Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tot School: Toilet Learning

No updates from us last week because we were on Winter Break. I have been actually sticking with a calendar that is close to our local public school's calendar this year. T has a lot of friends who go to public school and many of the special camps here occur during public school breaks. He often wants to take advantage of these same days off as his friends so we decided to just stick to the same basic schedule. We have an advantage however, the public schools have been having lots of snow days here this winter and we have not so we got a little of a longer break this time than they did.

I decided that we would take advantage of this break to accomplish a couple of things. The main focus of this week would be toilet learning for B. The way we do toilet learning in our home, we need some uninterrupted time to practice and not leave the house much. With a child who has an older sibling it can be difficult to have uninterrupted time and when that older child is homeschooled, it can be nearly impossible. So, our solution was that T would attend what we like to call Grandparent Camp! My in-laws are wonderful people and they are always asking us to let them keep T for extended periods of time. He goes to stay at their house for a week at a time a few times a year while he is on breaks from school. He enjoys the special time with his grandparents and they love having him there. B is not at an age where we feel comfortable with this yet but she will get her turn in a couple of years. I am not sure of everything they are doing together (they live about 2hrs away) but I do know that they went to see the Lego Movie on Friday and he really enjoyed it.

Moving on to the main focus of this post, Toilet Learning. Now, you may be wondering what the difference is between Toilet Learning and Potty Training. There isn't really a difference except for your mindset. Are you training the child to use the toilet, or are they learning to use it? Often times parents dread potty training because it is a time when they must stop their hectic lives and focus on trying to get their very young child to stop using diapers and start using the toilet. When you focus on the child learning a new skill, and really put that focus on this time as the accomplishment of the child to gain control of his or her own bodily functions it often changes how you do things.

I would like to share how WE do toilet learning in our home. I am not saying this will work for every child or every family but this works for us.

Start Young-
I believe in starting toilet training before the age of two. Many parents think this is too young but in my experience there is a golden window for learning before the age of two. Most children between the age of 18months and 2.5 years are very interested in becoming independent. They are also often eager to please their parents with their new skills. Two year olds are often in the stage of becoming independent by being defiant. They prefer to do the opposite of what they think you want them to do. Of course this is not every child, but it is more common in two year olds than in one and a half year olds. Some people wait until three, at this time many child are so used to sitting in their own dirty diapers that they don't really even mind it anymore. The instinct to be clean that a child is born with, often disappears if they are left in diapers for too many years. T toilet learned at 20 months of age and B is learning at 25 months of age. We actually tried this once before with B but she had an accident during the same week and broke her leg, the cast and everything made it too difficult so we postponed it for a while.

Cloth Diapers-
Cloth diapers from birth tend to make toilet learning easier. The child always has a slight feeling of wetness when wearing a cloth diaper so they tend to want to get out of them more quickly. Disposable diapers pull the wetness away from the skin losing that feeling of wetness that allows the child to notice if they have a wet diaper. Using cloth diapers really helped T with toilet learning, he picked it up very quickly. B had some skin issues with our cloth diapers, she actually had to switch to disposables for a while recently and it has made things more difficult. She would often say that she was dry when her diaper was quite wet because she just couldn't tell.

Stay Home-
When we toilet train we stay home as much as possible for an entire week. We focus on just toilet learning for that entire week. The child stays in a room without carpet and with a potty chair for all of his/her waking hours. We keep only a couple of toys and books in the room with us and try to make them related to using the toilet. We talk about keeping pants dry and using the potty when needed.

Underpants are required-
I know many people who try the bare bottom method of training where they let the child run around with no diaper/undies at all. This is an ok method but I also hear many issues when underpants are introduced. Its like the child needs to be retaught because they don't understand that they must pull their underpants down before sitting to use the toilet. We go straight to underpants and the child learns to pull them down and back up when finished. We start with padded training like Gerber brand or Hanna Andersson training pants. They are 100% cotton but have several layers in the crotch area to help hold in liquids. They are not waterproof and they will leak quickly but it helps a little to not have a flood every time the child pees. We only use the padded training pants for the first few days and then straight to regular underpants.

