Tuesday Tips: Potty training


This week for our ‘Tuesday’s Tips’ series, I would love to talk about potty training. Very soon, we will be potty training Casper (second try!), so I thought it would be good timing to dig up some potty training wisdom from my personal archives and share it here with you. And to hear your tips and thoughts, of course. (Please!)

I think the first and most important question raised with regards to potty training is:

When is the child ready?

So here’s what I have learned. Over the years, I have found out that there are quite a few cultural differences with regards to potty training. Compared to the UK, where the consensus seems to potty train around the age of two, here in the Netherlands parents generally seem to wait much longer – until around or after the third birthday, or until the child itself shows an active interest in the potty. Or, until there’s no time left to postpone longer! (At the age of 4 all children here in the Netherlands need to be potty trained in order to start school. The nursery teachers told me that even then, some children are still not fully potty trained — which must be such a huge burden on the poor teachers!)

Because we lived in London when our first babies were born, I followed the English way for Sara and Pim, and they were both successfully potty trained around the age of two. After we moved to the Netherlands, I stuck with this idea and Ava was also without nappies shortly after her second birthday.

In my experience, most children are ready to be potty trained around the age of two – in general, they are communicating well enough to understand basic commends and they understand the concept of potty training. They are open to new ideas, but are also still young enough not to overthink the whole idea. (I have heard stories of potty training being a long, emotional and stressful affair with older children).

Some indications that my children were ready to be potty trained included the ability to understand basic commands, the ability to pull down their own pants, and the awareness that something was happening in the wee and poo department. (Some of my children verbally communicated that they were weeing or pooing, and some simply got up from what they were doing and stood quietly in a corner – all indications that they felt it coming or at least that something was happening.)

To give you an idea about the exact age: Sara and Ava were potty trained within a month of turning two, Pim was not ready until about 4 months after turning two. Emilie’s girls, Coco and Vivi, were potty trained before they were 2 1/2 as well, and Courtney’s little girl Marlow, exceptionally, basically potty trained herself when she was 18 months! They do say that girls are a bit faster with things like this than boys, and I think you can generally say this is true.

On a completely different note, I’ve always been quite eager to get my children out of nappies sooner than later out of an environmental point of view. (Plus, nappies cost a heck of a lot of money too!)

How to prepare for potty training?

A few months before their second birthday, I put a potty in our bathroom and sat the child on the potty for a bit before their bath. Just to get them accustomed to the idea of the potty. We started to casually speak about the potty, read books, and play with dolls (and stuffed animals used the potty as well, of course). We’re all really easy going in our household (nobody closes the bathroom door when we’re on the wc) so we would talk about how mama or papa would use the wc, and of course the bigger siblings once they were there.

Then, we simply picked a weekend where we would ‘do it’. I think it’s best to choose a weekend where there’s little else going on, when you’re home, and you have your partner, a friend or family member around to help. In general, don’t mix major happenings if you can avoid it – so don’t take the dummy away when you’re potty training or around the time you’re expecting a new baby.

A note on the weather: I have potty trained my children in warmer and colder weather, and although it is generally perceived that it’s easier to potty train during the summer (just let the child run around without clothes), I don’t think that to be necessarily true. I think that it might be better to keep the child dressed, so he/she really feels the result of an accident. More of a hassle, maybe, yes, but I don’t think it’s best to wait ’til summer if your child is ready to be potty trained in winter.

What do you need?

Some items that are handy to have around before you start are:

– At least ten pairs of fun underpants for the child
– Plenty of easy-to-pull-down trousers with an elastic waistband, such as jogging pants or pyjama pants
– A few potties – depending on the size of your house, you may want one on each floor or in each bathroom
– A sticker chart with fun stickers – you can just make this yourself, it’s just a big sheet of paper with squares on it. One sticker for a wee in the potty, two for a poo!
– Two buckets prepared with soapy water: one to soak dirty underwear and clothes, and another used to wipe the floor clean
– A portable potty and wipe-clean shoes such as Crocks or Native shoes, for when you’re out and about

So how does the process work?

I strongly believe that the most successful way to potty train quickly and successfully is to go ‘cold turkey’. Which means, take the nappy off, and don’t put it back on unless you put your child to bed. No pull-down nappies, no nappy when you go to the grocery store or music class, no matter how tempting it is. Yes, there will be accidents, a lot of them! But I really think that this way, you’re giving the child a very clear and non-confusing message that a change has occurred and that it is time to adapt: no more nappies.

