"Amy has been nothing short of a motherly figure for our children. During the time they were in her care, she demonstrated concern for their health, education, development, and well-being." ~ Sam
Toilet learning is an exciting step in children’s development and is one to be celebrated. Toilet learning is best begun at home, then when you think your child is ready to start at child care I'll jump on board with you!
Toilet Learning vs Potty Training
"Toilet learning" is very different from "potty training." Old-fashioned potty training is something adults do to children and often makes children feel bad about accidents. Toilet learning is something children take an active part in and helps them feel good about using the toilet.
During toilet learning children learn how to:
- Listen to their bodies so they know when they need to use the toilet.
- Communicate to others their need to use the toilet.
- Manage their own clothes so they can use the toilet.
Effective toilet learning doesn't begin until the child shows signs that he or she is ready; children who are ready to begin toilet learning will be happy and proud to use the toilet.
Toileting is Complicated
Being conscious of the need to use the toilet, able to communicate that need, and able to "hold it" until the toilet is reached are complicated steps which take time to learn. Some children may "get it" after using the potty just once or twice, while other children may need years to fully master this skill. Just as children learn to to walk through trial and error – falling down many times in the process, they also learn to use the toilet through trial and error – often having many accidents during the process. My goal is for toilet learning to be a relaxed and positive experience for everyone involved, especially the children.
When to Start Toilet Learning
Many families look forward to starting toilet learning as soon as possible, however there is no "right" age by which all children should be using the toilet. Toilet learning is as individual to a child as learning to walk; some children show interest sooner and others later, but most children are ready to begin sometime between their second and third birthdays.
The best way to maximize success and minimize frustration during toilet learning is to make sure your child is truly ready before you start. Some signs of readiness to watch for are:
- Can pull his/her pants down and up independently.
- Tells you before, during or after wetting or pooping in the diaper.
- Has predictable bowel movements on a regular basis.
- Doesn't like to wear a dirty diaper.
- Stays dry for two hours at a time.
- Shows interest in sitting on the toilet.
- Is able to follow simple instructions such as a request to sit down.
- Doesn't want to wear diapers anymore.
- Wants to wear underwear.
Not every sign needs to be there for you to decide to start toilet learning. If you notice a few signs, your child may be ready to try, but don't start toilet learning during a stressful time or period of change in the family (moving, new baby, etc).
If you're not sure that your child is ready it's probably better to wait a little longer; problems in toilet learning learning usually arise because adults don’t pay attention to the child's lack of interest and/or readiness.
Getting Ready to Start Toilet Learning
Even though formal toilet learning shouldn't start until your child shows the signs of readiness listed above, you can start preparing your child for toilet learning in the following ways:
- Have your child practice pulling his/her pants down and up before and after diaper changes until it is routine. Mastering this step is an important part of using the toilet independently.
- Put away the changing table and change diapers in the bathroom. This helps your child learn that the bathroom is the appropriate place to do "potty business."
- Empty dirty diapers into the toilet to show "where poopy goes." Many children are afraid of the sound of a flushing toilet; giving your child the important job of flushing may help him/her get used to the sound.
- After diaper changing help your child wash his/her hands with soap and running water. It's never too early to teach this healthy habit!
- Decide what terms you will use for the toilet, urine, feces, and your child's private areas. I prefer to use "potty, pee, poop, and bottom" but will use your choice of words with your child.
- Families of boys need to decide if their child will start out sitting or standing. Be sure to tell me what you decide.
Don't be surprised if your child starts using "potty words" around this time. This is appropriate since the skill he/she is working hard on revolves around the potty. You can teach your child which words you prefer to hear and set aside a specific location - like the bathroom - where your child can use potty words as much as he/she wants.
Toilet Learning Begins at Home
You are your child's first and most important helper with toilet learning. Once your child seems ready, you need to start, encourage, and continue toilet learning consistently at home. Starting and stopping randomly may confuse your child but continuity will help your child find success in using the toilet more quickly.
Modeling bathroom behavior so your child can see what it's all about is often very effective. (Yes, this does mean you should let your child watch you use the toilet. It's particularly effective when parents of the same gender model toilet use for their child.)
