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

Posted in Learning and Development.

There are a lot of fallacies surrounding small children’s pee and poop, and mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue has got to the bottom (hehe) of a quite few in her time as one of our resident Helpline experts.

 Spot the difference

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

“In certain cultures, they hold a little baby over a potty and they call that toilet training,” she explains, 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. At this young age, this practice is also known as ‘elimination communication’.

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

Toddler boy in nappy

“Toilet timing is what I do before I toilet train,” Chris explains, “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’re able to 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.’”

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 says. “They don’t have it in language and they don’t have it in cognitive behaviour.”

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 often quite a bit older when toilet training begins to fall into place. 

Do you have a parenting question for one of our Helpline experts? Join our Live Helpline every Monday at 11.30am on Facebook.

Read more about toilet training:


Get more babyology straight to your inbox