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Toilet Training

Toilet learning

"Toilet training" is increasingly called "toilet learning" to reflect a child's part in being ready to learn to use the toilet. "Toilet training" tends to emphasize a need on the part of the parents to have a child use the toilet.

When is my child ready to use the toilet?

Most children are ready to begin toilet learning between two and three years of age. Advance planning helps make the process go more smoothly.

  • Take time to understand the process of toilet learning through a child's eyes.
  • Observe your child's temperament and signs of readiness.
  • Consider your own needs and feelings.

These are some signs your child will show when ready to begin toilet learning:

  • Has bowel movements (BM) at a regular time.
  • Gets red in the face or grunts in anticipation of a BM.
  • Shows awareness of 'going to the bathroom'.
  • Can tell you of the need 'to go'.
  • May 'clutch' pants or diaper after making a puddle.
  • May ask to have a diaper change when wet or soiled.
  • Wakes up with a dry diaper some of the time.
  • Can take down and pull up pants without help.

Potty points to consider:

  • Urinating and moving the bowels requires relaxation.
  • Children often develop bowel control before bladder control.
  • Daytime toilet learning is usually accomplished before nighttime dryness.
  • 'Accidents' are common until age five and more likely to occur when your child is excited, deeply involved in a play activity, overtired or ill.

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How to start toilet learning

A patient and casual approach to toilet learning is the way to go.

Listen to stories:

  • Reading library stories or watching videos about learning to use the toilet can help your child become interested and begin to talk about it.

Imitate grown-ups and older children:

  • Let your child watch you and other family members use the toilet. Children who see how other children use the toilet (e.g., in childcare centres) may learn more quickly.

Show their independence:

  • Let your child help choose new underwear, practise taking her pants on and off, and try out the new potty or toilet seat.

Choosing the words:

  • Examples: pee, BM, bowel movement, poop, kaka.
  • Choose words that both you and others who care for your child will understand.
  • Choose words you'll be comfortable hearing at home and in public places.

Choosing the equipment:

  • Choose a separate potty or a seat that adapts the adult toilet seat to child-size, as your child needs to feel safe and balanced in order to be relaxed.

When your child is showing signs of being ready, you may want to set aside some time - a weekend, a few days, or a week when you can be easily available to respond to your child in a consistent and patient way.

Keeping your sense of humour will help you enjoy the small successes as well as the big ones!

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How to help your child feel comfortable

  • Use gentle repetition as you teach your child how to use the toilet.
  • Encourage him for each little step of progress he shows.
  • Ask her to tell you when she needs to go.
  • Take him to potty immediately when he tells you he needs to go. Stay with him while he sits on the potty.
  • Take him to the potty to try to finish there if he began to go in his pants.
  • Plan outings where washrooms are easily available and take extra clothing.

Words of caution:

  • Don't make her sit on the potty if she doesn't want to be there. She needs to be relaxed to go. Let your child know she can try to go potty later.
  • Don't punish, blame or shame your child if accidents occur. Help him learn where to put wet pants and how to put on dry ones. Let him know he can try again next time.

It's not working...what now?

  • Be understanding - if he doesn't learn to use the potty in a few weeks, he may not be ready. Better to stop and try again a few weeks later.
  • Delay toilet learning in times of change, stress, or illness (e.g., moving, new room, new baby, family discord).
  • Start fresh when you both feel ready.

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For more information:

Region of Peel - Public Health
Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
to speak with a Public Health Nurse

Caledon residents call free of charge at 905-584-2216

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Revised: Friday February 17 2023

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