Potty Training: What’s the Problem?

Potty Training: What’s the Problem?

Potty Training…

We are finally reaching the end of this milestone in our house – hurrah!

We can go days now without accidents but it has been a long time coming.  The boys are four in a few months and I first introduced the potty two years ago.

A cream bathroom, with white bathroom furniture

Potty training is frustrating.

Just when you think you have it nailed, you get a day full of accidents and little, or no, successes.

On days like these you feel like you have asked whether they need the potty one-hundred times.  This is when they always reply “no”.  On days like these they are guaranteed to have an accident just after this exchange.  Most likely, they are standing right next to the potty when this happens.  I am pretty sure that the only reason they had an accident is because you have reminded them about their bowel movements.

Even more frustrating than this is when you are due to go out.

There are two scenarios here.

You are due to leave, almost certainly running late for work/kindergarten, when despite going on the potty five minutes earlier you hear: “I need to potty!”  You have no choice but to admit defeat and let them go for it.

More frustrating still, you sit them on the potty for 30 minutes – yes, I had a recent experience of this – to be greeted with nothing in the potty.   You think you are safe.  They can’t need to go or surely they will have done it by now.  You get in the car.  Five minutes later you hear those dreaded words: “uh oh”.

Nighttime; now this is the single most frustrating event you can get.  It is the moment your little monkey realises that ‘needing to potty’ can delay bedtime.  This is a golden moment for little ones.  You can’t say no.  Hands tied, you sit, waiting for them to finish.  Every time you ask if they are done, you are told “not yeeeeet”.

All I can say is thank goodness for chocolate…and wine…

Every child is different

I know that people say “every child is different”, but trust me there is nothing more guaranteed to bring this home than having twins (or more).

Two boys, the same age, reaching milestones at completely different times.

In our house we had two very different experiences.

The Over-Nighter

D refused to even sit on the potty until he was just past his third birthday. He would kick, scream and work himself up into a frenzy.  He hated going nappy free.  I mean, really HATED it.  Then one day, around a month after his third birthday, he said: “I not need a nappy anymore mummy”.

And that was that.

I know it seems too good to be true, but, overnight he was dry.  He can even go for a nap without having an accident.  I don’t have to ask him if he needs, he just takes himself to the potty.

This can be a little embarrassing if you are in the company of someone you don’t know that well.  He is likely to grab his potty, plonk it in front of said stranger, pull his pants down and settle to do a number 2.  And, yes, this has happened to us on more than one occasion.

Seven months later, I can count on my one hand how many accidents he has had.

The Reluctant Learner

L was a very different experience.  He was happy to go without his nappy from around the age of two.  He didn’t mind being sat on the potty. Providing you sat him down at regular intervals, this worked.  But he most certainly was not ready to feel for himself when he needed to go.

He had multiple accidents; by this I mean some days only accidents.  We tried everything: reward charts, bribery, ignoring it…

Nothing worked.

18 months later, he was home sick from kindergarten.  This week I was more concerned with nursing my poorly baby back to health and didn’t push the potty on him.  By the end of the week he just started to go to the potty on his own.  After years of trying to train him to use the potty, he just did it on his own.

He still has accidents but on the whole I would say this box is now ticked.

Different cultures, different rules

On reflection, I wonder if we have the wrong attitude towards this milestone?

We are Brits living in Germany.  Over the years we have noticed lots of things that differ between the two countries, despite sharing many similarities.  One of which is the attitude to potty training, which is vastly different.

For British preschool, it is frowned upon to rock up to preschool in nappies.  In fact, a quick google search finds various threads from frustrated parents on this issue.  In some cases, places being revoked at preschool due to children not being potty trained.

Furthermore, potty training is considered just that.


The emphasis is on the parent.  Your child isn’t potty trained?  You, the parent, are doing something wrong.  I know people in the UK whose children are not ready to make the transition from nappies but have no choice but to send their children to pre-school in pants.  It was that or no pre-school.  It strikes me that this risks creating anxiety around learning to use the potty.

When looking online, I find it hard to find out what the law is around that.  I have read that pre-schools cannot reject pupils based on being toilet trained, yet it seems to happen.

The NHS Website recommends: “Using a potty is a new skill for your child to learn. It’s best to take it slowly and go at your child’s pace”.   So why does this seem to be lost along the way at some schools?   The NHS website recommends that most children will be nappy free by four. Yet this rule is sometimes enforced at three.  It is a contradiction.

German kindergarten has a completely different approach.  When I sent L into kindergarten in pants for a few days, he was sent home with bags of dirty clothes.  Accident after accident.  The teacher pulled me to one side and said: “Let’s put him back in pull-ups.  Children do it in their own time, no need to pressurise him.  It will happen when he is ready.”

L was getting very distressed at kindergarten when he had an accident and the teacher was concerned that this was just delaying things.

I was dubious about this.

After all, I had been told on a few occasions that I needed to hurry the boys along.  That really, by this age, they should be out of nappies.  Yet, instinct told me the kindergarten teacher was making sense.  “All children are different” the teacher said.  She was so right.

We had a new tactic. Pull-ups in kindergarten, pants at home.  This way, at home, he could have anxiety-free accidents.  The teacher was spot on, fast-forward a month and he was nappy free at kindergarten too.  No stress.  No anxiety.  Minimal trouble.

This whole experience makes me think, maybe it should not be called ‘potty training’.  Maybe we should just see it for what it is.  A milestone that, like all other milestones, will happen in their own time.  When they are ready.  Something that just requires calm and reassured consistency from teachers and parents.

Let’s drop the ‘training’ and change it to ‘supporting’.

Tell me about your experience of potty training in the comments section below.  What age were your children ‘trained’?

Mum, Dad and Child's hand on top of the other. Lets change potty training to supporting.

Like this post?  Check out Quiet Hours in Germany

Comparing Potty Training in the UK to Germany. What are the differences and what can we learn?