When should we start toilet training?

Toilet training.jpg

Potty! Starting toilet training.

Toilet training often varies from country to country; it may be impacted by culture, environment, and personal experiences. In New Zealand, the average age for children to be toilet trained at night is 3-6 years, statistically boys take longer. I’ve met people from other countries where toilet training occurs much earlier; it sounds like various countries in Asia often start quite early and I’ve met people from the United States who’ve commented that it can almost feel competitive there to have your child toilet trained as early as possible.

In general, in New Zealand we tend to be a bit more relaxed about it. Please remember that toilet training can be immensely stressful for your child. Disposable diapers are now so efficient that often they stay feeling dry even after doing wees; there’s a convenience in being able to wee while you eat breakfast, or play in the sandpit, or chase after your friends. Toilet training means having to stop what your doing, go to another room, fiddle with clothes, undertake a series of steps that everyone expects you to remember, and then go back to whatever you were doing. It can be annoying. It can be scary. It can be miserable wetting your clothes. It can simply feel strange feeling an empty space underneath your bum. It’s important that your child is ready and that they feel safe, supported, and encouraged.

When is my child developmentally ready?

Watch for the following signs:

  • They show signs of bladder control.
    • They can go 2 hours without doing a wee.
    • They can stop & start their wee.
  • They wake up dry from a nap.
  • They show an interest in the toilet and others using it.
  • They have enough language skills that you can teach them words that will form part of your toilet training process (i.e. potty / toilet, wee / poos, flush, wash hands, dry hands, help me).
  • Can follow simple instructions.
  • They feel happy and settled; they are not going through any other changes.
  • Note: Toilet training can be impacted by genetic inheritance (surprisingly!). If one or both of the parents took a long time to toilet train (especially at night) then your child is more likely to do the same.
  • Note: My experience (and talking to many other families) is that the eldest child will often take the longest to be ready to toilet train (sometimes not till after they’re at kindy and seeing other kids use the toilet); younger siblings will often want to start earlier (sometimes at 18m) because they want to be like their big brother or sister.


Does gender make a difference?

Yes. In New Zealand:

  • Girls will often show readiness between 20 – 26 months.
  • Boys will often show readiness between 24 – 32 months.


How I can help my child feel ready to toilet train?

  • Have an open door policy at home (if you can) and let them come to the toilet with you; let’s face it, most toddlers want to anyway! Talk about needing to go to the toilet and verbalize the steps (like flushing, washing hands etc.).
  • Get a potty and have it available. Ask them each day if they’d like to sit on the potty. Ask them if they’d like a nappy/diaper or undies/knickers. Most days they won’t; persevere – it took a year before mine decided that we were actually toilet training rather than just her having a passing interest.
    • Sometimes younger children will want to roleplay – especially while you’re using the toilet. Let them practice sitting on the potty fully clothed and ‘wiping’ themselves with toilet paper.
    • Sometimes they will ask for undies before they’re ready to use a potty (because they’re friends are using them). That’s fine! Let them wear a nappy over their diapers and get used to the idea. Encourage them to practice putting them on and off themselves. Let them help you choose ones that they like (i.e. they think are pretty / cool / exciting / awesome).
  • Some experts will encourage cloth nappies (so that they can feel being damp) or training pants but discourage nappy pants as delaying / confusing things. Personally, I advocate doing what works for you. My daughter is strong willed and does not respond well to change so I’m going for the long & slow approach; it’s far more practical (and cost effective for me) for her to be in nappy-pants if we leave the house, bare bum / underwear at home, and a nappy at nap / night.
  • Read books about potty training. Often there are lots of picture books at the library so read a few until you find ones that work for you.
  • Consider adding incentives. We started actually potty training because Miss 2 decided that she wanted to see the magic doggy appear. She loves looking down and seeing the doggy appear, then saying ‘Bye Bye Doggy’ as it gets emptied & washed. Apparently the WeePal stickers are also a great way of teaching little boys to aim!

    WeePal stickers

    WeePal stickers


When should I see a doctor?

  • If your child has ongoing constipation.
    • Sometimes get scared / uncomfortable about doing poos in the potty. They can get so worked up about it that they literally hold it in by sheer force of will. Talk to your doctor (for help with loosening up that blockage) and let your child know it’s okay to do poos in a nappy until they feel ready to let it go in the potty!
  • Your child says it hurts to go to the toilet.
    • Little girls will more commonly get Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) than boys. Ouch!
  • Frequent little wees.
  • No day training progress by 4 years (to rule out any physical / medical issues).
  • If they are not night trained by 5 or 6 years (again, to rule out any physical/medical issues).


For more great tips about toilet training, check out Laura Morley’s workshops, or her FAQs blog on LooLoo Toilet Training Solutions.


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