We use the term “toilet learning” instead of “toilet training” because learning implies children play an active role. Children need attuned, communicative parents and educators to support and facilitate the toilet learning process, which is individual to each child. Our commitment is to partner with family to make it as easy and smooth a transition as possible for all.
Your job as an educator is to:
Children should never be forced to use the toilet before they are ready, nor disciplined for accidents or for refusing to use the bathroom. The purpose of toilet learning is to help children gain control of their bodily functions. If a child is ready, the process can provide a sense of success and achievement. If a child is not ready, toilet learning becomes an unnecessary struggle for control between adults and children.
The physical maturity and readiness skills needed for toilet learning appear in girls and boys between the ages of 18 and 30 months. The average age to complete training is 29 months for girls, 31 months for boys, but these are just averages. Ninety-eight percent of children have completed toilet learning by 36 months. The time is right when a child naturally begins displaying signs of toilet readiness, and their family is physically ready for the learning to begin.
You should begin the experience with children at the diaper table. Encourage skills like pulling up and down their pants. Engage children in conversations about the bathroom. Take toddlers to the toilet and encourage them to sit on it at every diaper change. Create a supportive and pressure-free environment that encourages a child’s natural curiosity about the toileting process.
Effective toilet learning doesn’t begin until the child shows signs they are physically, cognitively, and emotionally ready. There is no “right” age or stage to start. Cultural differences in handling toilet learning make it important to communicate with families so they can best support the child in this process.
There are 3 types of readiness signs:
Bladder and bowel capacity and muscle control are crucial to mastering toilet learning and develop at different times in children. There can be many months between the age children begin to recognize they are wet and when they can hold their urine for an extended period of time. The child will need to have:
The toilet learning process combines physical and cognitive tasks. The child must learn and become familiar with their body and functions, associate the physical sensation with the proper response, picture what they want to do, create a plan to get to the potty, get there, pull down clothing, then use the potty. They need to remain there long enough to finish, which requires memory and concentration. They must also understand and respond to instructions. Cognitive/language skills necessary for toilet learning are the ability to:
Emotional readiness usually comes last and is both the most fragile, and the most powerful. The child should not be afraid of the toilet, and use “pretend” bathroom behavior.
The most important sign of readiness is a desire to use the toilet. Not every sign needs to be present for you to suggest to parents to start toilet learning. If you/parents notice a few signs, a child may be ready to try, but if you’re not sure whether the child is ready, it’s probably better to wait a little longer. Problems in toilet learning usually arise because adults ignore the child’s lack of interest and/or readiness. A child is emotionally ready for toilet learning when they:
Once a child has shown most of the readiness signs, ask parents to start the process.
As each child’s individual signs of readiness and curiosity about the bathroom emerge, tell parents they should encourage toilet learning by:
Parents should always be nearby supervising.
Preparing the environment at home for success is critical. See the Parent Handbook “At Home” section for specific information about what parents can do to set the environment at home.
Once a child has consistently practiced sitting on the potty, flushing the toilet, pulling pants up and down, and is asking or showing interest in taking the next step, it’s time to begin. This should be a consistent and calm time in the household. When children are going through a significant change, it is advisable to wait. Common situations that cause stress and are not a good time to start the final phase of toilet learning include:
During the early stages of toilet learning, children are usually more successful at home than at school because they can be so busy playing at school they don’t recognize the need to use the toilet until it’s too late. You should encourage them to practice their toilet learning by:
Underwear is the final phase of toilet mastery. Children should wear cloth underwear all day at home for several days (a long weekend is best) before wearing them to school. Wearing diapers and pull-ups is a familiar sensation so many children prefer their convenience to the hard work of transitioning to underwear. Advise parents to pick a weekend or certain day to say good-bye to diapers during the day and transition to underwear.
Children can successfully transition from diapers to underwear without the use of pull-ups. It’s important for children to recognize that their diaper is wet to develop a connection between the physical sensation of going to the bathroom and the result in their pants. When compared to a diaper, pull-ups reduce the amount of wetness a child feels against their skin. While pull-ups are marketed as “practice underwear,” they can be confusing for children as they figure out how to use the toilet. We therefore advise parents to skip pull-ups and go straight to underwear.
Children should be dressed for success at school and able to independently put on/take off all their clothing throughout the day. Advise parents to avoid “tricky clothing” like onesies, button pants, overalls, and belts. Pants with snaps or elastic waistbands work best, as they allow for the most ease and independence in dressing and undressing. Make sure the parent has provided plenty of extra underwear and clothing when the child is toilet learning. Although we have extra clothing available, children prefer to put on their own dry clothes.
Consistency in routine is crucial to the toilet learning process. Work in partnership with all the child’s caregivers (home, school, grandparents, babysitters, etc.) to be sure the child’s toilet learning process is CONSISTENT AND CONVENIENT.
At school, educators should take the children to the bathroom at regular and consistent intervals throughout the day and provide verbal reminders (“Two more minutes and we’ll save your toys here while we try the bathroom!”). It may also be helpful to use an incentive chart but be sure to make it something that is readily available, and consistently used [See Incentives & Motivators, below].
Work with the family to develop a predictable daily routine to be carried out consistently at home and at school and include:
If a child does not make it to the bathroom before their underwear or clothing becomes wet or soiled, respond as follows:
Although occasional accidents are normal, if a few more weeks go by and the child still isn’t making it to the toilet—or has no interest in trying — they may not be ready. It’s better to take a step backwards until they show interest.
Incentives and praise can motivate many children. Building a “Potty Chart” system into the toilet learning process can get a child excited about going to the bathroom and on track for consistent success.
Potty Charts individualized to each child’s motivators are most successful. Earning a sticker (the shinier, the better!) for each successful encounter with the bathroom can happen at several stages:
Never take away rewards a child has earned. Phrases like “That’s OK, we’ll try again next time,” can be helpful in situations when a child has had an accident or an attempt on the toilet was unsuccessful.
It’s common for a child that has mastered the toilet learning process to have an accident unexpectedly, and a normal part of the learning process. Sometimes, children are interested in using the toilet one day, but not the next. Here are some common reasons for setbacks:
The bodily mechanisms that enable a child to hold urine during the day are not the same as those used while sleeping. There may be a delay, sometimes a significant one, between when a child has mastered holding their urine during the day, and when their body is able to hold urine during sleep. Until a child can hold their urine consistently while sleeping, the use of a pull-up for rest time is suggested.
If a child is over 3 and shows little interest in the toilet, teachers can encourage interest by working on self-help skills (like dressing and undressing), changing the child in the bathroom, and talking excitedly about how to use the toilet. Modeling bathroom behavior and using phrases like “Someday it’ll be your turn,” and “Maybe next time you can try the potty if you want,” can increase interest. It can also be helpful to offer a child a book to read or song to sing while he or she is sitting on the toilet.
All staff must follow these procedures when assisting children with toileting:
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