Potty training

Flush with success: Your most-asked potty training questions answered

Questions about potty training are among the most common at Today's Parent. Fear not, help is at hand. We asked a panel of early childhood specialists from across the country for answers.

By Fabian Gorodzinsky, Scott Cowley and Jane Scott
Flush with success: Your most-asked potty training questions answered

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Q: My three-year-old son pees in the potty, but not just once: He goes several times in small amounts. I am using training diapers to deal with this. I ask him every five minutes if he needs to go, but he says no and seems to be annoyed with my asking over and over again. Is it possible that he just isn’t ready?

A: Of course he’s annoyed – wouldn’t you be? Rather than continually asking whether he has to go, which allows him to say no, calmly tell him at the same specific times each day, “It’s time to go potty!” Then encourage him to stay seated, maybe by reading a story or singing a song, until he has completely emptied his bladder. This will help him feel the difference between a full and an empty bladder, and discourage his multiple trips.

Q: With our second baby due soon, should we continue trying to potty train our three-year-old daughter? I wonder whether she’ll simply regress when her brother comes along.

A: If you’ve seen some progress on the potty, stopping cold at this point would be a mistake. Consistency is an effective tool in toilet learning, so your best move right now is to keep at it. After the baby comeshome, you may see a few more accidents, or even a full-out potty strike. In that case, you might take a break from training for a month or so while your daughter gets used to having her new brother around. When you feel the time is right, reintroduce training as a special activity only she – and not the new baby – can do with you. It’s a wonderful opportunity to lavish attention on your first-born.

Q: Although he still wakes up wet every morning, my two-and-a-half-year-old son has told me he doesn’t want to wear his nighttime diaper anymore. I’m not sure how to go about nighttime training – should I begin waking him up to go to the bathroom?

A: Before you take the drastic step of messing with his – and your – good night’s sleep, try getting him into a bedtime potty routine. Avoid big drinks after dinner and make sure he pees immediately before sleep. (Do offer him plenty to drink earlier in the day to ensure he isn’t going to bed thirsty.) These steps may help him stay dry through the night, and let you both say goodbye to the nighttime diaper.

Some parents swear by this method. But if it doesn’t work for you, don’t worry. Many children need a nighttime diaper until past their fourth birthdays, either because they sleep too soundly to make it to the bathroom, or they haven’t developed the ability to stay dry until morning. Your son is reluctant to wear a diaper at night, but perhaps he wouldn’t mind a disposable trainer that looks like “big boy” underwear.

Q: Although it’s only been a few days since we introduced the potty, our daughter is basically accident-free, including naps, if we encourage her to go about every two hours. But she rarely does so on her own and will have an accident if we don’t initiate a trip to the potty. By setting a toilet schedule for my daughter, am I teaching her anything?


A: Absolutely! By reminding her to go to the potty, you’re establishing a routine and showing her how big girls pee and poo without a diaper. You can build up her confidence and set her on the path to initiating these trips on her own by praising her every time she’s successful.

For the future, keep in mind that even children who’ve nailed toilet training sometimes need to be prompted if they’re reluctant to leave a fun activity or their environment is really stimulating.

Q: Are there different methods for potty training boys versus girls?

A: While most of the basics are the same, especially at the beginning, potty training is a little more complicated with a boy. That’s partly because of the plumbing. A little guy has to not only make it to the potty on time, but also aim his penis in the right direction and (yikes!) possibly deal with an erection. And if he also has to do Number Two, there’s the added worry of having to finish peeing, then switch to a sitting position. So much to think about!

If your son has been watching Dad stand up to pee, you might be inclined to start him off that way, too. However, he’ll have an easier time if you begin by inviting him to sit on a low potty the same as you would his sister. Reminding him to lean forward slightly and to point his penis down will help reduce “misses” – though if he does overshoot, reassure him this is a part of learning.


Once your son has had some success, you can try guiding him through the move from potty to toilet, and from sitting to standing, too. Toss in a few pieces of floating cereal as targets, which will encourage him to aim into the toilet (instead of the bathroom floor).

Q: My three-year-old daughter is now holding her urine for hours at a time. Even if she goes to bed with a full bladder, she wakes up dry. Occasionally, she will sit on the toilet for me and release, but this is rare – usually she holds it until she cannot hold it any longer. When she finally does go, if she isn’t on the potty, her training diaper overflows. I am afraid she is going to cause herself damage. Is there anything I can do? Am I making things worse by encouraging her to pee on the potty?

A: Holding urine for long stretches can cause urinary tract infections, particularly in a girl, because her urethra – the tube that transports urine from inside to outside her body – is much shorter than a boy’s. Some time-honoured inducements to try in the bathroom: • Turn on the taps. Often the trickling sound of water encourages the release of urine. • Offer plenty of water. If she’s drinking a lot, your daughter will have to pee more often, whether in a diaper or on the potty. • Make sure she’s comfortable. Kids will withhold if they feel wobbly on an adult-sized toilet or poorly designed potty.

Meanwhile, take her in to see her doctor. She may be withholding because she already has a urinary tract infection, and peeing is so painful that she tries to do it as seldom as possible.

Q: My daughter has been doing great with potty training at daycare, and never comes home with wet pants. Once at home, though, it’s another story. Most days, I pick her up from daycare around 4:30, and before she goes to bed at 7:30, I’ve changed her out of wet pants about three times. I don’t know how to encourage her to use the toilet at home.


A: It’s very common for young children to do well in one environment but not so much in another. The success your daughter is seeing at daycare is likely the result of a strong routine, with potty visits adhered to at the same specific times each day. If the daycare you use is typical, her caregivers aren’t waiting for her to tell them she needs to pee . The fact that your daughter is peeing in the same room and at the same time as her little classmates would be a further inducement to full co-operation: Potty time is party time for toddlers in daycare with other kids!

While you may not be able to recreate the group potty action your daughter enjoys, you can encourage her to visit the potty at the same times each afternoon and evening at home. Be consistent, and you’ll find that she’s much more willing to play along with you, too.


FABIAN GORODZINSKY,community paediatrician, associate professor of paediatrics, Western University in London, Ont., and co-author of the Canadian Paediatric Society statement on toilet learning.

SCOTT COWLEY, early childhood education teacher, Sheridan College in Brampton, Ont.


JANE SCOTT, former infant development program manager, Source Infant Development Program in Surrey, BC.

This article was originally published on May 22, 2013

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