So on Saturday ‘potty training’ morning, immediately after the child woke up, I immediately took the nappy off and replaced it with the cool big kid underwear (make a big fuss! so exciting!) and set the child on the potty.
The key is to put the child on the potty every 10 to 15 minutes on the first days. We always sat next to the child in the beginning to keep them entertained, reading books (I like the classic books from Alona Frankel for boys or girls ) or watching little films on the Ipad. It’s pretty full on! (This is why it’s nice to have some help around during the first days.)
And, in our case, the first days, most of the poos and wees actually happened next to the potty, so it was pretty frustrating as well. (And yes, it was so very tempting to put that nappy back on!)
But, perseverance and patience was always rewarded, and there were more and more successful attempts. When there was a wee, we made a big fuss about it (cheering and applause!), and we let the child participate in pouring the wee in the toilet, we let the child flush and wave bye bye. And of course, we put a sticker on the sticker chart!

If there was no wee, we would remain encouraging and just try again a little later. In case of accidents (many!), we remained positive but at the same time we made clear to the child that this was not the place were the wee belonged.

When you feel things are absolutely not working well after the first days trying, just go back to nappies for a few weeks and try again later. I’ve heard that some children simply don’t have the muscle control to hold their wee even at two years of age. Or they’re not mentally ready — when we first tried a few months ago, Casper hated the idea of the potty so much that he absolutely refused to sit on it so we quickly abandoned the idea. Now, he actually thinks the potty is really cool, so time for a second try (he turned two back in October). So if it doesn’t happen the first time, don’t fret! Simply take a break and try again in a month or two.

How long does the process take?

For my kids, the first days it seemed that they were just not getting it. I would dutifully sit next to them every 15 or so minutes, but still most of their wees would end up on the floor. By day three, I was so frustrated and so very tempted to put that nappy back on… But, magically, after a few days, they started to suddenly get the idea. So I’ve learned to hang in there! When the child started to really wee on the potty (in my experience by day 3 or 4), I could make the potty intervals longer, and things would really get easier. About a week after the start, my kids were all pretty much potty trained.

And I say pretty much, because there would still be the occasional accident, but less and less of them. And in the beginning, we would still have to very regularly remind the child to think about the potty. Also – in the beginning they would tell me they needed to go, but wouldn’t be able to hold it up very long, so we would need to act fast. But they have always learned very very fast!

What to do for naps?

Some kids can be potty trained during the day for years before they master holding their wee overnight. So for nap time and nighttime, we always put the nappy back on. When we saw that the nappy would be consistently dry after the day nap, we would start trying without. And then eventually, when the child would be ready, we would try without during the night as well. (Waterproof bedding is really helpful during that period.)

Out & about

Although it’s probably handier to stay around the house the first few days of potty training, there is no need to stay housebound during the rest of the process. Just make sure that when you leave the house, you have at least one change of clothes including shoes that can be wiped clean, and a plastic bag for the dirty laundry. We always brought a little potty on the road (for Ava, someone gave us a portable potty and it was brilliant!) because in the beginning of the potty training process, little children can not keep in their wee for very long, so if they need to go, they need to go! Right where you are! (On the pavement if necessary!)


If your child attends daycare, I really believe that the staff should respect your choice and parenting method and should be willing to accommodate your efforts and work with you on potty training your child when you think it’s the right time and the child is ready.


All my kids (and I hear it from friends too) have had a fallback about half a year after we potty trained them. For a few days (up to a week!) they start wetting their pants again! It’s crazy, but it just takes a few days and then they ‘get it’ again. I’m not sure why this happened, but it did!

So… that was a long story, but I felt it would (or could?) be helpful to write it all down. Of course these are just my experiences, and every child, and family, and parent is different. This weekend we’ll be potty training Casper, and we will see how it goes this time around!

xxx Esther


Comments (38)

February 3, 2015

Great post Esther and I couldn’t agree more! Going for it ‘cold turkey’ has been the way I’ve trained my boys, so there’s no confusion. We’re getting ready to potty train our 3rd boy (Gus) and I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to detach from any expectations and surrender to the reality that each child (even w/ in my own family is on their own schedule). It will be, what it will be…3 days or 15 days…they eventually get there! Sarah x

February 3, 2015

Thank you for this post!
My little girl also turned 2 in October and has shown all the signs that she’s ready. I have been wanting to get her potty trained for some time now but have been so busy. My husband often works at the weekend and I find it too stressful to do all on my own! But maybe I’ll give it a go this weekend too. Thanks for all the tips. Wish me luck and good luck to you and Casper. x

