How to potty train

Using a potty is a new skill for your child to learn. It’s best to take it slowly and go at your child’s pace. Being patient with them will help them get it right, even if you sometimes feel frustrated.

Children are able to control their bladder and bowels when they're physically ready and when they want to be dry and clean. Every child is different, so it's best not to compare your child with others.

Bear in mind that most children can control their bowels before their bladder.

  • By age one, most babies have stopped doing poos at night.
  • By age two, some children will be dry during the day, but this is still quite early.
  • By age three, 9 out of 10 children are dry most days – even then, all children have the odd accident, especially when they're excited, upset or absorbed in something else.

By age four, most children are reliably dry during the day

It usually takes a little longer for children to learn to stay dry throughout the night. Although most learn this between the ages of three and five, up to one in five children aged five sometimes wet the bed.

When to start potty training
Getting ready for potty training
How to start potty training
Potty training pants and pull-ups
Night time potty training
Using the toilet instead of the potty
Potty training with a disabled child
More information and support

When to start potty training

Remember, you can't force your child to use a potty. If they're not ready, you won't be able to make them use it. In time, they will want to use one – most children won't want to go to school in nappies any more than you would want them to.

 

In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to encourage the behaviour you want.

Most parents start thinking about potty training when their child is between two and two-and-a-half, but there's no perfect time. Some people find it easier to start in the summer, when there are fewer clothes to take off and washed clothes dry more quickly.

Try potty training when there are no great disruptions or changes to your child's or your family's routine. It’s important to stay consistent, so you don’t confuse your child.

If you go out, take the potty with you, so your child understands that you’d like them to wee or poo in the potty every time they need to go. Check that any other people who look after your child can help with potty training in the same way as you.

You can try to work out when your child is ready. There are a number of signs that your child is starting to develop bladder control:

  • they know when they've got a wet or dirty nappy
  • they get to know when they're passing urine and may tell you they're doing it
  • the gap between wetting is at least an hour (if it's less, potty training may fail, and at the very least will be extremely hard work for you)
  • they show they need to pee by fidgeting or going somewhere quiet or hidden
  • they know when they need to pee and may say so in advance

Potty training is usually fastest if your child is at the last stage before you start the training. If you start earlier, be prepared for a lot of accidents as your child learns.

They also need to be able to sit on the potty and get up from it when they’re done, and follow your instructions.

Getting ready for potty training

Using a potty will be new to your child, so get them used to the idea gradually. It’s usually easier if boys start by sitting on the potty before they switch to standing up later on.

Talk about your child’s nappy changes as you do them, so they understand wee and poo and what a wet nappy means. If you always change their nappy in the bathroom when you’re at home, they will learn that’s the place where people go to the loo. Helping you flush the toilet and wash their hands is also a good idea.

Leave a potty where your child can see it and explain what it's for. Children learn by watching and copying. If you've got an older child, your younger child may see them using it, which will be a great help. It helps to let your child see you using the toilet and explain what you're doing. Using your child’s toys to show what the potty is for can also help.

You could see if your child is happy to sit on the potty for a moment, just to get used to it, when you’re changing their nappy, especially when you’re getting them dressed for the day or ready for bed at night.

How to start potty training

Keep the potty in the bathroom. If that’s upstairs, keep another potty downstairs so your child can reach the potty easily wherever they are. The idea is to make sitting on the potty part of everyday life for your child.

Encourage your child to sit on the potty after meals, because digesting food often leads to an urge to do a poo. Having a book to look at or toys to play with can help your child sit still on the potty.

If your child regularly does a poo at the same time each day, leave their nappy off and suggest that they go in the potty. If your child is even the slightest bit upset by the idea, just put the nappy back on and leave it a few more weeks before trying again.

Encouraging them to use the potty to wee will help build their confidence for when they are ready to use it to poo.

As soon as you see that your child knows when they're going to pee, encourage them to use their potty. If your child slips up, just mop it up and wait for next time it takes a while to get the hang of it.

If you don't make a fuss when they have an accident, they won't feel anxious and worried, and are more likely to be successful the next time. Put them in clothes that are easy to change and avoid tights and clothes with zips or lots of buttons.

Your child will be delighted when he or she succeeds. A little praise from you will help a lot. It can be quite tricky to get the balance right between giving praise and making a big deal out of it. Don't give sweets as a reward, but you could try using a sticker chart.

Potty training pants and pull-ups

Disposable or washable potty training pants (also called pull-ups) can be handy when you start potty training and can give children confidence when it’s time to swap nappies for "grown-up" pants. They don’t soak up wee as well as disposable nappies, so your child will find it easier to tell when they are wet.

Training pants should be a step towards normal pants, rather than a replacement for nappies. Encourage your child to keep their training pants dry by using the potty.

If your child is not ready to stop wearing nappies and it’s hard to for them to know when they’ve done a wee, you can put a piece of folded kitchen paper inside their nappy. It will stay wet and should help your child learn that weeing makes you feel wet.

Night time potty training

Focus on getting your child potty trained during the day before you start leaving their nappy off at night.

If your child’s nappy is dry or only slightly damp when your child wakes for a few mornings in a row, they may be ready for night time potty training.