The Toilet Learning Throne
Decide whether your child will be more successful with a potty seat or potty chair. Include your child in this choice to help him/her get excited about using the toilet. Due to licensing regulations we use a potty seat instead of a potty chair, so your child may be more comfortable starting on a potty seat instead of switching later. A sturdy stool at your child's feet will help him/her feel more secure, and enable him/her to get on and off the toilet independently.
Another option is having your child straddle the toilet (without a potty seat) backwards. This helps children feel more secure than sitting forward, and is a great technique to use when they need to use the bathroom in a public place and there's no potty seat or chair available.
Once you've decided on a seat, invite your child to sit there periodically throughout the day, especially whenever he/she shows signs of needing to urinate or have a bowel movement. Explain to your child what you want him/her to do, and only have him/her sit for a few minutes at a time.
Avoid Toilet Learning Power Struggles
Young children and their parents often get into power struggles over toilet learning. At this age children need to feel a sense of control and power in their lives, and this is one area where they're in complete control. Parents can never winfFights with a child over his/her body, but you can avoid the fight altogether.
Instead of asking your "Do you want to go potty?" say "It’s time to sit on the potty now." Asking gives your child an opening to say "I don't want to!" and may result in a power struggle. In addition, using the words "sit on the potty" rather than "go potty" sounds less scary because sitting is familiar to the child while "going potty" is new. Never force your child to sit on the toilet; not only could this start a fight, your child may become afraid of the whole toileting process.
A kitchen timer is a great tool to head off power struggles before they begin because the timer - not the parent - is saying that it's time to sit on the potty, and children don't have much success arguing with an inanimate object that can't argue back. If your child strongly objects to sitting on the potty, graciously give in and re-set the timer. If your child continuously objects to sitting on the potty he/she may not be ready to start toilet learning and you're better off trying again in a couple of weeks.
Dress for Toilet Learning Success
Once you begin toilet learning, avoid the use of disposable diapers during the day; your child has been filling them his/her whole life up to now and may have a hard time understanding why it's time to stop. Disposable pull-ups can be a good choice for the first week when your child is mastering the art of "holding it" until he/she gets on the potty, however they could interfere with toilet learning if your child thinks they're the same as diapers.
Use of cloth training pants or underwear instead of disposable pull-ups is preferred after the initial week. Cloth pants feel very different from disposable diapers, and help your child become aware when he/she is wet. Thick training pants are a better choice than thin underwear for the first stages of learning. Some cloth training pants have a waterproof layer built in, otherwise old-fashioned plastic pants can be used to protect furniture and carpeting.
Disposable diapers or pull-ups may be used for naps and at night at first, but try getting your child up during the night to use the bathroom for a few nights before resorting to pull-ups. Once your child is in the habit of urinating in a pull-up at night it's harder to break that habit than it is to avoid developing the habit in the first place.
Dress your child in loose clothing that he/she is able to manage easily and independently; pants or shorts with all-elastic waists are the best choices. Overalls, tights, jeans with snaps and zippers, shirts with snaps between the legs, belts, tie waistbands, and tight-fitting clothing should be avoided. Dresses may also be a problem if your child can’t see to pull down her underwear.
Teach Proper Toilet Etiquette
Children can be taught how to wipe themselves right away. Girls should be able to wipe themselves after urinating from the very beginning, however both boys and girls will need practice wiping after bowel movements. Be sure to teach girls to wipe from front to back after bowel movements to avoid urinary tract infections. Boys need to be taught to hold their penis down when sitting, and how to aim when standing.
Flushing the toilet and washing hands with soap and water before leaving the bathroom are good habits to instill right from the start.
Patience is a Virtue
Expect accidents, especially during the early phases of toilet learning. Remember that learning to use the toilet is a skill that needs practice, just like learning to walk. You wouldn't be upset at your child for falling down when learning to walk, so try not to be upset by the inevitable toileting accident.
It's natural for parents to be excited when their child approaches the major milestone of giving up diapers, but be careful not to push too fast. Remember to go at your child's pace and give lots of encouragement and praise to reinforce success.
