How to Start Potty Training: A Guide to Potty Training

Potty training or toilet training is one of those parenting things surrounded by questions, tips, tricks, and hacks. Here are some questions a lot of parents ask when beginning to potty train their children:

  • When to start potty training?
  • How to start potty training?
  • What is potty training?
  • What are some potty training tips?
  • What age to start potty training?
  • Is potty training a child just like potty training a puppy?

Potty Training in My Experience

I have had two completely different, but also similar experiences with my babies when it comes to toilet training. But then again, I have two completely different kids, with similarities (yes, that was designed to confuse). 

Ayla, my firstborn, seemed eager to get going and hit her milestones quickly and easily. Crawling, sitting, walking, potty training, swimming. You name it, Ayla was onto it. But then again, I had what I like to call my ‘first baby firsts’ syndrome. I spent many minutes with her, helping her ‘make milestones’. I was desperate for her to do everything, and I put A LOT of time and effort helping her do so.  

When it was just Ayla and me, I was the mum with the flashcards, neat craft boxes, a multitude of educational toys and more books than you can poke a stick at. 

Indi, on the other hand, was a completely different story. While Ayla was almost walking at 7 months, Indi was still a blob at 9 months. She was content to just lay and look around and not do much at all. While Ayla was day potty trained at 18 months, Indi was still not thinking about it at 2 and a half years. And unlike Ayla who enjoyed her daily hygiene routine, Indi would scream as if I was trying to kill her if I so much as mentioned washing her hair. In saying that, I transitioned into a more relaxed mum. I have also taken on a bit of a ‘she will do it when she is ready’ approach the second time around. 

When to Start Potty Training? 

Good question. You will get a whole range of different answers depending on who you ask.

If you are a first-time mum, you probably feel anxious about ‘stuffing up’. You will wonder if you are starting too early; you will worry that you are leaving it too late. In fact, if you are a first-time mum, you probably spend a whole heap of time just worrying. You may question your child’s development and find yourself secretly comparing them to other children. You will be happy when they meet their milestones and fret when your child’s little friends are doing things at an earlier age. 

I know this because I have been there. 

I love asking other parents about their experiences. You get a whole scope of information, some are useful and some are outlandish. But you can use what you can to put your mind at ease. Some parents start potty training from birth using a method called elimination communication (EC) toilet training which I discuss later in the methods section. 

In Western countries, potty training has no set starting place, but the general age and recommendation to begin are between 20 and 30 months. Many parents will begin to set a time when they wish to reach their training goals. Meanwhile, others will let it happen and let the child guide the pace and intensity of training. 

So, just like breastfeeding, parenting, pop-stars and everything else… Everyone has an opinion about potty training. What works for one doesn’t always work for another. What your sister, mum, grandma, neighbour, and aunties-ferrets-dog insists that you do, may not be right for you and your child. The key is to get informed and take the path that works best for you, your child and your family.  

What About Potty Training Multiples?

Potty training multiples is a breeze. It is so much easier than training just one. Heck, it is even easier than training two kids at separate times as you get it all out of the way in one go.

HOLD UP. I am being sarcastic. 

I do not have multiples. The closest I have gotten to multiples is that one of my students gave birth to twins and my girls’ father is a twin. Luckily for me, I live around the corner from our beautiful in-house Sleep Consultant, Faith. She’s the CEO and founder of Luna and Lullaby.

Faith has twin boys, and I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on our wine nights before, during and after this process. 

Faith started out using the two-day method to train her boisterous and beautiful boys, Archer and Lenox. Through trial and error, she has done (and is still doing) an almighty job. This is especially considering that she is a mum of multiples, living in a foreign country, and is a FIFO wife as her husband works away at the mines and is away for weeks at a time. 

Faith speaks of her experience and lays out fantastic guidelines for toilet training multiples in her articles:

Potty Training Methods

The first thing you must establish is if your child is ready. The second thing that you need to establish is: are you ready to begin potty training?

Some potty training methods are quite time- and energy-intensive, and you do not want to start these if you are already under pressure. Potty training should not be a stressful and exhausting experience for children or parents. That is unless you are geared up and prepared to take on the more intensive styles of training.

