Thursday, 1 May 2014

Real Nappy Week Mythbuster #2 | Children potty train themselves at 40 months

The idea that your child will start wanting to wear pants and use the toilet all by her/himself when s/he is three and a half years old is a very attractive idea, right?  And we are all tempted to hear what we want to hear.

Well the disposable nappy industry worked that one out and parents were had.  Around 1997-2001 it published and circulated 'research' to health visitors, GPs and other  health professionals.  The 'research' said children shouldn't be introduced to the potty until they were three and a half years old or night trained until they were 7.  They went further and spread the myth that if a child potty trains earlier than this, they may suffer  'developmental delay'.  The industry later admitted that this was a major marketing mistake!  But what did it matter to them?  The market had been created for single-use, superabsorbent "potty training" pants for children up to 4 and older.

Nowadays you will see that the official advice from the NHS is to introduce the potty from 18 months.  Some paediatric continence professionals say introduce the potty even earlier.

June Rogers MBE, RN, RSCN, BA, MSc has over 20 years experience in the area of paediatric continence.  She says all children, including those with learning difficulties should be introduced to the potty from an early age although the expectation should be that those with special needs may potty train up to a year later than children who don't have learning difficulties.  The mistake made over the last few decades has been to introduce toileting skills to children later and later. 

There's also a myth that children that wear cloth nappies potty train earlier.  Don't bank on it.   This is an important developmental step and our advice is to give your toddler the stimulation and support to help them achieve it.

Click HERE for advice on introducing your toddler to the potty. 

Real Nappies for London's mission is to reduce nappy waste generated in London.  Washable nappies reduce nappy waste.  Some parents are unable to use them due to the lack of a washing machine or drying space.  We can all help our children come out of nappies - if we have good information and the skills to help our children make this development step.  We are committed to giving parents help to do it.  Please see more HERE.

We welcome your comments below.  Please join the conversation.


  1. I'm an Early Years professional and have worked with young children for 7 years now. Children honestly will do it on their own and if they don’t do it on their own then usually it's something causing the delay. Either pressure from parents (and parents are usually pressured by their family or health visitors) or even the child's diet can delay the process. Too much pressure to be toilet trained can also traumatise a child; although they may be toilet trained for half a year or even a whole year, the pressure can cause them to revert later. There is some academic research that tells you the stages of knowing when your child is ready and when to encourage them. It explains that although, yes your child can recognise that they are going to have a poo, recognising going for a wee comes even later and then you've still got to give time for the child to understand that they need to recognise the signals before they go for a wee, giving themselves enough time to communicate and make their way to a toilet.
    Scientifically, children’s body’s are developed to be dry day and night between the ages of 4 and 5, but a lot of children are dry day and night before then. Also if your child isn’t dry by the time they reach school then it shouldn’t matter, as the reception year in schools are still under the same Early Years curriculum as nursery schools and the statuary framework says we must meet the children’s needs and welfare (which means if your child is in nappies they should change your child). Never or less, most children make it on time.

    1. Benjamin, Thanks so much for starting the conversation and sharing your experiences.
      Regards, Hilary

  2. Thank you for this article. It continues to amaze me how quickly we forget the that the research and scientific data GP's, health professionals and parents in general get hung up on are only 50 odd years old. The readiness signals we look out for were commissioned by a leading nappy company and a well known paediatrician. Until these took root children were mostly out of nappies by the age of 1. Putting a small child on a potty at routine intervals was modus operandi here in the UK as it was in the rest of the world. 50% of the children in the world are still toilet trained by the age of 1 - whereas as in other parts of the world where the use of nappies is prevalent the average age is now nearer 3.
    A nurses handbook from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (1952) teaches nurses that "children know what is expected of them from a very young age. Hold them over a potty at regular intervals and very few dirty napkins will result". In this day and age that is called Elimination Communication. ( Babies are born with awareness and a degree of bladder control and the instinct not to soil themselves. By listening and responding to your baby's cues and body language it is possible to facilitate their "output" landing in a receptacle rather than in a nappy. As such there is an alternative to no waiting until a child is old enough to toilet train themselves. By respecting and responding to their communication modern day toilet training can be largely bypassed as communicating toilet needs is natural behaviour.

  3. Thanks for your response to this post. We'd love to hear from more of you. But please no blaming parents. We just want to share information so parents can make the right choice for themselves.