Potty learning – why I’m following her lead 

“You need to start potty training her soon” is a phrase I’ve heard way too much in the last few months. While I was a little worried that kids start school at 3 here and need to be reliably using the loo by then, I was in no rush to get Iris out of her nappies. I think part of the reason people have been encouraging me to potty train is because they assume having two in nappies is really hard work, when in fact it really isn’t. I haven’t found it to be anyway. 

My niece was out of nappies pretty early, because she took my sister by surprise and announced that she’d be wearing pants, and not nappies, one day out of the blue. Her accidents were minimal and she was dry and using the loo every time within a few days. Following her lead had worked. It reinforced my belief that there’s not a lot of point in trying to force children to do things they aren’t ready for. 

I’ve worked in nurseries most of my adult life so I have contributed to the potty training of probably hundreds of children. I’ve met loads who have been put in pants too early. They have loads of accidents and it knocks their confidence. This has the complete opposite result to what the parents hoped for. 

Honestly, I see nothing wrong with children wearing nappies until they’re three or four or whatever. Had Iris wanted to stay in nappies a lot longer I’d have rolled with it. Actually, I wasn’t ready for this. As usual, she’s way ahead of me. 

The week before we went away camping Iris just started using her potty. Just like that. It’s been kicking around the house for a while, so it’s become familiar and she’s used it on a few occasions here and there when she’s felt like it. This time was different because she didn’t want to put her nappy back on, preferring to stay naked from the waist down. We stayed at home and she used the potty all afternoon. We even took the potty out with us to walk the dog, and Iris wore a dress and a bare bum underneath. Luckily the weather was warm! 

Her timing was dreadful. With a camping holiday starting a few days later, and then her first sessions at nursery the following week. I’d obviously rather waited until we were back from our holiday and she had settled in at nursery. 

I needn’t have worried. Her wet accidents were few and far between, and camping turned out to be a good time for it. Most of her few accidents happened in the great outdoors! She still isn’t quite there with her poo, and although she’s making it to the potty for most of them now, she isn’t reliable yet. I don’t see it as any more of a chore than changing a dirty nappy so it’s not worrying me. When she does manage it on the potty or the loo she’s so chuffed with herself! I’m so confident in her ability to ask when she needs a wee that I’ve stopped putting puppy pads in her car seat and pushchair, and I’ve even taken her on a train journey to Bristol in pants. She’s pretty much cracked it. 

These are my tips for potty ‘learning’. I’m no expert, but these things have worked so well for Iris that I thought I’d share. 

  • Just wait. Leave a potty lying around by all means, and definitely use the loo in front of them as much as possible. But don’t put any pressure on. Just wait for them to show interest. 
  • Get the Pirate Pete potty book out from the library. Iris really liked the parts where he picked out his potty and his pants. One day she just asked if we could go to the shops and choose pants for her, and we did. Even though she didn’t actually want to wear them yet. 
  • Let them choose the pants. Iris has a mixture of Peppa Pig, monsters, and vehicles. All her choices, and most of them from the boys section. I wasn’t going to tell her that she couldn’t have the pants with diggers on just because some idiot somewhere has decided that only boys can like diggers. 
  • Leave the pants around. Iris has a basket of pants in the living room. They get put on dolls and played with a lot. They’re very familiar to her now. 
  • Invest in a travel potty. We have the ‘carry potty’. It is sealed when you shut the lid and apparently doesn’t leak if you have to carry a wee around with you. I’ve never actually had to test this out though! Every time we go out I remind Iris every so often that the potty is right there in the bottom of the pushchair if she needs it. 
  • Keep a potty near the toys and another one in the bathroom. When they first start learning they can’t hold the wee long! A potty where they play helps with this. 
  • Buy a wet bag or two for storing soiled clothes when you’re out. They’re very cheap, and will save a lot of plastic nappy sacks. You can turn them inside out and chuck them in the washing machine with the pants. 
  • Ditch all in one pyjamas and dungarees. Choose leggings and jogging bottoms, or dresses. They need to be able to get them out of the way quickly and by themselves. 
  • Iris wouldn’t use the loo at nursery to start with so she took her own potty in so that she’d have somewhere familiar to go. She didn’t use it and started using their loo pretty quickly, but it might be helpful for other little ones. 
  • Cheer and congratulate when they do it, but clean it away quickly and without making a big deal when they don’t. It really doesn’t matter. 
  • Think carefully about using sticker charts or other rewards. I’ve used them lots of times with lots of children over the years, but I’ve found they’re not usually helpful. Some kids really respond to them, but just remember that at some point you have to take it away. 

Despite being incredibly proud of Iris for tackling this at such a young age, I’m a little bit emotional too. No nappies definitely means she’s not a baby anymore! 


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