Marion's journal, week 2: early days of toilet training

Spencer checking out his Pull-Ups.
Spencer checking out his Pull-Ups. 

Marion’s son Spencer is 22 months old and has just begun his toilet training journey. Read Marion’s first journal entry, or read on to see how Spencer is faring in his second week.

I’ve been asking Spencer constantly if he needs to do a wee. I’ve also found a book in his brother’s bookcase called It's Potty Time - it's a funny book, and we’ve been reading it to him often.

Because the weather is a lot warmer now, I allow him to run around with just his t-shirt and Pull-Ups on. He really likes the Lightning McQueen design. He also still likes to sit on the potty the wrong way, to pretend it’s a car!

The Pull-Ups are quite different to nappies in that if he does a wee in them, he feels wet. I’ve noticed him point and try to pull them off himself. We’ve only gotten four wees in the potty so far – he gets a sticker to put on his chart and a smiley stamp on his hand each time.

I have spoken to his daycare carers - he goes four days a week and he’s currently in the 0-2’s class. The teachers are really helpful and are happy to help him onto the mini toilets after lunch and after naptime. I think when he goes to the toddler room where more kids are toilet training it will give him more incentive to toilet train.

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

Toilet training during the warmer months is always easier; the fewer layers children have to do battle with the easier it is for them to make it to the toilet or potty of time. When you’re at home it’s perfectly fine for Spencer to run around without undies or Pull-Ups; some children, however, feel self-conscious and prefer to wear Pull-Ups all the time, regardless of whether they are out and about or at home on their own.

Being pants-free also increases the chances of finding small puddles around the house, which is not a huge issue if you have tiles or a timber floor – but less than ideal if your house is carpeted. This is the reason I never advocate for a one size fits all approach – your choices really need to reflect the needs of your child, as well as your house, your commitments and personality!

Success stories occur less frequently during the initial stages of toilet training – although four catches in a week is a great start! The fact that he is now beginning to respond to his own bodily cues is really important, as this is an essential skill necessary for independent toileting. You can acknowledge this by commenting how pleased you are that he’s able to tell that he is doing or has done a wee. Use this as an opportunity to try and help him to identify what his body feels like just before he starts to wee. The ability to anticipate that a wee is coming is important with respect to increasing the number of times he makes it to the potty. But be aware that young children are very easily distracted, so a fun game or toy will always win out over a full bladder.


When you’re at home together keep an eye on him and help him to spot times when he may need to do a wee; look out for the “wee dance” which is always a dead give away. 

With the use of a reward system it’s important to identify what sorts of behaviours are going to be rewarded. Some parents, during the initial stages of toilet training, may choose to reward simple behaviours, like when Spencer tells you that he needs to go to the toilet, regardless of whether or not he actually makes it to the potty on time, or just sitting on the potty and ‘trying’ to go. Once he starts doing this consistently you may shift the reward to only those times he actually wees in the potty. If initially we only reward absolute success, and if these successes are few or far between, children can become easily disenchanted with the whole process. 

You have not mentioned whether Spencer has used the potty for poos as yet? Sometimes boys do experience challenges with doing poos in the potty. One way to ensure this doesn’t occur is to get Spencer to sit down for both poos and wees. When boys start off by standing for wees they can be reluctant to sit on the potty or toilet at all, causing delays in the toilet training process. 

Toilet training should be a fun and exciting time for both you and Spencer; the fact that he loves his Lightning McQueen Pull-Ups, and that the potty serves both a functional role as well as being a toy to play with, is a really encouraging sign that things are progressing well. Continue to read books to him – perhaps you can also include some songs or even make your own book or story about Spencer’s toilet training journey. Use his story to discuss with Spencer what you think might come next, that way you can start to foreshadow future expectations and behaviours.

It’s great to hear that you have discussed your approach to toilet training with Spencer’s teachers; this is often one of the biggest challenges facing many working parents. The need for consistency across contexts is paramount, so the more you are able to communicate with one another, the quicker and smoother the toilet training process will go. The childcare environment always offers so many opportunities for social interactions. Young children like Spencer love the opportunity to just sit on the toilet and have a chat – and the chance to do this with your friends is even greater motivation, so much so that I have witnessed children popping into the toilet on an hourly rotation! 


Dr Cathrine