Toilet Learning

Toileting learning, or potty training, can seem to be a daunting task for a lot of parents. However, toilet learning does not have to be an intimidating milestone for parents and families. It is a very exciting time for children and one of the biggest accomplishments during the very early years of development. There are a few toileting tricks and tips that will help children and parents keep the toileting experience a positive one.

Is your child ready?

A lot of parents start by wondering if their child is ready for toilet learning. We determine readiness by a few factors. The first sign that to look for is interest in the toilet from your child. When families notice that the child is showing interest in the toilet, families should begin the preparation of the child (see below). When the child starts to have longer dry times in their diapers, the child is getting closer to being ready for the removal of the diaper. The child should also be able to identify that their diaper is soiled. The child may not correctly identify if they have a wet diaper or a BM, but they are able to identify that the diaper is indeed soiled. Since independence is a huge part of toileting successfully, the child should be attempting to underdress and redress (pushing pants down/up). Most children will still need help completing dressing, but they should be attempting to do this independently. The last sign that we look for before we remove the child’s diaper is successful attempts at using the toilet. While these are signs that a child is ready for toilet learning, it does not mean that a child will not be successful if they are not showing these signs. If the child is not showing signs of readiness, preparation for toilet learning and routines are key to toilet learning.


Preparing for toilet learning is very important and cannot be skipped. There are three areas of preparation that families should focus on before starting toilet learning.

  • Preparation of the Environment
    Preparation of the environment is often something that families do and should be completed before the child takes the diaper off for toilet learning. Children will only be willing to learn a new skill if they feel comfortable within the environment. In order to provide this, adults can add things to the environment that allows the child the ability to toilet independently.

Step stools and a toilet insert will make the child feel more safe when they are getting onto an adult-sized toilet. If adults choose to use a potty that has the insert that is dumped after the child has used it, be aware that the child will want to dump the toilet themselves. If your family is uncomfortable with this, these toilets should be avoided. However, these toilets are great to put in the car for times the child needs to use them when they are out of the home.

There should also be step stools for children to use for handwashing as well. If the adult is not comfortable with the child using a step stool to reach the sink, a handwashing station can be set up at the child’s level as well.

Extra clothes in case of accidents can also be stored in the bathroom. Items like books can also be stored in the bathroom. Books are an easy way to have the child sit on the toilet for longer amounts of time.

Since toileting accidents are a part of the toilet learning process, tools, in order to clean accidents, should be available to children as well. While the adult will do a majority of the work to ensure sanitation, the child should be involved in this process as well.

  • Preparation of the Child
    Preparation of the child should begin when the child first shows interest in the toilet. In Montessori, we change the child’s diaper standing up as soon as the child can stand independently. This starts the process of preparing the child for toilet learning. After that, there are many steps in the preparation of the child and toilet learning.

In order for toilet learning to be successful, the child must know all of the skills used in toileting before the diaper is removed. This includes pushing pants down, getting up to and sitting on the toilet, wiping, flushing the toilet, pulling pants up, and washing hands. When the child knows how to do all of these skills before the diaper is removed they will be more successful at toileting. Not knowing how to do these skills and having the diaper removed can be very stressful for the child and will result in a longer toilet learning process. If the child is resistant to sitting on the toilet during this preparation, the adult can start with small steps like flushing the toilet in order to build confidence around toileting. When the child is learning these skills, build a routine and expectations around toileting so the child knows what to expect during all toileting times.

Lastly, we prepare the child for toileting by being aware of the events in the child’s life. If the child is experiencing changes in their life, illness or any major life transitions, toilet learning should be placed on hold until there is stability in the child’s life. Starting toileting around these types of events can be very stressful for children and often leads to unsuccessful attempts at toilet learning.

  • Preparation of the Adult
    Preparation of the adult is very important when toileting. The adult’s influence in toileting can have a huge impact on the experience as a whole. The first big step in the adult’s preparation for toilet learning is the understanding that toilet learning occurs when the child is ready and not the adult. While adults need to help push the child toward toileting, the child’s needs and development must be followed when deciding if it is time to move forward with toilet learning.During toilet learning, the adult’s daily life will be focused around toilet learning with the child. The adult needs to be ready to be active and present in the toileting process. Since there is so much time devoted to toilet learning in the beginning, planning for time in order to successfully toilet learn with the child needs to be set before toileting begins. During this time, parents can help the child become more independent in toileting in order to reduce the amount of time spent toileting. However, adults should avoid helping a child when they do not really need help. Children often move much slower than an adult, so they require more time to complete tasks. Adults should only help the child if they are truly in need of assistance.The most important step in the preparation of the adult is reaction to accidents in toileting. Toilet learning can be messy, and therefore frustrating for the adults involved. When the adult reacts negatively, or even harshly, in response to a toileting accident, the child may begin to avoid toileting all together in order to avoid the negative reactions that they have experienced from the adults. To avoid this, adults involved with toilet learning should reflect on how they will react in these frustrating times. Having a set plan on how to deal with accidents in a positive, understanding way will allow the child to use the toilet more successfully in the future.

