The one thing I wish I knew before potty training my child

Wondering when to take the plunge and potty train your little one? Writer and mom Tammy Jacks shares her tricky experience after missing a critical step in the process.


As we celebrated my little girl’s second birthday, I remember thinking, “Right, it’s time to buy her a potty and transition her out of nappies.” As a Type A personality, I must admit I am quite competitive (you should see me dodging the walkers in a running race), I can be impatient and I’m certainly goal-orientated. Let’s just say I like to get things right the first time. But these personality traits have no place in the potty training space!

I soon realised that the art of potty training was nothing like I thought it would be and I ended up feeling quite frustrated and defeated. In my mind, I had failed as a mother because I couldn’t teach my daughter how to wee or poo on the potty or toilet within a week. Instead, we both ended up in tears because she didn’t like the feeling of wee running down her legs or being forced to sit on a potty, and I had to constantly clean it up. Not a pretty sight, for either of us. Plus, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that potty training takes time and patience – and a lot of it! It really isn’t a race or contest – as much as you would love to start saving on nappies.

The truth about potty training

Funnily enough, I also thought that I had to stay home with my daughter for days on end and sit close to the potty at all times. I’d rush to put her on it as soon as I thought she needed to go. Well, this didn’t go down so well with a busy toddler who wanted nothing to do with being close to the potty or using it at all for that matter! I think, after witnessing my second or third meltdown in a row, my husband was convinced I’d gone mad! “Surely this process should be easier,” he exclaimed. And I suddenly thought, yes it should be, and he was right.

It was only after speaking to a few wise friends who’d been through potty training and come out the other side, as well as my trusted clinic nurse (who is also a midwife and well-known author of Toddler Sense), Ann Richardson, that I realised I’d missed the point completely and potty training would have been so much easier had I known one thing…

ALSO SEE: 5 things you should know about potty training

Wait until your child is truly ready to potty train

I know you might have heard this before, and you might think you still need to take the lead and encourage your child by buying reward charts or giving them sweets every time they use the potty, but the truth is, you don’t. Ann explained to me that potty training is just like any developmental milestone such as learning to crawl or walk, and while it’s important to praise your child for using the potty successfully, you don’t need to make a huge deal out of it as it’s a normal bodily process that takes time to develop.

The one thing I wish I knew before I even started potty training my daughter is that for a toddler to truly master it, they need to have full bladder control and be able to communicate with you when they have the sensation to wee or poo. What I didn’t realise is that this is different for every child, which explains why some kids are ready to potty train at age two, while others are only ready by age three or even later.

ALSO SEE: 5 signs your toddler is ready for the potty

Bladder and bowel control

In her book, Toddler Sense, Ann explains that bladder and bowel control can only occur once the nerves and muscles involved are fully developed. This occurs around 24 months of age but can take longer. It also takes time for your little one to make the connection between her inner sensations (via her sensory system) and the physical reality of passing a stool or urine. “The nerves to the bowel and bladder need to get messages from the brain to the muscles of the bowel and bladder so that effective emptying can take place,” explains Ann. “Because some children are under-reactive to sensations, they may not even notice that they’re urinating until much later,” she adds.

I think this is what happened with my daughter. She certainly wasn’t ready to potty train at age two or even two and a half, and when I let go of the idea for a good few months, she was suddenly physically and emotionally ready to start. She didn’t like the idea of being under pressure to “perform” and I think so many kids feel the same way.

The right timing

Just before my daughter’s third birthday, she started telling me when she needed to wee or poo before she actually did – and that was when I knew she was ready to slowly transition from a nappy to the potty or toilet – we used both in our home.

We’ve just celebrated her third birthday and she’s only just mastered potty training. She still won’t poop on the toilet – and that’s totally fine. Ann has advised me to take it slow and not to push but to let her take the lead, and I’m on board with that idea.

ALSO SEE: Flush these 6 potty training myths

Here are a few other things I learnt along the way:

  • Peer pressure helps with potty training. If your child sees her siblings or school peers using the potty or toilet with ease, she’ll soon learn that it’s a normal and natural process for everyone.
  • Reward charts or bribes dont work in the long run. This is because the novelty wears off and even kids get bored receiving sweets or stickers five or six times a day.  The truth is, learning to use the potty or toilet should be part of daily life and not something extraordinary.
  • Your child will learn quickly  when she is ready. Ann also reiterates that for potty training to work, little ones need to be able to walk, talk and follow simple instructions. But most importantly, they need to be on board with the idea, otherwise it becomes a massive power struggle, and one which you will ultimately lose!
  • Make the process easier for them. I soon figured out that my daughter didn’t like the idea of using public toilets initially, so rather than fighting her on it, I kept her potty in the boot of my car, ready to use at any stage while we were out and about. As a result, she quickly gained confidence and now happily uses the toilet at friends or family – or even in the shopping mall.
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