Rewards not punishment-
Young children do not soil their pants on purpose so punishment is not recommended. It is ok to let the child know that you are not happy about them soiling their pants but in a gentle way. We focus on if the pants are wet or dry, not that the child has soiled himself or herself. Rather than saying "you peed in your pants, shame on you", I would say "Oh no, your pants are wet! I don't like wet pants. Where should we go when we need to pee?" The child would then say "potty" and I would say "yes, we pee in the potty not our pants. Let's go to the potty and get dry pants". We do what are called "Pants checks" where I will periodically ask the child to check her pants to see if they are dry. If she has dry pants at that time she is rewarded with a small treat (we do a single jelly bean or M&M). If the pants are wet, the child must go to the potty and change her pants (with little help and only if needed).

We use repetition to learn most easily. During the week of toilet learning, I give lots of drinks so that there are many opportunities to practice using the potty. Each time the child needs to use the potty a lesson is learned. Either they make it to the potty and they are proud of themselves and they learn that they can do it. Or they have an accident and they then practice going to the potty, pulling their pants down, sitting down, putting new pants on and pulling them up. It reenforces where they should go and what they should do each time they need to use the potty.

Don't Expect too much-
These are very young children, don't expect perfection. I consider a child toilet trained when they can go a full day without an accident. Yes there will be accidents after the child has been trained but it should not be frequent. In the first months after we make the move out of diapers I will be sure to remind her to try to use the toilet every hour. We will be sure to use the toilet before we leave the house and often if we are away from home. If the child is distracted for any reason, like at the park, playing with friends, has a new toy, be sure to remind often because distraction will make it hard to remember to go to the toilet. Many times children will try to hold it because they are busy and then have an accident. I also keep a change of clothing in my car for at least the first 6 months after switching out of diapers, just in case.

I love this part! Its so wonderful to see that little face light up every time they make it to the potty in time. Praise is probably the most important part of learning anything new for a child. We try to keep a Montessori approach to praise so as not to take away from the child's accomplishment. Sometimes people praise by saying "Im so proud of you" but that puts the focus on YOU not the child. I try to say "you must be so proud of yourself", or just "Yeah!", or sometimes "You Did It!" I want my child to know that she did it all by herself, I am happy for her. Yes, I am happy for me too because I don't have to clean dirty diapers anymore, but that is not something I need to mention to her.

Some of my favorite toilet learning products. (I am not affiliated with any of these companies, I just like their products.)

My Favorite toilet training book is Toilet training in less than a day by Nathan Azrin. This book is old and has some language you might not hear these days. There is a section on special needs children in which they do not use current politically correct words. It is not offensive but its a bit out of date in that regard. I think the content is wonderful and it feels very Montessori to me.

Baby Bjorn potty chairs, seats and stools.
I especially recommend these if you have a little boy. The shape of the seat is very helpful to prevent overspray. I love the molded pieces that don't let urine get trapped in the cracks. We use the regular size potty chair for our main training chair because you can take the smaller bucket out and dump it. If you use the book above it has the child dump their own pot into the regular toilet when they are finished. We love the seats that go on the regular toilet and the stools as well. We are using them all again from 6 years ago. They come in lots of colors (we have green)

Years ago, Baby Bjorn had a one piece mini potty chair. I loved it for using in the car. I like having a small potty in the car in case we are somewhere we can't get to a toilet because young children have trouble "holding it". They changed their mini chair to a two piece that I don't like as much. We found this one that is similar to that old style at Ikea for $5. And they also have a big one that is similar to the one above for $10. (yep, they come in green too LOL)

Gerber and Hanna Andersson cotton training pants. Hanna Andersson has Organic cotton training pants that are wonderful but they are quite expensive. I thought about buying them but we use them for such a short time that I decided to stick with Gerber. I bought Hanna Andersson regular underpants though, she'll wear them longer. The Gerber training pants are not organic but they are basically the same thing. Watch out....they have a new style that is not 100% cotton but has some polyester in it. Make sure you check the package if you want only cotton. They even come in size 18months which is great when you are working with a child under 2.