Ask your child to use the potty last thing before they go to bed and make sure it’s close by, so they can use it if they need to wee in the night. There are bound to be a few accidents, so a waterproof sheet to protect your child’s mattress is a good idea.

Just like day time potty training, it’s important to praise your child for success. If things aren’t going well, stick with nappies at night for a while longer and try again in a few weeks’ time.

Using the toilet instead of the potty

Some children start using the toilet instead of the potty earlier than others.

A child’s trainer seat that clips onto the toilet can help make your child feel safer and more confident on the toilet. A step for your child to rest their feet on gets your child in a good position for doing a poo.

If you have a boy, you need to make sure they sit on the toilet every day to poo. Once they have started weeing standing up it’s easy to forget about pooing, and this could lead to constipation.

Potty training with a disabled child

Some children with long-term illnesses or disabilities find it more difficult to learn to use a potty or toilet. This can be challenging for them and for you, but it's important not to avoid potty training for too long.

Contact a Family have a parents’ guide on potty training with a disabled child (PDF, 762kb). Visit the Contact a Family website for further support and ways of getting in touch with other parents with a disabled child.

More information and support

You can contact Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) for information on potty training. You can also call the ERIC helpline on 0845 370 8008 from Monday to Thursday 10.00am to 2.00pm, or email a question to helpline@eric.org.uk.

Talk to your GP or health visitor to get some guidance. They may refer you to a clinic for expert help. 

Why play is important

Playing isn't just fun: it's also the best way for young children to learn. By playing, children can practise all the skills they'll need as they grow up.

To grow and develop, children need time and attention from someone who's happy to play with them. 

Parents should make the time to play with a first or only child. And while brothers and sisters are natural playmates, parents can also play an active role in siblings' games.

But it can be hard to find the time to play with your child, especially when there are many other things you need to do. Gradually, children learn to entertain themselves for some of the time. 

If you're pressed for time as a parent, it's a good idea to find ways to involve your child in what you're doing – even the housework.

Children learn from everything they do and everything that's going on around them.  

Get your child involved in everyday activities

When you're washing up, let your child join in – for example, by washing the saucepan lids. When you cook, show them what you're doing and talk to them as you're working.

Getting them involved in the things you do will teach them about taking turns to help and being independent. They'll also learn by copying what you do.

Sometimes things have to happen at certain times, and it's important that your child learns this. But when you're together, try not to have a strict timetable. Your child is unlikely to fit in with it and you'll both get frustrated.

There's no rule that says clearing up has to be done before you go to the playground, especially if the sun's shining and your child's bursting with energy.

As far as you can, move things around to suit both your and your child's mood.

Tips for playing with young children

  • Get together lots of different things for your child to look at, think about and do.
  • By making what you're doing fun and interesting for your child, you can get your household jobs done while they're learning.
  • Have times when you focus completely on your child. Talk about anything and everything, even what to put on the shopping list. By sharing as much as possible, your child will pick up lots of new words.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities to use their body by running, jumping and climbing, especially if you don't have much room at home.
  • Find other people who can spend time with your child when you really need to focus on something else

Play ideas and reading

Ideas to help your child play and learn

You can give your child lots of different opportunities to play, and it doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive.

  • Look at books and sing songs and nursery rhymes with your child. It’s fun and will help them develop language and communication skills.
  • Use things that you’ve already got around the house. Try some of the ideas below.
  • Get involved yourself. Your child will learn more from you than they will from any toy.

Play ideas at any age

Playing with water

Babies, toddlers and young children love playing with water – in the bath, paddling pool or just using the sink or a plastic bowl.

Use plastic bottles for pouring and squirting each other, plastic tubing, a sponge, a colander, straws, a funnel, spoons and anything else that's unbreakable.

You’ll probably both get wet, so cover your clothes. Never leave a young child alone with water. A baby or young child can drown in just five centimetres (two inches) of water.

Reading to your baby

You can start looking at books with your baby from an early age  it will help them with their future learning. The time spent sharing books with your baby also allows you to bond with them and is good for emotional wellbeing.

Even before babies learn to speak, they will enjoy hearing you read to them. Listening to you will give them a feel for the sounds, rhythms and rhymes of language. Even small babies like looking at picture books.

Local libraries usually have a good range of children’s books. Some run story sessions for young children. Even if it’s for just 10 minutes a day, looking at books with your child will help them build important skills and encourage their interest in reading.

Booktrust offers free Bookstart book packs to every child at two key ages before they start school. The aim is to help families enjoy reading together every day and get your child off to a flying start. 

You will get a Bookstart Baby pack in your baby's first year, usually from your health visitor or other health professional. Your child will also get a Bookstart Treasure pack when they are three or four years old from their nursery, playgroup or other early years setting.

Visit the Bookstart website to enjoy interactive storybooks and games, and to find out about events at your local library. You’ll also find plenty of other book recommendations. 

You could also visit the Words for Life website for reading tips and ideas.

Play ideas from four months

Rattles

Wash out a plastic screw-top bottle and put dried lentils or beans inside. Shake it around in front of your child and they will learn how to make a noise with it. 

As some dried beans are poisonous and young children can choke on small objects, it’s best to glue the top securely, so that it won’t come off.

Play ideas from 18 months

Play dough

You can make your own play dough. Put one cup of water, one cup of plain flour, two tablespoons of cream of tartar, half a cup of salt, one tablespoon of cooking oil and some food colouring or powder paint in a saucepan.

