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How Parents Can Help with Their Child’s Toilet Learning


>> Expert Advice from our ECE Expert: Kim Davies <<

How Parents Can Help with Their Child’s Toilet Learning

When starting to toilet learn with your toddler, the first thing to do is emotionally prepare yourself to be patient. Take cues from your toddler to determine when they are interested and willing, toilet learning can be hard. Respond to your toddler’s interest in toilet learning with positive support. Toilet learning can be a frustrating, testing, exasperating and messy experience that takes time to master. Be sure to have the time to commit to the toilet learning process. Prepare yourself to be your child’s assistant, take to role of helper and always remain calm. If you realize that you may have misread your toddler’s toilet readiness cues and they seem opposed to participating, then put them back into their diapers and let them know that you will try again in a few weeks when they are feeling ready. Take your cue from them and move forward accordingly.

Before starting toilet learning, ensure that you toddler’s diet includes enough fibre to promote comfortable, easy and routine bowel movements. If your toddler is still using diapers, give them some responsibility for part of their diapering routine, such as putting the soiled diaper in the garbage. Model “real” toilet-use for your child, so that they can see you using it, read books with them and play games that normalize potty use, and provide a potty chair or stepping stool for your child to reach the toilet easily.

When you start, begin a routine of hand washing. Even if they haven’t made any “action” in the toilet, they should know that if they touched the toilet then they should wash their hands. Talk openly about hygiene and the need to wash away germs. Establish a routine pattern of using the toilet, including at wake up, before breakfast, after breakfast, after playtime, before lunch, after lunch, before nap, after nap, after play time, before dinner, after dinner, before bath time and before bed. Expect your toddler to still need a diaper to get them through the night. Give your toddler gentle reminders to use the toilet at all routine times and encourage them to be independent in the washroom.

During this transitional period, allow your toddler to run around without clothes on whenever possible and appropriate. It will allow them greater access for getting to the toilet when they need to. Teach them how to wipe themselves properly, and when they are ready, encourage them to wipe properly on their own (girls should always wipe front to back to avoid infections). Teach your toddler words they can use to verbalize their eliminations (pee, poo, tinkle, doo-doo) so that they can describe their progress or needs to you. Regardless of how they are doing, always make the toilet experience a positive one. If there is a mess, let them know that accidents happen and that it is okay. Offer praise and encouragement to reinforce all positive and successful toilet experiences.

Toilet learning may take a few weeks/months to successfully master. Be patient, calm and consistent with your words. Remember to communicate clearly and choose your words carefully, such as “It’s time to try to use the toilet”. Use your imagination and tell your toddler a story, read a book or sing songs related to toilet learning while they are sitting on the toilet. Get ready; they may take awhile, but stay with them while they are on the toilet. With time, effort and concentration they can use the toilet successfully. Good luck and remember that everyone learns to use the toilet eventually, so don’t stress.

Toilet Learning: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Q: My child will pee in the toilet, but will not have a bowel movement. They hold it instead. What can I do?

A: Holding in bowel movements are a common reaction for children. Sometimes the issue is as simple as making time to sit on the toilet long enough to push out a bowel movement. Establish routine toilet use throughout the day. If need be, tell your child that they are going to take a break from what they are doing to spend some time on the toilet. Explain to them how it will make their tummy feel better to let it out, and stay with them in the washroom if necessary until the bowel movement has been successfully made. Holding in a bowel movement can also result from several other factors; including constipation, “scary” bowel movements and fright from the toilet flushing, and/or frustration from having their laboured production immediately flushed away. Avoid constipation by providing your child with a high fiber diet that will help promote regular bowel movements (a little oat bran, fruit, veggies and prune juice helps to keep the bowels moving regularly). This can also help reduce the “scariness” of bowel movements, so that they do not hurt as they are coming out. Reduce any fright from the toilet flushing by ensuring that the child is no longer sitting on the toilet when it gets flushed. Allow them the pleasure of flushing the toilet themselves. Lastly, explain, read and show your child how the toilet works. Explain to your child how the elimination and water goes through the pipes in the house into the sewer, and have them wave and say “goodbye” to their bowel movement as it flushes down.

Q: How can I help my child who has toilet learned, but still has accidents?

A: For active children, stopping to use the toilet is not a top priority. Give gentle reminders and make routine toilet breaks. At these times, insist that your child tries to use the toilet even if they say they don’t have to. The clothes they are wearing can help with the reduction of accidents. Dress your child in easy to use elastic waist outfits that are easily pulled up and down, so that they can do it themselves. Independence in the washroom goes a long way in avoiding accidents. Stay away from using tight clothes, buttons and belts that are difficult for children to use, get out of or pull-down themselves, as they tend to induce accidents.

Q: Why is my child using the toilet at daycare, but not at home (or vice a versa)?

A: Consistency between home and daycare practices regarding toilet learning is most helpful. When it comes to toilet learning, coordinate with the daycare staff to ensure the use of common and consistent language with your child. This will avoid sending them mixed messages. It is also important to hold common expectations for your child so open up the doors of communication with the daycare staff and decided to act as a united front. Mimic each other’s practices and work as a team. Consistency between home and daycare can result in successful toilet learning practices.

Q: My child has regressed and gone back to square one with toilet learning. What should I do?

A: It is common for children to regress if they are stressed and not ready for toilet learning. Major signs that your child is not ready include their outright resistance or avoidance of the toilet, if they seem stressed-out or cry about it, or if they adamantly prefer to eliminate into a diaper/pull-up, rather than the toilet. Consider this a message to the parent that they are feeling rushed and are not prepared for the responsibility of using the toilet consistently.

If the issue lasts for more than a week, then go back to using diapers and let them know that you will try again in a few weeks when they are feeling ready. Take your cue from them and move forward accordingly. Do not take this as a failure in toilet learning, but take comfort in knowing that your child knows themselves best and is telling you that they are not ready…yet. Help them by spending time talking about toilet learning and read about it in books such as Everybody Poops by Taro Gomi and Amanda M. Stinchecum, or Koko Bear’s New Potty by Vicki Lansky. Also, you can talk to them about how it feels to have a wet diaper versus how it feels to have a dry diaper. Encourage them to talk about their diaper and tell you if it is wet or dry. Let your toddler play with a doll that wears a diaper like theirs and have them talk about the dolls diaper. Is it wet or dry? How does it feel? Lastly, read about, show and explain to them how the toilet works and tell them where the “pee” and “poo” go after it gets flushed. This can answer a lot of their questions and apprehension about flushing away all of their hard work.


This entry was posted in: Helpful Parenting Tips


Nikki is the owner/director of Seasons Family Centre. She completed a diploma in photography at Fanshawe College, followed by a degree in psychology at the University of Western Ontario. Shortly after she finished a post-graduate diploma at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute. She is a Registered Canadian Art Therapist. Over the next few years she extended her education through various courses in psychology, counselling and play therapy at George Brown College, Hincks Delcrest and Cross Country Education. For the past several years Nikki has been running art programs all across the city of Toronto at various schools, community centres, libraries and private homes. She also runs play therapy groups at Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Offices as well as private art therapy sessions. Nikki has taken several courses in baking and cake decorating through the Wilton certification program.

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