5 Biggest mistakes parents make when potty training


First things first, we’re not saying there is a right and a wrong way to potty train that applies to every single child.  Every child is individual, and you know what will and won’t work for your own child.  Over the years we have seen a pattern emerge where common actions cause common reactions. This post highlights the potty training behaviour that we have seen to cause the most complications and stress on parents and their children in general terms.  This is not true in every case, so do take into account your own experience and trust your gut about what will work for you.

1. Starting at the wrong time

Disposable nappies can make it difficult to identify when a child is ready to potty train and also makes it difficult for children to recognise when they are wet, which is an important first milestone when potty training. As a result, many parents are unsure of when to start and don’t realise that their child is ready.  In some cases, the child starts to use the nappy as a portable toilet and prefers the idea of nappies over going to the toilet.  It is after all more convenient not to have to disrupt play to go to the toilet!

We have heard from many frustrated parents saying they know their child is capable but they refuse to entertain the idea of potty training. This is particularly common in children over three.  The older the child the smarter they are and the more able they are to try to persuade you that they are happy the way things are!

In other words, we believe that potty training should be child led, in that you start when the child is ready and able, but the only way the process is going to start is if the parent or carer takes the decision to take the nappy off and actively start training.  We have spoken to parents who think their child is ready but decide to wait until a good time. This can push potty training back by months and it has been proven that if miss the window of opportunity, potty training can take longer. Obviously, there needs to be some balance here, as you wouldn’t want to start training when the child is ill or when there is major change in their life. 

Just to confuse things, we also get numerous messages from parents who have been very proactive to get their child out of nappies as early as possible.  There is often a lot of outside pressure from other people with comments like, ‘in my day all children were fully potty trained at 18 months.’

Starting too early can result in more accidents and the process taking far longer.  We recommend looking out for the SIGNS OF READINESS and starting training as soon as you think your child is ready.

The first stage of our free potty training academy is all about recognising the signs of readiness. You can sign up here.

2. Training without pants or trousers

I have no idea of the science behind this, but we have had so many parents contact us and say they started potty training with nothing on their child’s bottom half. And they did really well at getting to the potty or toilet in time and avoided all accidents. However, when pants and clothes went back on, accidents started again. Therefore, we recommend that you do it in one stage, and start with wearing underwear and clothes. 

3. Switching between nappies and pants

We don’t recommend potty training in a pull up style disposable training nappy, and have yet to find a Health professional who would!  Children see pull up style training pants as a nappy which makes it difficult for them to change their habit and switching between them and pants can be confusing.  Consistency helps the new habit form faster. 

Also, children need to be able to feel wet to start the understanding of when an accident has occurred and modern nappies make it difficult for them to feel wet. If you need some protection from accidents, try putting a Dry Like Me pad in their grown up pants rather than switching back to nappies. 

4. Taking a hard line on issues with poo

The exception to rule that says, ‘remove the nappy and don’t put it back on,’ is that if your child doesn’t want to poo on the toilet or potty, give them a nappy to poo in.  Some children get really scared about doing a poo on the toilet and it can take time and patience to get them comfortable with this. 

There are some rules around giving them the nappy to ensure they don’t get confused by this, but the biggest mistake is to try to force them to go for a poo on the toilet if they don’t want to.  The issue with this is that it can lead to children withholding their poo, which can cause constipation and other medical issues that can take months to recover from.  See our article on dealing with poo issues for more tips. 

5. Tackling night time at the same time as daytime 

Night time training is different to daytime training and is more dependent on the physical readiness of the child. If they are not physically ready, they will not be able to learn to stay dry overnight.  As a general rule of thumb, we recommend starting night time training approx 6 months after daytime training or when you start to see a pattern of dry nappies in the morning.  We have a free mini training course on night time training, that you can sign up to here

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8 comments on “5 Biggest mistakes parents make when potty training

  1. Kate Gardner on

    Hi, my son is nearly 3 and a half, he refuses to use the toilet if I ask or tell him to go on it but if he’s naked he’ll go on himself. It’s like he’s stubborn if I mention it. I don’t know what to do, we go on holiday in July and I have a 9 month old, I don’t want to have to take a ton of nappies, please help

    • Di on

      Hi Kate, I think it would be a good idea for you to start by talking him through the routine from finding the bathroom, managing clothes right up to drying hands, and maybe even get him to show you what the routine is. You can then start rewarding him for trying and mastering all parts of the routine not just getting the wee in the potty/toilet. We have a course on our website that guides you through each stage of potty training. You can sign up on the website and it’s completely free. One of the downloads is an ebook that talks through the routine, this might help him get motivated. Things like going shopping together for big boy pants helps and depending on the child, rewards can work well. Good luck, you should hopefully be sorted before your holiday.

  2. sally williams on

    My lil girl is nearly 3 and started potty training recently. She had cut out all day naps for a few months. But now she’s been napping during the day, should i leave her nappy on ir put in her in nickers before she falls asleep. Also from home to nursery is a 20 minute walk, is it hindering her wearing a nappy to and from nursery?

    • Di on

      Hi, it’s best if you can keep the nappy off in the daytime once you start potty training, as it can be confusing and some children get very good at holding on until the nappy is back on. A Dry Like Me pad can help to catch small accidents and because it is worn in the pants it isn’t confusing to the child. By the time children are starting potty training they can normally go about an hour and a half between weeks, so if you take her to the loo just before you leave home for nursery, she should be ok. Good luck Di x

  3. Sarah on

    Hiya. My son is 3 and a half, he was born very prematurely (27 weeks). His language is delayed a little. We have been trying to potty train for over a year but it’s as if he doesn’t know when he needs to go (he never tells me when he has to pee or poo) even when in nappies he never would say he done a pee or poo. He hates getting the nappy changed or on but won’t use the toilet or potty. I am at a loss is there any advice you can give me. Thank you

  4. Tilly on

    Hi there,

    My daughter is nearly three and we are potty training for the second time (we tried a while ago but she wasn’t ready). She is definitely ready this time and understands where she should do her wees and poos and seems to hold on until she uses the potty when she’s naked. As soon as she has her pants on, however, she just wees everywhere! This was an issue last time we tried as well. The first time we tried she had nothing on her bottom half so this time around we have tried putting her in pants straight away as you advise above but it seems to be confusing her. I think she might associate the feeling of pants with that of a nappy. Any advice? Will she eventually just get it or is there something I could do to help her understand? Thank you!


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