Toilet training is a real marker of independence for a growing child and one which often comes hand in hand with several other life-changing advances like sleeping in a big bed and dressing and undressing independently. Between the ages of two and three many children become very interested in what’s going on in their nappy. Often it is evident that they are aware when “something” is about to happen, and some children even start to feel self-conscious about it. If any of this is sounding familiar, it may be time to toilet train!!
3-day toilet training is a concept I heard of about ten years ago and thought it sounded brilliant. I think it’s the easiest and most successful strategy there is, though it is a bit of false advertising to suggest that it only takes three days! Really, it’s a few days of preparation and three days of intense focus followed by several months of patience, understanding and carrying around a spare set of toddler clothes – just in case.
If you think you might be ready to give it a go, here’s how you do it…
*A warning before we begin: this article contains a very large number of wees and poos. If you’re not a parent desperately seeking detailed information on toilet training, seriously, don’t read it.
- Is your child interested in and aware of her bodily functions?
- Can your child understand and follow simple instructions?
- Do you have other major events coming up which might interfere with your ability to focus on toilet training? (moving house, another baby due, visitors coming to stay etc)
- Ideally, toilet training in summer makes sense as there’s less clothing to get on and off in a hurry, as well as less clothing to wash and dry in the event of an accident!
- Are you mentally prepared to be generous and supportive to your child despite the fact that you may both be incredibly frustrated at times?
- Do you want to use a potty, a child seat on the toilet, neither or both? I recommend a child seat on the toilet and a plastic step to go in front of the toilet, both of which are readily available from baby shops. The child seat means your child won’t fall down the toilet, an experience which can really put an otherwise enthusiastic toddler right off toilet training! The step means they can climb up by themselves and rest their feet while they are sitting, again, making using the toilet feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Potties are fine if you want to use one, but personally, I’d rather skip the middleman!
Some time in advance:
- Invest in knickers – 10 pairs should do the trick. Buy in multi-packs to save some money, and choose designs that will appeal to your child. One of my relatively recent epiphanies has been buying three different themes or designs, one for each day of training. This works to keep up excitement and enthusiasm which is sometimes hard to maintain for three whole days. Keep the knickers out of sight until you are ready to start training, as the attention span of toddlers isn’t huge and you’ll want optimal enthusiasm and excitement on Training Day One!
- Buy a child seat for your toilet.
- Buy a plastic or other washable step.
- Buy three sets of plastic-backed sheets for your child’s bed. I recommend the more expensive and less crackly ones which you can get from a good nursery shop.
- Buy a potty if you want to.
- Clear three whole days in your diary, during which you won’t leave the house. Call in favours from friends and family to help with the school run or anything else which seems unavoidable. Friday, Saturday and Sunday often work well if you have more support and less essential commitments on those days.
- Think about some at-home activities that you could do with your child during the days you are training. Jigsaw puzzles, games, craft, cooking, drawing, painting, reading stories, looking through picture books or just involving your child in your housework are all good shared indoor activities… or gardening, sand and water play, backyard games like football, throw and catch, body and face painting, treasure hunts and chasey are all good outdoor games to keep you engaged with each other and entertained.
Two days in advance:
- Potty talk! Involve any willing family members in talking about going to the toilet with your child. At this stage I wouldn’t go into detail, but whenever you use the toilet mention it to your child eg “Mummy needs a wee now, so I’m going to the toilet” or drawing your child’s attention to older siblings or friends’ children using the toilet and saying “So-and-so is such a big girl she uses the toilet for all her wees and poos!” You can comment on the fact that you wear knickers instead of a nappy and explain that one day they too will wear knickers and use the toilet. Don’t use euphemisms, and do keep your message clear and positive. You want your child to understand that the toilet is for wees and poos and that this is a good thing!
- Make sure you have whatever you need for at-home entertainment – do you have puzzles, balls, a fresh stack of books from the library to keep you busy while you’re at home?
One day in advance:
- Stock up on basics so you won’t have to go to the shops during the three day training period.
- Buy or make ice-lollies – they’re a great way of getting extra fluid into your child and you’ll be encouraging them to take in as much as possible over the next few days.
