Your child was successfully potty trained and things were going great. Until they weren’t. Perhaps they
have began frequently wetting, refusing to use the toilet or holding their poo.
Let us explore some of the reasons for this, and how to support them.
1. Physical Reasons: Sometimes a physical reason such as a UTI or constipation can trigger a
regression. Constipation can actually prompt frequent urinary accidents (as the full colon places
pressure on the bladder). When a child becomes constipated they may find it unpleasant to pass
stools and so hold further to prevent the release. This causes further constipation which may
promote further urinary accidents. Therefore if a child begins frequently wetting or holding it is
important to speak to a GP to rule out possible UTI’s or constipation. A high fibre diet and good
water intake can help to prevent constipation.
In other cases children sometimes misunderstood the purpose of potty training. Some believe
that the aim is to keep their underwear or sheets dry (as opposed to recognise when they need
to go and use a potty or toilet). This may have occurred if they were praised for dry pants, told
off for accidents or potty trained too quickly. The child begins to hold, giving the illusion they are
potty trained, but they then reach a stage were they can hold no more and so frequent wetting
begins. In order to manage this, ensure not to praise for dry pants or sheets and do not scold for
accidents (these are normal and to be expected).
In other cases illness or medication may impact bowel habits – liaise with your GP for advice if
this is the case.
2. Emotional Reasons: Children can often develop fears of using the potty or toilet and these can
begin at any stage, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they were splashed using the toilet or their
potty is uncomfortable. Reassure your child and go slowly in their own time. Never force them
to sit on a potty or toilet. Some children find it useful if you place toilet paper on the toilet water
to prevent it splashing them. If your child refuses to use the toilet it is sometimes advantageous
to take a break from the potty process.
In other instances a child may have experienced significant change such as a bereavement,
house move or family break down which may result in frequent accidents. Supporting them
emotionally and seeking outside support for managing emotions may be appropriate.
3. Social Reasons: It is not unusual for a child to be potty trained at home but they will not go at
nursery or at the homes of friends of relatives. Perhaps they are unsure of how to tell them
when they need to go, or perhaps they do not like going in groups. Try to make sure the
environment is as familiar as possible in all areas, and inform childcare providers and family
members of the language your child uses when they need to use the bathroom.
4. Environmental Reasons: Sometimes change such as a new baby in the home can trigger more
frequent accidents. Sometimes when the focus of attention shifts, children see potty training as
an easy way to redistribute this balance. Making little fuss when they have an accident, and
offering some 1:1 time and attention outside of potty training can help with this adjustment.
This information is meant as a general guide. If you have any concerns about your individual child’s
health or progress speak to your GP or health professional.
With the new intake of nursery due in September, many parents may start to feel anxious about their child’s ability to use the potty / toilet when they start there.
Many nurseries have a policy which states that a child must be potty trained before they commence. Whilst this is often achievable for many children, other children are not developmentally ready to potty train before nursery begins. Legally nurseries are not able to insist that your child is potty trained. Many have this included in their policy as they are not able to potty train all the children in their care. But it should not be used to disadvantage those who are not ready to make this transition. If you are worried that your child is not yet ready, speak to the staff in the first instance. Many are very understanding when you explain that your child is not yet ready.
For those who are toilet trained, it can be helpful to work in partnership with your nursery. Here are some points to cover with them:-
- Do they have the option of using either a potty or toilet? If they only use a toilet, it can be helpful to introduce this concept to your child a few weeks before they move into the setting
- Ask them what terminology they use to describe the toilet, urinated and voiding. If your child refers to urinating as a ‘wee’ at home, and nursery staff say ‘pee pee’ then the child may not know what is being asked of them. If the nursery use generic terminology, perhaps begin to filter this into your child’s vocabulary a few weeks before they commence. Or better yet, ask the nursery to use your child’s terminology when speaking with them
- Due to covid restrictions, many nurseries are unable to offer pre-visits to their settings. Ask if they have photos and / or a video showing their environment, and ask that it includes the toilet. Share this with your child before they attend. Children respond well to repetition so showing this regularly can help to make it more familiar
- Ask nursery to never punish or scold your child if they have an accident – accidents are still normal at this age and a child should never be shamed for such
- Be prepared: send a wet bag with several changes of clothes to nursery, to they are available should your child have an accident
- Relax: most children are still learning at this stage and their bladders are still growing. Any concerns always speak to nursery staff in the first instance. Most will be supportive and reassuring.
Although it is advantageous to wait to start potty training when your child is showing signs of readiness, it is never too early to begin preparing them. Good preparation, can promote an easier potty training experience. Here are some tips which may help:
1. Purchase a potty: Purchase a potty and keep it in the bathroom. If you like you can offer stickers for your child to decorate it (just not in the bowl itself as they will get ruined). Invite your child to sit on it if they wish. Even wearing clothes is fine. At this point, all we are aiming to do, is make the potty a familiar item to your child.
