Toilet learning differs from Toilet training. Child toilet training is something that is adult directed; toilet learning is when the child is involved in their own learning. Toilet training may involve a time pressure on your child which seems to be a quick fix but may have consequences. Toilet training involves an attitude of having to do it now because the adult chooses so. The difference between toilet learning and toilet training is the adult’s attitude which can make a big difference for the child.

Toilet learning starts with readiness signs, and is not learned through a reward system. Toileting is a skill that needs to be learned. It cannot be taught overnight. The key to toilet learning is teaching not training the child. Learning on their own is reward enough for them to be able to independently help themselves in remaining clean or not soiling themselves.

Allow the child to learn on their own with a bit of support and help from the adult with the use of toilet training pants and clothes they can independently put on themselves. Toilet learning is linked to the child’s self-esteem, so genuine verbal praise is important. There are no "accidents" during toilet learning, only lessons. Language also plays a big part in keeping a positive attitude with toilet learning.

Adult Attitude and Points to Consider in Toilet Learning

It is important to decide if you are ready to commit to the process and all it entails, this could include loads of washing, wet or soiled carpets and what people may think if you child is not toilet ready by a certain age. More often than not it requires months of learning for the child and it is important to have and maintain a positive attitude and avoid putting a time period or the age you wish your child to be toilet trained. It is possible that children will develop manipulative actions regarding toileting (e.g. wetting self on purpose) if they believe it will affect your behavior.

Every child is different and toilet ready at a different age, these are some tips to help the process and explain the rationale behind the method. However, it is up to you which toilet learning or toilet training approach you think suits you, your child and your lifestyle.

Clothing For Toilet Learning

We recommend that all clothing be two piece set during this learning process. The bottoms should be elastic waist allowing the child to independently pull up their own pants/skirt. Also this allows the child to pull down cloths quickly if they need to use the toilet urgently. There are toilet training pants that can be bought that are made of thick fabrics, terry toweling so the moisture is absorbed but still lets the child feel the wetness.

Underwear needs to be cotton and elastic should not cut off any circulation, be sure to buy appropriate sized underwear to allow for ease of dressing the self. Plastics are plastic covers placed over underpants and are used for outdoor play they will sometimes protect clothing form getting wet but still allow the child to feel the sensation.

Toilet Learning and Language

It is important that children understand the language you use during toilet learning. Quite often there is some embarrassment in using certain words, remember to consider you attitude when interacting with children, if you are embarrassed talking about certain body part or bodily functions your child could also learn this attitude. Using the toilet is an everyday event and being comfortable explaining the process and body parts to children is important as it is a natural part of our lives.

It is important to feel comfortable using adult words around children like to describe body parts and functions. This ensure that your child will not have to use ‘baby words’ (e.g. wee and poo) and demonstrates that you see your child as a capable toilet learner.

We recommend considering your language when inviting children to use the toilet always keep it clear, direct and positive, for example “You may go and sit on the toilet/ potty” if the child refuses maintain positive language “you need to sit on the toilet so that you can urinate”. Never force a child on the potty or toilet against their will or use language in a negative way saying they “must sit on the toilet”.

When a child urinates on themselves try not to refer to this as an ‘accident’ tell them “you have urinated we need to sit on the potty when we urinate” making sure to sit the child on the potty after the event and change wet underpants. Always remain calm and in control of emotions model this behavior for the child.

Signs of Readiness Checklist:

Physical Readiness

  • Child can stay dry for longer periods of time, or overnight
  • Child knows the feelings that signal he/she needs to use the bathroom
  • Child can pull down own pants, and pull them up
  • Child can get him or herself to the toilet

Mental and Language Readiness

  • Child can follow simple directions
  • Child can point to wet or soiled clothes and ask to be changed
  • Child pays attention to the physical signals even when she is doing something else (a challenge for many children, which is why accidents are so common)
  • Child knows the words for using the toilet, and can tell an adult when he/she needs to go
  • Child has asked to wear grown-up underwear

Emotional Readiness

  • Child seeks privacy when going in diaper
  • Child shows interest in using the toilet-may want to put paper in and flush it
  • Child shows curiosity at other people’s toilet habits
  • Child has decided he/she wants to use the toilet
  • Child is not afraid of the toilet

Bowel Movement Control

In toilet learning urination is often the focus; this is usually because it is a much harder skill to control liquids rather that mass. However, in many children bowel movement control occurs much later. There are many individual factors that can contribute to this including physical, emotional and mental readiness.

Bowel movement control often happens before urinary control. If they are regularly going to the toilet to urinate, chances are they may have a bowel movement while urinating. It is for this reason that boys should preferably sit instead of stand during the first stages of toilet learning until they have mastered bowel movements.

Every child is different in learning this skill; many children are aware of when they are having a BM but will often be shy in telling an adult or not know what to do. It is important to build up trust and reassure the child that everything is ok. Many children who are showing signs of readiness will want to ask questions and look at what is happening while you are changing their BM. It may be helpful to talk the child through what is happening in their bodies and include them in the process as much as possible.

Many children have Bowel Movements at the same time each day; this predictability can be used as a tool in helping the child succeed in BM control. Writing a chart of times the child is likely to have a BM and looking for other signs (body posture and facial expression) can help signal that the child should sit on a potty or toilet. It also helps chart the frequency of the child’s BMs, on occasion if the child is feeling anxious about passing BMs they may hold them and become constipated.


There should be no pressure put on children to be toilet trained. Toilet learning is a natural process and should be done at a pace the child is comfortable with. Allowing children to become aware of their bodily functions from the sensitive period of development allows for less distress when the child is older and more physically able to control their toileting abilities.

Please remember although the child is urinating in their underpants they are not ‘failing’ at toileting rather learning the sensation to need to go and the discomfort of having wet underpants. This is part of the learning process that is Toilet Learning.

Toileting Routine

  • Wake time – the child is allowed to sit on the potty after the diaper is removed from the night.
  • He/she is then put in training pants/ underpants.
  • When the child is going outdoors, or going to the shops you then might want to put on diapers for convenience.
  • When the child gets older, maybe even for going out, plastic coverings over underpants may be used.
  • Constantly ask the child to go the toilet if they need to.
  • Sit them on the potty when they wake in the morning, before going anywhere outside of the home, before and after sleep time and after meals. Ask them nicely, if they refuse say “You need to go to the potty”.
  • If they are comfortable with the potty, they may refuse less often. Remember if they wet themselves, it is okay. Just reinforce to them verbally that they need to urinate on the potty or toilet.
  • If your child is dry for long periods of time and going to the potty on a frequent basis this can be time for you to move on the toilet learning process and fully get rid of the diaper.

* Please note that at LPE, we ask that parents begin toilet learning at home with their child and have at least 3-4 weeks of success before transitioning toilet learning to school. Toileting in each new environment is a learning process of its own.  If your child is showing interest in using the toilet at school, we will of course help them start their learning at school as well!

If you feel that your child is ready for toilet learning based on the Signs of Readiness Checklist above, please complete LPE's Toilet Learning Plan and submit it to the Office/Director so that it can be implemented at school. Please be advised that if the LPE team (teachers and Director) determine that your child is not quite ready for toilet learning at school, we will communicate that to you in a timely fashion.

Thank you and good luck!

- Le Petit Elephant Nursery and Preschool 

Toilet Learning at LPE

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