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Toilet learning is different from toilet training. While toilet training is something that an adult does to a child, toilet learning is when children play an active part in their own learning. Toilet learning begins with knowing the signs that tell your children are ready to use the toilet. Learning will happen when you teach in a way that does not punish and does not use threats or rewards; children who are ready need no treats to make them want to learn. Most children will be happy and proud when they can go to the toilet by themselves, and that is reward enough. The key to toilet learning is teaching – not training – children. It is essential to teach them to listen to their bodies, talk to others clearly about their needs, get their clothes off (sometimes with a bit of help), learn the appropriate way to sit or stand, and feel good about learning something new. The goal is for the child to feel proud of what they have done.

Each child is different. Just as each child learns to walk in their own time, they become ready for toilet learning at their own pace. Children will spontaneously toilet train themselves when developmentally – not chronologically – ready.

The combination of physical, mental, language, and emotional readiness must all be in place before your child is ready to have a successful toilet learning experience in a short period.

Various Signs of Toilet-Learning Readiness:

Physical readiness

  • The child can stay dry for more extended periods or overnight.
  • The child knows the feelings that signal the need to use the bathroom for both potty and urinating.
  • The child can pull down their own pants and pull them up.
  • The child can get himself or herself to the toilet.
  • The child will need very few reminders.

Mental and language readiness

  • The child can follow simple directions.
  • The child can point to wet or soiled clothes and ask to be changed.
  • The child pays attention to the physical signals even when doing something else.
  • The child knows the words for using the toilet and can tell an adult when they need to go.
  • The child has asked to wear grown-up underwear.

Emotional Readiness

  • The child seeks privacy when changing diapers.
  • The child shows interest in using the toilet. They may want to put paper in and flush it.
  • The child shows curiosity about other people’s toilet habits.
  • The child has decided they want to use the toilet.
  • The child is not afraid of the toilet.

About Toilet Training Setbacks

The course of toilet learning is not always smooth. Accidents and setbacks can happen since they are very common and are a normal part of the learning process. Your child may be ready at a different time than their brother, sister, or other children in preschool. They may also be prepared at home but not at school.

Often, children are afraid of change. Try to respect the child’s timing and let them take time off from the hard work of learning to use the toilet. Sometimes, fear is at the root of a child’s refusal to use the toilet. Children may be fearful that their bodies might be giving up something important or simply afraid of the loud flush of the bowl. Sometimes just putting the feelings into words for the child can help: “You seem afraid of using the toilet.” or “That toilet sounds very loud, doesn’t it?” Some children have constipation troubles and do not want to use the toilet. Toileting can also become a power struggle between parent and child. Parents and teachers do not always have the control they would like to have. While you can make a child sit on the potty, you cannot make them use it. Setbacks are also normal when children are under stress. We try to handle accidents matter-of-factly.

For the Parents:

There are many ideas about the best way to teach children to use the toilet. Differences among generations and cultures are common. But one thing seems to be true for almost all families: toilet learning brings up strong feelings in children and parents. Hence, this is one reason why the role of teachers in toilet learning can be a sensitive one. The adult’s job in toilet learning is to set the stage for success. The timing and the rhythm of toilet learning are up to the child. Allowing the child the freedom to take the lead in their toilet learning can be challenging for many parents, especially if we have learned that it is an adult’s job to “train” a child.

Toilet-Learning is a complex skill: Your child must make the connection between sensations and what’s happening inside the body. Next, they learn to respond to these urges by running to the toilet, where they must know how to remove the clothes, situate comfortably on the toilet seat facing forward, keep clothes on, and hold the urges until all systems are gone. They need to control the muscles surrounding the opening of the bladder and the bowel to open and close at the proper time. Pressure should be off the parents and teachers to toilet-learn early. We should not equate toilet learning with being a good mother or teacher.

Temperament can play a part too. A down-to-business child tends to learn quickly and may even “train themselves” early if the mother thinks the same way and does not pressure early. In contrast, a laid-back child may take longer.

Tips for Beginner Parents:

  • Start letting your child pull up or down their pants independently during their diaper-changing time.
  • The teacher and parents both need to use the same words and routines for toilet learning in the preschool or at home.
  • Generally, children’s satisfaction with results encourages them to continue learning.
  • Remember that parents and teachers can only help toilet learning when a child is ready; the child controls the outcome.
  • Encouragement and verbal praise provide positive support. However, it is not a good idea to reward children with food or candy.

Importance of Harboring Patience for Your Child

Your child may show all the stages of readiness but may not be ready to start toilet learning. For example, this would be the case if the child was in a phase of saying “no’s” all the time, having temper tantrums, or going through a stressful period (such as moving to a new home or school, the parents having a new baby or going through a divorce, etc.).

A child who has learned to use the toilet sometimes goes back to diapers, possibly due to stress. This is common and usually does not last long. No matter how late toilet learning starts, your child will not go to Kindergarten in diapers.

As with walking and talking and all other areas of development, each child is different. Guidelines exist, but they are simply ineffective guidelines when they remain unimplemented. A child can only accomplish toilet learning when they realize they need to go to the toilet and have the communication skills to express that need. A lack of being toilet ready is in NO way a reflection of a child’s intelligence or lack of skills. For the sake of your child’s development, never begin to compare children against each other in matters of such little importance.

The main thing is to achieve a healthy toilet-learning attitude. From a child’s viewpoint, toileting is his initiation into “bigness” – a rite of passage from toddlerhood into preschooler age. We hope the parents can agree that patience and understanding are essential in this matter.

Necessities to Bring for Toilet-Learning at School:

Bright Beginnings Preschool asks parents to bring a jumbo-size plastic bag with at least three sets of extra clothing, including three pairs of socks, underwear, pants, and shirts.

We leave the bathroom door open for easy access and encourage the child’s interest by seeing other children use the toilet. We provide a small stool for shorter children who are toilet learning.

We will only continue toilet learning with your cooperation. This means you must commit to continuing toilet learning at home, at the market, at grandma’s house, and anywhere you go. If your child shows no interest or has too many fears or accidents, they will need to go back to regular diapers until they are ready to begin again.

Ask yourself who is doing all the work? You or the child? When a child is (indeed) ready, a parent or teacher’s job is to show them the steps to toileting (urinate, wipe, flush, and wash). We discourage pull-ups since they only confuse your child and slow down the process. Your child will feel more comfortable in thin underwear, and when an accident does happen, they will be more aware of this body function. We may opt to have your child wear a plastic covering during toilet learning or regression times for health reasons and carpet protection. We are looking forward to assisting your child with toilet learning when ready.

Are you curious about how we implement our toilet-learning program in our school? For a detailed discussion about the specifics of this program, we encourage you to read our toilet-learning guidelines online.