5 Potty Training Tips by Paediatric Expert Rebecca Mottram

Rebecca Mottram is one of the leading experts in Potty Learning, she is author of the Baby Pottying Guide and host of the Go Potty Podcast. She works in the NHS as a paediatric research nurse and is on the Professional Advisory Committee for ERIC, the children’s bladder and bowel charity as their potty training expert.

I’m currently Potty Training my toddler Florence and the below tips are incredibly useful. It’s great to have Rebecca write for thr blog. Over to Rebecca.

By far, the most popular question asked about potty training is, ‘when should I start?” The answer is, there is no lower age limit to start learning these skills, and the younger you begin, the better. That answer surprises most parents, because they have been told it’s better to ‘wait for signs of readiness’, but readiness is a myth. The scientific evidence shows that introducing the potty to babies is best for bowel and bladder health.

Consider the way that children learn other skills like walking and talking. There is a long period of learning and preparation before reaching the final milestone. Before a child can manage successfully without nappies (what we call potty trained), they must master 40 different skills.

The natural way for this to happen is gradually from birth.  This means that when they get to the final step of letting go of nappies, it’s a little step rather than an extreme transition! 

If your child is a baby, they can learn how it feels to use a potty some of the time. From 12-18 months old, you can draw from their developmental drive to please you. Between 2 and 3 years old, you can draw on their need for independence to help them succeed. So whatever age your child is now, you can start teaching them and give them a gradual, gentle journey in with lots of preparation and practise of those 40 skills. You can download my free Potty Skills Grid to give you some ideas of what your child is developmentally capable of already and where you should start.

Here are 5 tips for successful potty training. 

  1. Teach body awareness and introduce the potty from the start

Because disposable nappies feel instantly dry, children don’t get the biofeedback they need to develop useful body awareness. They learn that their nappy is a wearable toilet and that they’re not expected to be involved. Nappies also encourage children to empty their bladder and bowels on the go – wherever they are standing or even laying. The optimal position for weeing and pooing is in a squatting position (which lengthens the bowel and conditions the bladder muscles – allowing them to empty effectively) and the optimal place is in a toilet where they can be clean and private. It’s ok to use nappies for convenience but make sure you also give your child regular opportunities to sit on the potty and successfully wee or poo into it  (in the first 15 minutes after they wake up, during or after a feed are easy catches), let them see their wee and poo flushed down the toilet so they understand where wee and poo goes and let them gradually begin practising the necessary skills – handing you wipes/tissue, washing their hands, getting dressed and undressed etc. Remember, they don’t have to be capable of doing all this independently before you start.


  1. Learn your child’s signals or timing

You are the greatest living expert on your child. You know from their expressions and sounds and the rhythms of your day whether they are tired, hungry, thirsty, frustrated or need your attention. And we can use the same ideas to notice how regularly they wee and poo and what it looks like before they need to go. Using disposable nappies makes this harder for parents but most babies show very clear signals such as agitation or fussing or perhaps they make a poo face. As they get older, perhaps they do a wee dance or always head to a particular place to do a poo like behind the sofa or in a corner. If you don’t notice their signals, start to make a note of their timings instead. Maybe they always poo after (or during) meals or when they’re in the bath! This information is so useful because it means that when you offer the potty, it’s likely to be at a time when they do, enabling them to make meaningful connections with what it’s for. 

  1. Don’t over-prompt

It’s very important to only direct your child to the potty when you know that they need to go and to allow their bladder regular opportunities to fill to capacity. So don’t ask them to ‘try’ for the potty every 15 or 30 minutes. They won’t make the connection to what their body is doing and you may interfere with them learning what their body is telling them.

You may have noticed that toddlers LOVE to say “no” to things and are also discovering how good it feels to be in control. As parents, we want to model consent and body autonomy to our children, but you don’t want a no when the answer should be yes. So, give them information about what their body is telling them or how you know it’s time, and direct them to the potty instead.

  1. Be playful 

Research shows that pre-school children absorb information best when we meet them in their imagination and make it fun. The best way to do this is through play! The characters of Mr Poo and Mrs Wee can really help you to teach them about how their bodies work in a fun way as well as set good expectations about where wee and poo goes and how we have to listen to our bodies. You can find out more about Mr Poo and Mrs Wee and learn how to make PooDoh on my website. Many children like to look at some simple toys or books on the potty, to make it fun, but it’s important that they are not distracted from the experience so it’s best to avoid screens.


  1. Accidents are ok

Often parents will measure their success by how few accidents they had to deal with, but accidents are an important part of the learning process for many children. We learn in part through making mistakes so it’s important to consider how you will respond if your child wets or soils. Try not to react emotionally, even though it may feel frustrating – nobody likes cleaning up wee and poo, I know. Keep up a patter of practicalities instead, about how to clean it up, and do as much as you can of this in the bathroom to help them connect to that space. Remind them that “next time let’s wee or poo in the potty”.

If they come and let you know about the accident, tell them thank you and praise them for how grown up it was of them to let you know.  You can also praise any part of the process they did cooperate with and have them get involved in the cleanup so they can learn some of the skills involved in that too. They will soon realise it’s much quicker to just wee in the potty than it is to have to change their clothes and have a wash!

Help is available! 

If you have started potty training and your child is resisting the process, it doesn’t mean that they are not ready – children are born ready to begin potty learning. Resistance behaviours are red flags that there is an underlying problem to resolve or the method you have chosen is not meeting your unique child’s needs. This may be due to constipation (there are 16 signs of constipation!), witholding wee, witholding poo, appearing afraid or anxious to use the potty, or showing a strong preference to use a nappy. If any of these sound familiar, avoid the temptation to buy unhelpful gimmicks like rewards charts or potty apps and watches – reach out for help with how to resolve the underlying issue. If other parents tell you “I went through this and took a break and tried again later” – this just demonstrates that the root of the issue was resolved through another aspect of parenting.  Avoiding resolving the underlying problem often means that it shows up in other aspects of parenting such as sleep issues, eating issues or other behavioural challenges.

Enjoy your potty learning journey. It can be a wonderful bonding experience for you and your child when you have the right support. So much of the guidance that parents are given is unhelpful or misinformation and I really believe that parents deserve better!


Thank you Rebecca for these insightful and actionable tips!


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