Last Updated: Jan 10th, 2011 - 11:11:15
| Toilet Training
By Lynn Blinn Pike
May 2, 2008, 16:23 PST
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Lynn Blinn Pike
Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia
Methods for toilet training
vary. Parents may depend on their child care provider to guide the training process
or read popular books for accomplishing the process in only one day. Whatever
approach is used, the process should be approached with calmness and patience.
Toilet training is a developmental milestone. It cannot be rushed. Adopting
an attitude that "it will eventually happen" will ease parents' frustration
and protect the child's sense of esteem.
In many areas of child development,
children must reach a certain age or be in the proper setting or situation before
they are ready to learn. Children are ready to learn when they are healthy, well
nourished, and not pressured to achieve at a level above their capability.
Children often are pushed to grow up long before they are ready, as noted
by child development expert David Elkind. "Growing up emotionally is complicated
and difficult under any circumstances, but especially so when children's behavior
and appearance speak 'adult' while their feelings cry 'child' (p. 12, 1988)."
Early childhood is a challenging period. Children are exploring their growing
sense of independence. There is a sensitive balance between how this search
for independence is accepted by others and the child's developing sense of shame
If children are given encouragement, then they are able to provide parents
with clues and cues of readiness. If children are pressured to feed, dress themselves,
or be readily toilet trained before they are physically or intellectually capable,
then there will be unavoidable accidents and embarrassment. Embarrassment combined
with parental disapproval increases the child's sense of doubt and shame.
A word of caution to parents and caregivers in this stage: Proceed slowly,
taking signals from the child.
Lessons from research
- In general, bowel training
occurs before urine training. This is because children can control the sphincter
muscle at an earlier age than they are able to recognize and control muscles
controlling urination. In addition, parents often can more easily recognize
behavior that suggests a child needs to have a bowel movement.
- Daytime training occurs
before night time training.
- Girls usually are toilet
trained before boys. For girls, successful training starts around 18 months
or later, for boys around 22 months or later.
- Toilet training problems
often can be traced to other struggles between parent and child (discipline,
authority acceptance, etc.).
- Before toilet training
is started, the child needs to be old enough to have biological control of
Most young children may be
frightened by or curious about toilets. The size, noise and rapid water movement
could be alarming to them. It is important to have a child-sized toilet for them
to use. You will also need to help a child watch a toilet function and allow them
to ask questions. "Where does it go?" and "Will I fall in?" (and disappear!) are
common concerns. Be patient and give honest, simple explanations.
Some parents find children will play in the water or clog plumbing by throwing
objects in the toilet to see what happens. Adults may have to be very clear
about why nothing else can be put in the toilet. Make sure you know where the
valve is located to turn off the water to the toilet just in case! A
word of caution to parents and caregivers attempt to separate the behavior
from the child's sense of self. Otherwise, the process may be delayed if the
child feels shame and doubt instead of a sense of independence.
How to begin
To start toilet training your
child, first figure out his/her readiness by asking questions like:
After figuring out the child's
readiness, take a look at your readiness to begin toilet training your child:
- Does the child urinate
much at one time as opposed to dribbling throughout the day?
- Does the child stay dry
for several hours?
- Does the child seem to
realize that he/she is about to urinate based on particular posture, gestures,
verbal or facial expressions?
- Can the child understand
and use words for elimination?
- Does the child show an
interest and is motivated by wearing "real" underwear?
- Can the child walk steadily
from room to room? Does the child have the coordination needed to stoop and
pick up in order to complete task?
- Can the child partially
pull training pants down and up?
- Honestly decide what
signs of readiness your child shows. Enough to start the process?
- When will you actually
begin toilet training?
- Is your daughter
at least 18 months old, son at least 22 months old?
- If both parents work,
do you need to start the process on the weekend?
- Is there a family
crisis or other major family or child task that requires the child's or
adult's attention right now?
- Have you talked about
and agreed on training techniques with child care providers, family members,
- Buy appropriate supplies:
training underwear, clean-up supplies, child-sized toilet or training chair.
Since bowel training usually
occurs first, begin when you see a consistent pattern in your child's bowel movements.
As soon as you see signs of concentration and pushing, take the child to the bathroom
and help him or her finish in the toilet. The next day, take the child to the
toilet to "try" at the predicted regular time. Be consistent and supportive until
they recognize the need and take themselves.
Training for urination
- Begin in the bathroom
with a very simple explanation to your child like "Tomorrow, I am going to
help you learn to use the toilet. Here is the toilet (or potty) you will use.
I will help you by reminding you to go. We will do it together." Use words
that are simple but realistic, such as "Go potty" or "Go to the toilet." Continue
to provide liquids to the child on a regular basis.
- The next day, start by
taking your child to the toilet as soon as the child gets up. Be relaxed and
supportive. Encourage your child to "try." After a few minutes, even if they
haven't toileted, help them get dressed in simple, loosely fitting clothes.
