SingaporeMotherhood | Baby & Toddler

September 2013

Potty Training: Go Slow and Steady

A few months before my daughter Caitlyn turned two, the little miss decided she didn’t want to wear diapers and would randomly take off her clothes. At first I thought I had a little exhibitionist on my hands but then I realised she was just showing signs of being ready to be potty trained.

However, I was not mentally prepared for it. I wasn’t ready to move on to the next stage. I couldn’t believe my little baby was growing up! So for the next few weeks, we tried our darndest to get her to keep her clothes on while she perfected her skill of split-second diaper removal.
Finally I figured that I should not hold her back. If she was showing signs of being ready then it would be easy peasy, right? I would train her over a weekend, I naively thought. Ha! I was obviously deluded. I still have not learnt to be patient and to go only as fast as she is ready to progress. This Mama is a little slow on the uptake as you can see.

The plan was to have Caitlyn go bare-bottom or clad only in panties. This way when she wet herself, she would feel it immediately. I would sit her on the potty every hour or so and hopefully we would, by sheer luck, get some pee into the potty. And then I would reward her with Mickey Mouse stickers. Based on my online research, this method apparently worked fine for most kids. There would be many, many misses in the first few days but by the third day, most kids would have learnt to recognise the feeling of a full bladder and make a beeline for the potty, I read.

The weekend was a disaster. I had many pairs of panties, rags and bucket and several small rewards like stickers on standby. My husband and I hunkered down at home and psyched ourselves for Operation Potty. The first few times Caitlyn made a mess, I cheerfully cleaned up and showed her to the potty. By the afternoon, I was ready to tear my hair out and I had become increasingly worried that she would never be potty trained.

The potty remained frustratingly clean and dry and Caitlyn was also starting to run away whenever I approached her. She didn’t know what her Crazy Mama wanted. I called it a day. This method was definitely not for us.

Dr Chan Poh Chong, Senior Consultant at National University Hospital’s Division of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, explained, “Gradual steps, rather than giant leaps, are best for achieving long-term results. Do not punish or show exasperation when your child makes a mistake, but gently encourage him or her to sit on the potty the next time.”

I took a step back and formulated a new plan. This time I took a page from my dog training days. If it took a puppy more than a weekend to be toilet-trained, a toddler would probably also need at least that same amount of time.

The first thing I did was to switch her to pull-ups. These are diapers which do not have tabs on the side. Instead you pull them up like normal underwear. I also left the potty in the living room and read her picture books about using the potty. The idea was to let her get used to the idea of a potty. I let her play with the clean potty and she would carry it around like a chair and sit on it with her pants on.

After a couple of days, I moved on to the next step. By then, she could indicate to me when her pull-ups were wet. While changing her pull-up, I would encourage her to sit on the potty. I would praise her when she did and it didn’t matter if she peed or not.

After a while, she started to make the connection. She would go to the potty and remove the pull-ups by herself. Often she would already have peed in the pull-up but gradually she was able to control her bladder better and make it to the potty earlier and earlier.

Each time she went to the potty, I praised her and rewarded her with a sticker. When she was able to go to the potty pretty steadily, I started putting her in panties for short periods of time, especially after she had just peed.

tutu toddler

Of course there were accidents but they was far less frequent and exasperating compared to when we took the cold turkey approach. When she had an accident, I just reassured her and cleaned up. I didn’t want to frighten her into holding her pee. It was all a matter of time and letting Nature take its course.

This approach worked better for us and while it might take longer, it was a lot more successful. Too successful in fact. Caitlyn was so pumped by her success she refused to wear pull-ups or any kind of diaper at night. While she was able to stay dry during the day, night time was a different story. Many evenings were spent wrangling her into a pull-up only to have her take it off. That is until I discovered Dora the Explorer pull ups. The little miss happily kept these on.

Caitlyn just turned three. And I am proud to say she is now also night-time potty trained. She will get up on her own at night if she needs to pee. Looking back at our potty training adventure, I realise my biggest mistake was not listening to my daughter. If I had just let her determine how fast to proceed in the first place, I wouldn’t have had all that unnecessary stress that weekend. After all potty training is not a race and she had plenty of time to meet that milestone.

According to Dr Chan, “Most children would be able to sit on the potty between two to three years of age, with boys usually being a little slower. If your child is not potty trained by five to six years of age, it is time to seek your doctor’s advice.”


(Reprinted with permission from the NUH newsletter Lifeline, issue 2/2013)

By Dr Chan Poh Chong, Senior Consultant, Division of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, National University Hospital

Week 1:

Encouragement and setting examples are good ways to begin. Reading stories on potty training and making it enjoyable to do so may help. Highlight to your child older siblings, cousins and friends who can either sit on the potty or go to the toilet to relieve themselves as examples he or she can follow. When your child expresses the urge, allow him or her to wear the diaper while sitting on the potty.

Week 2:

Help your child overcome the fear of the potty or the toilet. Reading a short story to him or her while he or she is on the potty is one way. After bowel movement, show your child where the stool needs to go by putting the soiled diaper into the potty, enforcing the notion that stools are meant to go directly into the potty.

Weeks 3 – 4:

When your child is ready and comfortable, remove the diaper and allow him or her to move
bowels directly into the potty. Praise and reward your child for the achievement. You may be surprised at how easily your child progresses from one stage to the next, as long as you do it gradually and with great patience.


  • Be patient and take gradual steps
  • Encourage and praise positive improvements
  • Highlight examples from household members or friends/ relatives
  • Remove fear of the potty or toilet


  • Punish your child for any mistakes or accidents
  • Pressurise your child when he or she is not ready
  • Push your child too fast or set deadlines
  • Show exasperation or despair when accidents happen

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Potty Training: Go Slow and Steady