We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Coronavirus Read our latest advice
Reviews based on facts
Our rigorous tests find the facts, and our impartial reviews tell you the truth about how products perform. First month £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel anytime.
Try Which?
1 October 2020

How to potty train

If you're thinking about tackling the messy milestone of potty training, arm yourself with the information you need to help your little one ditch nappies.
Potty ipad 438583
WhichEditorial team

Most children show signs of readiness between the ages of 18 months and three years old, and depending on the individual needs and development patterns of your child, they may fall anywhere within or slightly outside of that spectrum. Here, we run through some of the most popular potty training methods for starting out, information on knowing when to start potty training, and signs that your little one is ready for the challenge.

Your child will probably still need to use nappies at night to begin with, or if they have a false start. 

Decide which to choose with our guide to the best nappy brands

When to start potty training

There can be a lot of peer pressure surrounding when to start potty training, which you should ignore. You can't force your child to use the potty or toilet; if they're not ready, keep them in nappies for a bit longer. 

If you try to start potty training prematurely, the process can be drawn out and difficult for both you and your child. There's no research to suggest that keeping children in nappies a bit longer will result in any adverse effects. 

Potty training checklist

Have a look at this list of key readiness signs to decide whether it might be time to begin potty training. Both physical and emotional factors have to come together, and even with all these boxes ticked, be prepared for accidents.

Are you ready to potty train?

How many of the following are true? Your child...

  • can stay dry for at least two hours at a time
  • can verbalise or otherwise signal that they need to go to the bathroom
  • understands and follows simple instructions
  • can pull their pants up and down (relatively) unaided
  • asks to use the potty or wear underwear
  • has regular bowel movements throughout the day.

If this sounds like the position you're in, it might be time to give potty training a go.

Potty training tips

So how do you actually go about it? Here are some tips for managing the beginning of this new stage, and making the process as comfortable as possible for you and your toddler.

Positive reinforcement

Be really supportive and positive when you encounter successes and congratulate your child for going to the potty. Children are likely to be more relaxed and confident about changes if they're surrounded by positivity, and rewards can be particularly motivating. 

Find out what parents said were their top potty training products in our survey.

On the other side, make sure you deal with accidents calmly - if you're overboard with the praise when things go right and then steely when they don't, it can be de-motivating.

Make it fun

You can let your child personalise their potty with colourful stickers of their favourite characters, making this new stage exciting and fun, and allowing your child to have ownership over the process.

Potty training activity books can help make potty training a positive learning experience rather than a chore or something to stress over. 

Many parents in our survey said that potties with features - such as a musical potty - were helpful in making the whole process enjoyable and less daunting.

Award responsibility

This is a big step for your little one, and something you can both be proud of attempting. Reinforcing a sense of responsibility and being a 'big girl/boy' can motivate your child to want to leave behind their nappies and remove the sense of being forced out of their comfort zone by you. 

Tactics can include allowing them to personalise their potty, as well as getting them to start telling you when they need to go, and taking a hands-off approach, placing a potty in the main bathroom and allowing your toddler to use it of their own accord. 

Expert Elizabeth Pantley, author of 'The No-Cry Potty Training Solution', has even suggested that you could gently encourage your child to take part in dealing with accidents when they happen: showing them where the clean pants are, and where dirty ones can go, as well as how to clean up. You can show your child how and where to empty the potty when they're done, so that they are involved in the whole process. 

Get the timing right

Lots of advice around potty training and many common potty training methods suggest a pants-free phase, which is best to do when the weather is warm. Parents often find it easier to wait until the summer to potty train so that they can let their child run around comfortably without a nappy - in the garden if possible! 

It's also really important to avoid starting potty training during times of significant change or potential stress for your little one - such as moving house or introducing a new baby sibling to the family.

Potty training methods

There are also a few potty training methods out there that you can try. It's not necessary to strictly follow any method when potty training, but if you go with one of the below, you'll need to stick it out for the duration.  

Gina Ford potty training method

Gina Ford aims to have potty training done and dusted within a week. It's quite a regimented approach that involves two main stages: stage one consists of getting your child to practice sitting on the potty for 5-10 minutes at regular intervals throughout the day. After this preparation week (not included in 'one-week' claims), the actual week of potty training starts. This stage is recommended to be carried out at home and confined to a single room - toddlers should switch to pants for this stage and visit the bathroom starting in short intervals of every 15 minutes and gradually increasing this. The first couple of days, therefore, can be labour-intensive. 

Three-day potty training method

This requires you to block out a few days (perhaps a long weekend) to focus on potty training. It involves having your child go pants-free while at home and directed towards the potty whenever they need to go. It should be noted that the 'three days' does not claim to have your child completely and totally trained in that short amount of time, but used to the potty enough that accidents are minimised. 

Pull-up pants

You can switch from nappies to pull-up pants, and try to implement a routine where your toddler gets to the potty before going in their pants. Pull-up pants have less absorbency than regular nappies, so that your toddler can learn the difference between wet and dry, and connect this feeling to needing the toilet.