Wow, toilet training information sure is confusing! And there are plenty of people out there selling their special methods and products or making strong claims about best way to toilet train or the correct time to start (from birth some say!). So let’s be clear first of all: there are likely a number of methods that will work and there’s little evidence to favour specific approaches or the idea that there’s a particular, magical age at which to train. So if the approach you took to toilet training is different to the one I’m going to outline here, I’m not saying that your approach was wrong. But if you are getting ready to toilet train your child and you’d like to do it in a way that’s simple, easy, even lazy, well, read on!
Let’s start by being clear on what it means to be toilet trained. A child is fully day toilet trained when she or he both urinates and defecates (wees and poos) into the toilet during the day with only the occasional accident and is able to identify when she or he needs to go to the toilet. Children who willingly urinate and defecate into a toilet on command but cannot distinguish the feeling of needing to go to the toilet are not yet fully toilet trained. Most children become day toilet trained sometime between their second and fourth birthdays. It doesn’t matter how early or late your child is toilet trained as long as your child is fully day toilet trained well before beginning school. Once a child is toilet trained during the day, night-time dryness usually happens naturally over the next several years. That is, you can simply keep putting your child in a nappy (diapers) at night until you notice that it is always dry. If, after several years, that doesn’t happen it is possible to teach your child to wake up to go to the toilet during the night. Seek advice from your doctor or see a psychologist. This post will focus on day toilet training.
The lazy approach to toilet training has three easy phases:
Phase one: natural exposure. From birth let your child be exposed to toileting as a normal human activity. Let your child know that one day, when they are bigger, they’ll learn to go to the toilet too. Use proper names for genitals and ensure your child understands that poo comes out of their bottom and wee comes out of their urethra (for boys you might simply say penis).
Phase two: lazy circling. The lazy circling phase can begin at approximately two years. To start this phase of toilet training you’ll need to buy the required equipment: a child seat for your toilet, some underwear for your child and (if you wish) a potty. Talk to your child about what the child toilet seat, underwear and potty are for and explain that they are getting bigger and will be doing their wees and poos on the toilet (or potty) soon. Initiate play about going to the toilet with your child. For example, you can play going to the toilet with dolls and teddies. You can also suggest that your child pretends to do a wee or a poo on the toilet or potty. Keep these games relaxed play only; don’t pressure your child into actually going to the toilet. Give your child some nappy-free time wearing their new underwear. This will give your child the opportunity to notice when they urinate and to begin to notice the sensation of needing to urinate that proceeds it. Expect that nappy-free time will result in plenty of accidents. You can make these accidents easier for yourself by making nappy-free time downstairs play time.
Remember this phase is called lazy circling for a reason. You can do all of this in a relaxed, lazy way without any pressure on yourself or your child to become toilet trained anytime soon. None of it has to be done daily, just on some kind of semi-regular basis, when it suits you and your child. If you or your child are sick or exhausted or stressed do feel free to give even the lazy circling a rest for a couple of weeks. If your child seems bored with it or discouraged or is resisting, give it a rest for a while. For a truly relaxed approach to toilet training, I recommend keeping the lazy circling phase going for about a year. As your year of lazy circling continues one of two things will happen: (1) your child will urinate or defecate into the toilet or (2) your child will not urinate or defecate into the toilet.
If during the lazy circling phase, your child wishes to try actually going to the toilet praise them for giving it a go. If they actually urinate or defecate into the toilet: get very excited! Praise your child for this and encourage them to try again. If your child seems to be successfully learning how to go to the toilet with your continued encouragement, congratulations! Toilet training is going to be a breeze for you! If your child has successfully urinated or defecated into the toilet several times but isn’t progressing beyond this with encouragement alone it may be time to proceed to phase three.