Stir over a medium heat until it forms a dough. Once the dough has cooled down, show your child how to make different shapes. Keep it in a plastic box in the fridge, so you can use it again.

Pretend cooking

Use a bowl and spoons to measure small quantities of "real" ingredients (flour, lentils, rice, sugar, custard powder). You and your child can mix them up with water in bowls or egg cups.

Drawing and painting

Use crayons, felt tips or powder paint. You can make powder paint thicker by adding washing up liquid and water.

Firstly, show your child how to hold the crayon or paintbrush. If you don't have paper, you can use the insides of cereal boxes or old envelopes that have been cut open.

Sock puppets

Use socks and envelopes to make hand puppets. Draw faces on them or stick things on to make your own characters. Get the puppets to "talk" to each other, or to you and your child.

Walking

Encourage your child to walk with you (you may want to use reins for safety) as soon as they are able to. It might slow you down, but it’s a great way for both of you to get some exercise.

Play ideas from 24 months

Dressing up

Collect old hats, bags, gloves, scarves, nighties, lengths of material, tea towels and curtains. Ask friends and relatives or try jumble sales.

Make sure there are no loose cords, strings or ribbons that could wrap around your child’s neck or trip them (or you) up.

Paper plates or cut up cereal packets make good masks. Cut slits for the eyes and attach them to your face with string or elastic.

TV

TV is not recommended for children under two years old. Consider limiting your child’s TV viewing to less than two hours a day from the age of two.

TV can entertain your child and give you a bit of time to do other things. Try not to have it on all the time, though. Always know what your child is watching. When possible, watch with your child, so that you can talk together about what you’re watching.

Play ideas from 30 months

Junk modelling

Collect cardboard boxes, cartons, yoghurt pots, milk bottle tops and anything else you can think of. Buy some children’s glue (the type that comes with a brush is easiest to use) and help them to make whatever they like.

Toy safety

When buying toys, look for the British Standard kitemark, lion mark or CE mark, which show that the toy meets safety standards. 

Visit the Which? website to see the different safety symbols

Take care when buying secondhand toys or toys from market stalls, as they may not meet safety standards and could be dangerous.

Toys usually have age warnings on them. If a toy is marked as "Not suitable for children under 36 months", don't give it to a baby or toddler under three. Check toys for sharp edges or small parts that your child could swallow.

Button battery warning

Some electrical toys contain small, round batteries called button batteries. As well as being a choking hazard, these can cause severe internal burns if swallowed or lodged in your child's ear or nose.

Keep button batteries well away from your child and make sure that battery compartments on toys are properly secured with a screw. 

If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, take them to A&E straight away or call 999.

Toys for children with special needs

Toys for children with special needs should match their developmental age and ability.

If your child is using a toy intended for a younger age group, make sure that it’s strong enough and won’t get broken.

Children with a visual impairment will need toys with different textures to explore with their hands and mouth.

Children with impaired hearing will need toys to stimulate language, such as puzzles that involve matching "finger-spelled" letters to appropriate pictures.

The Living made easy website has lots of play and leisure ideas and equipment for disabled children.

Keeping babies and toddlers active

It's important that you encourage your baby to move and enjoy lots of active play.

Before your baby begins to crawl, you can encourage them to be physically active through:

  • reaching and grasping
  • pulling and pushing
  • moving their head, body, arms and legs during daily routines
  • supervised play on the floor

As they grow and develop, children love using their bodies to crawl, walk, run, jump and climb.

Children who can walk on their own should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (three hours), spread throughout the day.

It can be indoors or outdoors. Being active isn't just for the summer – your child needs to stay active all through the year.

Giving your child the chance to get active and burn off energy can help develop their muscles and bones, as well as improve their co-ordination skills and how well they sleep. Starting young can get them into healthy habits for the rest of their life.

Babies and children shouldn't stay sitting or lying down for long periods, except when they're asleep.

Watching TV, using a tablet or being strapped into a buggy, car seat, highchair or baby bouncer for long periods is not good for children.

If you need to make a long car journey, consider taking plenty of breaks and getting your child out of their seat for a bit.

How to get your baby moving

  • Lay your baby down so they can kick their legs.
  • Give them some time on their tummy with toys to reach for nearby. Little and often is best when they're very young. Only do tummy time when your baby is awake and you're there to keep an eye on them.
  • Pulling, pushing, grasping and playing with other people are great ways to practise different kinds of movements.
  • Once your baby has started crawling, let them crawl around the floor, but make sure it's safe first – see our home safety checklist.
  • Playing outdoors helps your baby learn about their surroundings.
  • You can take your baby swimming from a very young age – there's no need to wait until they've been vaccinated.

Activity tips for toddlers and young children

  • Let your toddler walk with you rather than always using the buggy.
  • Toddlers and young children love going to the park, where they can climb and swing or just run around.
  • Toys your child can pick up and move around will help improve their co-ordination and develop the muscles in their arms and hands.
  • Involve your toddler in household tasks like unpacking shopping, tidying or sorting washing.
  • Teach your child songs with actions and encourage them to dance to music.

It's good to join in with your child's active play when you can. Being active together is a fun way to spend time with them and shows your child that activity is enjoyable. Show them how to do new activities so they can copy you and give them lots of praise.

