24 Aug

Advice on Potty training

When Sarah wrote to me, asking if I’d be interested in a guest post from her, my immediate answer was yes. She’s 40 and has had 5 children, a 9-year-old boy and 4 daughters (youngest 10 months). I thought to myself, this is a woman we could all probably learn something from. She told me the story below about potty training her daughter and I was in stitches. Potty training is still a distant inevitability for me, but it’s good to be forewarned. Enjoy!


My oldest child is now approaching 9 years old, so it was some 7 years ago that I first ventured into potty training.  As you do with so many developmental milestones, with your first child I approached my son’s adventure into independent toileting with enthusiasm and excitement. It was a big event with much fanfare, choosing the big boy pants, a special potty and toilet seat and the I Want My Potty book to read while we played the waiting game.

I have to say, hand on heart, that I didn’t follow a set plan for potty training. I did scan a certain well-known baby expert’s book on potty training, but the idea of spending an entire week inside a house with my very lively outdoor-loving son filled me with horror, so I just packed the spare pants, spare clothes, potty in a bag and headed out the door, asking him a thousand times a minute: “Do you need a wee wee?”

My son was born in October, so approaching spring of his second year, we decided that at two and a half, we would have go. He picked up the number ones super quickly and I will embarrassingly admit that I was a tad…er…smug. But it was so very very short lived. He seemed to be particularly confused about where the number 2’s should go and that combined with the fact that he did not care at all how long he wandered around with a stinky turd in his Thomas pants meant that for me, what followed was probably at least a year of much hit and miss (figuratively and literally) and my excitement for independent toileting faded into the distance.

Second time round was different, I waited till my daughter was nearly 3 and she pretty much got it in a week; however, there were a few highlights along the way. But one in particular sticks out in my mind.

My daughter, who is now 6, got potty training quite easily. We had reached a stage when I was still carrying the potty with me everywhere we went, but I wasn’t expecting to need it. So I was fortunate to have it with me on a trip to Borders bookshop one afternoon with my 4-year-old, 3-year-old and a 15-month-old baby.

I mentioned that there are lots of false alarms when potty training and, with my daughter, this was definitely the case. Every little fart prompted a trip to the bathroom or nearest potty and a sit down to see. It could get a bit irritating and ever so time consuming, especially when the whole family had to schlep along, too.

On this day, we had already clocked two false alarm trips to the toilet. We were in a shop where the toilets were on the second floor, so each time I had to gather everyone up from the little kids’ library area and take them upstairs, then get the disabled access key for the toilet, go to the toilet with everybody in tow, only to hear after a minute of sitting: “No poo, mummy!”

So having done this all twice I was hot, flustered and had two very fed up innocent bystanders who had been dragged along for both no-shows. The next time she asked, it was with confidence that it would be another false alarm that I decided to put her travel potty down in a quiet corner of the kids’ library area, parked the buggy in front of it and told her to sit down.

The baby had distracted me when I suddenly noticed an aroma. What happened next was almost in slow motion. Simultaneously as I was moving towards her, realising with horror that I was in the middle of a book shop with a full potty, a large number of school children appeared with their teacher and one of the shop assistants and they all proceeded to sit down in a semi-circle right next to us for a presentation, which lasted a long, long time. My oblivious daughter sat in the corner on her travel potty making the odd grunt and “nnngggg” noise.

I sat frozen to the spot and resolutely ignored my daughter’s tugging on my arm and pretended not to hear her singsong, “I’m finished!” I fixed a smile on my face and tried to form the corresponding expression for “Oh my goodness! What is that awful smell?” for the benefit of the teacher who seemed to be viewing me with a bit of suspicion.

We had to agonizingly wait until they had gone. Then I scooped the offending turd out of the potty with a nappy sack, cleaned up as best I could, and nearly broke my neck getting out of the store, much to the complete bewilderment of the kids.

Now I look back and laugh, but at the time I remember wondering to myself if it was actually possible to die of embarrassment.

