When to begin toileting:

Between twelve and eighteen months is the sensitive period for beginning toilet awareness. It can begin sooner or later, depending on the child. Look for signs of readiness:

  • An interest in cycles (bib now goes in the hamper, hamper goes to the basement, into the machine, etc. Child watches with interest and even follows along).
  • Child is walking.
  • You notice the child touches her/his genitals.
  • Child is beginning to have bowel movements at certain times of day.
  • Pulling up and down pants and underwear indepently

Sometimes a child exhibits none of these signs but will become interested as soon as you begin to draw her attention to toileting, so we still recommend beginning before 18 months.

Here are some children’s books we recommend for your library at home:

Toileting Tips and Resources:

  • Many times, wearing pull-ups or diapers can hide the feeling of wetness, and can make the child less bodily aware. It can also confuse a child about whether they are being asked to use the toilet, or are they expected to use the pull-up, which feels very much like a diaper.
  • Wearing underwear only during waking hours, confuses the child to go back and forth with diapers.
  • Dress your child in loose fitting pants they can pull up and down on their own
  • Use regular underwear and allow the child to help pick them out, use padded underwear to get started.
  • Use a stool at the toilet that allows the child to plant their feet firmly, so they do not feel like they are trying to balance
  • Establish a routine until the child is able to understand their own bodily cues. This may look like sitting on the toilet at times such as these:
    • First thing when awakening in the morning
    • Immediately after breakfast
    • 90 minutes after breakfast
    • Immediately after lunch
    • Before nap
    • Immediately after nap
    • Every 90 minutes until dinner time
    • Immediately after dinner
    • Before bedtime
  • A night time diaper can continue to be used if the child is still waking up with a wet diaper when daytime toileting learning commences.
  • If a boy is toilet learning, encourage dad to do as much of the teaching as possible. A boy will do what his dad shows him.
  • If a boy is being shown to sit on the toilet to urinate, he needs to be shown to push his penis down towards the toilet bowl so urine doesn’t spray. This is usually the best approach with a young boy because they may defecate and urinate at the same time. If this happens, you want the child sitting on the toilet. 
    • At school, all children use the toilet sitting down, unless a child comes to us already successful on the toilet while standing.
  • Do not use shame or punishment if a child fails. It can take time. Use phrases like, “It is okay, accidents happen. Let’s clean it up.” Be as gentle with yourself as you are with your child.
  • Do not use bribery or treats
  • To help with toileting time, you can make a book that depicts your toilet learning process, or you can sit and read the book while the child is on the toilet.
  • Sit no longer than 10 minutes at a time
  • Set out small potties, a variety if necessary, and encourage the child to sit on them, praising when he or she does. Our favorite is the Baby Bjorn potty, which can help the child in two ways: he can be more independent and feel more secure; and he can more clearly see his results-waste in the potty-afterwards.
  • Place a potty in each bathroom with a small bucket to the left and small basket of clean underwear on the right. A folded towel or bath mat under the three items creates a non-slip surface and an organized appearance.  


Avoid Best Practice
Wearing buckles, belts, zippers snaps or layers Wear shorts and pants with an elastic waist
Disposable pull-ups and diapers Cloth diapers & thick cloth underwear Plastic covers
Cutsie or pet names for anatomy and toileting Hoo-hoo, pee-pee, etc Correct vocabulary and anatomy names; vagina, penis, bottom, urine, bowel movement
Changing in a toddler’s bedroom Changing and toileting ONLY in a bathroom
“Toilet training” “Toilet Learning”
Discussing toileting as “icky, stinky, eeww” Normalize diapering and toileting by speaking to the child about the process, “Now we will wipe your bottom.”
“Oh, NO! What did you do?” avoid shame, blame or making the child feel bad about mistakes Expect and normalize mistakes. “Mistakes happen. You are still learning how to listen to your body when it is time to use the toilet.”
Toss BM with diaper into the trash Shake the BM off of the diaper and into the toilet, supporting the child to make the connection of where urine and feces go.
Change child on a changing table while child is laying down. Change your child standing up, as this will support greater independence in toileting and dressing.
In the beginning avoid:

“Do you need to go to the toilet?” The child often answers “no” as an automatic response. With time, your child will listen to her/his own body and be able to answer “yes” or simply go to the toilet as needed.

In the beginning, set your child up for success with routine:

“It is time to go to the toilet. We always use the toilet when… we wake up…

…before we get into the car.

…. after we eat

…. when we come home from being out.”

Maintain busy schedule Allow for an extra slow schedule and more time at home for 2-3 days while in the practicing phase of toileting
Rewards Allow the child to experience a natural sense of accomplishment
Forcing toileting too early or holding the child back from toileting until their 3rd birthday Follow the child’s interests. 18-24 mo. is a natural sensitive period when the child wants to imitate and model what they see.