time while you clean up any related mess.


Toileting outside the home

It’s not unusual for children to confine initial toileting successes to the home environment; the fact that he’s willing to sit on the toilet or potty when he’s out is a very encouraging sign. Some young children develop a fear of using toilets outside the home, so the more ‘toilet’ exposure Thomas receives now, the easier it will be when he is ready.

When you go out be aware of where the public toilets are; lots of shopping centres have special child-sized toilets with matching adult ones lined up next to one another. This set-up can be particularly appealing to young children. Going out can be a bit challenging during these early stages, but don’t be tempted to just let him wet his Pull-Up when out, as this provides confusing messages. Remember that consistency is key.

Toilet training and childcare

As with all aspects of Thomas’ educational experience, continued communication between you and his teachers will be paramount to success. Speak with his teachers daily; update them on any progress you had at home. Share strategies that are working – when you try something new that works at home, be sure to share this with them. 

Discuss with his teachers the strategies they are using to help Thomas to use the toilet, and find out what they are doing to encourage Thomas to sit on the toilet. Most children don’t have a lot of patience so he’ll probably be ready to get up off the toilet after a few seconds, especially if his friends are outside playing. His teachers can help hold his attention by giving him a book or talking to him about what’s going to happen during the day. Toilet training in the child care environment can certainly present additional challenges, the main one being getting children to focus on and respond to bodily cues, given there are some many more exciting activities happening. The best approach is patience.

Using the potty for poos

Unlike some children who actively refuse to use the potty for poos, in Thomas’s case it’s just a matter of not catching it in time. If it’s first thing in the morning, the trick is to grab him as soon as he wakes up and to then put him straight on the potty. Just as he is developing the association between doing a wee and the potty, you need to help him to develop the same relationship for poos.

A great book to share with Thomas is “Everyone Poops” by Taro Gomi. This book takes a close look at all different types of animals, what their poo is like and how they do it. The book also looks at how babies poo in their nappy, little children poo in a potty, while older children and adults poo in the toilet. Other parts of the book show how the toilet is flushed and what happens to the poo when it disappears down the pipes.

When Thomas has had a bowel movement in his Pull-Up, calmly take him to the bathroom. Get him to help you to flush his poo down the toilet with a comment to explain that’s where it goes. Get Thomas to sit on the potty while you wipe his bottom, reassuring him that soon he’ll do his poo on the potty. Learning to use the potty for poos is like learning any new skill – it takes time. 


Dr Cathrine