Stay active yourself and try to meet the physical activity guidelines for adults to make sure you're exercising enough. You're a role model for your child, so let them join in with your activity if it's suitable.

There may be activities for parents and children at your local leisure centre and Sure Start Children's Centre.

Activity for young children with a disability

All babies and young children should be active, including children with a medical condition or disability, unless their health professionals give you different advice.

Just like other children, they will enjoy being active and it will help their development. You may need to adapt some activities to suit your child.

Scope has ideas for games that all children can play, and the Contact a Family advice service offers information on caring for a disabled child.

More information

The British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health has leaflets for parents with practical ideas for building activity into your child's day:

Helping your child's speech

Help your child learn to speak

Being able to talk is vital for making friends, as well as learning and understanding the world around you. Talking to your child from the day they are born is very important.

Babies have to understand words before they can start to talk.  

You can help your child learn by holding them close, making eye contact and talking to them as soon as they're born. They will look back at you and very soon begin to understand how conversations work. Even making 'baby noises' will teach your baby useful lessons about listening, the importance of words and taking turns in a conversation. And while you're introducing them to conversations, you'll also be building your relationship with your child.

As your baby starts to take more of an interest in what's going on around them, start naming and pointing at things that you can both see ('Look, a cat!'). This will help your baby learn words and, in time, they'll start to copy you. Once your baby can say around 100 individual words, they'll start to put short sentences together. This normally happens by around the age of two. 

Useful baby talk tips

The following tips will encourage your baby to start talking:

Talk to your child

  • From the day your baby's born, make faces and noises and talk about what's going on. Ask questions like, 'Are you hungry now?' or 'Do you want some milk?'
  • Start looking at books with your baby from an early age. You don't have to read the words on the page, just talk about what you can see.
  • Point out things you see when you're out and about ('There's a bus'). As your baby gets older, add more detail ('There’s a red bus').
  • As your baby grows, have fun singing nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions like 'Pat-a-cake', 'Row, row, row your boat' and 'Wind the bobbin up'.

Help your child learn sounds and words

  • If you repeat the sounds your baby makes back to them, your baby will learn to copy you.
  • If your child is trying to make a word but gets it wrong, say the word properly. For example, if they point to a cat and say 'Ca!' say, 'Yes, it's a cat.' Don't criticise or tell them off for getting the word wrong.
  • Use short, simple sentences. If your child is already talking, try as a general rule to use sentences that are a word or so longer than the sentences they use themselves.
  • You can increase your child's vocabulary by giving them choices, such as, 'Do you want an apple or a banana?'
  • Play games where you have to take turns, like peep-bo and round and round the garden.

Make time for listening and talking

  • Giving your child opportunities to talk (such as in the bath, in the car or just before bed) will help them learn to talk. If you ask a question, give them plenty of time to answer you.
  • Get their attention by saying their name at the start of a sentence. 
  • Background noise will make it harder for your child to listen to you, so switch off the television and radio.
  • Limit how much your child watches TV – no more than half an hour a day if they are under two years old. Playing and listening to stories is more helpful when they're learning to talk.
  • Restrict use of their dummy to when it's time to sleep. It's hard to learn to talk with a dummy in your mouth.

Children's speech difficulties

Some children find it hard to learn what words mean or struggle to use words or put them together in sentences. Others may use long sentences but find it hard to make themselves understood. These are all signs that they may need some extra help. 

If you're worried about your child's language development, talk to your GP or health visitor.

It may help to get your child referred to a speech and language therapist. In most areas, you can do this yourself. Find your local speech and language therapy department and general information about learning to talk on Talking Point

Bilingual children

Lots of children grow up in a family where more than one language is spoken. This can be an advantage to children in their learning. Knowing another language will help the development of their English.

The important thing is to talk to your child in whatever language feels comfortable to you. This may mean that one parent uses one language while the other uses another. Children adapt to this very well. 

More information

Teaching everyday essentials

When children play, they're learning what they want to learn. Often these will be things you want them to learn, too.

Sometimes, though, your child may need some extra help from you to learn the necessary skills they'll need throughout their lives.

For example, these skills can be learning to use a potty, how to wash and dress themselves, what not to touch, and where it's not safe to run.

Tips for everyday life with kids

The following suggestions can make life easier for both you and your child. 

Wait until you think your child is ready

If you try to teach them something too soon, you'll both end up getting frustrated. If you try teaching them something and it doesn't work out, leave it for a few weeks and try again.

Don't make it into a big deal

Your child might learn to eat with a spoon very quickly, but they may still want to be fed when they're tired.

They might use the potty a few times and then want to go back to nappies. 

Try not to worry – this doesn't mean you've failed. It won't take them long to realise they want to learn to be grown up and independent.

Keep them safe

Children under three can't understand why they shouldn't play with electrical goods or breakable objects. It's easier to keep things you don't want touched well out of their way.

Be encouraging

Your child wants to please you. If you give them a big smile, a cuddle or praise when they do something right, they're much more likely to do it again. This works a lot better than telling them off for doing something wrong.

Be realistic

Don't expect perfection or instant results. If you assume everything is going to take a bit longer than you thought, you will be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't.

