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When should I begin toilet training my child?

Baby Care

Dr Ombeva,

Thank you for educating us through your articles. I have a son who is one and half years old now. How best can I toilet train him? Or is it too early for me to start?


Dear Edna,

Thank you for your question. Your question has great timing because annually, every November, we celebrate the World Toilet Day, to raise global awareness of the struggle 2.6 billion face every day without access to proper, clean sanitation.

Children learn to tell when they need to empty their bowels at different ages. Generally, signs that your child is ready for toilet training appear from about two years. First, decide whether you want to train your child using a potty or the toilet. The potty is mobile and familiar, therefore some children find it less daunting than a toilet. If your child is using the toilet you’ll need a step for your child to stand on. You’ll also need a smaller seat that fits securely inside the existing toilet seat, because some children get uneasy about falling in.

You might notice that your child empties her bowels at a certain time of the day, so try putting her on the potty at this time. Dress your child in clothes that are easy to take off. Sit your child on the potty each day at times when he’s likely to have a bowel movement.

Give your child positive praise for his efforts even if progress is slow. You may from time to time ask your child if he needs to go to the toilet. Make the reminders gentle so that your child doesn’t feel pressured. Five minutes is long enough to sit a child on the potty or toilet so that it does not feel like punishment. You’ll need to wipe your child’s bottom at first, until he learns how.

Remember to wipe from front to back, particularly with little girls. Teach your boy to shake his penis after a short call. Teach your child how to wash her hands after using the toilet. Toilet training might take days or months. The key is to not push your child. Relax and let him learn at his own pace.

- Dr Ombeva Malande is a paediatrics and child health expert

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