Toilet Training: What is the best age to start?

toilet training

The topic of toilet learning vs toilet training has sparked a very passionate debate about this question.  

Should we as parents wait until our kids initiate going to the toilet or should we just start toilet training them?

What is not under dispute from any 'experts' or parents alike is that a kid initiating using the toilet or the potty is the best! The argument is over who should drive the process -

Should it be parent or child driven?

In Janet Lansbury's article published in 2014 she explains the 3 Reasons Kids Don't Need Toilet Training and What to do Instead. She shares her insights on why child lead toilet learning is a great idea. I did find it interesting that Janet's child basically toilet trained herself at two years old. 

Many New Zealand families in 2018 are waiting until their kids are between 2.5-3.5 years of age before they start encouraging their kids to use the loo instead of a nappy. In the recent article from the Sunday Star Times click HERE they voiced concerns about the number of kids turning up to school in pull-ups or having accidents at school.

If you ask my Mum's generation most of them would tell you that the kids were out of daytime nappies by 18 months. 

The article published in the Daily Mail over in the UK shared a story of a boy who was 4 years of age who was still in nappies. "As a growing army of middle-class parents let their children wear nappies until they are 'ready to stop', experts warn that they are... JUST POTTY!"

There are a lot of parents who have commented on the Looloo Facebook page saying that this article is judgemental and unfair. As a parent in this generation, there is a lot of pressure and people are happy to share their opinions on social media.

I believe that a 4-year-old child with normal physical, cognitive and emotional development needs to be using the toilet. Yes, they are highly likely to have the odd accident. But giving preschoolers mixed messages by sometimes putting them in nappies and then in underwear during the day is really confusing. 

To leave a kid in nappies and hope one day they will wake up and float into the kitchen to announce they are going to use underwear for good; is a dream for many parents. There are a whole lot of kids happy with the status quo of wearing nappies.

As parents, let's seek out great advice but always filter it through a lense of what is best for our kids. Much of parenting is not about 'experts' telling us what we 'should' be doing but rather us making a decision based on the needs of our own child.

Faced with the prospect of toilet training most parents will say they are not looking forward to it.

We all know that it is really inconvenient hanging out at home for days or weeks, hovering around the toilet and hoping that your child does a wee on it. There is a perception that it is easier to wait it out and use nappies until the child wants to get out of them.

There is a feeling of fear and dread associated with toilet training.


Because it can leave parents feeling out of control with messy puddles and arguments.

At the end of the day, we can't make kids do a wee on the toilet. We can ask them to sit on the loo, we can try and bribe them, but we actually can't make them do a wee or poo on the loo.

Let's talk introducing solids. Did the nurse or doctor say to you, "wait until your baby initiates eating, then give them food?"

No, they recommended the best age to introduce certain foods and gave a plan to follow.

When the child made a mess and spat it out did we say "oh well they are not ready" then give them only milk for the next 2 months?

Do we say to our toddler - "When you feel like eating fruit and vegetables then great, but until then you can eat processed food?"

Or rather "it is good for you". Then you continue providing healthy food and make it a normal part of what the family eats.

My question is why treat toileting differently to any other childhood milestone such as learning to walk, talk or eat?

No, there is not a magic age when suddenly all children use the toilet. But we as parents can start introducing our kids to the concept of abandoning nappies. This doesn't mean we are pressuring, lecturing, punishing or yelling. We are taking them the hand and walking alongside them providing the tools and encouragement that they need.

It just means we are saying to our kids going to the toilet is a normal part of everyday life.

Let's stop making toilet training something to dread or a negative experience.

I would like to encourage more parents to give their kids no nappy time.

A regular time when they can wear underwear so they can start to understand the feeling of wet close to their skin and get motivated to do something about it. If you are worried put your child in absorbent Wee Pants so the puddles are contained but the wetness is felt.

To me using the words 'toilet learning' vs 'toilet training' is purely semantics. As a parenting coach, I believe it's my role to educate people to empower their kids using strategies and tips that actually are going to make it a fun process.  Then it becomes a little bit irrelevant who initiates starting the idea because the child is swept up in the process and motivated to do 'the business' on the loo.

We need to give our kids the tools and the encouragement to work things out. Not build up using the toilet to be something that 'big kids' do. But rather it is another milestone which they will move through. It is about giving our kids ownership of the process so they feel like it is their idea and their problem to solve (not ours).

Let's stop telling kids that poos are disgusting, gross or smelly. Instead of communicating that "poos are a normal part of everyday life," while getting them in the potty or toilet is something to be celebrated.

By making toileting something that is a positive experience, it will break down this culture of forcing kids to go.

Toilet training to me is not about stickers, lollies, nagging and pushing. It is about giving them the consistent message:

"I believe in you, you can do this, here's what you need to make the next step, and I am right here cheering you on."

For more great ideas to get started with toilet training click HERE

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