There are several potty training methods and practices that parents opt for, depending on time, lifestyle, needs, and belief structures. 

Have a look at some of the mainstream and not-so-typical approaches below. You may choose a particular potty training method and follow it hardcore to the point. Or if you are like me, you will take bits from each and create a jazzed up syndicate of techniques to get you the results you want. 

2-Day or 3-Day Potty Training Method

This method requires parents to clear a couple of days for their complete attention. It was created in the 1970s for children with mental disabilities, but it was found to work well for most children. Some of the methods are quite outdated, and the terms in the original book are definitely not socially acceptable. Still, many of the newer methods have used this as a basis for adaptation.

Jaimie Glowacki is a bestselling author and expert on potty training who has done just that. I bought her book on potty training entitled ‘Oh Crap! Potty Training’, and I thought it was hilarious. I found a lot of the information useful, except the bit where she speaks about waiting beyond 2.5 years of age can make the job more difficult. I will be honest—I took it personally because Indi was just not in the slightest bit interested. But I forgave her; she has an amazing book and an even better last name.  

Time-restricted methods such as the ‘2-day potty training method’ or the ‘3-day potty training method’ will often suggest that you give your child a ton of fluid. Then you watch for their cues or place them on the potty at close intervals throughout the period. 

Child-Led Potty Training

This method is exactly how it sounds, except it doesn’t involve rigorous training. You don’t ‘train’ your children. Instead, you more or less let them go at their own pace and introduce the right conditions they need to use the potty or toilet when they are ready. 

It implies that kids will go to the toilet when they are ready. It is not an entirely hands-off process for parents. You still look for signs of readiness and help them along the way. Think of when your child first wanted to write, they wanted to, they were ready, they showed interest. But as a parent, you still had to provide a pen and paper. 

Child-led toilet training requires parents to communicate, gently encourage, support and provide the right hardware (potty, potty seat, lawn, toys) as necessary.

Elimination Communication Potty Training Method

Elimination communication (EC) method involves tuning into your baby’s cues from birth. It also considers what parents potentially did before diapers, and that there is a disparity between Western norms and human nature. 

There is a great book called ‘The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost’ that explores this.

From my reading, parents that use EC chose to do so full-time or part-time, and most babies have gained independence between 9–18 months old.

The EC method does not mean that your 9-month-old will be able to walk to the bathroom and go to the toilet on their own. That comes later. But it does work towards babies going to the toilet where parents want them to.

The elimination communication potty training method is a long-term method. From my reading, it seems that parents choose this method due to the following reasons:

  1. To reduce their waste footprint by reducing the need for diapers
  2. A belief that this is a much more natural process for babies and parents. 

Many experts speak out about the elimination communication method. They suggest that a baby’s bladder and brain are not developed enough to undertake this practice, which may lead to chronic holding.

Potty Training Resources and Assistance

Like any new learning, it always helps to aid the process with resources. These resources help kids make a connection to what they are trying to achieve while making it more enjoyable. 

Kids will do things quicker and put more effort into learning if they understand what they are meant to be doing, why they are doing it, and if they are having fun. I am a teacher, but you do not need to be an educator to understand this point.

There are so many games, rewards, books, songs, responses that you can utilise to help your little one transition from diaper doo-doo, to toilet potty poops. I will discuss some of the great options at your disposal in the Recommended Potty Training Gear section.

Parents, we all have phones. I encourage you to use them to help your little one use the potty or toilet. Playing a nifty song on YouTube can be a great way to get your child to squeeze the streams to the desired location. Sometimes we are tired and don’t feel like singing ourselves, and some of us just aren’t gifted or interested in singing.

I have made up bedtime, waking up, teeth time and all sorts of original songs to share with my kids. But I have also been known to use my phone to achieve the same result when I cannot find the energy to do it. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. 

I remember an older family member once commenting (we should probably call it a ‘scoff’) on me playing the Wiggles teeth brushing song. I giggled and asked her if she would have done the same if she had access to the same technology ‘back in the day’. She thought about it and agreed that she absolutely would have. 

What Worked for Me?

At the end of the day, you are probably wondering what potty training method worked for me and what didn’t. 

