Potty training versus toilet learning: What is the best way?

Contrary to potty training, which insinuates an adult leading the child, toilet learning places emphasis on independence and is more child directed. As you can probably guess, we think toilet learning is the best! 

“Learning to use the toilet is a natural process that begins when your child’s desire to be grown up and his neurological development have reached the point where he can control his bladder and bowels. We don’t train children to use the toilet, we support them when they are ready.” – Tim Seldin on his book How to Raise an Amazing Child

Pre-toilet preparation: 

Although most children develop muscle control to regulate themselves between 18 months and 3 years, you can set the stage for success even earlier, even if your child is too young or not quite ready to begin officially toilet learning. 

Here are 7 things you can do to get your child ready for the official toilet learning process:

  1. Model the use of the toilet. Let your child watch you (or other family members) use the toilet so that they can see and grow accustomed to bathroom routines like flushing toilets, washing hands, etc. 
  2. Start labeling.  Use the appropriate words for the body parts (penis, vulva, vagina, anus, etc) and the bodily functions involved in toilet learning (bowel movement, urinate, etc). It will make toilet learning in the future easier, since there will already be a tangible way to talk about it.
  3. Ask your child to let you know when their diaper is wet or when they have a bowel movement.
  4. Stay away from negative connotations. Avoid making faces or using words like messy, yucky, or dirty when changing your child’s diaper, as this may reinforce a negative connotation with using the bathroom.
  5. Let your child imitate others. A toilet can be made available to the child at a young age, so he or she can sit on it and mimic. 
  6. Change diapers quickly. Change your child’s diapers as soon as it becomes wet or dirty so that your child does not become comfortable with wet or dirty diapers.
  7. Make diapers changing as close as you can to the real thing.  Try to change diapers in the bathroom and drop the discards in the toilet, so that your child may learn where a bowel movement goes. Let your child flush the toilet so that they may learn how.

How do I know when my child is ready?

Here are 6 signs your child is ready to start toilet learning: 

Your child…

  1. Has regular, soft, and formed bowel movements
  2. Has periods of at least two hours of dry time: This proves that his bladder muscles are developed enough to hold urine
  3. Shows interest in bathroom happenings (e.g., likes to watch you go to the bathroom, wants to wear underwear or use the toilet)
  4. Makes physical demonstration when he/she is having a bowel movement (e.g., grunting, squatting) 
  5. Tells you when they have gone to the bathroom
  6. Can pull down underwear, diaper, or pants on their own

Do’s and Don’ts of Toilet Learning


  1. Do make the child feel confident while using the toilet. For instance, you may provide a toilet training seat and a stool for your child’s feet or a special child size potty.
  2. Do make going to the toilet a part of your child’s routine. Offer the potty/toilet at times when the child normally urinates (i.e, before going outside, after coming in from outside, after lunch/before nap).  A natural time for our body’s need for excretion is 15 to 30 minutes after meals. 
  3. Do remind your child that a bathroom break is coming. For example, “after we put the laundry in, we are going to try going to the bathroom.”
  4. Do say “It’s time to use the toilet” rather than “Do you want to go to the toilet?” The answer will always be no.
  5. Do stay calm if a child becomes wet. You may say: “I see you are wet. Let’s go get some dry clothes.” 


  1. Don’t pressure or punish your child. It can cause power struggles and physical problems, like constipation.
  2. Don’t reward your child for using the toilet. It takes away the sense of pride that happens when they realize “I can do it myself!’. In addition, “For some children, the pressure of “success” in the form of the reward creates anxiety or feelings of failure when they have a (very normal and even expected) potty accident” – zero to three 
  3. Don’t make them feel ashamed if they get wet. It is a very normal and expected part of the learning process.
  4. Don’t start the toilet learning process when there is a significant change happening. For example a family move, a new sibling, a change in childcare arrangements.

(Do’s and Don’ts have been adapted/modified from The montessori notebook and the Zero to three websites)

How Long Does Toilet Learning Take?

Duration of toilet learning varies per child. At the beginning, it may take anywhere from 3-4 weeks to several months to be mostly dry during the day. Many children still accidentally wet or soil their pants up to a year after beginning. Night wetting and regression in times of stress or trauma is more variable until 8 years of age. 

In times of stress or breaks in routines, your child may have more accidents than usual and this is normal. Regressions tend to resolve itself when things are back to normal. In the meantime, lots of patience and support is what your child will need. 

Toilet learning is a game of many accidents, a lot of patience, and heapfuls of love and support. As parents, you’ve got most of these in the bag,  just remember that accidents are normal and may be frequent for some time. Sometimes you might even reach a point where your child does not want to do it anymore. As a parent, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take a break from the toilet learning process and try again later, when your child shows signs of interest again. 

Keep in mind that it is not necessary to choose just one single method or idea. It’s a guess and check matter and your child may in fact benefit from a combination of verbal, physical, and social forms of learning, regardless of if they’re new or seasoned to toilet learning.

Till Next Post,
Aleezeh Makani
Ethos Early Learning Center Educator

Ethos Early Learning Center offers year-round child care and early childhood education for children ages 0-5 in South Boston, Ma. request more information about our programs at ethoslearn.com/moreinfo