How We Started Toilet Training At 12 Months


“I’m comfy here” at 18 months old.

People I talk to have often been intrigued at how early we started toilet training our kids and are sometimes astounded that our less-than-2-year-olds are out of nappies and using the toilet. While some would say that toilet training is best left until the child is older and more teachable, we’ve found that starting “early” has been very do-able and we have been pleased to be rid of pooey nappies as soon as we did for both the hygiene and aesthetic benefits.

In this post, I’ll be sharing how we toilet trained our son (our first child), starting at 12 months. From the in-person and online discussions I’ve been a part of, toilet training actually seems to be a bit of a hot topic with parents. Many parents have their ideas on how to or how not to do it. Here, I don’t seek to promote a “one size fits all” model for toilet training – I don’t know that one exists! This is our experience, which may help you in starting toilet training earlier or at least show that it is doable and profitable. I think that what we did starting at 12 months, could be done starting as soon as the child can sit steadily on a potty, perhaps even as early as 6 months. We just didn’t know about it any earlier or we may have tried it!

(I should briefly note now: If you happen to not be a parent and are reading this, I will warn you that the following piece will contain open reference to bowel and bladder functions which may or may not gross you out. Just something I’ve noticed about people who aren’t parents!)

When we had our first baby, we had no idea how to toilet train! Without the foggiest idea of how we would even begin, I remember ending up in a conversation with my cousin-in-law, a mother of 3, when our son was about 12 months old. She described how she would sit her babies on the potty as soon as they were able to sit confidently. There was no pressure or expectation for them to do anything in the potty, it was just nappy free time and they could sit and play with some toys or look at books. If they did do anything, they’d be praised and encouraged, but if they didn’t do anything, it was no big deal.

We liked this idea and started doing it straight away with our son. We weren’t rushing him out of nappies or trying to make him ‘get it’ all of a sudden, we’d just see how it went. To help things along, we tried timing his potty time with when we thought he might poo, which was usually after lunch.

To start with, it became an exercise of just getting him to sit happily on the potty without getting off! We tried not to push things and ran somewhat with what he was happy to do. For the first session, he sat happily for one minute before wanting to get off. We let him go and hoped that we could make it to two minutes next time. The next time he managed 5 minutes before wanting to get off, so we were pretty happy. The third time, I can’t remember how long he stayed there (it was at least 5 minutes) but I do remember that we caught a poo. Yay!! (This is one of those exciting moments that other parents understand and people who aren’t parents think is gross!)

The subsequent sessions were mixed in terms of length of time and whether he would do anything but he did do a number of poos in the potty over this time. We would sit with him and play or read books, or fold laundry while he entertained himself. With time and practice, he could eventually stay there happily for 20-25 minutes. To give further encouragement, we would let him run around nappy free after he did something in the potty, which he loved!

Very quickly, he seemed to click with the idea of letting out whatever he had to let out (wees and poos) when he sat on the potty. If he had something to do, he would do it. If he didn’t have anything to let out, he wouldn’t. This enabled us to shorten his potty sessions if he wasn’t doing anything. We also quickly worked out that he was out-pooing the potty. The potty’s bowl was too shallow and the poo would be touching his bottom. And so we began the transition to the toilet with a small child’s toilet seat. It took about a week, and he wasn’t too sure at first, but after that week, he became happy with the toilet and would go just as he had before in the potty.

Happy to be on the toilet. Almost 2 years old.

Happy to be on the toilet. Almost 2 years old.

My memory is foggy on the exact timing, but I do remember that by the time our son was 18 months old, we had figured out that if we put him on the toilet after each meal, he would poo in the toilet on at least one of these occasions, and apart from one or two small accidents since then, we thus gleefully said goodbye to poo in his nappy/pants.

It was around this time, when he was reliably doing all his poos in the toilet, that we also took him out of nappies, put him in cloth training pants and started on getting all his wees in the toilet. We knew that he knew how to release, so would make sure we took/coaxed/insisted he come to the toilet about once an hour. It took some experimenting (ie. wetting of pants, because he was not so savvy about holding on) to figure out what time interval worked, but once we got the hang of it, we became familiar with how often he would need to go to avoid wetting his pants. As he got older, he could go a bit longer between toilet breaks. At some point, if we had left it too long, he would wet a little in his pants, tell us, and do the rest in the toilet. He stayed on a toilet routine like this until not long after he turned 3, when he started telling me when he needed to go and taking himself.  And so he was day trained.

Night training, as it commonly does, has taken a little longer and I’m still not entirely sure if we’re there yet! After some dry nappies after his nap, we took to bribery (cordial with dinner if he was dry) and he soon became good at staying dry for his nap. That milestone accomplished, we turned our attention to seeing if he could do the same overnight, which has been a rollercoaster! To start with, we had noticed that the times he had gone to sleep at someone else’s house, been woken, taken home, gone to the toilet and then gone to sleep in his own bed, he often had a dry nappy when we got home and a dry nappy in the morning. So we started using disposable nappy pants and tried waking him to go wee before we went to bed. At first, it worked! And then for a week or two he went totally backwards and had a wet nappy at both the night waking and the morning. And then he gradually started getting better again.

Eventually he would stay dry all night (most nights). So we tried not waking him. Some nights he would sleep through and stay dry, others he would wake and come and ask us to take him to the toilet, others he would wet. At some point we took him out of nappies, had ups and downs with that, but now at 4½ years old, he will usually get himself up to go toilet at night if needed, and in the morning, though he does occasionally wet his bed. We recently had a bit of a regression but eventually figured out that giving him a second doona on his bed has done the trick. We suspect he may have been a bit cold and was waking and weeing because of that.

So looking back, we started at 12 months, had all poos in the toilet by around 18 months, out of nappies during the day and mostly dry around 18-20 months, and mostly night trained at 4ish years. We don’t regret a bit of it and are particularly glad that we got his poos out of his pants so early. It also meant that when we did put him in training pants, we virtually never (save two small accidents on the way to the toilet) had to deal with poo in his pants. Wet accidents we could deal with, but poo-ey training pants were not something we wanted to handle! While at the outset he was not savvy enough on the whole thing to recognize his need to toilet and tell us, we felt it was still advantageous toileting him on routine for the purpose of hygiene. He still “got it” eventually, but was able to avoid getting around in a soggy or dirty nappy for a while before that time. We also felt that starting earlier would have avoided further ingraining the habit of going in his pants, because it is a habit that we train our kids into when we use nappies to catch their eliminations.

Overall, we’ve been pleased with how we did things. It was not a quick, 3-day process. It was a gradual process, but we didn’t mind this, and were happy with the benefits of our son being even partially toilet trained. Would we do it again with subsequent children? Well actually, no, we wouldn’t. Not that we regret it at all. Just that while pregnant with our second child, I started learning about how some cultures start toilet training their babies starting from birth, and some don’t even use nappies at all. We decided to give it a go when our daughter was born, using nappies for backup. We’ve been really pleased with how it has gone so hope to do this for all our subsequent children. That is a whole other story, but I will share it with you another day. Stay tuned!

Filed Under: BabyChildrenFeaturedParenting

About the Author: In yesteryear, I studied and taught music and was involved in youth ministry. Now I am a wife and a home educating mum, with kids aged 6, 4 and 1. I also like to read, knit and sink my vocal chords into chant and polyphony. Through it all, I am striving to battle the busyness to come closer to the Lord. For anything of value I write here, to God be the glory.

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