Esther in Amsterdam
February 3, 2015

Good luck Joanna! And thank you. xo

February 3, 2015

thank you for this tuesday series. its safe to say i love it.
I’m glad to read that i instinctively did the right things when potty training my boys. (no experiences with girls 🙂 ) i kept it like the people in The Netherlands. just waited till they were ready. son #1 didn’t want to give away the nappies away until he was nearly three (‘MY nappies’) son #2, didn’t have a clue until he was 3,5 years old (when he was three he became a big brother so i didn’t even try) and son#3 potty trained himself at 2,5 years when jumping out of the pool to ‘water’ the apple tree. he was the easiest with only about 5 accidents…. all three didn’t use nappies during the night since the day they were potty trained (on their request) probably because they were old enough anyway. we used the sticker chart (which was a huge hit), but all three of them refused to use the potty (and i had tried three (!) different ones) they went on the toilet from day one. Mr. stubborn #3 didn’t even use a baby seat on the toilet…. i didn’t put them on the potty every 15 minutes because I just didn’t have the nerves to sit there but we stayed at home the first few days and i put them on the potty after lunch and dinner and probably every hour. but my boys were much older, so i guess that was quite an advantage. thanks for the tip with the wipe-clean shoes but too late for our four ruined pairs… ;P – i think that the most important thing is to realize when they are ready to be potty trained. one may be earlier than the other. and you are right when you say that you should start at another point of time when it doesn’t work out. safes nerves and a psychologist when grown up! Thanks again for the article, X

Sarah D
February 3, 2015

Brilliant post and I love the series. Really helpful. Thank you! x

February 3, 2015

can I suggest a topic for the “Tuesday’s tips” series? Weaning from the breast. I had a terrible time with my 3, who were breastfed until 7-9 months, and hated bottles no matter how early I introduced them. Lots of tears all around and NOT a single line on the topic in any of the books I had. I’m way over that now, but maybe other mothers are struggling with it.
Just a thought,

February 3, 2015

I nurse my son for almost 13 months because he didn’t want bottle. When he was 9 months old I try to introduce him to bottle because I had to be back at work. Nothing…he didn’t want it, he didn’t suck, he refuse the bottle. So I had to wait. I try again two months later and he accept the bottle. I don’t know why he learned at 11 months but wasn’t able at 9. He simply did it. I know that this comment could not help anyone, it’s just my experience. But I totally agree whit you Lara that there is nothing in books.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 3, 2015

I had that same experience with Pim. He didn’t go for the bottle whatever I tried. So I breastfed him longer (like Frederica did), and then at some point, he suddenly went for the bottle — just like that. I think that maybe the key is to introduce a bottle as a separate entity, so not give it instead of a feed, but as an additional drink. And then once they accept, you can decrease the amount of breastfeeding. But this is just a thought, not a well thought-through advice. In any case, we’ll keep this in mind for the Tuesday Tips posts. Thank you both! xo

February 3, 2015

I’m so pleased its potty training this week! Thanks for the tips & advice. My daughter is 2.5 & says ‘No’ whenever I mention going on the potty, she will sit on it now though with a bit of persuasion, which is an improvement from a few months ago 🙂 x

February 3, 2015

Great tips, Esther! We’ve basically done things exactly the same way – lots of gentle prep, then taking the plunge with two feet. We found that popping the kids on the potty whilst the bath was running was a good way to start a positive relationship with the potty – maximising the chances that something might go in it! I’ve heard that modern nappies can be part of the problem for some – they are so effective at soaking up pee children are less aware of what is going on, and since they experience no discomfort they’re not so keen to change things. We’ve not tried this but apparently putting pants on under the nappy to provide the wet sensation can help with this. That might be a good trick to try between attempts with a reluctant trainer.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 3, 2015

I’ve heard this before! Might try that this week. Thank you! x

February 3, 2015

Great post, wish it had been written 9 months ago! Thanks for sharing.

February 3, 2015

In case it is helpful, my paediatrician explained that you should not try to potty train a boy until he can climb stairs with alternating feet, meaning that he has the necessary control to hold it in…any earlier attempt is bound to fail as the child simply does not have yet the necessary muscle control.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 3, 2015

That’s such interesting advise! Thank you Francesca! x

February 3, 2015

Great post – I do agree cold turkey and to try and make it as fun as possible. My girl (she was 2 and 4 months) decided she wanted to be trained ” pulling her nappy off after pee/ poo” when my baby was only 3 weeks…..My husband went away for weekend with my 4 year old and I asked our babysitter to help me for weekend… ended up to be a lovely weekend – our daughter got tonnes of attention, no fighting with brother and we had a lovely bonding few days – she was so thrilled with her sticker book for using the toilet ( she didn’t like potty so straight to toilet) and i think because of baby / being 2 etc she needed some one on one and toilet training became a very happy time….big high 5’s and hugs every time she used the toilet…also we had a book on toilet training which she loved….she put all her nappies in a bag and we went cold turkey for naps/ night time and well it worked for us.

