Toddler sat on toilet

Potty training is a challenge. We discuss signs your child might be ready for it, when to start and how to take the plunge with the potty.

Helping your little one learn to use the potty or toilet can be challenging for you and your child. It is also an exciting time that gives them a great sense of achievement and more independence.

It can be hard to know when to start potty training. Every child is different, so try not to compare yours to others of a similar age (Brazleton, 1999).

It’s a good idea to wait until you think your toddler is ready for potty training before getting started. It’s also helpful if you are patient, stay calm and are prepared for small accidents (Institute of Health Visitors, 2014).

Signs that your child is ready to potty train

  • They know when they've got a wet or dirty nappy and may tell you they would like it changed.
  • They know when they are having a wee and might tell you they're doing it.
  • They show they need to wee by fidgeting or going somewhere quiet or hidden.
  • They know when they need to go for a wee and may say so in advance.
  • They stay dry for at least an hour or two. If it's less than an hour, potty training might not be successful and will be hard work for you. (NHS Choices, 2015)

When to start potty training

  • It’s best to start potty training your child when they show signs they are ready. Read more in our article on five signs your child is ready for potty training.
  • Most parents start to think about potty training when their little one is around two to two and a half. It depends on your child and how they are developing physically and emotionally.  There’s no perfect age to start putting them on the potty.
  • A child younger than 12 months old has no bladder or bowel control. Between 12 and 18 months they have very little control. Most children won’t have bowel and bladder control until around 24 to 30 months.
  • It can help if you start potty training at a time when there are no disruptions to your family’s usual routine. This will allow you to keep your approach consistent and minimise setbacks.
  • Some parents prefer to try potty training in the summer. This is simply because toddlers won’t be wearing lots of layers, which are harder to get off when they need the potty quickly. Washing and drying clothes in the summer is a lot easier too. (ERIC, 2010; NHS Choices, 2015)

How to start potty training

  • Read our tips for potty training success and look out for signs they are ready.
  • Make sure you have the right equipment at home, whether it’s a potty or a toilet training seat and step.
  • Let your child watch and learn. You child might already be interested in following you into the toilet or watching older siblings on the potty or toilet.
  • Talk to them about the potty and toilet, and praise them for their efforts.
  • Be prepared for little accidents and be patient. A new skill like this will take time to master. (Institute of Health Visiting, 2014; NHS Choices, 2015)

Potty training is an exciting stage in parenting, but it can also seem daunting to begin with. Armed with our handy ten potty training tips, you will soon feel confident. It won’t be long until you child gets the hang of it.

It’s common to have potty training setbacks or problems, or a steps backward when they first start out. So don’t despair if this happens. Simply keep the potty out in view and try again in a few weeks.

This page was last reviewed in June 2018

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

NHS Choices has more information on potty training.

ERIC. (2010) Potty training. Education and resources for improving childhood continence. Available from: www.eric.org.uk [Accessed 1st June 2018]

Institute of Health Visiting. (2014) IHV Parent Tips. Available from: https://ihv.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/PT_Toilet-Training_V5-updated-link.pdf [Accessed 1st June 2018]

NHS Choices. (2015) How To Potty Train. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/potty-training-tips/  [Accessed 1st June 2018]

Further reading

Brazleton T, Christopherson E, Frauman A, Gorski P, Poole J, Stadtler A, Wright C. (1999) Instruction, timeliness and medical influences affecting toilet training. Paediatrics. 103:1353-1358. Available from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/103/Supplement_3/1353 [Accessed 1st June 2018]

Buckley S. (2002) Mothering, mindfulness and a baby’s bottom. An introduction to elimination communication. Mother. Issue 3. Available from: https://sarahbuckley.com/mothering-mindfulness-and-a-babys-bottom-an-introduction-to-elimination-communication/ [Accessed 1st June 2018]

Hatch, A. (2017) What is baby-led potty training? Available from: http://amberhatch.com/what-is-baby-led-potty-training/ [Accessed 1st June 2018]

Related articles

Toddler sat on toilet

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods online workshop

Find out more