Set an example

Your child wants to be like you and do what you do. Let them see you washing, brushing your teeth and using the loo.

Be firm

Children need firm, consistent guidelines. Once you've made a decision, stick to it. For example, if you start potty training but decide your child isn't ready, it's fine to give up and try again a few weeks later. But a child who's in nappies one day, out of them the next, and back in them the day after is bound to get confused.

Be consistent

For the same reason, it's important that everyone who looks after your child teaches them the same things in more or less the same way. If you and your partner or you and your childminder (or nursery or nanny) do things very differently, your child won't learn as easily.

Match your circumstances

Do what's right for your child, you and the way you live. Don't worry about what the child next door can or can't do. It's not a competition.

Further information

Looking after an active toddler

Young children like to be active, and it's normal for them to have lots of energy. Keeping babies and toddlers active every day is good for their health.

Looking after a child who is always on the go can be tiring and stressful, but there are things you can do to make life easier for both of you.

Tips for daily life with a very active child

  • keep to a daily routine – routine can help if your child is restless or difficult; it can also help you stay calm and cope with the strain
  • dedicate time to your child – since your child may be demanding your attention for most of the day (and sometimes at night, too) you'll often have to say no to them; that will be easier to do and easier for your child to accept if there are times each day when you give them all your attention
  • avoid difficult situations – for example, keep shopping trips short
  • try to go out every day – go to a park, playground or other safe, open space where your child can run around and use up energy
  • set small goals – help your child to sit still or be controlled, and encourage them to concentrate for a very short time, then gradually build it up; remember, you can't transform your child's behaviour overnight

Many children seem overactive, but only about 2% of children in the UK have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is what used to be known as hyperactivity.

The challenge for parents and health professionals is to recognise the difference between the normal energy levels of a young child and ADHD symptoms. Identifying ADHD early is important to make sure your child gets the support they need.

If you are worried about your child's behaviour, talk to your health visitor or GP.

More information

Difficult behaviour in children

People have different ideas about what is "good" and "bad" behaviour. What you consider to be bad behaviour might seem normal to other parents, and the other way round.

Your circumstances can affect how you judge your child's behaviour. For example, it’s much harder for you to cope with your child's mess if you haven’t got much space.

Parents also react to their children’s behaviour in different ways. Some are stricter than others and some are more patient.

Your child’s character will also make a difference. For example, some children react to stress by being noisy and wanting extra attention. Others withdraw and hide away.

Possible reasons for difficult behaviour

There are lots of reasons for difficult behaviour. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Any change in a child’s life can be difficult for them. This could be the birth of a new baby (read about introducing your toddler to a new baby), moving house, a change of childminder, starting playgroup or something much smaller.
  • Children are quick to notice if you’re feeling upset or there are problems in the family. They may behave badly when you feel least able to cope. If you’re having problems don’t blame yourself, but don’t blame your child either if they react with difficult behaviour.
  • Sometimes your child may react in a particular way because of how you’ve handled a problem in the past. For example, if you’ve given your child sweets to keep them quiet at the shops, they may expect sweets every time you go there.   
  • Your child might see a tantrum as a way of getting attention (even if it’s bad attention). They may wake up at night because they want a cuddle or some company. Try to give them more attention when they’re behaving well and less when they’re being difficult.
  • Think about the times when your child’s behaviour is most difficult. Could it be because they’re tired, hungry, overexcited, frustrated or bored?

If your child is behaving badly, first think about whether their behaviour is actually a problem. Do you need to do something about it now, or is it a phase they'll grow out of? You may decide it's best to live with it for now.

Think about whether your child’s behaviour is a problem for other people. Behaviour that might not worry you can become a problem when it affects those around you.

Sometimes taking action can make the problem worse, at least for a while. However, if a problem is causing you and your child distress, or upsetting the rest of the family, it’s important to deal with it.

Do what feels right

What you do has to be right for your child, yourself and the family. If you do something you don’t believe in or that you don’t feel is right, it probably won’t work. Children notice when you don’t mean what you’re saying.

Don't give up

Once you’ve decided to do something, continue to do it. Solutions take time to work. Get support from your partner, a friend, another parent, your health visitor or your GP. It’s good to have someone to talk to about what you’re doing.

Be consistent

Children need consistency. If you react to your child’s behaviour in one way one day and a different way the next, it’s confusing for them. It’s also important that everyone close to your child deals with the problem in the same way.

Don't overreact

This can be difficult. When your child does something annoying time after time, your anger and frustration can build up. It’s easy to take your feelings out on them. If this happens, the whole situation can get worse. It's impossible not to show your irritation and anger sometimes, but try to stay in control. Once you’ve told your child off, move on to other things that you can both enjoy or feel good about. Find other ways to cope with your frustration, like talking to other parents about how you feel.

Talk to your child

Children don’t have to be able to talk to understand, but it can help if they understand why you want them to do something. For example, explain why you want them to hold your hand while crossing the road, or get into the buggy when it’s time to go home.

Once your child can talk, give them the opportunity to explain why they’re angry or upset. This will reduce their frustration.

Be positive about the good things

When a child’s behaviour is difficult, the things they do well can be overlooked. Tell your child when you're pleased about something they’ve done. You can let your child know when they make you happy by giving them attention, a hug or a smile.

