Why have I written this toilet learning guide?
Over the last twenty years of working with children and researching and implementing best practices, I have found that parents and caregivers often ask for advice about ‘training’ their child to go to the toilet. I feel the need to write this guide to help people understand ‘ toilet learning ’ as opposed to ‘ toilet training ’ as a best practice model.
Every child is an individual and learns and develops at their own pace. There is a lot to learn to manage toileting!
Accidents or digressions are common, especially when the child is tired, ill, or has undergone a change (for example, they have moved house, a pet has died, they moved class, Mum or Dad has had to go away or children are witnessing parents arguments). A lot of what we see as little things are huge for a child and impact on their sense of security.
If there are any changes in your child’s life that may impact on their behaviour, please tell us so we can help support the child.
Please use the proper names for body parts including penis and vagina. If English is your second language please tell us of the correct terms in your first language so that we can keep that continuity for your child and reduce confusion.
After moving to Australia and learning the different ways things are done and speaking with a range of people including Indigenous Australians, I wanted to share some of this knowledge. When I spoke to a lady from the Larrakia Nation of the Northern Territory she explained the Aboriginal approach to children’s learning and toilet learning, “Its a child thing, it will come when it comes, we don’t put pressure on the child. They will learn by watching their brother, sister or family using the toilet and will want to imitate them. When the child’s ready it will happen, and not sooner.” Which made so much sense in relation to current thinking and good practices.
The basis for the current Early Years Learning Framework, that we plan from and reflect on in our work in Early Childhood Education and Care, is to let children be children and learn at their own pace, the learning will come with experience, maturation and support. Take the pressure away and let the child learn in a safe and encouraging environment that supports their independence, self-esteem and sense of agency.
I hope the following information is of help to parents and educators alike.
“Learning to use the toilet is a natural process that begins when your child’s desire to be grown up and his neurological development have reached the point where he can control his bladder and bowels.
We don’t train children to use the toilet, we support them when they are ready.”
What is Toilet Learning?
Toilet learning is a four stage process that shows and encourages children to learn to use the toilet in a fun, every day way, and most importantly, the learning is done at the child’s pace.
It builds the children’s knowledge and develops the skills needed to use the toilet and become independent in the process.
Stage 1: Toilet Play
What is toilet play?
It’s just that. Allow your child to climb on and sit on the toilet with their clothes on or off. Let your child follow you to the toilet and let them see you use it, this is to allow the child to become accustomed to how to use the toilet and sitting on the toilet.
Bring toilet play to the children’s level by using teddies or dolls, pretending to change nappies, wipe and clean bottoms with toilet paper, washing hands, putting on a play potty or on a pretend toilet.
Introduce stories about toileting like “Zoo Poo” by Richard Morgan.
Stage 2: Toilet Practice
This stage is all about skilling, skilling and more skilling: using the flush, letting them see what it does; letting them flush the toilet after you; letting them get up and down from the toilet; standing at or sitting on the toilet; turning the cold water on to wash hands; drying hands; pulling their clothes up and down or off and on; allowing the child to dress themselves.
If clothing is on backwards or inside out it does not matter; encourage them for the effort they have made. This is about empowering the child to become independent.
Try not to correct them, but celebrate with them “You put your pants on yourself, well done!” Remember it’s them learning how to dress themselves. (That is why some times when you pick up your child from their Early Education and Care service their clothes are inside out or back to front or their shoes are on the wrong feet. It’s that we allow the child take pride in the fact they can dress them self).
Tell the child that you need to go to the toilet to urinate or defecate (do a wee/poo) when you need one so they become aware of what the toilet is used for and if Mum/Dad/Brother …. goes then maybe I should try.
Stage 3: Toilet Learning
The Toilet Learning stage is the most stressful and frustrating for the grown up as children will often have accidents as they are learning to judge and feel when and if they need the toilet. If your child keeps having accidents you may need to put the nappy or pull-up back on, wait a few weeks and try again. This can make all the difference.
Remember that children tend to master control of the bladder sooner then they can control the bowels. They may not know how, or be able, to hold off defecating themselves before they manage to get to the toilet.
Stage 4: Independent Training
Now that they have cracked Stage 3 let them go by themselves.
BUT if a child becomes wet or soiled, stay calm and be reassuring. Do not make them feel ashamed. You might say, “I see you are wet. Let’s go get some dry clothes.” Your child can get them from the supply in the bathroom and even help wipe the floor and wash their hands.
Let them change at their own pace and give help if they ask for it or if they are overwhelmed. If they have wet clothes but they are playing with a toy, you can wipe up around them and wait until they are finished before suggesting you get some dry clothes.
“There should be no pressure, no reward or punishment, no adult deciding when the child should learn to use the potty.
The environment is prepared and the child is free to explore and imitate in these natural developmental stages.”
Finally, in Early Childhood Education and Care settings we are constantly learning and researching to improve the quality of our service to families and implement best practice for the child. We are trained to do this job and this training is constantly being updated to make sure that we are up to date with best practice.
We are here to help and support you on your journey to supporting your child’s learning the knowledge and skills needed for going to the toilet.
With special thanks to:
- Kendall Gates (Proud Larrakia Woman)
- Susan Perzamanos (Trainer/Assessor Early Childhood Education and Care)
- Dr Marie Martin PhD (Training Manager @ SOEL and EYE Training – Enterprise Based RTO)
For their insight of Australian and Aboriginal cultural and customs, as well as for their help, advice support, training and editing.