Moving from nappies to undies

nappies to undies

A fully toilet-trained toddler is an appealing notion. Although the road to undies may be rocky, an end to the expense and fuss of nappies, and the passing of another significant milestone in your child’s life are the spoils of your efforts.

when is the right time to start?

A toilet-training programme should begin during a settled period.  Ensure your child is healthy and well, and not suffering from constipation or diarrhoea. A child who is relaxed and in a normal routine will respond more readily, so don’t try to embark on potty-training during a time of upheaval, such as during a move or when preparing for a new baby. Co-operation is equally important, and this is where having your toddler’s ‘buy-in’ to the experience can make all the difference.

With a child-led approach, reliance is placed on your toddler’s growing awareness of their wet or dirty nappies. The discomfort becomes their motivation to feel dry and clean, and in turn their willingness to join you on the path to the potty. A child who complains or tells you about their full nappies is probably ready for the next step. Nappy dryness is another clue – does your child regularly stay dry for at least 2 hours during the day? This is indicative of increasing bladder control.

Other general developmental signs of readiness include being able to follow simple instructions, complete tasks independently, to walk to and from the bathroom and to help undress themselves. A curiosity about what goes into the toilet, and perhaps even a request to use it may be part of a child’s progression out of nappies. If you are comfortable, allow your child to watch you in the toilet.  Kids love to copy, and watching you consistently wipe in the correct way, use toilet paper properly and wash your hands well afterwards will encourage these good habits.

tips for success

There a number of approaches to toilet training and it’s a good idea to do a little research before you start to decide which method is most suitable for your family.

Once you begin, stay as relaxed as possible. Toddlers are highly sensitive to the moods of your household, and if they pick up on stresses or frustration around the issue, they may refuse to participate. Worse, they may employ their own frustrating manipulations around toileting.

The recommended approach is to minimise or ignore any negative consequences of toilet-training, while providing plenty of gentle, positive reinforcement for the successful outcomes.

Younger children respond well to praise if they manage to let you know they need to go, or when they successfully make a deposit in the toilet. Reporting the news to their other parent or grandparents also gives them a sense of pride and will encourage repeat performances.

Older toddlers can be kept on track and positively motivated with a bathroom chart. Place a star or a tick on the chart each time they have a successful outcome, with a number of successes adding up to a reward like a special outing or some new underwear.

While positive rewards are a good idea, countering with negative consequences for accidents or failures is ill-advised. Punishment is likely to increase any stress or fear around the issue, which in turn can make children hold on and cause constipation problems. Constipation can be a vicious circle, when bowel movements become increasingly difficult to pass and cause pain and a reluctance to try again.


If your once happily-potty-trained child has regressed to having accidents again, try not to worry too much. Perhaps there has been a change in your child’s life that has left them feeling unsettled. Talk to them about it – sometimes just asking gentle questions is enough acknowledgment to restore their feeling of security. Establish a regular sitting routine to encourage use of the potty or toilet and remember, this situation is not permanent, so relax – things will get back on track when your child is ready.


By Tiffany Brown


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