Offer rewards

You can help your child by rewarding them for behaving well. For example, praise them or give them their favourite food for tea. If your child behaves well, tell them how pleased you are. Be specific. Say something like, "Well done for putting your toys back in the box when I asked you to."

Don’t give your child a reward before they’ve done what they were asked to do. That’s a bribe, not a reward.

Avoid smacking

Smacking may stop a child doing what they’re doing at that moment, but it doesn't have a lasting positive effect.

Children learn by example, so if you hit your child, you’re telling them that hitting is an acceptable way to behave. Children who are treated aggressively by their parents are more likely to be aggressive themselves. It’s better to teach by example rather than behave in the way you're asking them not to behave.

Extra help with difficult behaviour

You can get help for especially difficult behaviour, so don’t feel you have to cope alone. Talk to your health visitor or GP, or contact your local family advice service (you may be able to go without a referral).

Sometimes, a bit of support and encouragement might be all you need. Some children may need to be referred to a specialist, where they can get the help they need.

Having a child whose behaviour is very difficult can put a huge strain on you. You can always talk confidentially to your GP or health visitor.

You can also visit the Family Lives website for parenting advice and support, or phone their free helpline on 0808 800 2222.

Temper tantrums

Temper tantrums usually start at around 18 months and are very common in toddlers. Hitting and biting are common, too.

One reason for this is toddlers want to express themselves, but find it difficult. They feel frustrated, and the frustration comes out as a tantrum.

Once a child can talk more, they're less likely to have tantrums. By the age of four, tantrums are far less common.

These ideas may help you cope with tantrums when they happen.

Toddler tantrum tips

Find out why the tantrum is happening

Your child may be tired or hungry, in which case the solution is simple. They could be feeling frustrated or jealous, maybe of another child. They may need time, attention and love, even though they're not being very loveable.

Understand and accept your child's anger

You probably feel the same way yourself at times, but you can express it in other ways.

Find a distraction

If you think your child is starting a tantrum, find something to distract them with straight away. This could be something you can see out of the window. For example, you could say, "Look! A cat". Make yourself sound as surprised and interested as you can.

Wait for it to stop

Losing your temper or shouting back won't end the tantrum. Ignore the looks you get from people around you and concentrate on staying calm.

Don't change your mind

Giving in won't help in the long term. If you've said no, don't change your mind and say yes just to end the tantrum.

Otherwise, your child will start to think tantrums can get them what they want. For the same reason, it doesn't help to bribe them with sweets or treats.

If you're at home, try going into another room for a while. Make sure your child can't hurt themself first.

Be prepared when you're out shopping

Tantrums often happen in shops. This can be embarrassing, and embarrassment makes it harder to stay calm. Keep shopping trips as short as possible. Involve your child in the shopping by talking about what you need and letting them help you.

Try holding your child firmly until the tantrum passes

Some parents find this helpful, but it can be hard to hold a struggling child. It usually works when your child is more upset than angry, and when you're feeling calm enough to talk to them gently and reassure them.

Hitting, biting, kicking and fighting

Most young children occasionally bite, hit or push another child. Toddlers are curious and may not understand that biting or pulling hair hurts.

This doesn't mean your child will grow up to be aggressive. Here are ways to teach your child that this behaviour is unacceptable:

Don't hit, bite or kick back

This could make your child think it's acceptable to do this. Instead, make it clear that what they're doing hurts and you won't allow it.

Put your child in another room

If you're at home, try this for a short period. Check they're safe before you leave them. 

Talk to them

Children often go through phases of being upset or insecure and express their feelings by being aggressive. Finding out what's worrying them is the first step to being able to help.

Show them you love them, but not their behaviour

Children may be behaving badly because they need more attention. Show them you love them by praising good behaviour and giving them plenty of cuddles when they're not behaving badly. 

Help them let their feelings out in another way

Find a big space, such as a park, and encourage your child to run and shout. Letting your child know that you recognise their feelings will make it easier for them to express themselves without hurting anyone else.

You could try saying things like: "I know you're feeling angry about … ". As well as showing you recognise their frustration, it will help them be able to name their own feelings and think about them.

For more help

If you're seriously concerned about your child's behaviour, talk to your health visitor or GP.  

You could also visit the Family Lives website for more advice on tantrums, or phone their free helpline for parents on 0808 800 2222.

Bedwetting in young children

Up to the age of five, wetting the bed is normal. It usually stops happening as your child gets older without the need for any treatment.

  • up to one in five five-year-olds wet the bed
  • 1 in 20 10-year-olds wet the bed
  • about 1 in 50 teenagers wet the bed
  • 1 in 100 teenagers continue to wet the bed into adulthood

Bedwetting happens when your child makes more wee (urine) at night than their bladder can hold, but the feeling of having a full bladder doesn't wake them up. Children don't wet the bed on purpose – it happens while they're sleeping.

Most children only learn to stay dry through the night after they are potty trained and dry most days, give or take the odd accident. Young children often don't wake to the feeling of a full bladder like most older children do. This is a skill they learn gradually.

Bedwetting can run in families, and boys are more likely to wet the bed than girls. The medical name for bedwetting is nocturnal enuresis.

It can be messy and frustrating for both you and your child. Try to deal with bedwetting in a positive and calm way, just as you would with problems you face during the day.