I didn’t follow a particular methodology or technique. I first read a whole heap of information. Then I drew from the cloud of stored data in my brain and took some things that I thought would work. 

What I have learned from both of my very polar opposite mannered children is:

Making potty training or toilet training fun, relaxing and rewarding (for both parents and children) is by far the best approach. 

Ayla would mimic me like a lost little bird. All I had to do was show her how to sit on the potty or toilet potty seat. Then, I would pretend to pee there, and she was up for trying herself. 

Indi, on the other hand, was more likely to have a go at things like sitting on a potty or toilet, for someone other than me first. So packing up the potty party bag and handing it to a friend along with my child was a great way to get the tinkle training underway. She just wasn’t interested in starting with me. She demanded a nappy before any movements of the toilet kind. Even trying to get her to wee on the grass was out of the picture in the beginning. And yes… I did demonstrate while singing ‘write your name with wee-wee’ to try and get her to give it a go. Did it work? No. Was it fun? Yes.

Indi liked it when I place her between my legs on the toilet, rather than on a makeshift potty seat. That was fine. I got the idea from a Filipino friend who sent me an example video using her cat, as her kids were a bit too old to use as props. (Possibly the best thing I have seen in my life.) She also gave me the tip to splash water on my kid’s feet to encourage them to wee, which worked a bloody treat!

Making Use of Rewards

Both of my children responded to rewards. Ayla, although she has the quieter temperament, loved over the top reactions and celebrations. She also loved public displays of reward-giving whenever she used the potty. 

Indi was much more private about the whole thing. She started as ‘secret squatter’. She wouldn’t tell me she even went to the potty in the beginning. I would think she wasn’t interested only to open it to give it a go a few days later and sometimes find a stale wee in there. That or after one of the kids had poured it on themselves playing potty training games with their dolls.

Just for the record, stale wee smells gross. If you have a quiet achiever, often check just in case they are a closet commode user pulling stealth missions while you are not watching. (Nope, I don’t have my eyes on my kids 24 hours a day.)

I would ask my children if they wanted to go to the toilet. If kids are not accustomed to the sensation without a nappy or having too much fun, they are unlikely to take themselves in the beginning. 

I made it fun by adding floating toys and coloured ping pong balls in the toilet so they could take aim and try and sink them. It’s hilarious for everyone involved.

How Do I Get My Child to Go From Potty to Toilet?

Some parents have a hard time getting their child to transition from potty to toilet. 

You can use the same rewards, songs and methods that you used to potty train to get them to go to the toilet. However, do change it up a little.

Remember that the big toilet is a scary thing for little people. It is loud, there is a giant hole for bottoms to slip through and it is up high. So it is essential to offer the right support.

I would take what the girls had left in the potty and escort them in a happy and celebratory style to the toilet. There, I’ll show them where their wee and poo needed to go. As I put it in the toilet, I explained that it needed to go down the drain so that the fish had something to eat. It sounds weird, but it worked. From then on, when Ayla started using the toilet, she would proclaim that she was going to feed the fish.

A potty stool or a climbing toilet potty seat is a great idea to help little ones get up and feel supported. Allowing for a stool to rest their feet on will help them feel secure. It will also help them sit in a comfortable and healthy position.

Ayla hated the flush, so we would stand together and sing my makeshift flush song. Then we would make the sound of the flush when we press the button. She eventually became more comfortable with it over time.

The Flush Song

“I went to the toilet, YAY FOR ME!

Now it is time to flush the wee.

I went to the toilet, Whoopity doo!

Now it is time to flush the poo.

The toilet makes a big loud sound

To help it go around and around

It isn’t scary for me and you

It is just the sound of flushing wee and poo”

Potty Training Tips: Things to Remember

Sometimes, potty training can be hard. It doesn’t always go according to plan. Some parents feel confronted by the process. You may feel sad that your little one is growing up; you may feel anxious that they aren’t quite getting the hang of it. But there are a few extra things you can remember to help yourself and your child during potty training. 

