Toilet Training 101

By Marianne Bracht, R.N. on May 14, 2007
Learning to use the toilet is an important milestone for children but it takes patience for parents.

Most children are ready to start learning how to use the toilet around two years of age. Thats when most children are physically and emotionally ready for this big step. Let your child set his (or her) own pace for toilet training. By three years of age, most children have mastered this skill and trained themselves. There are several approaches to toilet training. Some things to keep in mind:

Some children do not have bladder control until months after they have control of their bowel movements. Other children get control of their bladders first.

Every child has a different personality. Avoid a power struggle with your child. Try not to force your child to use the toilet, especially when he is tired or hungry.

At this stage in their lives, children look for ways to test limits. They may hold back on their bowel movements, and could possibly become constipated.

It is important to teach your child the appropriate words for body parts, urinating and bowel movements, because your child will continue to use these words outside of the home. Try not to use words such as dirty, stinky or naughty to describe urinating or having a bowel movement.

Most boys (but not all) first learn to pass urine when they are sitting down; later, they learn to urinate while standing up.

It's not a good time to start toilet training if there is a lot of stress in the home. For example, if:
  • You have just moved into a new home, or are planning to move in the near future.
  • You are expecting a new baby.
  • There is a crisis or illness in the family.

If your child is learning to use the toilet well during such stress, however, you can continue the toilet training.

Children are ready to start toilet training when they:

  • Can understand simple directions,
  • Do not like having a soiled diaper,
  • Show interest by following you to the bathroom,
  • Stay dry for a few hours during the day, or are dry upon waking from a nap,
  • Have regular bowel movements,
  • Communicate that they are ready to go to the bathroom, or show that they prefer dry diapers,
  • Sit and stand by themselves,
  • Start to take down and pull up their pants.

How to get started:

  • Make sure that you have lots of time and patience. Toilet training happens gradually, over many months.
  • Let your child watch you use the toilet and try to copy you. Mothers should show toilet skills to their daughters, and fathers should show toilet skills to their sons.
  • Change your toddlers diaper often, so he gets used to wearing a clean diaper.
  • Transfer the bowel movement from the training toilet (or potty) to the regular toilet so that your child knows where it should go. Then let your child flush the toilet.
  • Read stories to your child about toilet training.
  • Buy a potty. Your child's feet will touch the floor, so they will be less afraid of falling in.
  • Help your child feel comfortable with the potty by letting him touch it and sit on it even if he has his clothes on.
  • Start following a routine. Put your child on the potty after a meal, for example, or before and after rest times.
  • Take your child to the potty when he shows a need to go (you'll learn the facial expressions or posture that your child shows when he needs to use the bathroom).
  • Stay with your child when he uses the potty. Find pleasant ways to distract him that will keep him comfortable with sitting on the potty. For example, read your child a story about potty training.
  • Praise and encourage your child when he tries to use the potty. Try not to pressure or punish your child about potty training. child must feel that he is in control of the situation to feel comfortable with it.
  • Be patient, and try to make the process of toilet training fun. For example, you could use stickers for rewards.
  • Try putting training pants on your child after he uses the potty successfully for a full week.

Keep in mind:

  • Even if your child does not actually pass urine or have a bowel movement in the potty, it is important to praise him, and let him know he can try again later.
  • Do not make your child sit on the potty if he doesn't want to.
  • Do not keep your child in soiled pants as a punishment.
  • If your child does not learn to use a potty after a few weeks, he may not be ready. Stop and try again a few weeks later.
  • Setbacks are normal. Give your child a lot of encouragement and reassurance when they try.
  • Accidents are common, and may still happen occasionally even after your child is potty trained.
  • Boys usually take longer to be potty trained than girls.

Toilet Training at Night


Nighttime training can take longer for your child to master. Remember nighttime bedwetting is normal and common in preschool children.

After your child is trained for daytime:
  • Before he's off to bed, take your child to the potty.
  • Wake your child during the night to go to the potty. Make sure he is okay with this.

For help and information:


You can talk to your family doctor, public health nurse, paediatrician, and your child's daycare about your concerns about toilet training and to get more information.

You may decide to talk to these professionals if:
  • Your child will not sit on the potty.
  • Your child holds back bowel movements.
  • You are angry and start to punish your child.
  • Your child is over three years old and is not trained in the daytime.
  • Try to make your childs experience with toilet training positive, natural and non-threatening.


By Marianne Bracht, R.N.| May 14, 2007

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