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Toilet Learning

Learn about toilet learning and how it differs from toilet training, as well as the steps to take to ensure a smooth transition from diapers to toilet use.

What is toilet learning vs. toilet training?

Learning to use the toilet is part of healthy development. Just like learning to walk, it is a child’s ‘readiness’ and not their age, that influences when to begin toilet learning!

Toilet learning is easier for everyone when parents:

  • Look for signs that show children are ready to learn 
  • Prepare themselves and their child for this exciting milestone 
  • Are patient

How will I know that my child is ready?

Parents are often ready before their child. Most children are physically, intellectually, and emotionally ready between the ages of two and three. Look for the following signs that your child is ready to begin toilet learning.

  • Knows the words for using the toilet and can tell an adult when he/she needs to go
  • Can follow simple instructions.
  • Has the ability to pull their pants up and down.
  • Dislikes being wet or soiled and recognizes that they have a wet or dirty diaper.
  • Can stay dry for one to two hours and/or get up dry from a nap.
  • Shows interest in imitating you in the bathroom.
  • Has bowel movements that occur on a regular schedule.

Remember: Every child develops and learns at their own pace!

How can I prepare my child for toilet learning?

  1. Get a potty meant for toddlers.
  2. Make sure their feet are touching the floor or another firm surface when sitting on the potty.
  3. Put the potty in a place that your child can easily access. Let them practise sitting on the potty whenever they are interested.
  4. As your child becomes more comfortable, let them to sit on the potty with or without a diaper for a few minutes (no more than 5 to 10 min).
  5. Having your child sit on the potty at certain times during the day, such as first thing in the morning, after meals or snacks, and before/after naps and at bedtime may lead to early success!
  6. Let your child watch you use the toilet.
  7. Buy some cotton underpants. Children become aware that they have soiled themselves more quickly when not wearing absorbent training pants.
  8. Read children's books about toilet learning together. You can find many great children’s books on toilet learning at your local library.
  9. Teach your child words like pee and poop.
  10. Let your child practise dressing and undressing.
  11. Point out to your child when you notice that they are peeing or pooping. This may help them be more aware of when they are peeing or pooping.
  12. Teach your child how to wash (external link) their hands after using the potty.

Helpful Tips

  • Provide your child with clothes that are easy to take off and put on.
  • Accidents are common while toilet learning. Be prepared and have a change of clothes on hand.
  • Praise your child's efforts and successes. A positive approach will be encouraging
  • Stop if your child resists or shows little interest. Try again in a few months.
  • Starting in the warmer months can be easier when there is less clothing to remove.
  • Make potty time fun. Read or sing together, or have a special toy just for potty time.
  • Daytime control is easier than night control.

What can you do when toilet learning does not go well?

If the first try at toilet learning does not work, it might be because your child isn’t ready. Take a break for one to three months and watch for signs of readiness.

In the beginning, your child may be afraid to poop in a potty or the toilet. If that happens, let them poo in a diaper so that they are not holding it in. Constipation can make going to the toilet painful and toilet learning longer. If you’re worried that your child is constipated, talk to your doctor about what you can do.

When should I talk to my doctor about toilet learning?

Talk to your doctor if your child:

  • Is not using the toilet by their fourth birthday
  • Was using the toilet well for a good length of time (six months or more) and now seems to be slipping back
  • Refuses to poo, experiences pain when using the potty, or has blood in their poo
  • Develops redness or rash around the vagina or penis
  • Has foul smelling or cloudy urine, or needs to go more frequently or urgently

Toileting at school

Promoting independence in toileting is typically encouraged in school settings. School staff recommend that your child be as independent as possible when using the toilet. Check with your child’s school or local school board to understand the expectations and procedures around toileting.

Do you have questions about toileting or need support? Call 311 to connect with HaltonParents or visit your local EarlyON Child and Family Centre (external link):