CSP Spotlight: Easy Potty Learning for Toddlers

The simple truth about toilet training is that if the child is ready, it happens very easily. If not, a power struggle often ensues -- and we all know that no one wins a parent-child power struggle. Fights with your child about his or her body are fights you will never win.

Luckily, there is a never a reason to fight with your child about this. Moving from diapers to being self-sufficiently able to use the toilet is a natural process. Humans have been doing it for a long time. They all get out of diapers sooner or later.

So you don't actually need to "toilet train" your child. Instead, set up conditions so your child can learn. Your goal is to make it as easy and effortless as possible. Think of this as a process of learning that unfolds over time, like all other learning and mastery.

Here's a step by step guide for child-led potty learning.

  1. Begin by reading books about toileting with your child.

One terrific gender-neutral book is Potty by Leslie Patricelli. Potty training dolls can also be very helpful. Most kids love them. And once you get a potty, be sure that your child's teddy bear gets to sit on it regularly.


  1. Remember that most of what kids learn is through our modeling.

Start talking about what you're doing in the bathroom. Let your child watch. Boys will benefit by watching other boys or their father use the toilet.


  1. Kids love to copy other kids.

Slightly older cousins or friends who are willing to use the bathroom in front of your toddler can be invaluable in modeling. For boys, you might make a game of it by putting a small bulls-eye in the toilet for them to aim at.


  1. Have a potty in each bathroom of the house.

That way, kids can practice sitting whenever they want, including while they keep you company in the bathroom.


  1. Don't be in a hurry to start.

Just encourage your child to sit, fully clothed, on his potty. It builds muscle memory for your child to get on and off the potty, and you want her to feel comfortable sitting there. Make sitting on the toilet festive and fun, well before she even thinks about peeing in it. For instance, be sure there is a stash of books next to the potty. Sing silly songs or give special cheers each time she gets on and off the potty. But never force your child to sit on the potty, or to stay there.


  1. After he's used to sitting on the potty clothed...

...ask him regularly if he wants to sit on it naked. Sometimes he will say yes, and sometimes No. Don't make a big deal of it. (If he says No, just say "Okay. Soon you'll be ready to sit on the potty without your pants.") Your goal is just for him to get completely comfortable. Read potty books and other books to him while he sits there. Toddlers are busy. You have to make the potty a place they love being if you want them to spend enough time there to let anything come out.


  1. Once she's totally used to sitting on her potty...

...begin dumping the contents of her diaper into the potty each time you change her diaper. Explain that every day her body is making poop and pee, and they belong in the potty. Tell her that whenever she is ready, she will begin peeing and pooping right in the potty. Admire it there, don't be in a hurry to dispose of it. After awhile, let her help you empty the potty into the toilet and be the one to flush it. Cheer happily each time and wave goodbye to the poop.


  1. When he does pee or poop in the potty...

...be sure to celebrate with a special song and dance or parade through the house. But be sure you're celebrating other things, too, like his climb to the top of the play structure or the sun coming out. Don't make such a big a deal of his using the potty that the pressure on your child makes him anxious. He isn't confident yet of his abilities; don't make him feel like he has to repeat his use of the potty -- this should be his choice. Remember, your child should be in control of the process. No pressure.


  1. Don't make the move into underwear until your child insists.

In fact, try to avoid mentioning underwear until your child brings it up. Let it be her idea, let her choose it herself, and don't rush it, or you're just asking for accidents. Cleaning up after accidents will frustrate you, and your child will sense that.


  1. Institute regular times when you both use the potty:

First thing in the morning, after breakfast, before snack, before and after lunch, before you leave the house, etc. Your child doesn't have to go, just to sit with you while you go, and to try himself. Make clear that the rule applies to you, also, so your child doesn't feel singled out. This will help your child's body move onto a schedule, which will be a bit easier for him to manage. Of course, if he asks to go on his own schedule, cheer him on for listening to his own body. Usually, over time, he will ask more and more, gradually taking on the responsibility.


    11. Expect accidents.


Don't express any disappointment at "accidents," or you'll make the stakes too high and your child may rebel or give up. Remember, no one like to feel like they're failing. So if that's how they feel, they'd rather not even try. So respond to accidents by shrugging, and saying with a warm smile:

"Oh well, accidents are how we learn. Soon you'll get it in the potty every time. Let's go in and try again.

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