Stay Calm and Be Patient 

  1. Be patient with the process. If it isn’t working—do not push it. Your child needs to feel supported. They need to know that you are in their corner, even if they are having a bit of trouble. 
  2. Be patient while waiting for your kids on the potty or toilet. Some kids, just like some adults, will take their time to do the deed. Ayla can take forever! It can be annoying, but I have had some of the funniest conversations with her on the toilet. She also uses this time to think and solve problems. 

Make It Fun

Understand that your child’s adversity to the potty or fears of the toilet is genuine for them. They are not being silly or stupid, and they are being honest. They are children, and they are allowed to be. That big porcelain structure has a giant hole and makes terrifying sounds. So make it fun and include resources if you need to.

Give Praise, Rather Than Shame or Show Relief

The words and body language we use can have a big impact on our kids in the future and their willingness to keep trying. It is important to let them know it is okay if they don’t succeed, and you will help them try again. Use encouragements such as ‘yeah, you did it!’ Rather than, ‘you are taking to long’, ‘it is about time’, or ‘why can’t you just do it’?

Your Child Is Not Anyone Else’s Child

Your child is not bound to some contract that says they must do things a certain way, by a certain age. It is normal to compare; it is a part of our human nature and instincts to worry. But do not be too concerned if things aren’t going as smoothly as you would like or if your child is not taking to the potty easily. If you have any concerns at all, it is always a good idea to speak to a child health care professional to make sure that everything is okay. 

Accidents Will Happen

Yep, accidents will occur when potty training. Just like learning to ride a bike, you will fall off a few times before you master it. Kids will wet themselves a few times or miss the potty. It is just how this whole potty training and growing up thing goes. So be okay with that and go easy on your child. Heck, I am 34, and I have been known to wet myself on the odd occasion. 

Recommended Potty Training Gear

We have used our own experience and asked other parents for their recommendations on the best potties and potty training gear. 

The Best Potty

How did we pick? 

There were several things that we looked for when picking potties: 

  1. Ease of use: Is the potty simple to use and easy to clean?
  2. Realistic Design: Does the potty look like a toilet and help with the transition from potty to toilet?
  3. Ages of use: Does the potty cater for early starters and late bloomers to ensure it lasts the test of time?
  4. Price: Does the potty offer value for money, and would we be happy to pay for it?
  5. Comfort: Let’s face it—we do not want to sit on an uncomfortable toilet seat, so we aren’t going to let our little ones.

Winner: Summer My Size Potty

This potty ticks all of the boxes. It looks like a real toilet and comes with a nifty little flush that replicates a toilet sound. It will help your little one to get used to the sound when transitioning to the big toilet. This potty is easy to clean and is comfortable. It also comes with a built-in wipe department, so you don’t have to leave your little one on the toilet while you run to find wipes. The seat is wide enough to be comfy and small enough that your child does not fall in. It is also compact enough to be able to throw in the car and take with you. 

Runner Up: Fisher-Price Learn-to-Flush Potty

This is such a fun little potty. Not only is it colourful and aesthetically inviting for your child, but it also plays happy tunes to entice them to jump aboard. This potty comes with a training flush to get them used to the action and sound and a high back to make potty training comfortable. The insert means that there is no mess and wee’s and poos are easy to transport and clean. Best of all, this potty comes with a removable toilet seat that can grow with your child when they are ready to hop up to the big toilet. 

Honourable Mention: BabyBjörn Potty Chair

This nifty, no-fuss potty is designed for comfort and comes with high backrest and armchairs. It has an insert that is easy and quick to clean. It is also BPA-free and comes in a range of colours to suit your decor and little one’s personality. 

The Best Potty Training Urinal

For parents of boys, you may also opt to purchase a urinal to help them when they are ready to stand up and wee. 

Winner: Foryee Frog Potty Training Urinal

This is the ultimate target practice for your boy. This frog-looking urinal is so fun and cute that it makes us parents without boys consider trying again. It has a fun little aiming target that spins around joyfully when your boy hits the right spot. (I might get one for my partner Ben… He is still learning at 37.) It has a high back to stop the splash and a removable bowl for quick and hygienic clean up. 

Runner Up: Travel Aid Portable Emergency Urinal

How many times have you been travelling with your son and stopped at a bathroom that you were scared to walk into, let alone let your little one do their business? This one is great for long travel, camping and dirty places. Whip out the Travel Aid and let your little man wee in it to keep him safe from germs and give him peace of mind. It is easy to dispose of the fluids and easy to clean.  

