Toilet Training

There are some aspects of parenthood that are just plain pain in the neck to me.  Night waking is one of them.  Toilet training is another.  Nevertheless, we all  have to go through it so the faster we get it over with, the better it is for everyone.

The only books I have read on toilet training are :

1. Infant Potty Training: A Gentle and Primeval Method Adapted to Modern Living
Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene
Potty Training Your Baby: A Practical Guide for Easier Toilet Training

Out of these 3 books, 2 are on Infant Potty Training (IPT).  Not quite relevant to potty training a toddler.  Nevertheless, the basic principles remain the same.  It all boils down to the awareness of the need to ‘go’.  According to IPT theory, all babies are born with this awareness, ie. they are aware when they pee/poo.  However, parents conditioned them to lose the awareness by diapering them and ‘training’ them to pee/poo in the diaper and in the process, get used to the feeling of sitting in their waste.

Having observed my own babies when they were newborn, I must say that there is some truth to this.  If you carefully observe your baby, you will notice that his expression changes when he is about to do his business or while he is doing it. If you practise IPT, you actually catch him when he is about to ‘go’ and bring him to the potty (or bring the potty to him) and let him go in the potty instead of letting him go in this diaper.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not read up much on toilet training.  But I am vaguely aware of the guidelines.  While some of them are common sense, I totally disagree with the main guideline of not starting toilet training until the child is at least 2.5 – 3 years old.  And this recommended start age gets progressively later and later over the years.  It comes as no surprise that some of these readiness researches were done in collaboration with diaper companies.  One cannot help but question the agenda of keeping the children in diapers longer.  XL used to be the largest diaper size you can find.  Now, you can find XXL diapers for bigger kids.

Generations of parents in Asia have toilet-trained their babies from birth (IPT).  In case you are wondering what this IPT is about, just remember how old folks used to bring the babies to the sink to ‘shee shee‘ every now and then.  Even if they did not practise IPT, some old folks would be appalled if a child has not started toilet training when he is 1.5- 2 yrs old.  (The keyword here is ‘started’.  The length of time taken varies from child to child.)

I may not be medically trained but looking at real life examples of children being toilet-trained successfully before the ‘recommended age’, I really question the claim that young children have no control over the relevant muscles.

Another so-called sign of readiness is this : the child is unwilling to stay in a dirty diaper.  Well, as far as my children are concerned, if I were to wait until they show signs of unwillingness to stay in a dirty diaper, I probably would have a long, long wait and my (now) 4 year old would still not be toilet trained.  Some kids just don’t mind staying in a dirty diaper.  It does not matter whether they are in disposable diaper or cloth nappy.

So for me, a child is ‘ready’ when he is able to understand pee/poo = go potty = treats!  Simple as that.  It can be as early as 18 months, depending on the child.  For me, I started toilet training my 2 older boys when they turned 2 years old.  At the time of writing this article, my youngest (21 months) can already go to the potty on his own.  There are still some accidents, but considering we are only in the first week of toilet training, it is still pretty good.  He is not even 2 years old yet.

As I said, I only read 1 book on toilet training and it was a very thin and small book.  My toilet training method is basically some common-sensical things to do.

How I Toilet Train My Boys

1. Catch Them When They Pee/Poo

The early days takes a lot of close observation, which is why toilet training is such a pain because I have to attend to my other kids and housework as well.  Inevitably, there will be lots of accidents and cleaning up.  You cannot toilet train without dealing with accidents.  Wearing a diaper or a pair of training pants is counter-productive, as you cannot catch them doing it if they are wearing diapers or training pants.    I usually leave the child butt naked at home.  If not, it would just be a simple pair of underpants that will be wet and soaked through the moment he pees.  My youngest now wears an pair of open-crotch pants at home so that he can go to the potty without help.

Training pants and pull-up diapers are really unnecessary and counter-productive.  Yes, they may catch one or two pee and prevent accidents.  But they also cause you to not catch the child peeing/pooing in time, which is vitally important in toilet training.  Even if you do, they are such a hassle to remove in time.  In the beginning days of toilet training, the kid cannot wait.  He also cannot pull down the pants on his own yet.  So my advice would be to save yourself some money and just let your child go butt naked.  If not, just get some basic underpants that your child will eventually have to wear anyway.  Underpants are also easier for the child to take off on his own when he is able to go to the potty without help. Save the training pants or pull-up diapers for times when you go out with your child.

