Toilet training

Your child is ready when s/he...

  • Is dry for at least 2 hours between wet diapers
  • Understands what “pee, poop, wet, clean, messy” etc mean
  • Makes faces when they urinate or defecate
  • Can pull pants up and down
  • Understands what the potty is for (teach this by having him watch adults or older siblings use the potty)
  • Prefers clean dry diapers (encourage and praise her for coming to you immediately when she is dirty)
  • Understands the connection between dry pants and using the potty
  • Can recognize the feeling of a full bladder and urge to have a bowel movement – paces, jumps up and down, pulls at his pants or squats (Clarify “The poop wants to come out.  It needs your help.”)

Don’t start toilet training until your child is clearly ready.  If the child is not ready and is pressured by her parents, a struggle may develop that can lead to constipation, soiling or bed wetting. Avoid training during times of stress or other transitions (i.e. new sibling or daycare).


How to get started…

  • Get a potty chair (portable, rests on the floor) and teach the purpose of the potty. At first, the child can sit on the potty with clothes on, then later without, then only later with the attempt to use the potty. Bring the potty on trips to other houses.
  • Teach your child appropriate words for training such as pee, poop, potty, clean, dry, wet etc.
  • Change your child frequently to keep them clean and use the proper terminology. Explain the connection between clean pants and using the potty.
  • When you observe your child’s body language they need to use the toilet make comments such as “When you jump up and down like that Mommy knows you have to go to the bathroom.” Teach them about the body’s signals about needing to use the bathroom.
  • Encourage practice runs on the potty.  Watch for signals of a full bladder, and then say in a positive way, “The poop or pee wants to come out.  Let’s use the potty.”
  • Establish a daily routine to place her on the potty chair every 2 hours, give her underwear as a special gift. Provide a relaxed environment by reading stories, singing songs, or watching funny videos on the phone.
  • Praise or reward your child for cooperation or any success.  
  • Change your child after accidents.   Be sympathetic. Punishing or scolding won’t help.  Pressure can make a child completely uncooperative.
  • Use underwear after the child is using the potty more than half of the time.
  • Many children learn by modeling others. Let them see parents and siblings using the toilet if you are comfortable.

When toilet training creates conflict – stop and try again in a few weeks.

Here is a great article on PottyTraining (1) written for pediatricians that is also helpful for parents. It lists several resources for more information.  


adapted from YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH by  Barton Schmitt

  1. Any child over 3 - 3-1/2 years old, healthy, and not potty trained after several months of trying is usually resistant to the process.
  2. Children who refuse to be toilet trained, either wet themselves, soil themselves or try to hold back their bowel movements (constipation).
  3. The most common cause of toilet training resistance is a child that has been...
  •         Reminded too much
  •         Forced to sit on the toilet too much
  •         Punished for not cooperating
  •         Has a new sibling (regression of behavior)

What you can do.

  •         Transfer all responsibility to the child - Your child will decide to use the toilet only after he realizes that there is nothing left to resist.  Have one last talk and tell him the body makes “pee” and ‘”poop” every day and it belongs to him. Say that the “Poop wants to go in the potty” and it is his job to help it get out.  Tell him from now on he doesn’t need anyone’s help. Then stop talking about it.
  •         Stop reminders and punishments - Let your child decide when he needs to use the bathroom.  Reminders are a form of pressure, and pressure doesn’t work. Don’t force him to sit on the toilet or accompany him to the bathroom.  He needs to get the feeling of success from doing it alone.
  •         Give praise and rewards - Plenty of positive feedback for staying clean and dry.  Praise, hug and smile every time he uses the toilet. Consider doing very special things for a whole day of dryness. Sometimes special incentives, such as a new toy or extra video time can be invaluable.  If you want a breakthrough, make an offer he can’t refuse.
  •         Record your child’s progress - Place stars on a calendar every time your child uses the toilet.
  •         Don’t ignore soiled or wet clothes - Remind him to clean himself up immediately. Even though you have transferred responsibility to your child, you must still keep this rule.  If he his wet, he can change himself, but if he soiled he will need your help. But don’t criticize for accidents.
  •         Ask daycare staff to support what you’re doing - Get unlimited privileges to go the bathroom any time.  Keep an extra set of underwear at school.

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