Ones & Twos

Parent educator and mum of three, ZALIE DOYLE, shares some toilet training tips and insights, and answers those sticky questions.

In the past, the assumption has prevailed that a child around two years old should be getting ‘toilet trained’. What we know now is that our children need to be physiologically, emotionally, socially and cognitively developmentally ready – and this varies considerably between children.

Signs that your child could be ready for this stage: 

  • They have longer periods of dryness during the day.
  • They have regular toileting times – going poos after lunch, for instance.
  •  They recognise that they are going – touching their nappies, telling you, or hiding when having a bladder or bowel motion.
  • They demonstrate a desire to do things for themselves, and the ability to follow instructions – two indicators that sometimes come into conflict!

Another major consideration that we often overlook is our readiness, as parents. Toilet training takes a lot of patience, so choosing to begin this process when you’re about ready to pop with a new baby or move into a new house might not be the right time. It’s ok to delay if the timing isn’t right for you.

Always start with verbal recognition, hugs, kisses, cuddles, high fives, clapping, phone calls to dad or grandma, and of course a huge big smile.

Often, though, our kids need that extra incentive – and the reward needs to be something they really want! Stickers are inexpensive and small, and kids go crazy for them. Plus, they don’t cause dental decay. Rewarding a child with a small sticker for small goals like sitting on the toilet and fancy big stickers for larger goals like doing a wee will offer extra encouragement and give them a sense of progress.

Most preschools are really good and help both you and your child reach this major milestone. Talk to the staff about the type of support your child needs, like reminders and encouragement, and always make sure they have a good stash of clean underwear and clothes.

Preschools might be happy to offer some form of reward. We used a sticker chart at home, but at preschool our children got a stamp on their hand every time they used the toilet. This was also a good way for me to tell how many times they’d been at preschool without having to hound the teachers like a mad woman.

Our children are going through a stage of learning. There will be accidents, and this is something you need to accept and expect. Offer lots of support, guidance and encouragement, and most importantly try not to get angry.

If at any stage, you or your child are becoming distressed or anxious over toilet training, just stop and take a break. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed or your child can’t be toilet trained; it just means that now isn’t the right time for
whatever reason.

If your child regresses slightly, don’t stress. Have a look at what else is going on for them. Are they learning something new? Is there something major happening in their life – the arrival of a new sibling, moving house, starting preschool? Often when children learn new skills or go through periods of growth or change, things that they had mastered can regress temporarily.

If, however, your child has been dry for some time (particularly night dry) and then suddenly begins to wet frequently again, I would suggest a trip to the doctor for a quick assessment, to rule out an infection, for instance.


  1. Let them watch you! How will they know what going to the toilet looks like if they don’t see it?
  2. Ensure you have the right sorts of toilet training tools to help reduce your stress: training underwear, car-seat protectors, potties or little toilet seats, step stools, waterproof sheets etc.
  3. Make sure they wear appropriate clothing: dungarees with 100 domes are not ideal when you need to get them off in two seconds flat.
  4. Make a huge fuss of them when they get it right. Make sure your reward is instant, exciting and simple.
  5. Acknowledge their effort even if they don’t ‘do’ anything. For some children, simply sitting on the toilet is a great achievement.
  6.  Don’t get angry. They do not
    have ‘accidents’ on purpose: they
    are learning.
  7. Watch for regular toileting times and try to pre-empt accidents.
  8. Remind them, but not too often: if they are continually taken to the toilet, they will not have the opportunity to recognise what a full bladder feels like.
  9. Talk to them about what is happening in their bodies and what they are trying to achieve. Ask if they can feel their bladder getting full: ‘is your bladder trying to tell you that you need to go to the toilet?’
  10. Be patient!