2. Normalise wee and poo: It can be easy to only talk about poo in a negative way. This can lead some children to believe that it is not a natural occurrence experienced by all. When you are going to the bathroom verbally share the process with your child. For example say ‘mummy can feel a poo in her tummy, she is going to the toilet now.’ Then on your return say ‘mummy did a poo and is feeling better.’ If your child does a poo, try to refrain from using negative terms to describe it. Instead speak matter of factly, saying ‘you have done a big poo today’ to normalise such and help them to recognise when they have been.
3. Include stories and animations which demonstrate the potty process: Many children are visual learners. Include books and stories involving potty training, helping them to understand the process. Alternatively there are some great animations which demonstrate the process using fun characters.
4. Role model: Many parents experience little visitors when they use the bathroom. If you are comfortable with this, talk them through the process. ‘Mummy is sitting on the toilet to do her wee,’ ‘Mummy is using toilet roll to clean herself after her wee,’ ‘Mummy is flushing the chain,’ ‘Mummy is washing her hands.’ You can include your child in flushing the chain to help familiarise them with this.
5. Involve their toys: It can be advantageous to use toys to demonstrate the potty training process. Dolls which drink water and then mock urinate can be great examples. You can know purchase some which come with little potties. Remember to include all the steps of potty training for the doll – including washing their hands.
6. Avoid constipation: It is important that your child is neither constipated or experiencing a UTI prior to commencing the potty training process. This can impact their health, and make the potty process uncomfortable which can lead to resistance. In order to help prevent this encourage daily exercise, a high fibre diet and lots of water. If you are concerned your child may be experiencing a UTI or contact your GP.
7. Buy underwear: Involve your child in the purchasing their own underwear. Many are attracted to familiar cartoon characters. Leave them out in a place which your child can see, helping them to become familiar with them before the process begins.
8. Acquire the essentials: Some items which can make the potty process easier include waterproof sheets, night nappies, car seat protector and the Potette –making potty training on the go much easier.
Potty Training Consultant
Spring can be an excellent time to potty train. The weather can be a little warmer, which allows for children to wear lighter clothes, which can be easier for them to pull up and down. The brighter weather may also make it a little easier to line dry clothes, after they have been washed due to inevitable accidents. I recommend staying close to the home for the first few days, so it may allow for time to play in the garden.
However, spring is only a good time to start, if your child is also physically, socially and emotionally ready to begin the potty training process. Here are a few signs which may indicate that they are ready:-
-They are able to stay dry for up to 2 hours,
-They show interest in potty training (interest in their potty or others when they use the toilet)
-They wake up dry after a nap
-They tell you when they are about to use their nappy (or when they have just been)
-They hide whilst using their nappy
Some children demonstrate all these behaviours, whilst others just a few. It is important to go at the speed and develop of your individual child.
It is also important to ensure that your child has not recently experienced too many changes, which can make it more difficult for them to focus on the potty training task. Such changes may include, moving to a new room at nursery, moving house, the arrival of a new sibling or a bereavement. Leaving a little bit of time between such events and commencing potty training, can help ensure that
your child is emotionally ready for a new challenge and that their environment is secure and stable to allow for the process to commence.
It is also important to ensure that your child is not experiencing constipation or a UTI before commencing the potty process – speak to your child’s GP if you suspect either.
Here is a short quiz which can help you determine if your child is ready. Allocate the relevant points per section and add them up at the end*:
- How old is your child?
Under 22 months – 0 points
Over 22 months – 3 points 2.
- Can your child stay dry for more than 2 hours?
No – 0 points
Yes – 2 points 3.
- Does your child wake up dry after a nap?
No – 0 points
Yes – 2 points 4.
- Does your child use potty training language (wee, poo etc)
No – 0 points
Yes – 1 point 5.
- Does your child show interest in others using the toilet?
No – 0 points
Yes – 2 points 6.
- Does your child tell you when they need to wee / poo (even if only occasionally)?
No – 0 points
Yes – 2 points
- Does your child tell you when they have done a wee / poo (even if only occasionally)?
No – 0 points
Yes – 2 points
Under 5 points: It is unlikely your child is ready to commence potty training. But do not worry – their bladder is still developing. Take this quiz again in a few weeks
6 – 11 points: Your child is showing some indication that they are ready to start potty training. With consistency and support you could begin the process together
Over 12 points: It is likely that your chid is capable and very ready to commence potty training. Good luck with the process
*Please note this is just a guide and individual children may differ
For those of you, who believe your child is ready, wishing you a smooth potty training journey.
Potty Training Consultant