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potty training

How to potty train your child & 3 proven methods that work

There are a number of theories and methods for potty training and this can be confusing for parents”, explains paediatrician Dr Enrico Maraschin. “If I’m asked which toilet training method I recommend, the short answer is always “the one that works for your family”.

How do you start potty training your child?

  • Between 15 and 18 months children begin noticing and being interested in what you are doing on the toilet. Remember children learn best through imitation so now is not the time to be shy. Have your child’s potty in the bathroom and allow him or her to sit there while you are busy.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a child who is getting ready for potty training in the summer months then taking off the nappy and allowing them to run around the garden like that is a win. If they do pee then he or she will often stop the activity they are busy with and watch what’s happening. This is all part of awareness and getting used to the sensation in a conscious manner.
  • If you will be using a special seat in the toilet rather than a potty, then allow the child to sit on that while you are busy in the bathroom. It’s important that your child gets used to the seat before you begin toilet training.
  • The toilet and sound of the flushing can be scary for a child so allow them to flush, and show them what makes the noise to help alleviate fear.
  • It sounds crazy but a child may find passing a poo and then flushing it away difficult. In the beginning it may feel like they are losing a part of themselves so keep this in mind when you’re toilet training and allow them to say goodbye to their poo. It’s normal!
  • The decision that it’s time for potty training, should in my opinion always be based on the readiness of your child. Research has shown that the time it takes to potty train a child is significantly longer than waiting until they show signs of readiness.
  • Make a fuss about going shopping for underwear. Children love the underwear that has superheroes and princesses on it, and that makes the process fun and is seen as a reward.
  • If your child will be using a toilet make sure you have a little seat that fits into the bowl and steps that make accessing the toilet easy.
  • If you choose to use a potty then ensure that it has a sturdy base.
  • Children often sit on a potty or toilet with their bum cheeks squashed tight together. This isn’t going to make passing a poo easy. Show your child how to open those little cheeks with both hands when sitting down.
  • If your child shows signs of regression – refusing to use the toilet, wetting themselves or withholding poos – it could just mean that your child is too busy and leaves going to the toilet too long. It may also be as a result of change or stress. Try to establish what has triggered the regression. You may just need to do some additional reminding but it could also be due to a bladder infection, constipation or emotional upsets.

Choosing a potty or toilet training method that suits you:

There are a number of different proven methods for potty training. Some parents may just adopt their own style without realising that it’s a specific method and this is absolutely fine. Other parents like to make a choice about the style, its origins and the theory behind the method so we will have a look at some of the most common methods.

     1. 3-day potty training method:

This method is being spoken about a lot lately but it has its roots back in 1974. It has been popularised by a mother of six children, Lora Jensen, who advocates this as the number 1 method. It’s intense for both the caregiver and child but has proved very successful. With this method, once the decision is made to start potty training, the nappies are thrown away, the child gets put into underwear and the parent/ caregiver is on strict toilet duty for three solid days. The method is most successful for children from 22 months of age.

Important considerations when choosing the 3-day potty training method:

  • This method requires the parent/caregiver to be totally dedicated to toilet duty for three days.
  • The child is given more fluid than usual so that he or she needs to urinate (pee) frequently.
  • The child is given high-fibre snacks to ensure that he or she passes a stool easily.
  • The parent/ caregiver communicates to the child that the underwear needs to be kept dry.
  • The parent/caregiver instructs the child when to go to the toilet. If the child starts having an accident then the parent/caregiver must run with the child to the toilet to let them finish on the toilet.
  • Lots of accidents do happen until the child understands that there is only one way to stay dry.
  • This is a quick potty-training method and particularly useful if you have limited time or if the child has to be trained for something like starting a new school.

     2. Child-orientated potty training

This method also has its roots way back in 1962 and was introduced by a paediatrician, Dr Brazelton. The method is used for children between the ages of two to three who are able to communicate that they need to use the potty or toilet. Parents who adopt this method will show their children how to use the toilet, talk about toilet time and offer toilet time but do not force the child. The parent/caregiver needs to be in tune with the child’s signals that they need to use the potty. Overall, it is considered the most successful method by the American Association of Paediatrics.

Important considerations when choosing the child-orientated potty training method:

  • This method takes longer than the three-day method, so parents will be paying for nappies for quite some time while the child makes the transition.
  • It does not require the parent/caregiver to focus completely on toilet duty so fits into a busy lifestyle more easily.
  • Since it is child driven there is often less resistance to the training – far fewer cases of regression occur with this method.

     3. Parent-led potty training

This method is for the A-type parents on a tight schedule or where there are multiple caregivers. Once again, the parent/caregiver waits until the child shows signs of readiness but in this instance the parent/caregiver decides when the child should go to the toilet. Usually the child will be taken to the bathroom every two to three hours or as soon as they have eaten or had something to drink. Before and after a nap is another time when they will be taken to the bathroom.

Important considerations when choosing the parent-led potty training method:

  • Since the child isn’t initiating when he or she needs to go to the toilet, it may take longer for them to learn about his or her own body signs.
  • It’s an easy method for instilling consistency.
  • It’s often used in a nursery school situation when all children are taken to the toilet after snack, lunch or a nap and it does prove successful.
  • Even in this method a child would be taken to the toilet if he or she requests to go at any other time of the day.


If I think back to my own children, I’d say that we adopted predominantly a child-led method but with elements of parent-led training. There are definitely times as a parent when you know it would be a good time to go for a pee or poo. This is definitely after eating or drinking and when waking from a nap. Letting your child make a pee before going to bed is just part of what we as adults usually do so it makes sense to pass the habit on. Taking the child for a pee just before you turn in for the night just helps ensure that you are not changing sheets too often. In my practice I tend towards advising parents to adopt a similar approach of child-led training with some parental guidance if they haven’t decided on a specific method. The most important part of potty training is remaining calm, understanding that it’s a process and ensuring that the method you choose fits your lifestyle and the temperament of the child. There are incidences when I need to refer a child to a psychologist because they simply have a strong aversion to toilet training or show no interest after the age of three. This is very rare but if it does happen there is help to get your little one on their way to a nappy-free life.

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