Tips on toilet training

John Sharry co-author of the Parents Plus parenting programmes gives some tips on toilet training

Toilet training our two-year-old is a bit of a strain

closeup of legs of the child sitting on the pottyQUESTION
I was wondering if you have any advice or can point me in the direction of help as I am struggling with toilet training my little girl, who is two years and 10 months old. We had a failed attempt in August and decided we wouldn’t try again until she was ready. Last week and this week she has twice instigated using the toilet herself. On the first day of trying she sat on the toilet with no problem and did a pee two out of four times though she had some accidents as well. However, the following day she wouldn’t sit on the toilet at all and freaked out and screamed when it was suggested. She is not bold or anything; just visibly upset. She relaxes only when she’s back in a nappy.

She’ll sit on the toilet in creche no problem and pee occasionally but she still may have one or two accidents a day there, usually just after she goes. In creche she thinks it’s exciting going to the toilet with her friends, and at home she keeps saying “I just don’t want to” even with the offer of reward charts, treats, and so on.

At home it’s all accidents and it has taken five days to get her to even sit on the potty, and that’s only if I’m on the toilet as well. What should I do? I’ve no idea how to reassure her about using the toilet.

While some parents have the experience of toilet training being plain sailing over a short period, for most it is characterised by fits and starts and setbacks. It varies greatly the age at which a child is developmentally ready to learn to use the toilet.

While the expectation might be for a child to be fully toilet trained before their third birthday, in my clinical experience many children are simply not ready until much later to fully master all the skills necessary. Many parents report that their children have learned to use the toilet at a younger age, but these children are not fully toilet trained and have regular accidents and setbacks.

It is easy to become frustrated with toilet-training setbacks and even get into a battle with a child over using the toilet. This can become counter-productive and make the child more resistant or even more fearful about going.

For this reason, toilet training requires a very patient, positive and child-centred approach. In most cases, my advice to parents is to closely observe and tune into where their children are at in learning to use the toilet so they can encourage progress at the child’s pace.

Understanding the stages of toilet training
To successfully use the toilet to do a pee, a child must:
1) be able to consciously do a pee while sitting on the toilet or potty,
2) be aware of when their bladder is full and notice the signals that they need to go, and
3) be able to hold on for a short period as they wait to go to the toilet .
It strikes me that your daughter is able to do step 1 but as yet has not learnt to do step 2 or step 3. This is the reason why she can sit on the toilet and is able to go 50 percent of the time, yet she is still prone to accidents.

To help her, you want her to master step 2 in order to develop an awareness of her bladder becoming full and sensing her urge to go. There are some lovely child-centred books that help children develop this awareness such as Time to Pee by Mo Willems or On your potty by Virginia Miller. The latter tells the story of a little bear having lots of accidents before he finally notices the urge to go and runs to the potty in time (while an encouraging Daddy bear supports him).

Practically, to help your daughter learn, she needs to be comfortable telling you when she pees or is about to pee, without any pressure. For example, you might set up relaxed periods of time at home, when she is in her underwear or wearing training pants.

When a pee comes, you might gently comment “Oh, a pee has come, did you notice?” Or if you spot her wriggling or making movements that might signify a pee is coming, you might gently comment “Is there a pee coming? Shall we run like little bear to the toilet?” The key is to be very relaxed and reassuring.

If she does not go, you simply say “maybe next time” and if she does go, you praise and reward her for being such a big girl.

Motivating your daughter
It is worth reflecting on what made your daughter freak out or get upset when asked to use the toilet. Is it because she feels pressured about going or is there something in particular that she is afraid of? If she currently needs the nappy to feel comfortable, you can let her start by sitting on the toilet with the nappy and take it off gradually.

In most situations, the key is to reduce the pressure on her and simply say, “You let me know when you are ready.” 

It is also worth reflecting on what might motivate your daughter to participate in toilet training. It is interesting that she is motivated by the peer group in creche and by going when you are also going to the toilet with her. You can build on this by setting up a morning routine when she and Mummy go to the toilet together.

Make it a fun relaxed time by maybe reading on the toilet together or even playing music, and so on. Think what would make the experience of being in the toilet fun and relaxing.

I often recommend that parents keep special bubbles in the toilet and you can blow one or two together when she sits down. Bubbles can distract a child from their worries, helping them relax, and the motion of blowing can even help them let go and pee in the toilet.

John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, December 2016. John writes in the Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.
For information on John’s courses for parents visit

For tips on toilet training for night time see

You may also like

Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
  • How to reduce the risks online
  • How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
  • How to educate children on cyber safety
  • How to set up parental controls on devices
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
  1. Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
  2. Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so  it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
  3. Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables.  For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
  4. Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
  5. Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
  6. Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
  7. Be social media savvy:  The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online.  Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
  8. Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
  9. Set a great example:  You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young.  Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
  10. Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like  webwise.ieinternetmatters.organd to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
        Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services.   Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5 Volume 6

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books ( and also on  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from

Leave a comment