potty training problems

Potty training problems? It’s not your fault!

Quietly, parents are telling me their potty training problems. They are worried they potty trained wrong, that they did it too late, too early, that they rushed it, or dragged it out.  They think it’s all their fault. Sound familiar? Why is this happening? What can we do about it? 

When it comes to potty training, I want to give all parents having a tough time a hug! It can be really hard. But take heart; if what I’m saying relates to you then know that you’re not alone! I’ve recently been meeting a lot of parents who are having (in their own words) “a nightmare” where potty training is concerned. Potty training problems are varied but include:

  • Wetting and soiling “accidents”
  • Children “not quite getting it”
  • Potty/toilet refusal or resistance, regression, set-backs
  • Potty/toilet fear and related emotional problems
  • Bedwetting

As well as struggling to deal with the problems above, parents also express a lack of confidence and knowledge in the process of potty training, including:

  • when to start (age, season, developmental level)
  • how to start
  • how to complete
  • how quick or slow to potty train
  • where to get support and advice

And I feel for parents in this situation, I really do. These days, its easy to lose confidence with potty training. But you know what? It’s not their fault.

Not your fault.

There are reasons why it’s easy to get stuck when it comes to potty training.

why do so many parents experience potty training problems?

the tools we have

Disposable nappies have given us a convenient and cheap solution to the ‘problem’ of baby and toddler wee and poo. They can be a useful tool for many parents at a time when life can be overwhelming. In some cases, they are the best option available for parents. I get it (and I’ve used them).


Disposables are designed to feel “dry”, for hours at a time. In fact, Pampers even ask parents “where did all the pee go?” It’s almost like it doesn’t exist anymore.  Great for parents in many ways. But peeing and pooing are natural bodily functions and because disposables feel so dry, they can take awareness away of what the body is doing. Also, “pull-up” disposables are marketed as a potty training tool but because they also feel dry, they don’t help kids develop awareness.

Again, not your fault: you may never have thought about it from this perspective before.

what we are told

We are told to wait and that if problems arise, it’s because the child “isn’t ready”. We are told to leave it a while, and come back to it later on. But often this doesn’t help, because it’s not that the child isn’t ready,  children are born ready and capable of learning, it’s that they need more guidance and teaching to get it right. When parents are unsure how to teach potty training to their child, they get stuck. When you feel stuck, believing that they are not ready gives you permission to put off dealing with the issue and hope it resolves itself. But it really won’t.

We should understand that the concept of “readiness” is not based on any real scientific evidence, and is more a ploy by nappy companies to keep you buying their product for longer. Scientifically,  earlier potty training is shown to be beneficial. We now know that leaving it later in fact increases the potential for problems down the line, which is why I believe we are seeing more and more of the so-described “potty training nightmares”.

lack of knowledge and support  

When you needed help, where and who could you seek out?  Who could you go to with questions, especially if things got tough? Was it your parents, friends, a neighbour, a “wise parent” down the road? What if you felt embarrassed? Was there a community group for you? Perhaps a class you could go to? Could you find what you needed easily available and in your community?  If the answer is no, did you ever consider why this might be?

This isn’t to do any disservice to the wonderful Health visitors, health professionals and children’s centre workers who absolutely exist to meet the needs of their communities, but the truth is that support is limited.


Pre-disposables, nearly all children were potty trained by 18 months. That was just 50 years ago! If you’ve got a grandma to ask, she’ll probably remember how it used to be (and I bet it will be an interesting conversation!). But in our culture, these facts are easily forgotten, overlooked or deflected. If you’re surprised to learn them now, it’s because this way of approaching potty training has gone out of fashion (and ps, that’s not your fault either!).

But worldwide, over 50% of children are potty trained by age 12 months – this is the norm. The concept of ‘readiness’ isn’t as widespread as you might think and this may be the key to what’s different. In fact, potty training problems don’t really exist, because “potty training” itself doesn’t really exist in most parts of the world, not in the way we understand it anyway. So what we are really talking about here is changing trends.

But the trend towards understanding how to potty train as well as address problems when they arise does exist and it’s a knowledge that’s growing in response to parents needing it. When parents know the methods, they are empowered, confident, they work as a team to support each other.

what can you do?

  • Be kind to yourself. You can’t know what you don’t know, and it wasn’t your fault you didn’t know it. We are all doing our best.
  • Be here! If you’re struggling with potty training and want help, the good news is that I am here to help! I am one of the leading experts in Potty Learning. I work in the NHS as a paediatric research nurse and am on the Professional Advisory Committee for ERIC, the Bladder and Bowel Charity. I write books, blogs, make videos, deliver consults and courses to help parents and carers understand the science of potty learning in order to support their toddlers through the major childhood milestone of becoming toilet independent. Both my children used the potty from birth.

bring the knowledge back

Here at Little Bunny Bear we are part of a growing number of people who are working hard to bring back knowledge and support into local communities. Little Bunny Bear wants to help as many parents as possible and build a community of knowledge that’s owned by parents.

If you are ready to stop using nappies now and would like support with Potty Training, we have lots of fantastic resources for you! You can:
– join our Potty Learning support group
–  try our Potty Training eLearning
– book a Private Consultation with me

If you have a baby and would like support with Baby Pottying/Elimination Communication, why not download my Baby Pottying guide

will you join us?


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