So after three rounds of potty training, this is what I’ve learnt so far:

1. If you can, pick spring or summertime to start. When it’s warmer you can be outside more and being outside more means less mess on your carpets, floors etc. It’s also warmer, so they are wearing fewer clothes, easier for fast exiting from knickers, trousers, skirts or whatever. I cannot understand people putting dungarees on potty training kids. Thats just plain unfair in my book.

2. I’m personally not a fan of pull-ups (go on like pants, but are in fact a nappy). I think it’s best to go cold turkey, away with nappies. I think it confuses the issue if sometimes they can pee in their pants and sometimes they can’t. Added to that they are the single most expensive way of buying nappies. The exception to this bit of advice is nighttime; none of my kids have got night dryness at the same time as day dryness. Being able to listen to your body telling you “it’s time to pee” when you’re a toddler is hard enough when you are awake, let alone trying to navigate that process through unconsciousness as well.

3. If they won’t actually sit on a potty, toilet seat, or anything else in the sanitary department without having a major meltdown, then they are probably not ready. Forcing is futile.

4. False alarms can be frustrating. Okay, without going into too much detail, kids need to work out when it’s the real deal and when it’s not, if you know what I mean. I often cursed the bottom burp as it was the result of many a trip to the toilet with no outcome. So prepare yourself for lots of false alarms, the upside of this is that it gets you some time with your toddler, all be it sat in your bathroom trying not to think, “When was the last time I cleaned this floor?”

5. Bribery is okay, with your first baby this concept is a shocker, I know. But when you get past number one, it sits easier. Chocolate buttons are a good deal breaker with most toddlers.

6. You can give up. Your sweet toddler is not going to be scarred by everyone throwing in the towel and going back to nappies for a bit and trying again later.

7. Go easy on yourself, Mama. They all get there in the end; there is no race, no Youngest Ever on the Potty award. Although there are some parents who might act like there is.

One thing I have learnt is that there will ALWAYS be someone who will cheerfully tell you while you are fishing yet another turd out of a pair of pants that their “Harry just got it, took his nappy off, not one accident and he is dry at night, too!”

The approach to this sort of parent is probably one best suited to your personality, but one thing I will say: you are never going to get away from this sort of parent, ever, in all areas of parenting there is someone who has appointed themselves Obi-wan who will regale you with stories of how their darling has been composing short stories while your kid is still licking the TV screen. Best thing to do is find a way to let it go over your head, smile sweetly, get away from them and don’t, DO NOT let their words fluster you into trying something that neither you nor your child may be ready for.


Thank you for that, Sarah! I’ll remember it when I’m in a public place with a potty training toddler. Sods law prevails! I already have my copy of Everybody Poops ready to go.


  1. 24 Aug


    Thank you for this, I have a nearly three year old boy who is yet to be potty trained. Really helpful tips!

  2. 24 Aug


    Brilliant article Sarah, made me laugh out loud. With a 4 year old and 7 year old I can relate.

    It can be so easy when your child is ready, but so much agony if they’re not. My daughter did 7 wees on the carpet in 7 hours the first time we tried to potty train her (yes we counted!). Needless to say we didn’t try again for a while. She was almost 3 when we finally got there, but the last time it was a breeze.

  3. 24 Aug

    Rachel C

    This made me laugh out loud! I started potty training DD (28mths) on Monday and ventured out of the house for the first time yesterday to the allotment. Laden with changes of clothes, wipes, bottle of water (for rinsing!) a full loo roll and the potty we were pretty organised. Or so I thought! Half an hour later, we had a full punnet of raspberries (yeh!), but also a full potty (#2 I’m afraid) and where was I going to put it??? I’d forgotten the nappy bags! Oops! I did get a few funny looks as I tried to carefully carry the potty to the car. At least I now know she doesn’t have a fear of doing it in the open air!!! This advice is spot on, thank you!

  4. 07 Apr


    I love this article and your blog!

  5. 30 May


    brilliant, a down to earth but helpful blog, thank you!
    i like the tip regarding the chocolate buttons, also worth trying is the potty training chart from brollysheets uk

  6. 31 May

    Julia from ICAWatermelon

    Thank you, Cass! Glad you are enjoying it and good luck with the potty training. We are currently embarking on that particular journey of fun. Jx

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