Thinking about Toilet Learning

In times of stress or breaks in routines, your child may have more accidents than usual. While this is very normal, it always helps our seasoned veterans (and new recruits) to have a little support on getting back on the toilet-learning train. In this post, we will share some ideas and information about the toilet learning process.

Contrary to potty training which insinuates an adult leading the child, toilet learning (or potty learning) places emphasis on independence and is more child directed. Most children have muscle control to regulate themselves between 18 months and 3 years of age. Night wetting and regression in times of stress or trauma is more variable till 8 years of age. In the time we are living in now, it is understandable that many kids are having more accidents. They will return to their previous level of toilet learning as things settle and get back to a routine that we can call normal. 

Pre-Potty Prepping:

Even if your child is too young or not ready to officially begin toilet learning, there are ways to set the stage for success beforehand. 

  • Model the use of the toilet: This involves letting your child to watch you (or other family members) use the toilet so that they can see and grow accustomed to bathroom routines (flushing toilets, etc). 
  • Start labeling with words like pee poop, or whatever your words of choice are (they may stop playing for a moment and grunt. Ask them, “are you going to poop?”). This act helps them learn what their body is doing and will make potty training in the future easier since there will already be a tangible way to talk about it.
  • Ask your child to let you know when their diaper is wet or when they have gone poop.
  • Avoid making faces or using words like messy, yuck, or dirty when changing your child’s diaper, as this may reinforce a negative connotation with using the bathroom    
  • Try to set a schedule; A natural time for our body’s need for excretion is 15 to 30 minutes after meals.   
  • 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     
  • Make diaper changing as close as you can to the real thing:  Try to change diapers in the bathroom if you can and drop the discards in the toilet, so that your child may learn where “poo-poos” go, let your child to flush the toilet so that they may learn how.

How do I know my child is ready?

If you see any of the following, chances are your child is ready:

  • has regular bowel movements
  • Shows interest in bathroom happenings  (e.g., likes to watch you go to the bathroom, wants to wear underwear or use the toilet)
  • Makes physical demonstration when he/she is having a bowel movement (e.g., grunting, squatting) 
  • tells you when they have gone to the bathroom 
  • can pull down pants, diaper etc on their own
  • has a dry diaper for more than two hours 

Steps for toilet learning (adapted/modified from University of Georgia: Made for Kids Inc.)  

I came across this Toilet learning “training” which broke potty training down into steps which may be useful to utilize 

Step 1: Start keeping track of your child’s daily bathroom/diaper schedule and begin to sit your child on the toilet during those times (if you’re not using a training potty for this, make sure there is a toilet ring so they don’t fear falling in, as well as a stool underneath their feet for comfort). An alternative is placing a potty chair in the bathroom and letting your child inquire about it which allows them to initiate toilet learning marked by when they express interest. 

Step 2:  Have your child practice sitting on the potty with clothes on at first at any time if you notice your child is hesitant (if not, go ahead to step 3 ☺️).

Step 3: Have your child practice sitting on the potty with their pants and diapers off, close to the times that they use the restroom (as mentioned in step 1). If your child urinates or has a bowel movement while on the potty, make it a huge deal and give lots of attention and positive reinforcement for it (clapping, verbal compliments, hugs, etc).


Step 4: During the toilet learning period, allow your child to take over the toileting procedure. – This includes letting your child push pants and underwear down, get on the toilet, get the correct amount of toilet paper, wipe clean from front to back, put toilet paper into the toilet, get off the toilet, pull pants and underwear up, flush and wash and dry hands. – When your child performs any of these tasks, remember to give lots of praise and positive attention. 

Step 5: Leave your child’s diaper off for a block of time each day for practice (at least 30 min).n During this block, explain how big boys and girls use the potty and when your child needs to go, they can sit on it.  Remind your child that you will help them and take them to the bathroom whenever they need. 

Step 6: Transition your child out of diapers and into wearing training pants full-time (and then eventually, underwear).  Once your child has less frequent accidents, starting them in underwear.

Additional tips and ideas: 

  • Design a fun pathway that takes your toddler from his room to the potty or to the bathroom. Every time your child feels like going, he will see the path and remember to go potty! This can include putting footsteps they can follow or using favorite TV  or book characters. 
  • Along the same lines, personalize your child’s potty with fun stickers! This can be an activity done together before or during toilet learning. If your child loves his or her potty, they might be a little more motivated towards learning! (And for down the line when your child’s need for stickers has disappeared and your toilet remains a sticker-fied mess, I’ve found GooGone spray to be very helpful 😉) 
  • Read books about toilet learning like Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel  or Big Girl Panties by Fran Manushkin,  (There are so many great books out there, share with us if you have found any great reads! A few recommended from our Ethos family: Potty by Leslie Patricelli & What is Poo? By Katie Daynes ) Using books can make the process of toilet learning more normalized and smoother. 
  • Offer your child plenty of opportunities to drink water and eat fruits and fibers which can help increase the chance that your child will need to use the bathroom (don’t force them though!) and make bowel movements soft.
  • Some parents let their child do a special activity (like playing with a favorite toy or reading a bathroom book) while practicing sitting on a potty. This makes potty time more special and exciting. 
  • For boys, put a bulls eye in the toilet bowl so they can practice aiming.

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 sometimes to give yourself permission to take a break from the toilet learning process and try again later. 

All the information shared above may work well with your child. But 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. Always feel free to reach out if you need more resources or have ideas you’d love to share with the rest of our Ethos Community. 

Till Next Post,

Aleezeh Makani

Center Educator