Is toilet training your preschooler wiping you out? Try these simple tips

Natalie Ehrlich
Natalie Ehrlich
A lawyer turned professional writer, Natalie Ehrlich is a mother of three under five with a passion for supporting parents. With a history of editorial experience at major lifestyle and fashion brands, writing about parenting while in the thick of it feels like a career dream come true. In her “free” time, she enjoys reading one page of a book uninterrupted, cooking with...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read

Ask parents their least favourite part of parenting a young child and I almost guarantee the answer would be unanimous. Teaching toilet training can be hard on everyone involved. Cleaning pee from your favourite rug while trying not to shame your child requires a very specific level of strength and patience. While teaching toileting can feel like a never ending battle, it doesn’t have to be such a drag. You can totally achieve this major milestone with a few simple tips and tricks up your sleeve. Read on to find out how to ditch the diapers.

What is independent toileting?

Many daycares and preschools require “independent toileting” for attendance around age three. But what does this actually mean? Picture this: your child has the urge to pee or poop, they go to the bathroom and pull down their own pants, sit down on the toilet, wipe when they’re finished, and pull up their own pants. In an ideal world this is what independent toileting looks like. Let’s be honest though, that’s a lot of skills for a tiny human to master! To reiterate, independent toileting requires children to:

  • Notice they have the urge to toilet
  • Communicate the need to go
  • Pull down their own pants/underwear
  • Seat themselves on the toilet
  • Wipe
  • Pull up their pants/underwear
  • Wash their hands

Sounds pretty dreamy after years of changing diapers, doesn’t it? Believe it or not, it’s possible when a child is ready to make it happen.

Signs your child is ready for independent toileting

So, here’s the catch: you cannot force a child to toilet independently before they’re ready. This will lead to tears from everyone involved and a tiny human who feels they’ve let you down. Toilet training is a developmental milestone just like walking or crawling. You can’t force it. Trying to teach toileting before a child is ready can actually delay the whole process by creating additional (and unnecessary stress) around the process.

On average, toddlers are ready to start learning how to use the toilet around age two. This is not a hard and fast rule though. Some younger toddlers are ready earlier and some preschoolers are still figuring it out. Parents often feel pressured to teach their little ones to use the toilet but your child has to be the one to lead the way.

So how do you know if your child is ready to toilet more independently? There are some telltale signs to guide the way:

  • Less frequent accidents
  • Showing increasing desire for independence
  • Announces when peeing or pooping
  • Can pull their pants up and down
  • Able to climb up on to the toilet
  • Able to follow basic directions

Young boy with toilet rolls

Four strategies for toilet training

Let’s start at the beginning. First comes using the potty, then comes the additional skills. So you’ve determined your toddler is ready to ditch diapers. Where to begin?

  1. Stick close to home for a few days: set your child up for success by ensuring the toilet is close at hand.
  2. Give your child lots to drink: load up on liquids so they can get a lot of practice.
  3. Ditch the diaper: No pants are best during the learning process.
  4. Celebrate: reward with a little treat when they go in the potty, sing a funny song, do a big dance, make a huge deal!

Perhaps you’ve mastered the whole potty bit of toileting. Congratulations! This is generally the hardest part. Encouraging more independent toileting skills can take time and there will be setbacks. Accidents and regressions in toileting happen but once you’re on the toileting train, you can begin fostering additional skills.

How do you encourage independent toileting?

The first step is to assess where your child is in the toileting process. Areas to look at include:

  • Reading their own body cues
  • Ability to climb up the toilet
  • Pulling pants up and down
  • Wiping effectively

Reading body cues

Early on in the toilet training process you probably had to remind, nudge, or outright tell your toddler to use the toilet. As time goes on it’s important to empower your preschooler to understand their body’s cues around toileting. Ideally you will fade out this process and guide your child toward understanding what feelings arise when they have to go to the toilet.

Making toileting part of the daily routine can be helpful. Choose times that you bring them to the bathroom: upon waking and before/after meals are a good place to start. This can go a long way in helping a toilet trained child having accidents. Let your child’s teacher know that this is what you do at home to help prevent toilet accidents at school.

Scaffold the process

Certain parts of toileting can be difficult for little bodies. Look at the areas that are challenging for your particular child. Incorporate a step stool or toilet ladder if climbing up to the toilet is an issue.

Pulling pants up and down seems like a simple thing for adults. But for preschoolers this can still be quite a challenge! Dress your child in clothing that’s easy to take off. Elastic is your friend!

Teach proper hygiene

Believe it or not you weren’t born knowing that it’s best to wipe from front to back. Sometimes these basics are so ingrained we forget that we need to teach our children. Talk about wiping when you’re helping your child. Narrate what you’re doing and show them how to do it. It’s important that they understand that they aren’t finished wiping until the toilet paper is clean. This may be the last skill to click. That’s ok! Celebrate when they wipe well and trust that eventually you won’t be called to the bathroom to wipe a little tushy.

Hand washing is a crucial step and can be fun for littles once they get the hang of it. Again, you’ll need to walk your child through every part of the process. Make sure the soap is easy to use. Step stools are crucial.

Toilet accidents happen

Contrary to what your Facebook friend (whose perfect child has been toileting since six months and never had an accident) may want you to believe – accidents are a normal part of toilet learning.

Four year old toilet accidents, toilet accidents in a five year old – these are normal events! While they should be the exception, it’s important not to shame your child for having accidents. You may notice your preschooler has more accidents at school. It can be frustrating when you unpack a little plastic bag filled with pee-soaked clothes day after day when your child never has accidents at home. New expectations, rules, and schedules can all be contributing factors to an increase in preschooler accidents.

Ask your child’s teacher when and how the accident happened so you can troubleshoot how to best support your child with toileting in the new environment. Let your child’s teacher know that you’d like them to give your child some extra reminders as they adjust to toileting at school.

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