Once the adult, environment and child are properly prepared for toilet learning, the diaper is removed and only put back on for sleeping times. Children cannot make progress in toilet learning if they are constantly switching from diapers to underwear. This includes pull-ups.

Build a Routine

Having a set routine around toileting is necessary for successful toilet learning. Through the course of toilet learning, this routine will change drastically. For the first two weeks of toileting, we suggest having the child sit every 45 minutes. When children are starting toilet learning, they are often unable to self-initiate toileting. Having these frequent reminders allows for the adult to get a sense of the child’s bodily schedule and gives the child a lot of opportunities to successfully use the toilet. Tracking the child’s toileting during this time will allow the adult to see when the child is successfully eliminating waste. After about the first two weeks, the adult can start to lengthen the times between toileting but still needs to be giving the child frequent reminders. After about the first month of toileting, adults can start to remind the childless and less to use the toilet. If the child is struggling to successfully toilet without the reminders, the adult should begin to give more frequent reminders.

Each family’s routine and schedule around toileting will be different. Before starting toileting, adults should decide the routine and schedule that best fits their home life and adjust when necessary. During the first few weeks of toileting, we encourage families to avoid long adventures from the home in order to master the routine of toileting.

If you are having trouble coming up with a routine, start by thinking about the times that an adult would use the toilet. Children need to use the toilet more often but using the guide of when the adult would sit on the toilet can start the outline of the child’s individualized toileting schedule and routine.

As the child masters using the toileting, the routine around will change. Tracking the child’s toileting progress can help the adult follow the child’s changing toileting habits.

Accidents and Regression

Toileting accidents are part of the process of toilet learning. When an accident occurs, the child must be included in the cleaning and changing process in order to feel responsibility for their toileting. Toileting accidents are learning opportunities and should be met with a positive attitude and understanding from the adult. While accidents are frustrating for the adults involved, the child must not feel negative judgment about the accident. Talking about the accident and the event leading up to the accident can help children to understand why it happened and how to prevent future accidents.

Regression often occurs around transition periods in the child’s life. This could be starting school, switching classrooms, a new sibling, family illness, divorce and/or a move. The transitions that can cause regression can be big life events or even very small changes. When the child regresses, the adult must take a few steps back in the toileting routine as well. The adult needs to ask the child to use the toilet more frequently in order to help the child get back on track.

If your child is experiencing frequent accidents, start tracking your child’s toileting. When you track the child’s toileting, you get a clear picture of when the child is actually eliminating waste from their body. When you are able to see when they are having the accidents, then you can plan to sit the child on the toilet around those times.

Power Struggles

Most families experience power struggles during the toilet learning period. Toddlers often do not have a lot of control over their daily lives but toileting is something that they have control over because it is their body. Toddlers often quickly realize this and will sometimes choose to exercise this position of power during toileting. While it is frustrating for the adult in the situation, there are a few things to avoid during the toilet learning process that will help to lessen these toilet centered power struggles. One of the biggest factors that lead to power struggles when toileting is not having a set routine with set expectations around using the toilet. If the child’s expectations and routine are constantly being changed, there is a high chance the child will try to avoid toileting.

Another behavior to avoid around toileting is giving rewards and/or punishments around toileting. This includes bribing the child to sit on the toilet. When these behaviors are aligned with toileting, the child will begin to expect these behaviors. With bribes, the child will start to refuse to sit on the toilet unless they receive the item that they are used to receiving for toileting. When a child is punished for unsuccessful toileting, the child will begin to avoid the toilet all together in order to try and avoid the negative consequences. Toileting is something every person does without reward or punishment, so we should avoid this behavior with the child.


Choice is a very powerful tool when fostering a toddler’s development. Choice allows the child to feel like their opinions are valued and respected while helping with the child’s development of the will. While we encourage this daily, toileting is an area where there should be limited choices. These choices should include things like which underwear the child would like to wear or which toilet they would like to use. When the caregiver asks the child if the child “wants to use the toilet,” the child will most likely answer ‘no.’ The adult should never give a child a choice that they are unwilling to hear ‘no’ to. The adult needs to simply tell the child that it is time to use the toilet and help them move their body towards the restroom because toileting is not a choice in the end. This can be met with resistance but if the family has a consistent routine that is always followed around toileting and the child is not engaged in activity, then there will be less resistance.

If the child is resistant to toileting, do not be afraid to miss out on activity. In the end, toileting is necessary, and the child will learn that if they do not use the toilet when it is time, they are unable to move to the next activity.


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