Toilet Learning at Child Care
After your child has shown significant progress at home it's time to start at child care!
Your child is ready to start toilet learning at child care when he/she exhibits the following behaviors on a regular basis:
- Consistently stays dry for at least two hours at a time.
- Is dry after nap.
- Is willing to interrupt play to use the toilet.
- Uses words to communicate a need to use the toilet.
- Is able to "hold it" until he/she is sitting on the toilet.
- Can adequately wipe him/herself independently.
- Pulls his/her underwear and pants up and down independently.
Keep in mind that during the early stages of toilet learning children are often more successful at home than at child care because they're often so busy playing that they don't recognize the need to use the toilet until it's too late. It's important for your child to be comfortable using the toilet at home before he/she starts using it here.
Since the gate to the kitchen may be closed for safety, your child will be encouraged to tell me when he/she needs to use the bathroom until he/she can open the gate. Having your child tell you when he/she needs to use the bathroom at home will reinforce this habit.
Dress for Toilet Learning Success at Child Care
Children should wear some sort of cloth underwear all day at home for at least a week before wearing cloth underwear to child care. If your child still has occasional accidents plastic pants should be used over underwear to keep the learning environment clean and sanitary. During toilet learning, children need three complete sets of clothes, including socks, and one extra pair of shoes at child care every day.
If children have an accident they will be changed into clean clothing immediately. Afterward they they will wash their hands with soap and running water. Soiled and/or wet garments will be put in a plastic bag labeled with your child's name for you to take home and launder. Due to health and sanitation concerns, licensing rules prohibit me from rinsing out soiled clothes.
Toilet Learning Procedures for Beginners
To prepare children for toilet learning I encourage them to practice pulling their pants down and up at diaper changes as soon as the ability to do so begins to develop, usually around two years old.
Children who are working on toilet learning will be encouraged to use the toilet at the same time as the older children, and at additional regularly scheduled intervals. These intervals will be determined on an individual basis based on your recommendation. A timer will be set and when the timer goes off the child will be told "It's time to sit on the potty."
In the bathroom children are encouraged to pull down their own pants, climb onto the stool, and sit on potty seat. After completing their business, children are encouraged to wipe themselves, flush the toilet, and pull up their pants. Independence is encouraged at each step, however assistance will be offered when needed.
All children will wash their hands before leaving the bathroom, whether they used the toilet or not.
Efforts will be reinforced verbally and/or with "high fives." During the beginning stages of toilet learning a reward system of stickers, bubble blowing, or another motivation you suggest may be used. At first the children will receive the reward for sitting on the toilet, then for having dry pants, and finally for urinating and/or having a bowel movement on the toilet. As each step becomes routine the reward will be transferred to the next step in learning, while verbal reinforcement and "high fives" continue.
If a child strongly objects to sitting on the toilet he/she will not be made to do so, but will be asked "Would you rather sit on the potty in two or five minutes?" and the timer reset accordingly. If the child objects a second time the subject will be dropped until the next scheduled interval. If a child consistently shows no interest, objects, is fearful, or has too many accidents, toilet learning will be put on hold until we decide together that the child is ready to try again.
As the children master toileting they will naturally need less help and will be able to use the toilet on their own. The ultimate goal is for your child to be able to use the potty independently.
Toilet Procedures for Experienced Users
Children who have mastered toileting or are learning to use the toilet are encouraged to use the toilet after breakfast, before going outside, after lunch, and after snack.
Children who have mastered toileting are allowed to use the bathroom independently whenever necessary; they don't need to ask permission or tell me that they are going. Once a child has mastered toilet learning it is assumed they're able to complete the whole process, including wiping themselves, independently.
All children will wash their hands before leaving the bathroom, whether they used the toilet or not.
Toilet Learning as Routine
Because learning to use the toilet is such an important skill it's incorporated into our daily routine. Toilet use regularly occurs after breakfast, before going outside, after lunch, and after nap. In addition, children are encouraged to use the toilet at other times throughout the day as needed.