- If it’s in season, buy some watermelon. It’s a really juicy fruit which kids love and will add nicely to their total fluid intake.
- Check that you have whatever detergents you may want to clean up toilet accidents and plenty of clean dry cloths.
- Unless you are already using plastic-backed sheets, make up your child’s bed using the new sheets, but don’t make a big deal about it. Good plastic-backed sheets won’t be any less comfortable than normal ones.
The night before:
- Tell your child what you are planning for the next three days, along the lines of “Guess what! Tomorrow is your turn to start using the toilet. Mummy is going to help you to do all your wees and poos in the toilet from now on. Isn’t that exciting?” If your child wants detail, give them detail, but otherwise just sow the seed and leave it at that.
Day 1 – Constant supervision, teamwork and lots and lots of fluid!
- Start the day on a positive note. If you are excited about toilet training you give your child an opportunity to see it as fun and interesting, and not difficult or tiresome.
- As soon as your child gets out of bed remind them that you have an exciting project to work on together today eg “Remember last night I told you that you were going to use the toilet today? Let’s have a try now…” Show them the new seat on the toilet which is especially for them to use. Take off the nighttime nappy and encourage them to climb up using the step. Talk them through the experience eg “You can sit on your own special seat on the toilet… You can sit there to do your wees and poos now… aren’t you clever!”
- Whether they manage to produce anything in the toilet or not, encourage them and praise them for trying.
- Give little bottoms a good wipe over with a damp cloth to make sure that they are fresh from the night nappy and ready to go into clean knickers.
- Now is the moment to present the new, fabulously exciting KNICKERS!! Tell your child that you have some exciting new knickers for them to wear while they are learning to use the toilet. Help them put them on and admire how grown up they look. If you have chosen to use three different knicker designs/ themes for the three different days, as suggested earlier, only show your child the design you are intending for today. Don’t mention the others, just keep them up your sleeve so to speak for tomorrow.
- Explain to your child that you don’t do wees and poos in knickers.
- Explain that you want your child to tell you when they need a wee or a poo and that you will help them to get to the toilet in time.
- If it is warm enough, allow your child just to wear their new knickers or perhaps a singlet, t-shirt or short dress as well.
- Make sure your child has a big drink at breakfast time. One of your main tasks today is to get your child to take in as much fluid as possible, so that they have lots of opportunities to need the toilet. A larger than usual glass of juice with breakfast is a good start.
- Set about your planned activities. Ask regularly about whether your child needs a wee or a poo.
- If your child has previously had fairly regular toilet habits, be especially aware to remind them and talk about using the toilet at the times you know they are likely to need it. Don’t be surprised though if a child who has done a mid-morning poo for 12-months doesn’t need one today… The uncertainty of using the toilet may change everything around quite unpredictably. Just keep mentioning it, and reassuring your child that you are there to help them.
- Inevitably, at some stage one of two things will happen:
1: Your child will tell you that they need the toilet, at which point you take them there as quickly and with as little fuss as possible. If you make it and they manage a wee or a poo (or both!) in the toilet, praise them heartily. Make sure they know what a great job they did and that it is exactly what you want them to do all day. If they don’t quite make it, still heap the praise on them for recognising that they needed to use the toilet and trying to get there. Tell them you want them to keep doing this, and tell them how clever they are for knowing they needed the toilet.
2: Your child will start to do a wee or a poo in their knickers, without telling you that it is happening. This is where the constant supervision comes in. You need to be in the same room, paying attention to your child all day. This is three day toilet training, not three day toilet let-them-work-it-out-for-themselves-ing. If you see that something is happening or about to happen, whisk your child off to the toilet immediately. Say something like, “Quick, you’re doing a wee – let’s get to the toilet!” Take your child’s hand and help them get there. Get as much of the wee or poo done in the toilet as possible. Praise your child for trying and ask them to let you know next time so you can help them do all their wee or poo in the toilet. Even if it is altogether too late to get anything in the toilet by the time you get there, still praise and encourage your child. Remember that it is a learning experience and having an “accident” in their knickers is part of the learning experience. Clean up any mess without fuss.