How to deal with bedwetting

It may be helpful to get advice about your child's bedwetting from your health visitor, or the school nurse if your child goes to nursery or has started school.

If your child is under five, you don't need to see your GP about their bedwetting unless:

  • it happens a lot and is upsetting them
  • they are constipated
  • they have also started wetting themselves during the day, but had been dry most days for a while
  • they go to the toilet a lot during the day (for example, every hour), they can't hold on for even a few seconds or minutes, doing a wee is painful, or they're weeing less than four times a day 

If you do see your GP, they may make several suggestions, including trying changing your child's toilet habits. They may also suggest using a reward scheme like a star chart.

This way, you can encourage your child to use the toilet before bed, or to drink plenty during the day – something some children find quite hard.

Don't reward your child for a dry night or punish them for wetting the bed – bedwetting is not something they can control once they are asleep.

If these tactics don't work, there are other options. Your GP may recommend using a bedwetting alarm if they think your child will be able to learn how to use one.

They sometimes also prescribe medicine that may help reduce the amount of wee your child's body produces at night.

Your GP may ask you to keep a diary of how much your child drinks and when, when they go to the toilet and any bedwetting to help them understand where a change of routine might help.

Other causes of bedwetting

Some children wet the bed because there is something else wrong. Chronic (long-term) constipation is a common cause of bedwetting and soiling in young children.

Other underlying causes of bedwetting include diabetes, a urinary tract infection or problems in the family, such as bereavement. Your child may need to see a specialist about these problems.

Stay calm when your child wets the bed

Your child may feel ashamed of their bedwetting, so it's important to show that you don't blame them. Bedwetting isn't something they are doing deliberately. Don't punish them for it, as that can add stress to an already difficult situation.

You may find getting up in the night to help your child and seeing them upset quite stressful. Changing the sheets during the night and washing them the next day is a lot of extra work and will add to your laundry costs, so it's not surprising that some parents feel resentful.

Try to stay calm. If you're finding it hard to cope yourself, you could talk to your GP, health visitor or school nurse.

Bedwetting and anxiety

If your child has been dry at night for more than six months and then starts wetting the bed, this is called secondary bedwetting. This kind of bedwetting often starts when your child is worried or anxious about something.

It might follow a change in your child's routine or environment, such as the arrival of a new baby, moving house or starting nursery. It might be linked to stress in the family, such as bereavement or you and your partner separating.

If you think this might be a reason for your child's bedwetting, you may feel guilty about it. But your child's bedwetting isn't your fault and there are things you can do to help them. This may be giving them practical support to help them stay dry at night, or reassurance to help them cope with change.

You can get advice from your health visitor or GP. They may refer your child to a specialist if further help is needed.

Practical tips to cope with bedwetting

Food and drink

Giving your child less to drink during the day isn't the way to cut down on their bedwetting. If you do, your child's bladder will adapt to hold less wee and won't learn how to cope with the amount of fluid your child needs to stay healthy.

  • Your child should have six to eight drinks during the day, starting with a drink with their breakfast. By 5pm, they should have had at least five drinks.
  • Children who go to nursery or school should have at least three drinks during the school day. If you're worried your child may not be drinking enough, talk to the staff. 
  • Don't give your child drinks like tea, cola or hot chocolate before bed – they contain caffeine, which can make your child's body produce more wee during the night.
  • Give them their last drink of the day 90 minutes before they go to sleep – this should be a small drink. Don't leave a drink by their bedside when you put them to bed.
  • Your child should eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Using the potty or toilet

  • Encourage your child to go to the toilet regularly during the day.
  • Encourage your child to do a wee to empty their bladder before settling down for the night – it should be the last thing they do before they go to sleep.
  • Make sure the potty or toilet is easy to reach – you could leave your child's trainer seat on the toilet overnight.
  • If you have bunk beds, use the bottom bunk so your child can get out easily.
  • If your child is afraid of the dark, put a dim night light by their bed or leave the bathroom light on.

If your child wakes up at night and it's not because they can feel they have a full bladder, ask them to go to the toilet anyway.

Some people wake their child to go to the toilet or put them on the potty or toilet while they are still sleeping, but this isn't a good way to learn how to stay dry through the night as it doesn't teach them how to wake up to a full bladder.

Bedding

  • Protect your child's mattress with a waterproof cover and consider using a waterproof duvet cover or tuck-in bed pads – they cover part of the bottom sheet and are easy to remove for washing.
  • Keep a supply of clean bedding handy for changing the sheets in the night.
  • Rinse your child's bedding in cold water or mild bleach before washing it as usual.

More information and support

You can contact the children's continent charity, ERIC for support. You can also call the ERIC helpline on 0845 370 8008, Monday to Thursday, 10am to 2pm, or email a question to helpline@eric.org.uk.

You may also find it useful to talk to other parents who have been affected by bedwetting. 

Potty training problems

Some children take to using a potty quickly, others take more time. Either way, it’s common to have questions and to face setbacks as your child learns this new skill.

Talk to your health visitor about any worries or questions. They will have helped lots of parents see their children through potty training, and can give you tips to make things easier for you and your child.

 

My child doesn’t want to use the potty 

Try not to worry. Remind yourself that sooner or later, your child will want to be dry for their own sake. If they start to see potty training as a battle with you, it'll be much harder.