This may mean only underwear or loose pants or shorts with an elastic waist.
Bare feet or rubber sandals also make life easier, depending on the weather.
- If your child is urinating
four to five times a day in the toilet, start lengthening the time between
scheduled trips to the bathroom. On a two-hour schedule, if your child averages
less than one accident a day, start giving the child more freedom to decide
if they have to toilet.
- Once a child has achieved
bowel and daytime bladder training, do not worry about night-time training.
Keep diapers on at night. Children may continue to wet at night until they
are 4 or 5 years old.
How parents can help
- Teach the child words
needed to talk about elimination.
- Provide a potty chair
- Use praise (hand clapping,
positive phrases) and incentives (books to read while sitting, playing potty
with a doll) without allowing them to be too distracting.
- Begin toilet training
only when the child seems interested and willing.
- Gently ask the child
several times throughout the day and evening if they need to go to the bathroom.
- Establish a regular pattern
of toileting; upon rising, before and after meals, before bed.
- Monitor fluid intake,
particularly at bedtime.
- Postpone training if
the child does not seem to catch on or does not seem interested.
- Remain calm and patient.
- Expect accidents.
Do not harshly punish accidents.
- Do not blame, threaten
or demoralize the child.
- Do not insist that a
child remain on a potty seat longer than 5 to 7 minutes. They may build up
an association of unpleasantness with the bathroom or potty seat.
- If the child seems more
interested in the large toilet than the small potty chair, follow this cue.
- Use same sex adult modeling
- If the child has an accident,
remain calm, saying "Sometimes accidents happen." Let them take part in the
clean up by placing soiled clothing in the sink, wiping the floor with a towel,
or wiping with a washcloth.
- Some parents find it
helpful in early training to try turning on the water faucet in the bathroom
as a stimulus to urinate.
- Storing clean underwear
near the toilet may be beneficial.
- Colorful underwear may
be motivating and easy-to-remove clothing is recommended.
Toilet training for special
The same training methods apply
to special needs children as to other children. More record keeping may be necessary
to find patterns such as in the time between eating and drinking and need to eliminate.
If advised by consulting physicians and specialists to toilet train the child,
a great deal of patience and a longer time frame may be necessary. Many other
skills accompany even simple routines for children with physical or mental impairments.
You need to do a clear task analysis of each process that trainers and parents
often take for granted. This may involve actually writing down every
step taken in order to go to the toilet. The tasks might include some of the
To see if your child is ready
to learn toilet training, answer the following additional questions.
- Recognizing when she/he
has to go to the bathroom
- Waiting to eliminate
- Entering the bathroom
- Manipulating clothing
- Pulling pants down
- Sitting on the toilet
- Eliminating in the toilet
- Using paper correctly
- Pulling pants up
- Flushing toilet
- Washing hands
- Drying hands
- Can the child follow
simple directions? ("Come here, Tracy.")
- Can the child sit in
a chair for five minutes?
- Can the child wait at
least 1-1/2 hours between elimination times?
Human sexuality implications
Toilet training is a part of
a life-long process of learning about the body and its functioning. Adults' attitudes
toward genitals and the natural process of toilet training have an important influence
on the child's developing feelings about her or his body and taking responsibility
for bodily needs.
Make certain the child has observed a parent or trusted adult using the toilet.
Answer questions in a relaxed manner. Toilet training accomplished in a calm
and positive way is an important support for life-long appreciation of human
Young children feel pleasure when they urinate or have a bowel movement. They
may want to play with their urine or feces. They also may want to examine their
own or other children's genitals when using the toilet. This is normal experimental
behavior. It is a good time to teach correct names for body parts and body functions.
The goal is to teach children that all parts of the body are good, and body
functions are natural.
Baker, B. and Brightman, A.
(1989) Steps to Independence: A Skills Guide for Parents and Teachers of Children
With Special Needs. Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co.
Elkind, D. (1988) The Hurried Child. New York, Addison Wesley Publishing
Jensen, L.C. and Kingston, M. (1986) Parenting. Holt, Rinehart and
Winston: New York.
Vemer, E. and Gray, M.M. (1989) GH6001 from your local University Extension
Vemer, E. and Gray, M.M. (1989) GH6002 from your local University Extension
Wing, L. (1972). Autistic Children: A Guide for Parents and Professionals.
Brunner/Mazel Publishers: New York.
This guide was originally
written by Karen DeBord, Human Development and Family Specialist, University
1999 University of Missouri. Published by University
Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia. Please use our feedback
form for questions or comments about this or any other publication contained
on the XPLOR site.
Issued in furtherance
of Cooperative Extension Work Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation
with the United States Department of Agriculture. Ronald J. Turner, Director,
Cooperative Extension Service, University of Missouri and Lincoln University,
Columbia, Missouri 65211. University Extension does not discriminate
on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability
or status as a Vietnam-era veteran in employment or programs. If you have special
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