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Toilet Training 101

  • Tom and Sherry Bushnell
  • Published Apr 21, 2003
Toilet Training 101

The most important factors in beginning actual toilet training are the child's ability to feel potty coming. Can your child feel the urge to go potty? If so, can they hold it for a few minutes? This is important. If your child regularly does not notice until after the fact, they probably are not ready to be trained.

The second most important ability is to release in the proper place. Can your child find the bathroom? Do they know what a toilet is for? Do they feel discomfort when wet or yucky? I've known 2 year olds who could sit in a wet, soiled diaper all day and not care a bit. This is not a good indicator for self motivation. Out side of these, other important factors are: motivation to do as everybody else does and to stay clean, dry and sweet smelling.

Scheduling and a side note:

"Parent training" is actually easier to do but not good in the long run. "Parent training" is the ability to sit your child at the right time on the toilet to get results. This can be the beginning of good things to come. But to be honest, in our home, we have never advocated this because we felt it wasn't in our child's best interest to be dependant on us to "feel" the urge. We'd opted for waiting until they were ready.

However....developing or getting a grasp on your child's normal patterns of going potty is essential to success. This can be done by charting for a few days and changing frequently to see when they are wet. Hopefully they are dry for several hours at a time.

Potty training actually begins at birth! Each time we change our babies' diaper, we are sending a message to them: Dry is better than wet. Clean is better than smelly. From early on, change diapers in the bathroom. This helps associate the bathroom with toilet training. Plan trips to the potty around your child's own schedule of wetting and bowel movement.

  • In the beginning ( depending on the child's size), it is best to use a potty chair or seat. The child needs to feel secure, with feet solidly on a stool or the ground.
  • Remember, you both are in this training for the long haul. Accidental falls into the toilet's cold water do not make for pleasant memories!
  • If your child doesn't cooperate by sitting on the potty seat willingly, diversion such as a small toy, might help. This will be the first lesson to learn: sit on the chair until Mom or Dad say it's O.K. to get up. This might take work. Hopefully training in other areas such as sitting at the table, sitting still during church or staying in bed will stand you in good stead.
  • Hint: tie the toy to the chair so it doesn't "fly" away or get dropped so the child doesn't have to get up off the seat.
  • We do not advocate leaving the child on the chair more than 10-15 minutes at a time. If there hasn't been any success by then, better to try again later.
  • Stay in the bathroom with your child. We've taken this opportunity to fold clothes, clean the tub or bathroom. This is to make sure you catch the successful tinkle-tinkle and reward them.
  • Take the child off the potty seat as soon as something happens so he will learn what is expected of him. Lots of praise at this point is essential.....but don't over do it. 

If nothing happens, showing displeasure on your part will probably do nothing but make you feel better. Better to reward the child for being obedient by sitting on the toilet. It can get very irritating if the child chooses to go potty a minute or two after they have gotten off the seat. This was actually a common practice with one of our children.....and it wasn't a special needs child either! We ended up waiting until they were uncomfortable with the yucky sensation and THEY were motivated to put it where it belongs.

Depending on dressing skills, getting your child in training pants as soon as possible is a big step toward independence. If accidents occur (and they will) a nice motivator can be having the child change their own training pants after they have wet them. I have know children who have used the extra attention Mom gives them while changing pants as incentive to not use the toilet! Yucky pants are another matter, as hygiene is important.

As parents we see no wrong in expressing our displeasure at the smell, mess and inconvenience of changing a poopy. We'll say things like....."I can't wait until you are a big girl and can help Dad by using the toilet. Then we won't have to stop our fun to clean such messes!" or "This sure does smell yucky, if you put this in the toilet it is so much nicer (pointing to the toilet)!" Let's be honest with our children, it smells!

From our vantage point as parents, here are the developmental steps we have noticed to potty training.
1. Does not care if they are wet or yucky.
2. Shows concern or draws attention to themselves after they have wet or yuckied by crying or being naughty.
3. Shows brief interest in the toilet. Not in disappearance of the sock or wash cloth, but in what it is actually used for.
4. Can sit on the potty seat for brief moments, but hops off rather quickly as interest in something else takes their fancy.
5. Next comes the heart's-in-it-but-bodies-not-ready-yet stage. Tries hard, can even sit on the potty seat for 10 minutes, but never pottys with success when placed there.
6. At last the big day comes when a success actually happens. What a wonderful day! Although this is not regular...but a suggestion of things to come!
7. Frequently now pee-pee's in potty chair or toilet (although a percentage may hit the seat!).
8. Now comes the dawning light as they will come alert you when they have already gone potty in their diaper or training pants and not made it to the toilet.
9. Usually makes it to the bathroom to go peep and has a few accidents, especially when outside and being lazy, not wanting to come into the house, interrupting their fun. This is the stage when they wait until last minute running or hollering to the toilet.
10. Tries to use toilet paper by themselves, but either wads up half a roll and doesn't get the job done, or uses 2 squares and makes a mess. Better to help at this point using verbal instructions each time. Next, overseeing the process while they try is a good next step. Always stress washing hands when finished. Later this will rest your worry about what is on their hands when they come to help with dinner!
11. The grand finally, of course, is that they remain dry all day and all night.
Success is a good feeling...just ask them!

Keeping a sense of humor is one way of keeping our sanity. There is truth in the statement the bigger the boy...the bigger the mess! Finding reasonably priced, big diapers that work on big, active children can be some what of a chore. It can be disheartening to feel like this stage may never pass.....but truly worse things could befall us.

Tom and Sherry Bushnell are directors of NATHHAN, the National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network. You may contact them at