If your child doesn’t wish to actually go to the toilet then just keep lazily circling for a year. It may feel like you are going nowhere but you are laying the groundwork for phase three. I recommend continuing phase two for a year because this is the lazy guide to toilet training. For some children, occasional lazy circling will eventually kick-start toilet training, so why not give that easy option a real chance? And if occasional lazy circling doesn’t work then your child will be all the more prepared to toilet train easily during phase three after a year of lazy circling and a year of further development. I’m sure you have better things to do with your time than ensuring your child is toilet trained as soon as humanly possible.
Phase three: reward like crazy. Proceed to phase three after a year of lazy circling or before that if your child has managed to urinate or defecate into the toilet several times but hasn’t progressed beyond that with encouragement alone. Begin at a time when life as a whole is relatively calm. Don’t move to phase three at a time when your child is making other big transitions like welcoming a new sibling or beginning childcare. Phase three is a reward chart. You can make your reward chart beautiful or themed or use stickers if you think that’ll excite your child. But really, a simple piece of paper with boxes that you can tick is fine. Put the chart near your toilet at home. It is absolutely crucial that no child ever fails a reward chart. The chart should be easy enough that your child gets the ticks and gets the reward. Never remove ticks from a reward chart. If your child hasn’t yet urinated or defecated into the toilet then in order to get the reward for the very first chart all your child has to do is to sit on the toilet and try to urinate once. If your child has urinated or defecated into the toilet already then you can make the first chart urinating once into the toilet. Once your child can urinate in the toilet and understands how the reward chart works you can make it a bit more difficult: two toilet trips (i.e. two ticks) needed for a reward, then three toilet trips (i.e. three ticks). It is important to give ticks for both urinating and defecating, that is, if your child does both in one trip then give two ticks. This is important because you want to encourage your child to start defecating in the toilet, too. Keep the chart in that sweet spot where your child is keen to go to the toilet. If your child becomes discouraged, you may have made the chart too hard too quickly. Make the task easier the moment you notice this has happened. For the actual rewards you can use whatever interests your child and be as creative as you like. Rewards don’t have to be physical things they can be experiences, like a trip to the park. One easy idea is to make a lucky dip filled with lots of little bits and pieces like craft supplies or lots of small toys which together make a set (like farm animals). Then your child also has the excitement of choosing and unwrapping a ‘present’ from the lucky dip.
You can be completely honest with your child by letting them know that the reward chart exists to make it easier for them to learn how to go to the toilet. As your child masters toilet training you’ll notice they will start to lose interest in the chart. Sometimes they might go to the toilet and forget to give themselves a tick. That’s fine; you can let that tick be forgotten. Allow the chart to phase our naturally. Your child will lose interest with time.
At all phases:
- Don’t make a big deal of accidents. Just calmly remind your child to do wees and poos in the toilet and clean it up. There will be accidents.
- Don’t overdo reminding your child to go to the toilet. Toddlers aren’t great at thinking ahead so it is fine to remind them to go to the toilet before leaving the house. They can also forget to go to the toilet when they are busy doing something new and exciting so a little reminding in those situations is okay too. But, remember, your child won’t be fully toilet trained until they can recognise that they need to go to the toilet and respond to that sensation by taking themselves to the toilet. They won’t learn that if you remind them all the time. They also might begin to resist!
- Start with urinating because that is usually easier for children to learn. Once children learn to urinate into the toilet, and if poos get a tick on the reward chart as well, then they will likely begin defecating into the toilet soon, too.
- Don’t be tempted to read deep meaning into toilet training. Some people treat it as the magical moment when a child learns independence. What rot! A wee is just a wee. Don’t put your child under that kind of pressure.
- If you’ve followed this guide to toilet training and your child still is not toilet trained, or if you are concerned about your child’s progress at any stage, then it is important to seek advice from your doctor. In particular, it is important to ensure that your child doesn’t have an infection and is not constipated (children may be constipated even if they are defecating regularly, in fact, severe constipation may present as a lack of control over bowel motions).
Remember, there are multiple ways to toilet train so if a different approach worked for you and your child, that’s great. But if you are getting ready to do toilet training with your child and you are looking for an easy, relaxed approach this might be the one for you.
Apply it to your life: How did you toilet train? What worked for your child?