"Even though toilet accidents are frustrating, children manage better when their parents are patient and remind them of their successes rather than making them feel bad when they’ve wet or soiled their pants. Children really do want to please their parents, and they like the feeling of "growing up."

Using the Toilet

There's a lot of hard work involved in learning to use the toilet. Children have to learn to control their muscles, to hold on or let go at just the right time. They have to stop doing something they really like and go right away to the bathroom. What’s more, they have to learn to let go of something their body produces and have it flushed away down a drain. They may wonder, "If I let go too much, will all of me come out and get flushed down the toilet?" No wonder it's so hard to master toilet training, and no wonder children sometimes wet or soil their pants as they're learning!

  • Helpful Hints

Signs of Readiness

Many parents wonder when to begin toilet training with their children. It's best to wait until you feel that your child is "ready." Children often give signs of readiness, like being aware that they're urinating or having a bowel movement and telling about it, by staying "dry" for longer periods of time, and by showing interest in using the toilet. Also, we can assume that they may be "ready" when they start imitating other things their parents and older brothers and sisters do to care for themselves, like washing themselves and brushing their teeth.

It’s sometimes hard for us parents not to measure a child’s success by what the books say or by the standards of another sibling or a friend’s child. The timetable for learning to use the potty for each child is as individual as learning to walk or talk. Expecting too much too soon can lead to frustration for both parents and children. If we make an effort to begin toilet training and find that our child isn't the least bit interested, it's probably a good idea to back off and try again later.

Accidents Are Natural

Even after children have learned to use the toilet, it's natural for them to have an "accident" once in a while. Even though toilet accidents are frustrating, children manage better when their parents are patient and remind them of their successes rather than making them feel bad when they’ve wet or soiled their pants. Children really do want to please their parents, and they like the feeling of "growing up."

It can take a long while for children to stay dry all through the night. That’s usually because children sleep soundly, so they aren’t aware of their bladder sensations. Many parents, before they go to sleep at night, find that it helps to wake a child to go to the bathroom. That way, children become used to the bladder sensations and learn to control themselves.

Even after they’re “toilet trained,” there may be times, like when they’re sick or have a cold, that children will lapse into bedwetting. They have less control of their bladders when they aren’t well or when they’re upset about changes in their lives (like the arrival of a new baby in the family, a move from one home to another, or other stresses).

Training Is a Joint Effort

The "training" that goes on in "toilet training" is a joint effort. We parents train our children in the mechanics of using the toilet, but we also need to learn how to respond to their cues of being ready to be trained. Our children, on the other hand, have to develop awareness of the sensations of urinating and having a bowel movement as well as developing a certain measure of muscular control.

When we parents are able to have realistic expectations, we are more likely to approach toilet training with a balance of gentleness and persistence, and our children are more likely to gain from the experience not just mastery of their body functions, but also a stronger sense of self. They can feel proud of themselves for the ways they are growing and able to manage certain somethings that are important in the grownup world.

Starting Toilet Training:

  • Most children feel more comfortable using a potty chair that sits on the floor rather than a chair that sits on the toilet where they may worry they'll get flushed down the drain. Children also tend to feel better sitting on something that lets their feet touch the floor.
  • It can be very helpful to praise your child for getting to the bathroom on time. Many parents say things like, "I'm proud of you!" or "You really are growing!" Your praise means so much to your child. In fact, the main reasons children want to use the toilet are that they want to please the people they love and because they want to feel like they're growing up.
  • At first you may need to remind your child that it's time to stop playing and go to the bathroom. You might say something like, "I know it's hard to stop doing something you like, but it's really important to try to get to the bathroom on time."
  • You could help your child see his or her progress by putting stars or checkmarks on a calendar when he or she goes to the potty on time or stays dry all night.


  • Limit your child’s liquids after dinner. Also, discourage your child from eating and drinking chocolate, sodas, or other foods with caffeine. Such things can make a child urinate more often.
  • Have your child go to the bathroom just before going to sleep, and wake your child in the night to go again just before you yourself go to bed.
  • When you take your child to the bathroom in the middle of the night, let your child walk there. That may stimulate your child’s awareness enough to find bladder control in the nighttime.

Dealing with Toilet Accidents:

  • Try to be patient with your child. It takes a while for many children to be completely toilet trained. At first accidents are common.
  • After an accident, give your child some of the clean-up work to do, like changing clothes or helping to wipe the area with a rag or paper towel. Being involved helps children know that it takes work and time to clean up from a toileting "accident."
  • Remember that accidents sometimes happen because of stressful changes in a child's life, like the arrival of a new baby brother or sister, changes in a parent's work hours, a move, a death in the family, or changes at a child care or preschool. The accidents will probably stop on their own, little by little, as children adjust to the changes.
  • Even though it's natural for parents to feel upset about accidents, it's important to try to be matter of fact about them. Many children already feel bad when they've had a toilet accident. It’s important not to make them feel too ashamed to try the next time.
  • If you feel you need additional support, it can help to talk with a child care provider, pediatrician, or other parents. If you are concerned that the toilet accidents are going on too long, it's wise to check with your child's doctor or clinic.

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