2. Bring them to the Potty

The objective is simply this : Try to catch the child just before he pees/poos and quickly bring him to the potty so that he does his act there.  Then he will associate elimination with the potty.  In other words, what you want to establish is this correlation: Pee/Poo = Go Potty

In the beginning, you will have many misses but eventually, you will start catching him in time and when that happens, the child will start to understand that pee/poo = go potty.  Even if you miss the chance, as long as you see your child do it, immediately after that, put him on the potty.  It will also help to establish the pee/poo = go potty association. It actually does not take long for him to get the idea.  Once you catch him in time for a few times, he will soon learn to go on his own.

People like me need some discipline to make myself conscientiously bring my child to the potty.  So if you are like me, it is a good idea to bring your child to the potty every 2 hours.  If he pees, great.  If not, no harm done.

3. Reward Works!

Even if you are the type of parent who scorns at the idea of reward/bribery, even if you are the kind of parent who are horrified by the idea of giving the child sweets, seriously consider using this method for toilet training.  Nothing incentivise a child to go to the potty than a good reward, usually a candy.  You can try using toys or star charts but I find candies work the best because it is instant gratification.  Besides, at 1.5 – 2 years, the child may not be able to understand the concept of star chart.  If you are really uptight about giving candies, then consider getting something natural, like those fruits gums from health food stores.

Once the child understands pee/poo = go potty = treats!!!  you are almost there for toilet training.  Of course, this reward system does not go on forever.  I phase it out when going to the potty becomes the norm.  In fact, my youngest (who is only at the 1st week of toilet training) no longer asks for reward. The sense of achievement is enough thrill for him.

4. Lots of Praises

Besides reward, there must be lots of praises.  For the first few times, when my boy goes to the potty on his own, I would praise him and make such a big deal of it as if he is some superstar.  He is happy to do it again just to hear all the fanfare.

5. Put the Potty Nearby

As I said earlier, I let my boys go butt naked during the early days of toilet training.  I also put the potty right next to them so that they could have quick and easy access to the potty.  So the potty ended up in the living room, within their play area.  Not very sightly but very necessary.  When a child is first toilet- trained, you cannot expect him to hold.  It is usually a case of ‘I need to go and I need to go NOW!’ so having a potty nearby is very important.

Once going to the potty becomes the norm and my boy becomes quite competent at going to the potty on his own, I will gradually move the potty further and further away.  First, I move it to the kitchen.  Then, I move it closer to the toilet.  Eventually, the potty will end up in the toilet.

6. Using Punishment

Don’t use it.  It does not help at all,  The child is trying to learn a skill and it is not fair to penalise the child for something he still cannot do.  All it does is to instill fear and make the child even more averse to going to the potty.

That said, if the child is already toilet-trained, and fully capable of going to the toilet on his own, has been doing so for quite a while, and yet still wet himself deliberately, well, a little punishment will nip that in the bud.  Before you do that, do check for extra-ordinary circumstances in the life of the child.  Has he just started school?  Was there some major event that happened?  Sometimes, these things will trigger a regression.  Punishment is not called for under such circumstances.  

7. License to Pee/Poo

This is another reason why at some point in time, you must bite the bullet and remove the diaper for good, even when you are outside.  Yes, there will be accidents.  You may need to bring extra clothing.  But for some kids, having a diaper on is equivalent to License to Pee/Poo anywhere and it is the very last hurdle to being toilet-trained (other than night diapering).

I started with nearby places.  When I bring the child who was being toilet-trained out around the neighbourhood, I will not let him wear diaper or pull-up pants.  If he wet himself, we can easily go home.  Then, I progress to going to familiar places with easy access to toilets and changing facilities, like the grandparents’ place.

When you are outside somewhere far, I recommend the pull-up pants instead of the diaper.  This is because it is much easier to bring the child to the toilet with pull-up pants.  When we are outside, we try to bring them to the toilet every now and then without waiting for them to ask.