Leave the potty training for a month or so, then try again, slowly and calmly. A reward chart with stickers may help your child stay motivated.

My child won’t stay sitting on the potty

Making potty training interesting for your child will encourage them to sit still on the potty. You could keep certain books or toys in the bathroom especially for potty times. There’s no need to keep your child on the potty for more than a couple of minutes.

Praise your child when they manage to sit on the potty, whether or not they do a wee or poo each time.

My child keeps wetting themselves

You've got two options. You could go back to nappies for a while and try again in a few weeks, or you can keep leaving the nappies off, but be prepared to change and wash clothes a lot.

Whatever you decide, don't let it get you or your child down, and don't put pressure on them. Talk to other parents about how they coped.

Don’t confuse your child by stopping and starting potty training too often. If you do stop, leave it for a few weeks before you start again.

My child uses the potty sometimes, but has accidents other times

Accidents will happen for a while, so when your child does use the potty or manages to stay dry, even if it's just for a short time, tell them how pleased you are.

Even though accidents can be very frustrating, try not to show your child how you are feeling. Explain that you want them to use the potty next time. If your child starts to worry about making a mess, the problem could get worse.

My child was dry for a while, but now they've started wetting themselves again

If your child has been dry for a while, either at night, during the day or both, and then starts wetting themselves again, it can mean they have a bladder infection, constipation, type 1 diabetes or threadworms. Ask your GP for more advice.

Alternatively, there may be an emotional reason. A change of routine or another disruption – such as moving house or a new baby arriving – can often have an effect.

The best thing you can do is be understanding and sympathetic. Your child will almost certainly be upset about wetting themselves and won't be doing it on purpose.

Stay positive and give your child gentle reminders about using the potty regularly.

My child is about to start school and is still not dry

By this age, your child is likely to be just as upset by wetting themselves as you are. They need to know that you're on their side and that you're going to help them solve the problem.

Talk to your health visitor or GP to get some guidance. They may refer you to a clinic for expert help.

More information and support

You can contact Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) for information on potty training. You can also call the ERIC helpline on 0845 370 8008 from Monday to Thursday 10.00am to 2.00pm, or email a question to helpline@eric.org.uk.

Separation anxiety

Babies and toddlers often get clingy and cry if you or their other carers leave them, even for a short time.

Separation anxiety and fear of strangers is common in young children between the ages of six months and three years, but it's a normal part of your child's development and they usually grow out of it.

Why separation anxiety happens

If your baby used to be calm when you left the room and they were happy to be held by people they didn't know, it may not seem to make sense when they start crying whenever you're not there or strangers are close.

But separation anxiety is a sign your baby now realises how dependent they are on the people who care for them. That can include their grandparents or professionals closely involved with their care, as well as their parents.

As they get more aware of their surroundings, your baby's strong relationship with this small group means they don't feel so safe without you. Their growing awareness of the world around them can also make them feel unsafe or upset in new situations or with new people, even if you are there.

How to handle separation anxiety

Separation anxiety can make it difficult to leave your baby at nursery or in someone else's care. You may feel distressed by their tears and worry about the effect on your baby every time you need to leave them.

Remember, it's only natural for your baby to feel anxious without you, so there's no reason to feel guilty when you need to get on with other parts of your life. In fact, separation anxiety is usually a sign of how well you have bonded with them.

Instead, you can focus on helping your baby understand and deal with their feelings so they feel more secure. They'll learn that if you leave them, they will be OK and you will come back. If your baby's old enough, you can talk to them about what's happening, where you're going and when you'll be with them again.

By leaving your baby with another caregiver, you won't damage them. You're actually helping them learn to cope without you, and that's an important step towards their growing independence. Don't be too hard on yourself – separation anxiety is common and it's normal.

Tips for separation anxiety

Dr Angharad Rudkin, a clinical psychologist, has these tips to help you.

Practise short separations from your baby to begin with

You could start by leaving them in someone else's care for a few minutes while you nip to the local shop. Leave your baby with someone they know well so they still feel comfortable and safe in your absence. Gradually work towards longer separations, and then leaving them in less familiar settings.

Talk about what you'll do together later

Talk to your toddler about what you're going to do when you see them again so they have something to look forward to with you. For example, you could say: "When Mummy comes back to pick you up, we'll go to the shop together to get food for dinner."

Leave something comforting with your baby

It may comfort your baby to have something they identify with you – like a scarf with your scent on or a favourite toy – close by. This may reassure them while you are away.

Make saying goodbye a positive time

When you leave your baby, however sad or worried you may be feeling, smile and wave goodbye confidently and happily, otherwise they will pick up on your tension. By giving your baby experience of saying goodbye then having happy reunions, you are teaching them an important life lesson.

When to get help for separation anxiety

"It's completely natural for babies and toddlers to cry when they part from their main caregiver," says Dr Rudkin. "But as babies get older, they're more able to understand that people and things exist even when they can't see them."

Until that happens, it's important your baby's anxiety doesn't stop them getting the most from new experiences like socialising and learning at nursery. And it shouldn't stop you going to work.

"If your child's separation anxiety is causing them a lot of distress, they are upset for a long time after you have left them, or it has been going on for more than a few weeks, talk to your health visitor," says Dr Rudkin.