February 3, 2015

Thank you for this great post! I don’t have any children yet but your blog is still one of my favorite! I saved this post and will read it again once when I have children!

Greetings from Germany!

Esther in Amsterdam
February 3, 2015

You’re so sweet Alisia! Thank you! xoxo

February 3, 2015

As an expat single mom I did not have any help when we went cold turkey on a weekend–my son was 2 years and 10 months, and by day three he was fully trained during the day. I felt it was easy because he had been ready for some time but I had been dreading the training so had delayed.
We ended up going out with a little tupperware in case of accidents–the public toilets are too high and lifting gives me back pain. Night training came at 2 years and 11 month because the nappies were dry night after night. Only two or three night accidents since then (my son is 3.5 years old now). I think the key is cold turkey–I put two yoga mats on top of the carpets to avoid stains for the first day of accidents (there were few). with the pull ups my son had no incentive at all to go to the potty. Being close during the first two days was absolutely critical–could not do much else. Only issue is my son will not go to the bathroom in his pre-school, but it is only 3 hours in the morning. Next step will be getting him to use a toilet seat and not the potty and being comfortable going to public toilets.

February 3, 2015

Honestly, I really don’t get the whole training aspect as a concept – when a kid expresses a reluctance towards going on the potty, it’s probably because they’re not ready for it. I know it’s very Scandinavian (I’m Danish), but I really don’t understand this need for practicing. We let our daughter control this herself, didn’t put any pressure on her to start using the loo, an when she was two years and ten months she just said: I don’t want to wear diapers anymore, and that was it. No training, no nothing, because she was ready and got there herself. They all do, and it saves everyone a LOT of frustration and potential anxiety on the part of the kids.

February 4, 2015

In the US, some preschools require potty training by 2.5 years–you cannot leave it to when the child is ready.

February 4, 2015

Yes Im the same as Lin. Letting children decide when they want to use the toilet is much better for them psychologically and less stress on you, instead of ‘training’ them on your schedule.
That’s disgusting if thats allowed in the US. In the UK, they have to accept all children to nursery/pre-school on the grounds that it would be discrimination else. What if a child has special needs? (Or even if not, its not their fault they are not ready).

February 5, 2015

I’m with you on this Line. When you try to impose a timeframe on this, the child is rarely if ever actually trained 100% in a short space of time. They often have ‘accidents’ or relapses. I waited until mine were ready and that meant a barely 2 year old dry both day and night and my other son dry at almost 3 and my other child again no accidents night or day. I don’t know if I got lucky with the night time dryness (I swear not one bed wetting incident ever with any of my children) or maybe it was other factors but I think when they are ready they will do it and quickly. Carrying a portable potty around sounds awful. Also we never used a potty, I did have one but they felt grown up using the toilet which I think made the transition easier and quicker.

I sympathise completely with parents whose nurseries or schools have stipulated that the child has to be dry before attending.

February 3, 2015

We did similiar with our boy, he was about 2yrs 9 months when we started, went cold turkey and he’s been great with the peeing on the potty, but won’t do poo’s on potty which is proving difficult to move past, any tips anyone has on this would be greatly received, thanks :0)

Esther in Amsterdam
February 6, 2015

Hi Marianne, do you know of the book ‘Everybody poos’ by Taro Gomi? Maybe your son just feels a bit embarrassed about the poo, and this book can help him understand that it’s really a very common and natural thing – -we all do it! (I have no personal experience with this ‘problem’, so just a thought!) xxx

Robin W
February 3, 2015

This is interesting. I recently asked for advice in a FB mom’s group (mostly Americans) and they all were highly in favor of waiting until a child was almost 3. My girls were 2 y 2m at the time. I guess the ages are all across the board. With twins, I know it will be a whole different ball game, no matter when I do it, ha ha!

February 4, 2015

So, does anyone have recommendations for encouraging consistency with #2? We’ve had no problem with wee for at least 6mo, but I think he is withholding and a bit timid about poo. He will run to the closet, but not the toilet! I’ve tried to make him more regular through diet, but haven’t had much luck. He’s just over 3yrs. Ideas?