The Best Potty Training Toilet Seats

For those of you who do not know what these are, they are nifty little contraptions that create a smaller hole, so your baby or toddler doesn’t slip into the toilet bowl. I guarantee that you will sit on it at least once to either try it out or because you are busting and you don’t have time to take it out. I did this with both of the seats that I had purchased, and I found that the seat with the cushioning, as opposed to a hard plastic one, was much more comfortable for my toosh. So I assumed it was the same for my children. 

How did we pick?

  1. Stability: So little bottoms won’t slip from toilets
  2. Comfort: Squoosh for the toosh
  3. Holding Aids: So little ones feel safe and have something to grab onto
  4. Price: Value for money

Winner: Angelbliss Potty Training Toilet Seat

The Angelbliss potty training toilet seat has everything that your little one needs. A cushioned seat for comfort, grip handles for extra security, a high back and smooth design to keep your babies spine safe. It has a splash-proof guard and is suitable for 1- to 7-year-olds. 

Runner Up: Petuol Potty Training Seat

The Petuol potty training seat has a non-slip design that comes with a removable cushion for easy cleaning. It has handles and a high back to help your little one feel secure and for safe spines. 

Honourable Mention: The First Years Disney Potty Training Seat

What child doesn’t like going to the toilet with their favourite Disney friends? This no-fuss potty training seats is enticing, soft and offers handles for security.

The Best Potty Training Stools

Winner: Growing Up Green Bamboo Step Stool

The Growing Up Green Bamboo Step Stool has topped the ranks for many reasons. It is made with eco-conscious materials and can be used in your home long after toilet training is complete, which reduces your household wastage. It comes with non-stick feet, is lightweight, sturdy and has a timeless design.

Runner Up: Mangohood Potty Training Seat With Step Stool / Ladder 

If you want a step stool and a seat all in one, the Mangohood potty training seat and step stool has been recommended by numerous friends and parents who have written to us. It is easy to assemble and put away and has a cushion for comfortable bottoms. It also has handles and an adjustable footrest for security and proper seating position. Best yet, this potty training seat can hold up to 75 kg. It is sturdy enough for parents to gently hold their bottom over and show their kids how to do it. (YES I HAVE, in case you were wondering.)

Honourable Mention: ACKO 2 in 1 Step Stool and Potty Training Seat

Another 2-in-1 option is the ACKO step stool which comes with a cushioned, ergonomic, non-slip toilet training seat. It is a great value for money, and the whole family can use the stool for comfortable and safe seating positions. It is an excellent option for cleanliness-conscious parents as the sleek design means there aren’t too many nooks and crannies that you have to get into with a cloth.

Potty Training Resources and Ways to Make It Fun

No matter what method or mash-up of methods you use, it is a great idea to have some resources available to encourage your children to do the deed. 

Best Potty Training Chart for Toddlers 

This gender-neutral chart gives kids a visual representation of how well they are doing and helps encourage your little one to keep at it. It includes all sorts of fun things like stickers, celebration cards and crowns and is a perfect little addition to keep near the potty.

Best Potty Training Book: Potty by Leslie Patricelli 

This adorable and hilarious little book is sure to get your little ones wanting to go potty and help you enjoy potty training time. It is designed to be interactive to have your little ones respond to cues and questions. This book is a favourite amongst most parents, and it has such a reasonable price, every toilet training toddler can have one. 

Best Potty Training Watch

It can be hard for kids (and parents) to remember to take themselves to the toilet. This watch plays music to remind everyone at set intervals, minimizing accidents and encouraging success. 

Best Potty Training Target Practice 

This device projects a target into the toilet to help tinkle-target practice. It is motion-activated and lights up the toilet at night to help your little ones find their way.

Best Toilet Night Light

It is a good idea to have a night light in the toilet to encourage success and help your little ones feel safe and find their way at night. It also reduces the need for your little ones to wake you up for night time tinkles. This six-pack night light has motion sensors to light the way from your little one’s room all the way to the toilet.

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