Toilet training vs toilet timing: What’s the difference?

Child on green potty

There are a lot of fallacies surrounding small children’s pee and poop, and mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue got to the bottom of a few in a recent episode of Kinderling Helpline.

 Spot the difference

Clarifying the difference between toilet training and toilet timing, Chris said mixed messages abound.

“In certain cultures, they hold a little baby over a potty and they call that toilet training,” she explained, but in western cultures, the term toilet training is a more autonomous concept.

While toilet timing is often practised from the very early months of a baby’s life, toilet training occurs later as a child gets to know their own body and begins to identify the urge to poo or pee. Parents might start toilet training between 18 months to two and a half years of age (sometimes later!) Some parents start toilet timing – that is holding their baby over a potty or toilet – from birth.

Chris says there’s a place for toilet timing – and it’s before parents begin toilet training.

“Toilet timing is what I do before I toilet train,” Chris said, “because if you think about little people, if you just go ‘today you’re wearing nappies and tomorrow you’re wearing underpants’ that’s a big call. Not only that – you need to sit on a toilet to do a wee!”

Next, I move to ‘toilet training’. So now we’re asking the child to tell us. So we say ‘you’ve got your underwear on, there’s the toilet – or the potty – and you just tell mummy if you need some help to go to the toilet.’”


  Read more about toilet training:


Getting a child to wee over a toilet or into a potty is very different from teaching a child to take themselves off to the toilet at the appropriate time.

“To be toilet trained you have to have the cognitive development to stop what you’re doing and realise your body needs go to the bathroom and take yourself there,” she explains, noting that babies and young toddlers are not developmentally ready for toilet training.

“They don’t have the understanding,” Chris told Kinderling Helpline. “They don’t have it in language and they don’t have it in cognitive behaviour.”

Toddler boy in nappy

All in good time

If parents are faced with competitive toddler toilet chatter, she suggests things may not always be as they seem.

“If somebody said to me, ‘my 18-month-old is toilet trained’, I always say ‘do they take themselves to the toilet’ and they go ‘oh no, I take them’.”

“That’s toilet timing,” Chris stressed. For a child to be toilet trained, they need to able to recognise the urge to use the bathroom and hang on for the short time it takes to find a bathroom, then go to the bathroom.

For instance, Chris said, “you need to be able to be driving and the child says ‘I need to go to the toilet’ and you say ‘we’ll be home in two minutes’ and they can hold.”

Chris says most children will be closer to two or even older when toilet training begins to fall into place. 


Do you have a question for Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue? Join Kinderling Conversation host and mum-of-two Shevonne Hunt for friendly advice, interviews and insightful tips every Monday at 12pm.

Toddler hiding behind curtain

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