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Toilet training

10-minute read

Key facts

  • It’s best to wait to toilet train your child until they show signs that they’re ready — this usually happens between 18 months and 3 years of age.
  • Be patient and relaxed when you start toilet training, praise your child when they make progress and don’t make a big deal about ‘accidents’.
  • Start by putting your child on the toilet or potty at regular intervals, until they can tell you when they need to go.
  • Teach your child good hygiene — help them wipe their bottom, flush the toilet and wash their hands.
  • It takes longer for your child to ‘stay dry’ at night than during the day.

When should I start toilet training my child?

There’s no specific age when you should toilet train your child. It’s best to wait until your child shows signs that they are ready.

Most toddlers are ready to start toilet training at 2 to 3 years of age. Some are ready as early as 18 months old. Don’t rush your child — toilet training usually goes more smoothly if you wait until you see signs that they are ready.

Plan for a time when your household is calm and there’s not much else going on. If possible, wait until summer to toilet train your child. Having fewer layers of clothing to take off will make it easier.

How will my child show they’re ready for toilet training?

Your child may be ready to start using the toilet when they:

  • know they are about to wee or poo
  • can tell you when they’ve wet or soiled their nappy
  • stay dry for at least 2 hours or wake up dry after a daytime nap
  • become irritated by wearing a nappy, especially if it’s wet or dirty
  • are pooing at predictable times of the day
  • show interest in other people using the toilet

It’s also important for toilet training that your child can:

  • pull their pants up and down
  • follow simple instructions
  • sit comfortably in one position for a little while

Do I start with the potty or toilet?

It’s up to you and your child. Some parents find that introducing a potty to their toddler is a gentler transition than using a big toilet straight away. You can also put it somewhere convenient for your child and take it with you when you go out.

If emptying a potty doesn’t appeal to you, it’s fine for your toddler to use a toilet. However, you need to make sure they can climb onto the toilet easily with a step or stool, and rest their feet on the step while sitting. It’s a good idea to use a toddler toilet seat with a smaller hole that fits inside the big toilet seat, so your child feels more secure.

How do I toilet train my child?

Getting started

  • If you feel comfortable, let your child watch you go to the toilet, so they can see what’s involved.
  • Teach your child the words they will need, such as ‘wee’ and ‘poo’, or other words you are comfortable with.
  • Dress them in clothes that are easy to take off and easy to wash.
  • Buy your child lots of underpants. You might choose to use absorbent training pants.
  • If you can, stay home for the first few days of toilet training.
  • Put away anything dangerous that may be in the bathroom, such as cleaning products.
  • Continue putting a nappy on your toddler for day sleeps and at night until they are regularly waking up dry.

Taking your child to the toilet

  • Sit your toddler on the toilet or potty for 2 or 3 minutes at a time, while they’re getting used to it.
  • At first, take them to the toilet 20 to 30 minutes after meals, before and after sleeps and at regular times during the day. Every 2 hours should be enough. If they usually do a poo at a certain time of day, put them on the toilet then. Be on the lookout for signs they may need to go.
  • Once they’re used to going to the toilet, you can ask them if they need to go.
  • Be patient and kind while they’re learning. Praise your toddler’s attempts — even sitting on the toilet the first few times will be an achievement. If they do wee or poo, consider this a bonus.
  • Help your child wipe their bottom — this takes time to learn.
  • Show your child how to flush the toilet. This can be scary for some children. Let them see what happens when you flush. If they’re scared, it might be easier to use a potty at first.
  • Teach your child to wash their hands after each visit to the toilet or potty.

Watch this video for some toilet training tips.

Video provided by Raising Children Network.

Are there any differences between toilet training males and females?

If your child is male, they can either sit or stand when doing a wee. You may find it easier to start them off sitting for both wees and poos, then change to standing for wees.

Don’t expect their aim to be perfect at first. Some parents place a ping-pong ball in the water to help with aim.

Teach them to shake their penis afterwards to get drops of urine off and into the toilet bowl.

If your child is female, teach them to wipe from front to back. This prevents bacteria from their bottom causing infections.

How should I manage toilet training if my child goes to childcare?

It's important that you speak to the staff at your childcare centre about how you’re managing toilet training at home. This helps make toilet training consistent between home and childcare. It might help to show your child where the toilet is at childcare and explain how it may be different to the one at home.

Let the staff know if there are any words or signs your child may give when they want to use the toilet.

It’s a good idea to pack extra nappies, underpants and clothes for childcare in case of accidents.

What should I do if toilet training isn’t working?

Be patient. For some children toilet training is a simple and quick process; for others, it takes a few weeks. Be aware that males tend to be slower than females to become toilet trained (but not always).

Expect accidents and wet and dirty pants while toilet training. Don’t make a big deal about cleaning up the mess as it will make your child feel anxious about toilet training, which can make it harder. It can also be normal for your child to regress and have accidents if they’re going through a big change or if they’re feeling unwell.

Here are some things to avoid when trying to toilet train your child:

  • Don’t feel pressured or push your toddler to be toilet trained by a certain time.
  • Don’t punish your toddler if they can’t understand your instructions or have an accident.
  • Try not to let your child become constipated, which can cause pain when pooing. Give them plenty of water to drink and include fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet. If constipation is a problem, see your doctor. Try not make your child wait if they’re showing signs they need to go to the toilet. Toddlers are not able to ‘hold on’.

If your child shows no interest or isn’t progressing with their toilet training after about 4 weeks, wait until they’re a bit older to try again.

If your child isn’t toilet trained during the day by age 4, talk to your doctor.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

When should my child be dry at night?

It takes longer to become dry at night than during the day. Your child’s brain has to develop control over their bladder. This occurs at different ages for different children. There is a genetic link between the age children are dry at night and when their parents were as children.

Some children are dry at night by age 3 and most are dry by age 5. It’s normal for some children to still be bedwetting in their lower primary school years. Most will become dry by themselves, but you should see your doctor if your child is still bedwetting at age 7 or 8.

Resources and support

If you are concerned or just need some help with toilet training, speak to your child health nurse. You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse who can provide advice and guidance on toilet training.

If your child is having trouble becoming dry at night, a continence therapist can help.

See your doctor if your child:

  • is not dry during the day by age 4
  • is not dry at night by age 7 or 8
  • starts having accidents again after previously being toilet trained
  • struggles with constipation

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2022


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