Whatever has happened, once your child has done their wee or poo show them how to clean themselves up. After a wee, boys may need to pat themselves dry while girls wipe from front to back, and then everyone washes their hands thoroughly. I insist on wiping bottoms after a poo for my children until they are old enough to manage independently, which I would say is a good six months after they are otherwise toilet trained. Flush the toilet.
- This is the pattern of things throughout the day… shared activities interspersed with lots of drinks, ice lollies, juicy fruit, constant chatter about knickers, toilets, wees, poos and being clever and grown up, and of course, trips to the toilet. Who said parenting wasn’t glamorous?
- If your child has a nap during the day take them to the toilet before bedtime and put them down on their plastic-backed sheet wearing knickers. Tell them to call out if they need a wee or a poo! This will be your only off duty time during the day, so make the most of it…
- As soon as your child wakes from their sleep, take them straight to the toilet and encourage them to try to do a wee. Heap praise whatever the outcome. If they have wee-ed in their beds, don’t make a fuss, chances are it will have woken them up and again, these accidents are just part of the learning process.
- Continue with activities, drinks, encouragement and trips to the toilet.
- At dinnertime, slow down the drinking. You don’t want to limit drinks in any way, but before bed isn’t a great time for huge drinks at any time in life, including now.
- At bedtime, put on a nappy, but tell your child to call out if they need a wee or a poo during the night. Yes, calling out with toilet requests can become the sleep-delaying tactic du jour, but it will lose its appeal after a relatively short time.
- Give your child lots of love and encouragement about their efforts during the day. Tell them you are really pleased and proud of them and that tomorrow you will be working together again and getting even better at using the toilet. Let them know that you have some different and exciting knickers for tomorrow which you think they will love…
- Go and sit down, put your feet up and acknowledge yourself for being a brilliant, committed and generous mother!! Don’t be disheartened if it seems like there have been more misses than hits so far. Your child needs to recognise the feeling of needing a wee or a poo and develop the trigger that this means going to the toilet. Adults often collapse the two ideas hence the euphemism “going to the toilet” which actually means doing a wee or poo. The important link for your child to make is that wees and poos and going to the toilet go together… this may take more than one day!
- Day 2 follows the same plan as Day 1.
- Remember to keep your toddler drinking. What goes in is going to come out and the more practice of using the toilet they get, the sooner they will be good at it.
- Resist the temptation to reduce your supervision or enthusiasm. This is an intense three day program which will only work if you maintain your commitment to engage with your child.
- After the early morning toilet visit, remind your child that you have some special new knickers for them to wear today and enrol them in the idea of keeping them clean and dry again.
- Use lots of praise throughout the day, making sure to acknowledge your child’s attempts.
- Although many children are tiring of the joys of using the toilet – some even openly declaring that they would like to go back to nappies now – they will be enjoying your attention and slowly making progress.
- By the end of Day 2 most children will be recognising when they need a wee or poo and letting you know about it. Make sure you not only acknowledge your child’s success, but acknowledge your own as well. They wouldn’t be growing and developing so beautifully without your direction.
Day 3 – Break through!
- Day 3 is just like Day 2, really, but by now your child will be more confident with all aspects of using the toilet.
- Keep up your excitement and interest, keep up the fluids and keep up supporting and praising your child through their experiences.
After three days of intensive toilet training, not only will your child have a good idea of when they need wees and poos, but you will have an expert knowledge of how often and how quickly they need the toilet, as well as being acutely familiar with the signs when something is on the way. Start life after toilet training by visiting friends and family who know what you’ve been up to and are happy to support your child’s ongoing learning. Familiarise yourself with the public toilets at places you most often go to, like the local supermarket, café and playground… and be prepared to drop everything and get there as quickly as possible when your child gives you the signal.
It’s really common to experience set backs a few days after toilet training. This doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked! Quite often, after your supervision is reduced from the intense three day period, your child will need to use the toilet but be too busy or be having too much fun to bother going. During the three day training period, this would be your cue to jump in and alert them to this need and race them off to the toilet, but now you’re not right there and before you know it, there’s a little accident in the knickers. Don’t despair. Handle the situation with minimal fuss and help your child with fresh underwear and clothing if necessary. Turn up your attention level a couple of notches without taking away the opportunity for your child to handle their toileting largely independently. A few well-placed reminders will help, as well as lots of ongoing praise when they get it right.