8. Let Them see Your Example

If your child is a girl, let her go to the toilet with you and see you pee.  If your child is a boy, let his father set the example.  Kids love to imitate their parents.  This also imparts a healthy perception of the elimination process.  The child learns that it is not shameful nor filthy but a natural, healthy body function.

Early Days Behaviour

These are some things that you may encounter during the initial days after your child is more or less toilet-trained.

1. Forgetting

This is very common.  Once the child is engrossed in some very interesting activities, the last thing on his mind is going to the potty.  This is why during the initial days, the child cannot wait and wanting to go means wanting to go RIGHT NOW.  This can also mean you will still have to deal with accidents.  Bear in mind that your child is not being naughty.  He just needs to be reminded every now and then to go to the potty.  This is not the situation to mete out punishment.  What you need to do is to remind him to go to the potty regularly.

2. Wanting to Go very frequently

Some kids want to go to the potty every few minutes.  Don’t worry.  There is usually nothing wrong with the child and most likely it is not a urinary infection.  When the child is newly toilet trained, he is still grasping the concept of going to the toilet and it could be a novelty.  Once the novelty wears off, he won’t be asking to go every 5 minutes.  Do not encourage your child to hold because this is something you will never want to instill.  Just bear with this phase for a while.  It will pass.

However, if your child suddenly asks to go to the toilet very frequently, or experiences pain while passing urine, or is generally unwell, please bring him to the doctor as it could be something more serious.

3. Touching the Genitals

Again, it is normal and nothing to fret about.  Imagine how interesting it is to suddenly have easy access to this very rarely ‘seen’ body part when the diaper is taken off for good.  It is just a novelty and a phase, so bear with it and it will pass.  Never make a big deal out of it or shame your child.  

4. Potty Strike

Sometimes it just happens.  Just be firm.  Encourage and coax.  Try not to punish because it will just make the situation worse.

A Note on Peeing Position for Boys

Some of my friends also have boys and we talked about whether to train our boys to pee sitting or standing up.  Some of them preferred to train their boys to pee standing up right from the beginning.  Some were concerned that if they didn’t do so, their boys would never know how to pee ‘like a man’.  For me, I prefer to train them to pee sitting on the potty because during the early days, letting boys pee standing up is usually quite disastrous.  To save myself from all the cleaning up, I prefer to train them to pee sitting on the potty.  I feel that there is no need to worry about them not switching over to pee standing up.  For my boys, they eventually switch over when they saw their father’s example.  The second one switched over earlier because besides his father, he also saw his older brother’s example.

A Note on the Terms to Use

For me, I use ‘shee shee’ for urination and ‘uh uh’ for bowel movement.  Some people are adamant about using the ‘correct terms’ and by that, they mean ‘pass urine’ and ‘pass motion’.  Honestly, I find that these two terms seem to be very ‘Singaporean’ and I feel that they are ‘unnatural’.  Just think : which adult in real life says “I am going to pass urine/motion”?  More often than not, we use terms like ‘I am going to the men’s/ladies’ room/washroom/toilet’ or more explicitly, ‘I am going to pee’.

The schools here seem bent on teaching these two phrases as ‘proper’ terms to use for going to the toilet.  They may be ‘proper’ but nobody really uses them in real life, and I don’t think they are polite terms to be used in company.  So I am don’t waste my effort teaching my kids these terms.  I leave it to the schools to deal with the so-called ‘proper terms’.  Besides, since I toilet-train my boys at about 2, it is easier for them to pick up simple terms rather than trip over terms like  ‘pass urine/motion’.  You can, of course, use terms like ‘pee pee’ or ‘wee wee’ if you want.  At least your little one will be able to tell you without difficulty that he needs to go to the toilet.

Teaching Boys How to Aim

I don’t really bother too much about teaching my boys how to aim because that’s their father’s job. (^.^)  I read about leaving a cereal (e.g. a Cheerio) in the toilet and make it a game to aim at it.  I would probably not leave a Cheerio in the potty, though, just in case the boy pick it up to eat!  For a potty, I would probably use stickers, e.g. the star stickers that are quite cheap.  Stick one in the potty and get the boy to aim at it.