Flushable wipes are awesome! Sometimes little ones have trouble determining how much paper to use, its nice to have wipes that come out one at a time. They also work nicely for transitioning from soft wipes to dry scratchy toilet paper.  I really haven't noticed that much of a difference in brands. We usually use Kandoo from pampers but the buggies brand and the store brands work nicely too. The only issue I have found is that the brands come in different sizes, kandoo(pampers) is made to fit a square dispenser, buggies is rectangular. If you are going to use store brand, check the shape before you buy a dispenser.


  1. Hello! I found your blog from
    My kid is almost 2,5 and he doesn't use the potty. We tried last summer but didn't make it. Can't wait to see him using the toilet by himself!

    1. Hi Krysta,
      So glad you found us! Good luck with toilet learning with your little guy. I have found obstacles with it as well, things went much more smoothly with my first child than with my second. I think timing has to be right both for the child and also the family. I hope your son's second attempt at toilet learning is easy.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I have twin girls that will be turning 2 within a couple of weeks. I look forward to using this method on them.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      Thank you for your comment. I hope my tips will help make things easier when your girls start learning. I do not have twins so I can not comment on that but I have heard they often encourage each other.

  3. Hi! And thank God, finally found a blog where talk how do you do it! Every blog I saw was selling me something. I have a almost 3 years old and 9 months girls. My 3 year old, use the toilet just if I ask her, but at preschool go by herself and 0 accidents. What I'm doing wrong? She knows first thing in the morning, we go to the bathroom, she take her clothes and trainee pants, sit and go. I have to said it, and she pee and poo, but the rest of the day if I'm not telling she don't go. What I'm doing wrong? She still not ready?

    1. Hello, Im glad you found my blog. I agree, there are so many blogs out there that are trying to sell something. I just want to share my knowledge and hope that it helps someone else.

      I think many times with children who are newly trained (or even just young with small bladders) they get distracted. It takes time for them to realize that they must stop what they are doing and go use the toilet. They think they can hold it in long enough to do what they are doing but their bladders are just too small. Really, I think this is just something that comes with age. Eventually, she will be able to hold it longer. For now, I would continue reminding her every hour or so (more often if she is drinking a lot). If you see her dancing around while trying to do a task, have her stop and go use the toilet. I remember my son would always be wiggling around or dancing while trying to build his blocks because he didn't want to stop. Also, use accidents as a learning experience. If she waits too long and has an accident, remind her that it takes much longer to clean up the accident than to just stop the task and go use the toilet.
      Check with her preschool also, many of them do remind the children to use the toilet fairly often which could be why she has no accidents there. Also, at preschool she has extra motivation to not have an accident because Im sure she would be embarrassed in front of the other children if she did.
      Just keep at it, some children just need a little extra time to master it once they have the basics down. Sounds like she is well on her way. I hope you continue to visit my blog and enjoy my other topics.

  4. Hi!! Thanks for this post! I know that I am a little late. We are just starting to toilet train little D. He is a few months shy of 3 yrs. He showed readiness signs about a year ago, but with everything that was going I just couldn't follow up with the support. So here we are backtracking a little bit.

    My older two didn't start using the toilet until around 4 yrs. One even 4+. But they just did it. All by themselves from the start. From prompting, to wiping, to flushing and washing up, I didn't need to do anything. It was lovely. Not the paying for diapers part, but them deciding that they wanted to use the toilet.

    So the littlest, he has mostly decided to do it himself. We don't use external rewards, and we don't punish at all, even in a disappointed tone of voice, when there are accidents. We do however, don't load him up with liquids before an exciting activity. I just have no expectations, and welcome clean-ups if that is what it takes to help the little guy learn how to do it all for himself.
    Thanks for the post!

    1. Hi Abbie,
      Thank you for the comment. We too had trouble with timing for B. I think it is so much easier to find the time with the first.

      I hope all goes well with D, I'm sure he will be quite proud of himself when he is doing it all by himself.