Make sure everyone who helps care for your child knows of their accomplishment and is ready and able to support them through the first few weeks after training. If your child goes to nursery, get them to show you where their nursery toilet is and take you through how they wash their hands afterwards. Make sure they know how proud you are that they are now doing this. Ask the nursery staff to really praise your child and be enthusiastic about his/her new skill. Similarly if parents or friends are undertaking some child care, go through your child’s toilet routine with them, as well as going though how it will work in different surroundings with your child.
I have never needed a star chart during the three day toilet training period as I found my boundless enthusiasm(!!) enough to sustain my children’s interest. In fact, I think throwing a star chart into the mix might actually make things more complicated: it’s another thing to remember and focus on when all you really want your child to be thinking is, “I need a wee… I’m going to the toilet.”
However, if you feel your child needs a second or more sustained period of congratulation to keep their interest and enthusiasm up after the initial three day period, a star chart might be just the way to go. Consider giving a star for every half day that they manage to keep their knickers clean and dry. I wouldn’t do stars for every visit to the toilet, I would just do it between naps ie a morning star and an afternoon one, and I would use it as a point for conversation and reminding during the day. For example, if your child is busy playing with their toys and looking like the last thing on their mind would be to consider a visit to the toilet, you could say something like, “It looks like you’re having great fun there, but don’t forget to go to the toilet if you need a wee. I really want to help you put a star on your chart later.”
Debulk, then rebulk your handbag
Chances are you’ve been carrying round a large nappy bag for a couple of years by now. Maybe it’s a little less tightly packed than at the beginning, but likely to still contain at least wet wipes, a few snacks and a well-worn drink bottle with the cap very tightly screwed on! Now that you’re officially out of nappies, you can happily de-bulk your bag by donating all your disposables to nursery or a friend… but keep the nappy sacks in there (great for tying up wet knickers in the event of an accident) and hang on to the wipes – you may even hang on to them for life as once you’ve experienced just how brilliantly handy they are for myriad purposes you may never want to be without a pack again! Re-bulk your bag with a spare set of clothes including knickers and socks.
Some 3-day toilet trainers say to ditch the night nappy at the same time you ditch the day nappy, but I’ve never done that. I find it better to keep the night nappy until your child is regularly dry at night, then just use plastic-backed sheets until you’re confident your child will wake for the toilet.
A drinking game for toddlers!
It sounds more like something for an eighteenth birthday party than a quiet day at home with just you and your toddler, but if you’re going to get them drinking lots and visiting the toilet lots, you’re going to have to make it fun.
You’ll need a variety of liquids which you are happy for your child to consume… interesting options to consider would be the more unusual juice varieties from the refrigerator section, like pomegranate, guava or pear juice. Tinned juices can also be exotic, like apricot or mango nectar or pineapple juice. Think of different textures and tastes too – maybe some mineral water for fizz and some herbal tea bags for mixing interesting tinctures and teas and some chopped-up fruit for decoration.
You could even incorporate ice-cubes, blobs of yoghurt or scoops of ice cream. Enter into the game as an experiment – there’s no right or wrong mix, your child’s mission is simply to create a delicious drink that they enjoy drinking! Use small plastic beakers, probably no more than 200mls, and just add a small splash of this with a small splash of that. Avoid mixing everything in one go: the idea is to have lots of little drinks to taste.
You could also involve your child in making interesting fruity icecubes which they can eat straight from the tray or plop into new drinks tomorrow. Try putting half a strawberry into each box in an icecube tray and topping the rest up with a splash of juice. You could even make stripey ice cubes by putting a small layer of water on and freezing it for an hour or so, then filling up the boxes with a brightly coloured juice like orange. They look great when turned out and even better when added to your child’s crazy drink concoction!
If your child loves using your kitchen appliances, consider making a super smoothie, will all sorts of lovely fruit, yoghurt and milk or juice. Let them stack up their unique combination then blitz it till it’s smooth and put it to the taste test. Pour leftover smoothie into an ice-lolly maker for an outside treat later on.