Toilet training a child is not just a matter of physically sitting a child on the toilet. It does not start with a bum-on-seat exercise, though this plays a part. Toilet training starts with helping the child to understand about ‘here – not there’, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. It’s about realising that there are things that need to be thrown away, and that there is a ‘right’ place for the ‘bad’ stuff. If pooh goes on the walls or carpet, we find this disgusting. It’s ok in the toilet, because this is the ‘right’ place for the ‘bad’ stuff. Babies in fact don’t initially find things disgusting, not even their pooh or wee. This is the time for them to learn about what’s ok and what isn’t, and what we define as disgusting and what to do with that.

The ordinary 2-year old sees something interesting floating in the toilet, just like the stuff she pushes into her nappy, and she thinks to herself ‘Magic! How did THAT get in there? … Amazing, the things big people can do. And how convenient! And mum and seem to like this place, they go there every day. … I want to be able to do that too. … What can I do to get my pooh in there?’ This is the true beginning of toilet training: the child beginning to wonder how his body works and how to control it in order to grow up.

Using the potty or toilet is an important step in every child’s development. But with disposable nappies many children nowadays never even see their pooh, which is swiftly covered up and whipped into a scented bag by mum as if it was nothing to do with the child. How can he then feel ownership of what after all is HIS pooh? How will he realise that his pooh/wee are in fact HIS responsibility, not mum’s? Nor do ‘modern children’ feel uncomfortable enough to want to become clean and to ‘do something about it’. This means that on average it takes up to 3 years longer for children in disposable nappies to become toilet-trained! If you’d had the convenience of full room service all your life, would you suddenly wish to give it up and decide to do your own cleaning? Some children do, but many need careful help and encouragement to become toilet-trained.

Becoming toilet trained is about understanding differences and being interested and able to differentiate opposites, that you can practice playfully throughout the day, like

  • wet or dry
  • on or off
  • up or down
  • good and bad
  • in and out
  • there and gone
  • here and there
  • this way, not that way
  • our way, not your way/ social not self(ish)
  • clean/tidy and dirty/messy/unhygienic/disgusting
  • safe and dangerous
  • assertive and submissive
  • regulated and chaotic
  • development and stagnation
  • obedience and defiance
  • freedom and adaptation
  • communication and manipulation
  • and eventually: good or bad
  • cooperativeness and tyranny/blackmailing
  • order and anarchy

How to start Toilet training:

Learning to use the toilet is in fact a psychological issue that is to do with organising the mind. It’s about knowing what goes where and that there are clear routines. Therefore, children with clear bedtime routines and predictable mealtimes are likely to find it easier to become toilet-trained than those from families where things happen whenever wherever.

Toilet training has to be introduced by parents, if a child has not become interested in ‘how we do this here’ by around the age of 3. Otherwise s/he will start to develop methods of ignoring, withholding or playing with the sensations rather than putting his attention and effort into how to solve this new problem. Together, parents and child need to find a way together to leave the nappy behind.  If toilet training is delayed too much, there will be all sorts of problems with school and growing up.

  1. Start when you can devote a lot of time to helping your child to ‘get it’: you will need to show him, take him frequently to the toilet/potty, explain it, find new ways of showing him and explaining it, deal with accidents and set-backs, fears and disappointments, defiance and loss of confidence, your child’s as well as yours
  2. Get a potty or a toilet-inset and a stool for the child to rest his feet on (and don’t copy the photo to this post: I just couldn’t find one with a child and a foot stool!), so he can push against it when having a bowel movement. Make sure the inset seat fits well and doesn’t wobble, which makes some children feel insecure and anxious.
  3. Get him to try out sitting on potty or toilet just like a chair, first perhaps with clothes on, just for fun.
  4. Train boys to pee sitting down, it’ll make it easier for him to understand the whole process. Otherwise he will have to learn 2 different ways to face the toilet depending on wee or pooh. What is he going to do, when both come at the same time? Progressing to standing up once he’s ‘got it’ will be easy.
  5. Create a routine (see routines)
  6. Start to change him only in the toilet and standing up, because he’s a ‘big boy now’: that’s what toilet training is all about. Help him to realise he is growing up and no longer a baby.
  7. Let him see his pooh in the nappy and talk about it
  8. Drop his pooh into the toilet for him to see the new place for his pooh and that ‘that’s where the pooh goes!’,
  9. Show him about the right places for the right things, i.e. pooh and wee in the toilet, rubbish in the bin, bath in the bathroom, food in the kitchen, …
  10. Give him the job of putting his dirty nappy into the bin, the good place for ‘bad’ things that need to be thrown away.
  11. Ask him to take more responsibility himself, e.g. to find the bin and throw away his own rubbish like wrappers, banana skins, apple cores, used juice cartons … rather than giving it to you to throw it away.
  12. Let him see mummy, daddy and other people pee and pooh in the toilet: now isn’t that amazing!? We need the child to start wondering: ‘Hey! Magic! How did they do this? There was nothing in there before. But now there is! I want to be able to do this too! Who can help me to figure out how I can do it for myself?’