Esther in Amsterdam
February 6, 2015

Hi Kendra, see comment above of Marianne. Also — I will ask my friend, whose daughter had the same ‘problem’, and see if she has tips. If so, I’ll share here! xxx

February 4, 2015

What a great topic ! I also agree with the cold turkey approach, lots of patience and washing machine on standby. I started explaining to the children quite soon ( around 12 months) what going to the toilet was ( might as well as they were following me when i went! ) and as soon as They learned the sounds ‘p’ and ‘ca’ we were on the potty! When we went out ( always with two sets of extra clothes) we made a point of firstly going to i spect the toilet to see which colours they were, what kind of soap they had and whilst doing that we tried for a wee! It always worked 🙂 it took Robert about 5 days to learn and Isabella about a week. Robi was 19 months and Isabella 18. Expecting our addition for the summer and planning to be doing the same!

February 4, 2015

Esther, thanks so much for this post! Your information was so thorough and answered a lot of the questions I had. Here in Spain where I live there is the idea amongst professionals (doctors, therapists, teachers) that you should wait until the child is ready. BUT society thinks that you should begin potty training after the child has turned two. And indeed every child needs to be trained by the time they start prekindergarten which is compulsory and begins when a child is 3 years old. My son is now 2.8 and we have’t even tried to potty train him because I don’t think (and neither does his daycare teacher) that he is ready. Physically yes, but emotionally and verbally, no. We plan to begin in the Easter holidays because both my husband and I will be on vacation and no trips are planned. I bought him some Olaf underwear to get him excited about the idea (he’s obsessed with Frozen 🙂

I do have a few questions though:
1. Is there a portable potty that you would recommend? When you’re out and about (in a restaurant, for example), do you use that potty or do you just put your child on the toilet seat and hold him? You mentioned that they can’t hold their pee in at that age so it seems to me that whipping out a potty when your child needs to go would be difficult.

2. Once you’ve begun potty training and it’s going well, when do you take off their diapers for nap times and bed times? And do you put a plastic cover over the mattress just in case once you decide to remove the diaper for night time sleep?

Thanks so much! This was so helpful!

Esther in Amsterdam
February 6, 2015

Hi Kiana, we used the Potette travel potty, it comes with little plastic bags. I liked it, very handy for emergencies! In restaurants etc, I very quickly started holding the child on the regular toilet. Also at home — as soon as the child had a bit more control over the bladder, a few days to a week after starting the potty training. But a toilet is not always within reach, so the portable potty did come in handy very very often. (For instance on car journeys.)
For night training, you can just try without nappies once they consistently wake up with a dry nappy. For some children, this happens at the same time as the ‘day training’, but some children are not ready for many more years. (A few of my friends have children who were not without a nappy until they were 7 or 8 years old — it’s very common!) And yes, I like using waterproof bedding during this period — you can find really sweet choices here:

February 4, 2015

Ah! One more question (sorry!): Do you teach a little boy how to pee standing up or sitting down? I would think the latter but wouldn’t the former make more sense in case they have to poo?

Esther in Amsterdam
February 6, 2015

Haha! I teach all of my boys to wee sitting down when they’re at home!! 😉 But on the road, it’s of course an asset to have the availability to wee standing up. x

February 4, 2015

I’m trying to potty train my little one this coming weekend, she was 2 in June, so I feel like its definitely time, but she’s been very hesitant thus far. Thanks for the tips, I’ll be giving cold turkey a go!! xx

February 4, 2015

Hi Kiana, we used the Potette plus convertable potty ( from john Lewis if your in uk) for outings as it folds down flat. It was brilliant as it stands like a normal potty and also lays flat to place on a public toilet so the child is comfortable. You must buy a pack of the bags too though. I went cold turkey when my little girl was 2 and it was a hard and soul destroying 3 very loooong days but yet the best thing we’ve done. We used rewards (ehem, bribes!!) for peeing or pooing in the toilet and also bought her some novelty animal soaps so she was excited to wash her hands afterwards.
She has been potty trained for 6 months now but does still wear a nappy for bedtimes and nap times if in the house.. If she naps in the buggy i make sure she goes to the toilet as soon as she wakes up. For a month or so I would put a small towel underneath her in the buggy just in case. I have a 4 month old baby too so I’m holding back on the nighttime training a but longer. It’s not doing her any harm.

Esther in Amsterdam
February 6, 2015

Thanks for your comment Leanne! That’s the same portable potty that we have used, and I agree, the bags are brilliant. xxx

February 7, 2015

Thanks Esther and Leanne! Super helpful tips! I appreciate it. :=

February 10, 2015

hi! Im so thankful for your article…I was trying your tips just 2 days and it works!!!! Paula is 9 Months old and my sister told me its going to be impossible but it works! thank you very much!! I love your website
Greetings from Hamburg!

Josephine Smith
June 27, 2016

Very helpful tips…

Kids genuinely need portty training and what can be the best thing that they should be trained at home on their pesonal portaloo.

Thank you for sharing these tips here with us.

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