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Toilet Learning

Fact Sheet (PDF file)

Top 3 tips to remember

  • Toilet learning should be child led - not parent led.
  • Keep it positive & fun even when accidents happen.
  • Be flexible and remember you may need to stop the process and try later if your child is showing little interest.

Why call it toilet learning vs. training?

  • Learning to use the toilet is part of a child's development like learning to walk.
  • It should be child led when he/she is ready. (i.e., not led by a parent who is read to "train" the child)
  • The parent can support toilet learning by being tuned in to their cues for readiness.
  • A parent can help teach by providing information and the tools.

When will my child be ready?

Timing is everything for toddlers learning to use the toilet. A parent is often ready before a child is. Most children are physically, intellectually and emotionally ready to learn how to use the toilet when they are between the ages of two and three. At this time in their development:

  • Children are developing physical control of their bladders and bowels.
  • They are able to understand where pee and poop should go and are developing awareness of the feeling of needing to use the toilet.
  • Toddlers are emotionally ready to learn by showing or expressing they are curious and want to learn.
  • Every child is different and every child learns at his or her own pace.

  • Get a potty. Let your toddler sit on it when they like. A potty that allows them to plant their feet on the floor provides them with a sense of security.
  • Let your child watch you use the toilet.
  • Buy some cotton underpants. Often pictures of favourite characters on their underwear provide incentive to children. Children become very aware they have soiled themselves if they are in cotton underpants as opposed to disposable training pants that tend to be very absorbent.
  • Read some children’s books about toilet learning together.
  • Teach toddlers words that everyone can understand like pee and poop. Try to use language that is appropriate for use in school or child care.
  • Let your child practise dressing and undressing himself.
  • Point out when your child is obviously having a BM or has a wet diaper to help them become aware of the sensation and put words to the action of peeing or pooping.
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Your child is showing signs they are ready to learn when they:

  • can express and understand words related to the bathroom.
  • can follow simple instructions.
  • have the ability to pull their pants up and down.
  • have awareness they are going to the bathroom or have a wet or dirty diaper.
  • dislike being wet or soiled.
  • can stay dry for one to two hours and/or get up dry from a nap.
  • show interest in imitating other family members in the bathroom.
  • have bowel movements that occur on a fairly predictable schedule.
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  • Show them the potty and tell them what it is for.
  • Tell them to tell you when they need to go.
  • Take them to the potty when they tell you they have to go.
  • Take them at set regular times to try to use the potty, e.g., first thing in the morning, after meals and snacks, before sleep.
  • Stay with them while they sit on the potty.
  • Don’t force them to sit on the potty. Avoid creating a power struggle, or making the experience negative.
  • Praise them whenever they try to use the potty, even if they are not successful.
  • Empty dirty diapers into the potty or toilet. This will help them understand where it is supposed to go.
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  • Soiling underwear is common while learning. Do not get angry, punish, blame or embarrass your child.
  • Praise your child’s efforts and successes.
  • Make toilet learning flexible. If your child resists learning or shows little interest in using the potty after a few weeks, it is better to stop the process and try again in a few months when your child shows more signs of readiness.
  • Start when you and your child are relatively free of stress.
  • It is easier to start toilet learning in the warmer months when there is less clothing to remove.
  • Do whatever is fun for your child while they are on the potty. Read together, sing together, start a sticker book, or have a special toy to play with just while on the potty.
  • Make sitting on the potty short in duration (5-10 mins). Simply suggest you try a little later and praise their effort.
  • Seek assistance if your child is not showing signs of readiness for toilet learning or refuses to learn after several attempts or is over the age of four.
  • It is normal to have daytime control before night control. Some children are 12 years of age before attaining night control. Reassure your child this is normal and they will attain night control when they are ready.
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