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Potty Training Mistakes to Avoid to Make The Process 10x Easier

Potty Training Mistakes to Avoid to Make The Process 10x Easier

A lot of the potty training tips and advice we hear as new parents is based on myths or old wives tales. This is often the reason behind some of the most common potty training mistakes. And unfortunately, these mistakes can actually make the potty training process much harder than it needs to be.

Even if your child is ready to start potty training, one simple mistake can completely derail the toilet training process, making it stressful and exhausting for both you and your toddler. No one wants that!

In this post, you’ll learn about the most common potty training mistakes parents make and what to do instead.

Mistake #1: Taking Your Child to the Toilet Way Too Often

When children are around 18 months to 2 years of age, they should need to go to the toilet approximately every 2 hours.

Taking your child to the toilet more frequently than every 1.5 hours means you’re asking them to empty a partially full bladder. While this sounds reasonable for an adult, it is not a skill children have at this age. In fact, this skill isn’t something children develop for several more years.

You should wait roughly two hours between visits to the bathroom with your toddler when potty training. This will allow their bladder to fill to a point where they will be able to empty it successfully.

Taking them to the toilet less frequently reduces the stress and anxiety associated with potty training as well, which is very important for your little one.

Mistake #2: Getting Your Child to Sit On the Toilet for Too Long

By forcing your little one to sit on the toilet for extended periods of time, you risk having them associate it as a punishment or a negative event. Particularly if this is combined with mistake number 1 above and you are taking them too frequently.

You should aim for your child to spend a maximum of 5 minutes on the toilet each time you take them. If they aren’t able to successfully empty their bladder or bowels in this amount of time, take them off and try again later.

This helps ensure that potty training remains a fun, positive experience for your little one, not something they hate doing every time.

potty training mistakes include leaving toddler on potty for too long

Mistake #3: Asking Your Child, “Do you want to go to the toilet?” 

Asking your child if they need to go to the toilet may seem like common sense, but you might be surprised to hear that it actually doesn’t work for two reasons:

  1. Your child is still learning what it feels like when they need to go to the toilet, so they might not know if they need to go to the toilet. Asking them will just confuse them and the answer they give is not reliable.
  2. Going to sit on the toilet is boring. Lots of children they would rather continue playing. If you say, “Do you want to go to the toilet?”, their response is often going to be, “No!”, because they don’t want to stop what they are doing to go and sit on the toilet.

Instead of asking them if they need to go to the toilet, you should watch for signs that indicate they need to go. Every child is different, but you’ll quickly recognise your child’s signs that indicate they need to use the bathroom. Some signs might include dancing or wiggling around, grabbing themselves, squirming in their seat, or squeezing their knees together.

As soon as see your child showing you the signs that they need to go to the toilet, tell them “it’s toilet time” or “it’s time to go to the potty”, and immediate take them to the bathroom. They key here is phrasing it as a statement rather than a question and taking them immediately. At this stage of their development they don’t have very good control over their bladder and bowels, so it’s important you don’t make them wait.

Mistake #4: Continuing to Wear Pull Ups When Toilet Training

Pull-ups and nappies are very absorbent, which makes it difficult for a child to feel ‘wet’. This is a great benefit when they are babies, but it’s actually a hinderance when it comes time to potty train your toddler.

To successfully potty train a child, they need to know what it feels like to be wet. For that reason, it’s best to swap the pull ups and nappies for training pants or underwear.

You may be thinking this sounds too messy for you. The truth is, it can make the process a bit messier when you’re first starting. However the training process will be much shorter and simpler if you are able to tolerate the mess and get rid of the pull-ups and nappies. That said, if you do want to limit the mess, another option if having your child wear underwear inside the pull up.

Wearing underwear inside the pull-ups means if your child does have an accident, they’ll still feel wet and uncomfortable. This discomfort provides an incentive to use the potty, and still helps the process.

toddler wearing pull-ups for potty training

Mistake #5: Overreacting to Accidents

If there’s one thing I can tell you right now, it’s that accidents are going to happen. It will be messy, my friend.

What matters most is how you react to those accidents. Because the way you react can have a huge impact on how successful potty training is. One of the more common potty training mistakes is to have a big reaction (yell or scream, or tell your child you are disappointed) following an accident. This can cause your child to become fearful of using the toilet. The last thing we want to do is create a sense of dread or fear around potty training.

The best way to react when your child has an accident is to make sure you use a calm voice and maintain neutral facial and body expressions. Your child responds to your body language as much as the words and tone that you use, so if you appear frustrated or annoyed they will pick up on that. Always remember to stay calm and maintain neutral body language (or even crack a smile) while you clean them up and change them in the bathroom.

Mistake #6: Pushing for Poos to Happen on a Potty or Toilet

It’s really common for children to happily use a potty or a toilet to do wees but refuse to do poos in them. That’s totally normal and nothing to worry about.

The good news is, most children will start to do poos in a potty or toilet in time.

Sometimes parents force their child to sit on the potty or toilet until they do a poo. What they don’t realise is that this often results in children ‘holding’ poos in.  Continuing to hold poos in leads to chronic constipation. This is something all parents want to avoid when toilet training because not only is it painful for the child, it can also result in bladder and bowel incontinence.

If your child is not ready to use the toilet or potty to do a poo you need to provide an alternative option. A great alternative option is giving your child a pull up or nappy and telling them they can do the poo in the nappy but this needs to happen in the bathroom. 

The key here is again identifying signs that your little one needs to do a poo. When you see these signs, walk them into the bathroom, put a pair of pull-ups on if they aren’t wearing them already, and allow them to do the poo in the pull-ups while standing in the bathroom.

This will help your child learn poos happen in the bathroom and become more familiar with this environment. Becoming comfortable with the environment is a helpful step towards using the toilet for poos as well.

It is also important to make sure your child feels safe and supported when sitting on the toilet. To feel safe when sitting on the toilet your child will need a family style toilet seat or reducer ring and a footrest. These two items will also ensure your child’s knees are above their hips when sitting on the toilet, which is the ideal position to do a poo.

potty training foot stool with reducer ring


As you can see, there’s quite a lot you can do to help potty train your toddler successfully. From the way you speak to them about it, to how you react to accidents and mess, to the equipment you use at home, these are all important elements to get right during the potty training process. If you’d like a complete list of the essential potty training equipment you need, be sure to get your free copy of my toilet training essentials guide here.

And remember, it doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult. Avoid these common potty training mistakes to help make it a more pleasant process for everyone!

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard

Emma Hubbard is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. She received her Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Newcastle. Emma is the founder of Brightest Beginning & writes about all things child development, sleep, feeding, toilet training and more.

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