Step 1: Get your toddler ready
“Introduce your child to the idea of potty training by letting her see you or her siblings on the toilet,” says parenting expert Dr Pat Spungin.
If you’re buying a new potty, let her choose the one she likes.
When you get home, if she’s not keen to try it, show her how her favourite toy likes sitting on it. “Or give her a book to read while she’s on it,” adds Dr Spungin.
You may also want to start getting her used to the idea by putting her in training pants. Nappies aren’t easy (or designed) for your toddler’s little fingers to take on and off, so training pants allow your toddler to learn about pulling pants up and down, while you don’t have to worry about your carpet.
And don’t worry that potty training’s going to be a negative experience – you might find your child loves it. “When Abbie and Lucy each started potty training, they were both very excited about getting out of nappies,” recalls Susan, 37, mum to James, 9, Philippa, 6, Lucy, 3, and Abbie, 2.
Step 2: Nappy off
When you feel your toddler is ready, take her nappy off. You may want to replace it with ‘big girl’ or ‘big boy’ pants or, if it’s summer, allow her to go without pants for the first few days.
“As we were potty training in the summer, we did a lot of weeing outside – particularly in the garden,” says Karen, 41, mum to Sarah, 3.
Once the nappy is off, don’t forget to keep asking, “Do you want to use the potty?” Your toddler isn’t used to having to think about going to the loo, up until now she’s just been letting go whenever she gets the urge, so you need to prompt her. “But try not to let it become a mantra,” warns Dr Spungin, “as your child will just block it out.”
Don’t forget to reward your toddler for every step forward – even if it’s just a cuddle for sitting on the potty without anything happening. Emma, 39, finds that stickers work well for her son Euan, 3. “When I go to the loo, he even tries to give me a sticker for doing well, too!”
Step 3: Heading out of the house
If possible, start potty training at a time when you know you can be based at home for the first couple of days. But after this, you’ll need to help your toddler learn to cope with her potty training routine outside of her own home. The golden rules are, don’t go too far, stick to somewhere familiar and remember to pack your essentials.
“Until your toddler gets used to using the loo, you’ll need to take her potty,” advises Gina Ford in Potty Training in One Week (Vermillion).
If the potty is too bulky there are portable potties that will fit into a large bag (if you want to put a potty in your handbag!). Toilet paper, wipes, several clean pairs of pants and a change of clothes are a must, too.
The main thing is to avoid using a nappy ‘just in case’. “In my experience,” says Gina, “flitting back and forth from pants to nappies is one of the reasons it can take so long.”
Step 4: Start a routine
Now your toddler has had plenty of potty practice, the next step is to get her into the habit of using it at the same time of day as she used it yesterday, or after every meal. “To help your child learn, have her sit on the potty at regular times to begin with,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution (McGraw Hill).
Dr Spungin advises building the routine around how your family operates. “Children are natural rule followers so introduce your routine with a sense of, ‘this is how it is’.”
It’s a good idea to keep a diary detailing when your toddler used the potty or had an accident to help you get into a routine.
Charlotte, 35, mum to Charlie, 3, and Kealan, 18 months, started potty training Charlie when he was 16 months old. She says she based her routine on mealtimes and the TV. “Half-an-hour after drinking or eating, Charlie always sat on his potty in front of the TV and there was nearly always some wee in it.”
Step 5: From potty to toilet
You can introduce the idea of using the toilet by putting the potty into the bathroom, but don’t rush it. Gina Ford suggests training with two potties to help this transition, having one in the bathroom and one in the main room and then moving both closer to the big toilet. Some parents prefer to cut to the chase, and go straight from nappies to the toilet, rather than having a potty phase in between.
Mum-of-4 Susan says, “I just put a child toilet seat on the loo and encouraged them to use it.”
However, Dr Spungin warns that you need to be sure your child is confident before you sit her on the toilet. “She may get scared because of the flushing and because she feels like she’s balanced over a big hole and can’t get down. The last thing she wants is to be sitting up there forever.”