Potty training: your questions answered

Our parenting expert Eileen Hayes answers your queries on potty training

Expert answers to your potty training questions

How to get a reluctant 3-year-old out of nappies? Our expert Eileen Hayes answers your potty training questions

At a glance

  • Make sure your little one is physically capable of being out of nappies before you start
  • Be positive and never tell them off for accidents
  • If you don't succeed at first, take a break and then try again a few weeks later

My three-year-old shows zero interest in getting out of nappies. Her pre-school wants her trained before she starts in three months’ time. What should I do?

First, consider whether she is physically capable of being out of nappies. Does she go several hours with a dry nappy? Does she know when she has done a poo or wee? If you don’t think this is true, then it is probably best to have a word with your health visitor or GP about her development. 

If she is doing this, now she’s three you can go for quite a rapid approach. Be very jolly about it and say she is a big girl now, and can manage without nappies and you’re going to choose some lovely pants. Give lots of praise whenever she stays dry, and keep reminding her to use the potty or toilet. Take her with you when you go, so she can see that’s what is supposed to happen. 

If you know anyone with a small child who is already trained, let her see them going. She should be able to make progress quite quickly but never tell her off for accidents. Just be very matter of fact, and clean it up without getting cross. Give lots of praise when she gets it right. It might be a while yet before she is dry at night, so don’t rush that at the same time.

My 2½ year old daughter was potty trained two months ago but now we’re getting more and more accidents. Should I go back to nappies?

Potty training is almost always a bit stop and start, with periods when it goes backwards, so this is not unusual. It is inevitable there will be some accidents in the pre-school years. 

First, think about whether anything else in her daily life could be stressing her, as that can make children regress to slightly younger behaviour. This might be starting a new nursery, if you’re pregnant again, or if there are changes to the household routine. Small people are very sensitive to everything in their environment. 

I wouldn't necessarily go back to nappies in the day since you made good progress for a while. You could just use the pull-up waterproof pants to avoid accidents on the floor, but still be very encouraging that she can do it and praise her when she goes for a while without an accident. 

My 3-year-old son will wee in his potty but waits until his night-time nappy goes on before he poos. How can I get him to poo in the potty?

This is not unusual. Some children just prefer the comfort and security of the nappy they are used to. Small children see their poo as a little part of themselves, and it can be a little bit scary to see it falling into the loo and being flushed noisily away. If the noise bothers him you could flush after he’s left the room. 

You could try encouraging him to sit on the potty wearing his nappy at the time you think he is likely to go, then give a little reward. Gradually if he gets used to doing that, you could try un-doing the nappy to see if he can manage into the potty. 

Take it slowly, never get cross if he gets it wrong, give lots of praise for getting it right, and he will get there in the end.

My daughter is 20 months and will happily sit on the potty for 10 minutes but then gets up and wees on the floor – what should I do?

It sounds as if she is not quite ready yet. This is very common at this age. There is nothing wrong with gentle encouragement to sit for a little while on the potty, reading her a book for example, but never force her to stay longer than she wants to. 

I’d say it’s probably better to wait a few weeks then try again. Keep an eye on her nappies to make sure she goes a while with a dry one. That’s the best way to find out if she has the necessary muscle control to hold in her wee. Be patient and look out for signals that she is keen to try herself.

Are training pants or pull-ups worth using?

It’s really a personal decision. Pull-ups are more like ordinary nappies, so your child won’t necessarily feel wet when they’ve done a wee. This might be confusing for them if you are trying to potty train, as being wet is a useful reminder of what happens when they wee! 

Training pants (or the pads you stick into pants) do allow them to feel wet, so if you’ve started the potty training process and just want something to avoid accidents on the floor or in clothes, they might be useful. Some mums use them for long car journeys or for going out when their children are in the middle of the training process and are still having quite a few accidents. However, they are quite expensive. It is entirely up to you if you find them helpful. 

At a glance

  • Make sure your little one is physically capable of being out of nappies before you start
  • Be positive and never tell them off for accidents
  • If you don't succeed at first, take a break and then try again a few weeks later
Give lots of praise when they stay dry and keep reminding them to use the potty or toilet

Potty training: your questions answered