Article - Helping your child out of nappies

Helping your child out of nappies

What images do the words toilet training evoke in your mind? Maybe you gulp and grit your teeth as pictures of wee puddles on the lounge or scrubbing underwear start swirling around your head. The journey of learning to use the toilet does not have to be messy or stressful. It is an opportunity to take our kids by the hand and show them that using the toilet is a normal part of everyday life.

This stage can be viewed as a bridge to cross, rather than a mountain to climb. Getting our head in the game by feeling calm and positive as we enter the toilet learning journey will help our kids feel more relaxed.

Here are some top tips to help you navigate this stage with a smile:

1. Get a plan

Know what date you are planning to abandon daytime nappies and start moving towards that with teaching skills that your child needs to be successful.
This could include:

  • Putting the potty out while the bath water is filling up and asking your child to see if they can catch a wee in it before they hop in the bath.
  • Encouraging your child to sit on the potty while you are sitting on the toilet
  • Teaching them how to wash their hands
  • Giving them some ‘no nappy time’ for an hour or two each day using pants which absorb the ‘accidents’ but give them the sensation of feeling wet close to their skin. They also can start learning to pull up and push down pants.

2. Make it feel like it’s their idea

Kids can feel anxious about change and when we have effectively given them the message – ‘you can wee and poo in your nappy anytime you like’, then shifted the goal posts by saying, ‘you have to use the toilet to do the business’; it can feel like a big step for a little person.

The optimal start for great toilet training is a kid who is motivated and wants to sit on the toilet and do the business on it. This is where choosing their currency, getting down to their level and thinking about what motivates them can make the difference. By making it a game they can win, they are more likely to want to keep playing.

Giving them ownership by helping them to choose the colour of their underwear, or the type of potty; can help them feel empowered and included in the process.

3. Don’t give up if it doesn’t happen straight away

When your child was learning to eat solids, walk and talk, these all happened over a period of time with lots of practice.

It’s tempting to get excited when we read books or blogs that tell us that toilet training can be done and dusted in a day. For most kids this is an unrealistic expectation. With 1-3 year olds it can take 21 days to form a new habit.

Using the toilet is all about reading body signals, releasing muscles at the correct time and emptying the bowel and bladder fully. These skills take time to learn and practise before they become automated.

If at first they don’t succeed, don’t give up. Keep persevering unless they are experiencing emotional or physical distress. If you are worried then seek help from a medical professional or parenting coach.

4. Give a consistent message

Try and keep nappies on for sleep time but the rest of the day take the ‘trainer wheels’ (aka the nappies) off and let them consistently wear underwear.

Kids get confused when we give mixed messages, i.e. if they are in underwear during the day and other times they are put back into nappies for daycare or when venturing out.

Continuity is key. That is where making a plan with the people who also look after your child can be really useful. You are more likely to see consistent progress with your child’s toileting if they follow the same routine at home and out.

Another powerful message is one where we say it is okay to give it a go and that if accidents happen it is not the end of the world.

Kids who feel worried because they don’t want to have an accident will often have wee puddles as their anxiety builds. So helping them feel relaxed is critical.

Many parents have found that using the same potty and toilets for the first four days really helps to reduce the variables and help their kids get into a great routine.

5. Make fluid and fibre your friend

Kids who have regular drinks of water coupled with a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fibre will have healthy bladder function.

Constipation can be common in the initial stages of toilet training as a child holds on for a nappy or don’t feel comfortable squatting then pushing down and releasing it in the toilet. If you can work on giving them great nutrition then stools will be easier to pass. Once they have caught the first few poos on the loo then they know they can do it.

Showing your child how to sit in a squatting position with knees apart, with their feet flat and grounded and knees on elbows really helps put them in the optimal position for doing ‘number twos’.

Laura Morley is a parenting coach and author of Potty Talk: A Toilet Training How to Guide. She has worked with hundreds of parents through workshops and private coaching sessions to with day and night training their kids with less mess and stress. She lives in Auckland with her hubby and 3 kids, horse Oscar, sheep, dog Mack and chickens. Grab your free checklist or book a free chat, to help with toilet training your child at


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