The Final Frontier

That is, getting rid of the sleep-time diaper.  This usually happens last.  The child can be toilet-trained in the day for years but still needs to wear a diaper during nap and night time.  Usually, the nap diaper is the first to go.  Either the child stops taking naps or there are more instances of him waking up with a dry diaper.  Some kids do stop wetting themselves and wake up to pee all on their own.  However, many do not.

Again, at some point in time, you just have to bite the bullet and remove the diaper.  A good time is when the child starts waking up with a dry diaper every now and then.  I make my boys go to the toilet before nap/bedtime.  In the evening, I also try not to let them drink too much water especially closer to bedtime.  Once the diaper is off for good, they sleep on a waterproof sheet to prevent them from ruining the mattress.  Once they can stay dry and not wet the waterproof sheet for a good period of time, I will take the waterproof sheet away for good.

For night-time, only the eldest one had problems as he was oblivious to the wetness and would sleep through it!  We started off by waking the boy up in the middle of the night for a pee break.  This was usually done before our own bedtime which was around 11pm – 1am.  It could get a bit frustrating in the beginning when we kept missing it.  By the time we got to the boy, he had already wet himself.  But we kept on doing this and within 6 months, the boy was totally off the night diaper.

Quite by accident, we found that it could be useful to have a bit of peer pressure.  Our eldest boy was at a grand age of 5 years before he was finally completely toilet-trained.  The Final Frontier was conquered when he went to his school camp and was laughed at because he needed to wear a diaper.  We did not deliberately pushed him into the situation to be shamed.  In fact, I called up his principal to let her know of his ‘predicament’ and she promised that the teachers would exercise sensitivity and discreetly change the children who still needed night diaper.  Unfortunately/Fortunately, he was found out.  After that, he was more motivated to co-operate with us in order to get rid of the night diaper.

So if a school camp is not to be had, you can invite some older children over for a sleep-over party so that your child can see how his older friends are not wearing diaper at night, and hopefully, this will motivate him to follow suit.

A Note on Underpants

It didn’t occur to me that there was this Chinese thing about boys wearing underpants until my mother-in-law complained about it.  Apparently, the older folks practised not letting boys wear underwear until they are pre-teens but for little girls, they have to wear panties right from the beginning.  For boys, they are afraid that wearing the underpants would be too ‘hot’ for the boys and it will affect their fertility later on. For girls, well, their modesty has to be protected from Day 1.

For me, from the day my boys are off the diaper, except for the butt-naked-toilet-training days, they are made to wear underpants even at home (yes, despite my mother-in-law’s complaint).  I just feel that not wearing underwear is rather ‘uncivilised’.  Underpants cannot be hotter than diapers, so moving from diapers to underpants is already one big improvement.  Eventually, they will have to wear underwear.  Rather than risk having grown boys not used to wearing underwear later on, it is better to start them right from the beginning.  Besides, the modesty of both boys and girls must be protected.

A Note on Potty

There are plenty of fancy potties in the market, some with all kinds of bells and whistles.  They are not necessary.  A simple potty will do.  It does not have to be branded or look like a throne.  I have never spent more than $10 on a potty.  The latest one I bought from IKEA (picture below) for my youngest boy cost me only $4.90 and looks great.


My 21 month old wearing a pair of open-crotch pants and staring at his output in the IKEA potty. 

A Note on Open-Crotch Pants

I find open-crotch pants (picture above) very useful for toilet-training.  Open-crotch pants were used in China in the past as the parents practised IPT.  Even now, they can still be bought in China.  I have some to spare as my mom bought quite a lot for me from China.  So if anyone is interested in it, drop me a note.  The length of the pants is 9.5″ and the waist 6.5″ (elastic not extended).  Price : $2 (shipping not inclusive).

**Note : If you are interested in the books Diaper Free or Infant Potty Training, drop me a note.  I have a couple of brand new copies for sale at $32 each (shipping not inclusive).  


Disclaimer : The information shared in this article is not meant to substitute professional medical advice.  Please bring your child to the doctor if you have questions or concerns regarding the health of your child.