11 potty training problems and what to do about them

Does your little one leave it too late to make the potty? Is he taking longer than you thought to be toilet trained? Worry not - our experts answer those frequently asked questions about potty training your toddler

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Potty training can be a tough time where you’re find you go 2 steps forwards and 3 steps back 😞

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But lots of parents end up in the same situation – and you’ll probably see a fair few of your potty training queries are answered right here.

We’ve asked experts Heather Welford and GP and father of 5 Chris Henry, as well as Health Visitor Annette Maloney and an ERIC (Children’s Bowel and Bladder Charity) advisor to offer up their solutions for common potty training problems. Take a look…

1. My 28-month old daughter leaves it too late to go in the potty then wets herself

Heather says: Most children dislike being pestered about using the potty. It’s normal for children not to know they need to go until it’s urgent.

Watch your reaction. Your daughter may not be telling you she needs the potty because she’s scared you will be cross if it goes wrong.

2. My two-year old daughter thinks the potty is a toy. She takes her nappy off and sits on it but won’t actually go to he toilet

Chris says: It sounds as if you’re actually doing rather well, but have just been unlucky. Try to prolong the amount of time your daughter sits on the potty for, particularly when you know she is due to go, by sitting with her when she’s on the potty and reading to her, or letting her sit on it in front of the television while her favourite programme is on.

You could also try increasing her fluid intake so that she needs to go to the toilet a little more frequently. If you time it right and keep her nappy off so that she doesn’t do a sneaky wee in it, you’re sure to get some positive results eventually.

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3. My son has constipation and is reluctant to use the potty – could he have constipation because of potty training?

Chris says: It really is quite normal for a child to do a poo only every other day, or every third day.

The problem doesn’t really lie in the frequency, but the consistency. If it’s hard to pass, it’s more of a problem because the pain can put him off going next time, and this leads, in turn, to even more constipation.

If you think this could be your son’s problem, ask your GP to prescribe a stool softener, which will help and deter him from hanging on intentionally in the future.

You could also try increasing his fluid intake to encourage him to go more often. If you suspect that he is putting off using the potty because he’s worried about it hurting, get your GP to check he doesn’t have an anal fissure, which can be very painful.

4. After 6 weeks, he is still not potty trained

Annette says: “If you’ve been trying for 6 weeks with no progress, it may be time for a break.

“Keep encouraging him to go to the loo with you so he can see what goes on, but leave his own potty training for now, until he’s more interested.

“Ask yourself: does he seem aware he needs a nappy change – hiding when he’s done or needs a poo, for example? Does he use the right words to talk about wee and poo, so he can let you know when he’s ready to go?

Does he show an interest in what others do in the toilet and want to look and see? Can he help with dressing and manage to pull his pants up and down? When the answers are yes, get the potty out again.”

5. My 2-year-old son is the only one of his friends who’s not potty trained

Annette says: “Just like all other areas of development, children vary in their readiness and willingness to use the potty.”

“On average this can be any time between 18 months and 3 years old, so your little one is well within the typical age range.

“When he’s getting nearer to being ready you may notice him becoming aware of when he does a wee, and will go quiet or stop what he’s doing.

“He may ask for a nappy change or even try and do it himself. If you wait until he reaches this stage, and start then his chances of success are greater.

“When the time is right, a relaxed approach will ensure your son gains confidence quickly in using the potty. You must learn to ignore the accidents and praise the triumphs.

In the meantime, don’t worry about what other children are doing but use their experiences to help guide you when his time comes.”

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6. He won’t poo in the potty at bedtime but only in the nappy we put on him

Annette says: “This is a common problem for many toddlers. Maybe he’s got used to the sensation of doing a poo in the nappy and going in the potty feels strange.

“Try sitting him on the potty with the nappy on if necessary and let him poo then. Always keep him relaxed while on the potty by singing a song or reading a quick story.

“Encourage him to rock back and forwards while singing “Row, row, row the boat” as it’s good for encouraging easier bowel movements.

“Also, keep some party blowers in the bathroom and get him to blow on one when he’s trying to poo, as it’s impossible to keep in a stool while blowing out! Finally remember this is a normal learning curve and your toddler will pass it when he’s ready.”

7. She’s 4 years old and still not dry at night

Annette says: “It’s not unusual for some children to take longer to be reliably dry at night – most doctors don’t see it as a problem until around 7 years old.

“You just need to try and be patient. Don’t be tempted to restrict evening drinks (except fizzy ones).

“When you start to notice more dry nappies in the morning, and there aren’t any other major changes planned, try leaving the nappy off, and see how it goes.

“Make sure you have bed protectors and plenty of spare pyjamas and bed linen. During the day make sure you offer regular opportunities to use the loo, praise every success and don’t over-fuss when there is an accident so he doesn’t feel like he’s ‘failed’ to make the toilet.”

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8. My daughter is 3 and a half and still wets herself regularly. Does she need to be retrained to use the potty correctly?

Heather says: If a child continues to have problems with training after the age of 3, she might need re-training.

Start off with everyone calming down a bit and have a break for a week or so, then start retraining gradually.

A successful approach with children this age is often a star chart with rewards, because she can see the benefit.

If the day-wetting persists, she may have a urine infection (more common in girls than in boys) so see your GP for a test.

If it’s clear, take a weekend to retrain her gently, with a sought-after treat if she stays dry all weekend.

9. He is potty trained, but has toilet accidents at nursery 

Our ERIC advisor says: If he’s been recently trained, there’s every chance that when he’s playing, he forgets he’s not wearing a nappy.

He may need gentle encouragement to go to the potty or toilet, especially if he’s shy about saying he needs the toilet, so tell the nursery staff to prompt him. With a little persuasion, he’ll soon overcome this hurdle.

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10. My daughter is 2 and gets upset when she has a potty accident: how should I handle potty training accidents?

Our ERIC advisor says: You’re right to ignore any mishaps – and make sure you change your daughter without making a fuss, so she doesn’t have time to fret or feel disappointed.

Also, whenever she produces something on the potty, give her lots of praise. It’s very important to make her feel proud of every triumph because then she’ll want to do it right every time.

11. I’m concerned he will wet himself so I discourage him from drinking too much before we go out: is this the right thing to do?

Our ERIC advisor says: Don’t skimp on giving him liquids just because you’re potty training.

Your son could become dehydrated, especially in the summer months.

Your son should have at least six drinks, preferably water, throughout the day.

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