I think most parents are keen to get rid of the hassle and cost of diapers. Whether you choose to go with disposables or reusable diapers, most parents do not enjoy the effort involved and look forward to their child being potty trained.
Children will master daytime potty training well before they can manage to stay dry at night. Night time potty training is not merely a case of learning a skill, there are physiological changes required to enable a child to master bladder control at night. If you start too early, you are unlikely to be successful.
Potty training requires patience from parents. It will take time and getting frustrated or making it a discipline issue will only cause stress to parent and child, making the process harder.
You will encounter parents with an opinion about when a child should be potty trained. They’re entitled to an opinion, but you know your child best and know what you can manage, so set your own expectations for this process.
When to start daytime potty training
Potty training is an important milestone for your child, but don’t try to start this too early. Some children will learn quickly, others will need more time (and patience!) to achieve this goal consistently.
In general, a child will be ready to start potty training between 18 months and three years of age – they need to be old enough to understand what you are asking, and recognise the signals of a full bladder and these concepts are too difficult at a younger age. Girls are often potty trained earlier than boys.
It can be helpful if your toddler sees other people in the household using the toilet, so they begin to understand the process.
Signs that your child is ready to start
A good sign is if your child starts to react to their wet diaper, expressing discomfort at the feeling of wetness, or trying to take off their wet diaper.
If your child can tell you when they are going to pee or poo, or lets you know they just have, then they are starting to recognise the feelings associated with this.
Another good indication is if their diaper stays dry for a couple of hours at a time, so you know they have some control over bladder function.
- If you are going to use a potty, then buy one that is comfortable and a good size. There are some fun designs if you think your child might like that.
- Get a child-sized toilet seat for your toilet, and a step stool so the child can independently get on to the toilet.
- Toilet training underwear or cotton pants.
- Rewards for success – whether they are treats (M&M’s or similar small treats), star chart, stamps or stickers, or some other way to celebrate their progress.
- Plenty of cleaning supplies for cleaning up inevitable messes!
How to start
Start talking about using the toilet or potty, use your choice of words for the process and encourage your child that they can be a “big girl/boy” and use the potty instead of diapers.
You can buy toilet training diapers, however these do tend to absorb the wetness and the child will still feel dry, and this can interfere with the toilet training process. The best option is for the child to feel damp and slightly uncomfortable so they start to learn how to avoid this.
You can buy padded cotton toilet training pants, which will absorb some of the liquid to avoid the worst spills, but still feel damp.
One option, if you can manage it in your daily routine, is to plan for a block of time to stay at home and concentrate on toilet training. Do this when the weather is warm so the child can be lightly dressed. Make sure you have the potty handy in whatever room you are in.
Put the child in cotton pants or cotton toilet training pants, and let them play around the house as normal. Put them on the potty regularly to encourage them to use it, but if they have an accident you can easily put them on the potty as a message, change their underwear and clean up. They will quickly start to associate wet underwear/discomfort with toileting. However there may be a lot of clean-ups to be done in the meantime!
Make sure the child has clothing they can easily remove, no difficult buttons or zips that will slow them down. Initially they don’t get much warning that they need to go, so they need to be able to undress quickly.
Remember to keep your child in diapers for their daytime sleep in the meantime.
If you do go out, plan ahead so you know you will be near toilets. Remember to pack spare underpants, wipes and plastic bags and also a diaper or two just in case you are going somewhere that is not near a toilet.
Remember lots of praise for success or near-success, and reassurance when they have an accident. They are trying to master it, so keep it positive.
If after a week or two you haven’t made any progress at all, take a break and try again in a few weeks.
There will be setbacks at times. Often if a child is tired, or getting sick with a cold, their potty training progress might be lost. Remember they have made progress, this is a temporary setback and just keep working towards the goal.
When to start night time potty training
Night time potty training is a more complicated matter. That’s something you probably don’t want to hear after battling through daytime potty training!
Nap and night time potty training may happen months or years after the day time training. In the meantime, keep using diapers or a waterproof mattress cover to manage the situation.
- Make sure you have plenty of bed sheets
- Waterproof underblanket or absorbent toilet training pads with a waterproof backing
- Underwear or pull up diaper pants for toilet training if you choose to use them initially
- A night light in case the child needs to get up during the night
Signs that your child is ready to start
Once your child consistently wakes up with a dry or nearly dry diaper in the morning, they should be ready to try night time training.
How to proceed
Explain night time potty training to your child and make sure they know they can only wee if they get up to the toilet during the night.
Ensure your child goes to the toilet before they go to bed.
Make up the bed with a potty training pad under the child. This way, if they wet during the night, you can just change the pad without having to change the bed. Make sure you have several training pads available.
Sometimes it can be useful initially to get the child up to the toilet before the parent goes to bed as well. However, make sure the child is awake enough to register what is happening, otherwise you are just reinforcing that they can wee in their sleep.
When the child wakes up, praise them if they have stayed dry for the whole night. If not, just reassure them and change the bedding without fuss.
Remind your child to go to the toilet first thing when they get up.
If you have been persisting with night time toilet training for a month or two and no progress is being made, it may be too early for your child. Time to take a break and try again in a couple of months. There is no magic age that toilet training can happen, and it can take time, so if it is becoming a burden then give yourself a break.
When should you be concerned
Many children will have mastered night time potty training by around age 5. Don’t confuse night time potty training with occasional bed wetting. Bed wetting can continue for some years after night time training has been achieved.
What to do if you are concerned
If your child hasn’t mastered night time potty training by age 5, or they have regressed back to wetting regularly after mastering it, then you should talk to your doctor to rule out any other issues.
Occasional bed wetting is not generally considered to be a problem until after a child is 7 years old. If your child has turned 7 and is still wetting the bed, you should visit your doctor to discuss how to manage this.