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Home > Child, Youth & Family Development > Parenting > Positive Parenting Tips


Toilet Learning

Children learn to use the toilet just as they learn to roll over, sit up, crawl, and walk. There will always be children who seem to potty-train themselves at a very early age, and parents who like to brag about them. It is all too easy to start worrying that your child will need diapers forever. This can be an extremely frustrating time. It's comforting to remind yourself that all children are "trained" before they start school, and that your child really does want to be like the older members of the family.

Toilet learning does not begin just because children have had their second birthday; they must have developed the physical maturity and ability to assert control over their bowels and bladder. Bowel training is easier than bladder training because bowel movements happen less frequently and the child has more warning time. Although awareness of urination may begin at about the same age, warning time is only a few seconds. It may be a long time before children are able to control urination. A child-paced and child-oriented approach saves time, energy, and exasperation.

Many power struggles get started when parents work too hard at toilet teaching. Often it may seem that your child is deliberately trying to frustrate you by telling you just after she urinates or has a bowel movement, or by urinating just after sitting on the potty. Frustrating as it may be, this is most likely just one stage in the process; your child is becoming aware that bowel movements have something to do with the potty. It could also be that a power struggle is developing, or that the child is afraid, and the tension prevents her from going in the potty.
  • Remember, you cannot force children to use the potty. Toddlers are struggling to establish their independence. Don't make it a contest of wills. When toddlers are developmentally ready and show interest in the potty or toilet, simply suggest that they try it out.

  • Don't flush too soon after a success. Children may believe that since they produced it, it is part of them. They may also fear that they could get flushed down the toilet. It is best to wait until they are out of the room, or until they express interest in flushing the toilet themselves.

  • Try to help your children succeed. A good way to do this is to set them on the potty when they wake up dry after a nap. Some praise or notice of how grown up they have become is in order, but don't go overboard. Your eagerness to be done with diapers may make it too important to you. Likewise, avoid showing disappointment when they use the diaper.

  • Keep your children in diapers until they are using the potty rather regularly. Training pants can be introduced at home during the day, but diapers will still be needed at night and on outings. It's best not to make training pants a goal for children, because then it will seem like punishment when they have to wear diapers again.

  • Be prepared for many puddles. Instead of getting angry, be sympathetic. Even after children have been dry for a while, they will continue to have accidents. It's all part of the process.

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