Practical Advice for Toilet Learning

The following perspectives may be helpful for parents who are interested in beginning the process of toilet learning with their children. I encourage you to communicate openly with me regarding this process if you are part of the Serendipity family, and feel free to email me with any questions, if not. As with any aspect of child development, this promises to be a challenging and rewarding experience for both you and your child. I feel strongly about treating our children with respect, dignity, and empowering them with esteem and the right information to help make this a successful experience for them. I wish to join you in this endeavor, and enthusiastically support your child in this life long skill.

Preliminary Readiness Signs
There are some basic signs of readiness that we should look for before beginning. Be forewarned, that pushing a toddler too early to begin potty training, before he/she is ready, may actually prolong the process. Studies indicate that many children who begin training before eighteen months are not completely trained until after age four. By contrast, most of those who start later are completely trained in a much shorter time. Chances are, toilet training won't be very successful until your child is past the extreme negativism and resistance to it that occurs in early toddler hood. He/she must want to take this major step. He/she will be ready when he/she seems eager to please and imitate you, but also wants to become more independent.

Once your child is ready to begin this process, things should proceed smoothly as long as you maintain a relaxed, pressure free attitude. Praise them for their success, while not even mentioning their mistakes along the way. Punishing them or making them feel bad when they have an "accident" will only add an unnecessary element of stress, which is bound to hinder their progress.

Here are some signs I look for when determining when a child is ready to begin toilet learning:

  1. Interest in using the toilet/potty. If your child is interested in accompanying you to the bathroom, wants to sit on the potty, imitates you, seems curious as to what happens when you sit on the toilet, etc. Then, by all means show them! Talk about the potty and explain how it works.

  3. Ability to manipulate their own clothing. Does your child have the ability to pull their pants up and down? If not, now is a good time to teach this self-help skill. Does your child seem interested in wearing underpants instead of diapers?

  5. Physiologic readiness, or ability to hold their urine or bowel movements. Is your child's diaper dry after two hours or more? Does it seem like they are urinating and voiding less frequently? This is a sign that their bladder and bowels are moving more regularly. Regularity means that your child will have a better chance of knowing what it feels like when they have to go. Does your child seem to notice when they are making pee or poop?

  7. An interest in neatness and in being clean and dry. Does your child seem bothered by dirty hands, or unpleasant smells? This is a sign that they are becoming more aware of their cleanliness.

  9. Ability to communicate needs and understand and follow simple directions. Is your child familiar with the terminology used in your household, whatever it may be, as well as the body parts associated with potty use? Please let me know what exactly you call urination and bowel movements at home, and what words you use for relevant body parts, so that we can use the same terminology here. Does your child understand the key concepts: the difference between wet and dry, clean and dirty, up and down?


As you go through these signs of readiness keep in mind that your child does not need to meet every one of these criteria to begin learning how to use the toilet. Use these guidelines as a means of assessing where your child is presently and guide your child in this direction until you feel confident that they are ready to begin. Another thing to keep in mind is that any major change in your child's life during toilet training is likely to set them back, such as a new sibling, a move, illness, or a change in routine. This doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't begin, only that your child may experience some sort of setback during this time. Forever postponing toilet learning due to outside interferences isn't what we're looking for!!!! Just be aware that these things are a factor.

Keep these things in mind, and you and your child will be successful.

Mechelle Wiesenthal
Director, Serendipity Preschool