Potty Training Toddlers

This page gives useful information on potty training toddlers, including how to start potty training (toilet training).

If you have a specific question, click on the link below, or just keep reading for an overview of toilet training your toddler.


How do I know my toddler is ready for potty training?

Toilet training toddlers begins when you are ready and / or your toddler is ready. Generally, your toddler won't be ready before 18 months of age, so you usually won't have much luck if you try to introduce pottytraining before that age.

Signs your toddler is ready for potty training include:

  • discomfort when wet
  • not wanting to wear diapers (nappies)
  • telling you she's wet

Some people will tell you that their 11 month old is potty trained because they put their child on the potty after meals and the child pees in the potty. Although, there is nothing wrong with this practice, it is not true potty training. Potty training toddlers is about the toddler knowing when she wants to pee and what to do about it.

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How do I start potty training?

When you think your toddler is ready and you are ready, you can start toilet training your toddler.

Think of the process of potty training toddlers as a number of steps that toddlers have to achieve so start by getting your toddler to do the first step and then when that is accomplished, go to the next step. The speed at which you can proceed will be determined by your toddler.

If there is no progress, leave it for a couple of weeks and then try again. Try not to get frustrated with your toddler is they're not ready. In time, they will be. Be patient.

The steps necessary for potty training toddlers are:

  • she needs to know when she is wet compared to dry - disposable diapers (nappies) are quite absorbent and you might have more luck changing to something less absorbent or to normal underpants. If she's ready, she will tell you she's wet or uncomfortable.
  • she needs to know she feels like peeing (she needs to associate the feelings with the outcome) - watch out for tell-tale signs, like holding herself or crossing her legs, and ask if she needs to pee (or whatever word you use) and then take her to the potty or toilet, so she realises that feeling means she needs to pee.
  • she needs to know what to do when she does want to pee - so you need to teach her about sitting on a potty or the toilet. If you are wanting her to sit on the toilet, it will be easier with a child seat so she doesn't feel like she's going to fall in, and she'll need a little stool to help her to climb up. Get your child used to sitting on the potty or the toilet - try this about 20 minutes after meals or a drink.
  • she needs to have control to hold on when she feels the urge so she can get to the toilet or potty

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What are the features of successful potty training toddlers

The success to potty training toddlers lies in rewarding positive behavior with lots of praise. If your toddler has an accident, don't make a big fuss. Clean up and then remind your toddler to "tell mommy when you want to pee".

When your toddler tells you they want to pee (even if it's after the fact) praise them for telling you.

When your toddler sits on the toilet, praise her for being a big girl even if she doesn't pee.

Eventually, when your toddler will get it and will be able to achieve all the potty training toddlers steps, but every child is different so don't compare with other toddlers and try not to get frustrated.

If you are fortunate enough to be trying toilet training toddlers in summer, let them go without underpants. As soon as you see a drop, pick your toddler up and take her to the toilet to finish and then give lots of praise.

With pooping (pooing), you will often get clear cues your child wants to go, so pick her up and take her to the potty or toilet - stay with her if she wants you to but give privacy if that's what she wants.

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Do reward charts work for toilet training toddlers?

Yes, they do. You can read more about reward charts to fully understand how they work by clicking on the link.

An example of a reward chart is shown below.

Task 1: Sit on toilet twice a day
Task 2: Tell mommy you want to go to toilet
Task 3: Pass urine on toilet having told mommy
Task 4: Able to go to toilet alone

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I recommend looking at Free Potty Training Chart Templates which is a site where you can download some great charts to use for potty training and they're free. Yay! There's one for everyone - superheros, cars, Elmo, princesses, little kitty. Check them out and see what one will suit your child.

For those of you tech types who prefer an app, try iCan Toilet Training app which is an app for your iphone or ipad. You can also download the free guide, iCan Toilet Training Program Manual & Keys to Success, on the Sandbox Learning website for important set up information and additional tips for successful toilet training. 

When should boys stand up to pee?

At first, it's easiest for your little boy to sit but as soon as he is able to stand so his penis goes over the bowl (standing on a stool if necessary), then he is ready. You can give him practice standing in the garden if he gets caught short!

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When can toddlers wipe themselves?

Initially when toilet training toddlers, you will need to wipe your toddler's bottom but by 4 years of age, she will be able to do it herself and some children will manage at a younger age. Teach her to wipe front to back - it reduces the risk of infection.

Don't forget to teach your toddler to wash her hands.

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When are toddlers dry at night?

Becoming dry at night takes longer and would be unusual before 3 years of age. However, some children take much longer and between 15 and 20% of 5 year olds are still wet at night (called nocturnal enuresis). There is no need to be concerned if your child is still wet at 5 years of age as we know that most children eventually become dry at night.

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Are there any other tips for toilet training toddlers?

Every child is different and there is no right way for potty training toddlers. Hopefully the tips on this page will help you get started. To contibute what has helped you or to read other visitor's tips on successful potty training in toddlers, click here.

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Helpful Resources

Free Potty Training Chart Templates - a site where you can download some great charts to use for potty training and they're free. There's superheros, cars, Elmo, princesses, little kitty and more, so check them out.

iCan Toilet Training app - an app for your iphone or iPad and you can also download the free guide, iCan Toilet Training Program Manual & Keys to Success, on the Sandbox Learning website for important set up information and additional tips for successful toilet training.

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Last reviewed 28 May 2014

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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