My toddler can’t get the hang of the potty

How to move on to the final stage of potty training.


Months after starting 3-year-old son Joe’s potty training, he is still in nappies and Karen is desperate to get him out of them.

‘Joe is a lovely little boy – he’s so calm and placid, but he’s taking his time where potty training is concerned. He starts pre-school in two weeks’ time and he has to be able to wear proper pants and be dry during the day. In preparation, I started potty training him in the summer and at first he had lots of accidents. Every time I put him on his potty he thought it was just a game – he didn’t know what was going on.


 ‘I left it for a few weeks and tried again, this time using pull-up pants. We’ve made progress, but six months on he still has accidents. The problem is he leaves it till the last minute before he tells me he needs a wee. Then he can’t get to the potty in time, which means I constantly have to ask him if he needs to go to the loo.

‘I’m also fed up with having potties all over the house. We have a three-storey house so we’ve got about eight potties in total. How can I get rid of them all and get him on the loo? I haven’t even got as far as thinking about training him to stay dry at night! Megan’s just started school, so I think now is a good time to tackle the toilet training issue once and for all.

‘With three older children you’d think I’d be a dab hand at it, but it’s been harder with Joe. I’ve forgotten what it was like with the twins, who are now teenagers, and Megan was dry day and night by the time she was 2. I’ve tried to be more relaxed with Joe, but I’m finding it really tough.’

Lorraine Thomas, 44, has three children. She is a parenting coach and chief executive of The Parenting Coaching Academy.

Lorraine says: ‘Karen’s situation is very common. Potty training is stressful, and just because you’ve done it before doesn’t mean it’s easier. Looking back, you may remember it being simple, but next time around things can be very difficult. It’s worse if you feel pressured, like Karen, whose child, Joe, is starting pre-school.

‘Many people think girls are faster than boys to potty train, but it’s a generalisation. I’ve known boys who are dry at 18 months and girls who are still in nappies at 3. What’s important is that you gauge when your child is ready and start then.

‘Mums often start potty training in the summer, when their child wears fewer clothes and they can run around without their nappy on. But it’s not unusual to find you’ve started too soon. This is the right time for Karen though, as she’s on her own with Joe now, so she can focus on it.

‘Karen’s right to stay relaxed. She needs to remain calm and positive. And remember, if you focus on potty training and make it your main task, you can make real progress in just one week.’

Plan your week

Divide potty training into two stages, focusing on the day training first. You shouldn’t attempt day and night training at the same time, as it will be too much for you both.

Set aside time to spend with your child alone, so you can concentrate on it. Make it your goal for the week and be prepared to spend more time at home. At the end of each day focus only on what went well.

Ditch the nappies

Get rid of nappies during the daytime. You must be consistent over the next seven days, so once you’ve got rid of them don’t revert back – even if you have visitors or you go out.

Buy big pants

One of the best tings you can do is let your toddler choose his own big boy pants. They need to be roomy so they’re easy to pull up and down. Pull-up pants are a good halfway step, but I’d recommend going straight to big pants.

Set a good example

Good habits are caught not taught. Make sure your child sees you going to the toilet and show him the routine of sitting on the loo and washing your hands afterwards. Older children can be good role models too, so get them involved in encouraging him too.

Try the ‘big toilet’

If you don’ like the idea of potties littering the house, go straight to the toilet. Use a toddler training seat and booster step. This is a new challenge and can be a big adventure.

Cut the distractions

If you want your toddler to try a potty first, get him to use it in the bathroom so he gets used to going to the toilet in the right room. If there isn’t enough space for a potty, choose a quiet area with no distractions. This will allow him to focus on the job in hand. It also means he’ll be quicker to recognise the potty’s function.

Use a sticker chart

This is a great way to motivate your child, but use it to focus on triumphs instead of accidents. Be clear about what the stickers are for and give them straight after a visit to the toilet.

Be vigilant

To avoid last-minute accidents you need to watch your toddler and continually ask him if he needs to wee or poo. Sit him on the potty at regular intervals and praise him even if he hasn’t done anything. If you’re going out, make sure you put him on the potty or toilet before you leave, once while you’re out, and then again before you set off for home

Stay positive

Your child will take his lead from you, so make sure you’re positive, and praise him every time he uses the potty or toilet. It may be easier said than done but it’s vital to stay calm and in control and not let your frustration show.

Don’t give yourself a hard time

Don’t feel you’ve failed if there’s the odd accident. Toilet training is a long process and accidents will happen – and soiled pants can be a good learning tool. Leave them on for a few minutes so he feels how uncomfortable it is, then ask him how it feels. It’s good to get him talking about it.

Look for dry night signs

Once you have succeeded with daytime toilet training, you can think about nights. A dry nappy in the morning is the first sign he is ready. Be consistent, and once you start night-time training don’t revert back.

Be prepared

Cut down on bedtime drinks and use a waterproof mattress. Explain why the routine is changing. Tell him that big boys use the potty and don’t wet the bed at night-time.

Have a midnight wee

Try waking him up at night, and putting him on the potty or toilet. Most children will go to the toilet in their sleep. Accidents are likely, but avoid negative language if they do.

The 7-day Parent Coach by Lorraine Thomas is out now (Vermillion, £10.99).

The result: Karen tried Lorraine’s advice for two weeks

‘One of the first things I did was get rid of the endless number of potties. I told him that if needed to wee or poo he would have to use the big toilet. I also got rid of the pull-up pants and bought Joe proper pants instead.

‘Megan was great and got involved too. She old him he was a big boy and kept asking him if he needed a wee. He copies her so if she went he did too.

‘We stayed in the house for a few days just to make sure I could get him to the toilet quickly. Gradually he was able to hold on longer.

‘The sticker chart was definitely the best thing we tried. He got a sticker straight after he’d been to the toilet and I can’t describe how delighted he was to put it on the chart.

‘I started night training after a week, but first I reduced his milk at bedtime and he was dry that night for the first time, so I decided he was ready to give it a go.

‘We bought a waterproof mattress cover and some new night-time things, too – Joe chose a Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover and matching pyjamas.

‘He was worried about getting his new pyjamas wet and asked what he’d do if he needed a wee. I reassured him he wouldn’t. He went to the toilet once before bed and I took him at 11pm.


‘The next morning we were woken up by Joe, saying excitedly, “I’m dry, Mummy!”

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