Marion's journal, week 1: introducing toilet training

Spencer discovering his potty.
Spencer discovering his potty. 

Marion, mum of Spencer, writes ...

I’m a mum to Spencer, a brave, adventurous, independent and happy 22 month old boy.

Spencer is showing some interest in what is going on with his body. He has an older brother 5 year old to copy and often follows him into the bathroom.

We toilet trained Spencer’s older brother at three, and it was a very quick process with very few accidents.

This time around we’re keen to be a nappy-free household a bit sooner, so we're keen to get Spencer on the potty earlier.

This week we've transitioned Spencer to pull-ups: no more keeping a wriggly toddler down while we change his nappies! Just peel the sides down to take them off and step right in to a new pair.

We also brought his older brother’s potty down from the attic. It's already covered in encouragement stickers from his brother's toileting journey. We showed Spencer the potty, told him what it was and let him play with it. Of course he climbed right on and sat down - he looked so pleased we didn’t have the heart to tell him he was on backwards!  

The potty sits in the bathroom near the big toilet, and sometimes he hangs in the bathroom to watch the rest of the family do their business. 

I feel we’ve made a start on the process but we aren’t sure what step to take next. I hope Dr Cathrine has some advice!


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

Dear Marion,

Toilet training can be a very exciting time, heralding a new level of independence in Spencer’s life. The age at which a child is ready for independent toileting can be quite variable and depends on a number of factors. Knowing when to begin and how best to proceed is a common dilemma for many parents, even among parents like yourself who have been through it before!

Successful toilet training is all about preparation and readiness. The more prepared you are and the more ready Spencer is, the quicker and smoother the process will be!

Exposing Spencer to the potty early is a great start. Potties can serve many purposes: if they have a lid they can be a seat for watching television, they can become part of your child’s play where teddies or dolls can be taken to the toilet, and they can even be sat on back to front!

Exposing children early is all about demystifying the process and showing them the potty is not something to be feared or avoided. Using your older son’s potty is completely fine although it is also important to give Spencer the option of choosing his own. Potties can be a bit like clothes, what suits one person may not work for someone else. My eldest child preferred a flower-patterned cushioned toilet seat, while my youngest son loved music and chose a potty with a musical sensor (which was definitely not my preferred option)!

It’s great that Spencer is becoming increasingly familiar with the toilet routine, letting him witness you and his big brother use the toilet is a great way to encourage independent toileting. As frustrating as an unrolled toilet roll may be (mine was not only unrolled but shredded too!), it is helpful to remember that the toddler years are all about play and experimentation, which is why the toilet training process needs to be fun. The fact that you are letting him play with his potty during these early stages is really important and a great way to introduce this new piece of equipment into his daily routine. You can further reinforce early toileting skills by reading books to Spencer – take him with you to the bookstore or look online and let him pick out one that he likes.

Keep a look out for other signs of readiness. Independence, increased curiosity in his body and an interest in your toileting habits are all important indicators of readiness and a really good sign that Spencer is emotionally ready for toilet training. Other signs of readiness to look out for include:

•    Spencer can tell you when he needs to or has done a poo or a wee
•    He shows a desire to remove his nappy as soon as it is soiled
•    He can follow directions
•    Has a dry nappy for two hours or more
•    Can independently pull his pants up and down

Choose rewards that are specific to Spencer’s interest and personality. The tricky thing about re-using this particular potty is that it's already covered with stickers, rewards that were used to encourage your eldest child. A reward system can be very effective in encouraging children to use the potty or toilet, however these rewards need to be specifically tailored to the individual child.

Not all children need physical rewards sometimes praise and acknowledge, or just wanting to be like his big brother can be incentive enough. Maisy stickers were the perfect incentive for my daughter, while my middle son simply bathed in all the praise we lavished on him, and of course the musical tune that played EVERY time he did a wee was incentive enough for my youngest son to make multiple and frequent trips to the potty!

Help Spencer to recognize the signs telling him he needs to go to the toilet. The benefits of Pull-Ups are that they provide children with sensory feedback through the use of a wetness learner liner; this way Spencer can learn to associate the feeling of being wet with needing to go to the toilet. If, however, he is not developmentally ready, you do stand the risk of him satiating to this feeling or learning to ignore this signal. I understand how challenging it can be to get older toddlers to lie down even for a second, so if you do feel he is not quite ready to respond to this cue then you could hold off for a bit and put him in nappy pants as these will offer the same benefits as Pull-Ups but without the wetness learning liner.

Some other things you can try during the early stages of toilet training include:
• Looking out for physical cues like shifting weight from one foot to another (I call this the “wee dance”). When you see this suggest to Spencer that this might be a good time to sit on the potty.
• Introduce a routine – you can encourage toileting by getting Spencer to sit on the potty first thing in the morning, after every meal and before bath time. At this age children are not particularly patient so if it doesn’t happen straight away they are likely to get off.  You can help him to stay there by sitting with him, make it fun by reading a book or singing a song (you could even make one up together).
• Put him in clothes that he can easily pull up and down, the time between feeling the need to go and actually going is not very long!

Whatever way you do decide to go, consistency will be the key – so pick a method and stick with this regardless of the context. If Spencer attends daycare, make sure that whatever approach you adopt at home this is followed through in the day care context. Good luck!


Dr Cathrine