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Toilet Learning Tactics

Summer is here, and if you have a child who is ready to say goodbye to diapers, this might be the perfect time to try toilet learning!

While it’s important to have a relaxed approach to toilet learning and to follow your child’s cues, it’s also important to give yourself a realistic amount of time to devote to it, which is why summer, for some families, is a better time of year to start the process of their child learning to use the toilet.

This is an important milestone for you and your child! To make it fun and interesting, some families use toilet learning books to introduce the topic and encourage cooperation. A classic is Going to the Potty, by Mr. Rogers. Toilet Learning: The Picture Book Technique for Children and Parents, by Allison Mack and Everybody Potties: and I Can Do It Children’s Board Book by Cheri Vogel are a couple of other more recent ones, and there are many more! Some children love getting stickers on their hands or on a chart when they use the potty. However you introduce and work on this process together, encourage them to feel proud of themselves through every step of the process. Toddlers want to be grown up more than anything, and you can capitalize on this by celebrating every step.

For your child, learning to control their bodily functions takes time. And once the process of learning starts, it can take another 3 to 4 weeks (or longer) before your child is able to stay dry. There will be accidents, and that is part of the learning process. All children are different and develop this skill in their own time. Some children pick it up quickly, and some children need lots of opportunities for perfecting the skill.

Getting started with toilet learning

Look for clues

Children can be ready to learn to use the toilet at different ages, so it’s helpful to watch for signs that your unique child is ready. If your child shows an interest in family members using the “big” toilet; can stay dry for 2 or more hours; hates being in a wet diaper, is aware of and can tell you when they make a bowel movement—they might be ready for toilet learning.

Have a seat

Using a child’s size toilet or a toilet seat ring for learning can help your child feel safer on the toilet. Many children have a fear of falling in the toilet, so a child’s seat may help them feel more balanced and secure when they are sitting on it. If you use a toilet seat ring, you will likely need to have a stool or step under your child’s feet for climbing onto the seat and for support and stability. Many children enjoy picking out a toilet seat of their very own. Once you bring a toilet seat home, talk about what it is used for and let your child check it out and practice sitting on it.

Suns out, buns out

The wonderful thing about warmer weather and toilet learning is that your child can go diaper-free and pants-less at your home. An important part of toilet learning is your child noticing and recognizing when they are urinating or passing a bowel movement. To start the process of toilet learning, you could spend a few mornings or afternoons in your yard or home (in an area where you are OK with there being accidents) and let your child go diaperless. Help them notice when they go pee. If they don’t notice on their own, point it out. Then you can help them learn that peeing in the toilet is the goal. Diapers do a pretty good job of disguising this feeling for children, so it can be powerful for kiddos when they make the connection and that they can start to recognize the feeling before they go.

Toilet time

When you are ready to start incorporating the toilet, pick a day to get started when you can be home for at least half the day. Dress your child in clothing that is easy to pull off and on, and encourage extra water throughout the day.

You may need to ask your child frequently if they need to try using the toilet, this could include after waking up, after meals, before going out, before bedtime. You know your child best, and it is likely you’ve noticed their signs that they need to go. These could include the squirming or the dancing around “potty dance.” When you think your child may need to go, let them sit on the toilet for 3 to 5 minutes. If it’s hard for them to sit still that long, have some books nearby that you can look at together. Turning on the tap water in the sink can sometimes help them to start. Remember, toilet learning is about holding and then learning to let go or relax those muscles when you choose. It can take time to learn to control both aspects of the process.

Some children are distressed when they see their pee or poop flushed away in the toilet; it is a part of them. You can help them understand that what is flushed away are the leftovers from what they eat and drink that their body doesn’t need any more.

Don’t force your child to sit on the toilet if they are anxious or upset. You want your child to have a positive experience using it, so you will need to have a relaxed and positive attitude when it comes to supporting your child to learn this skill.

Throw a parade when they are successful! Remember to celebrate every step of the process: learning to recognize when they need to go, running to the toilet, getting their clothes down, making it before they pee, peeing in the toilet, flushing, watching it get flushed away, pulling up their clothes, and washing their hands. Those are a lot of steps!

And if accidents happen—and they will—stay calm and help your child clean up: “Oops, you’re wet. Let’s get you some clean clothes.” Engage them in helping clean up in a matter-of-fact way. A few minutes after changing, remind your child about sitting on the toilet when they need to go to the bathroom.

Toilet learning is a process, filled with emotional highs and lows. Eventually, you and your child’s patience and effort will be rewarded with a newly mastered skill and a lot less messy diapers!

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley. 


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