Toilet Learning

Learning to use the toilet is an important developmental milestone that may occur during a time in which a child is in an out-of-home placement.

When Is a Child Ready?

Every child develops differently, so the start of toilet learning should be based on the child’s developmental level rather than age or the resource parents eagerness to start. However, it is recommended that a child be at least 24 to 27 months old.

Signs of readiness include an increased awareness of a need to go, curiosity in other’s bathroom habits, demonstrated interest in the toilet, having words for using the toilet and an understanding of “wet” verses “dry.” In order to start learning to use the toilet a child must be able to:

  • Follow simple instructions
  • Cooperate with adults
  • Stay dry for at least two hours at a time during the day Understand words about the toileting process
  • Get to and from the bathroom area
  • Help pull diapers or loose pants up and down

Techniques for Success

  • Include toilet learning activities as part of the child’s daily routine. Read stories, sing songs and play games about using the potty.
  • Because toilet learning involves so many steps (discussing, undressing, going, wiping, flushing and handwashing), reinforce the child’s success at each step.
  • Accept (and help the child accept) that occasional accidents are normal.
  • Never force a child to sit on the toilet for long periods of time.
  • Children should be dressed in clothing that can be easily pulled up and down on their own.
  • Provide child-sized toilets or have an adaptive seat and a secure step stool to make them feel child-sized.

If a child resists toilet learning, he or she may not be ready for the process or find it too stressful. If a power struggle begins, wait a few weeks and try again. Remember to transfer responsibility to the child, provide lots of positive feedback for using the toilet, and change wet or soiled clothing immediately.

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