AHS Weekly Wellness: Helping Without Leading

Helping your child, but letting them lead

It can take some time for many young children to get into the routine of using a toilet.

Making the switcheroo from diapers to the toilet is a big, albeit sometimes messy, milestone for children and parents alike. For toddlers, learning to use a toilet is about being ready, controlling muscles and getting acquainted with an enormous porcelain artifact that makes loud and unpredictable gurgling noises. The toilet can appear to children as a powerful, portal-like device—many fear getting flushed into oblivion.

As toddlers are learning to exercise control, parents wrestle with a lack of control. Petra Debow, a parent educator with the Family Centre in Lethbridge, suggests that patience sets the foundation for a potty-positive experience.

“Most children learn to use the toilet between the ages of two and three,” says Debow, adding that every child learns at their own pace. Wait for your child to be curious about the toilet and to be aware they’re peeing or pooping.

Catherine Young—a nurse and mother expecting her third child in February—says her first two children’s education in toileting began only “when they had an interest in it and they seemed ready.” Toddlers will also express discomfort at having a soiled diaper. In many respects, the bathroom becomes a realm where the child takes the lead.

Attentiveness is crucial for parents. Watch for clues that your child needs to go, such as stopping what they are doing, fidgeting or saying: “Oh, oh.” But parents also need to feel prepared. Debow recommends setting aside time. If you have relatives visiting, a big deadline at work or are in the middle of a kitchen renovation, you may want to wait. There’s no need to rush.

“Prepare yourself mentally and put all the other things aside for a couple of weeks until it’s dealt with,” Debow says.

Plan to help your child with this developmental leap when you can be enthusiastic and supportive about the trek from diaper to toilet.

Young says she also borrowed several books from her local library—she recommends Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel in particular—after her kids showed interest in the toilet. She and her husband also made the bathroom more familiar and less intimidating.

It can take some time for many young children to get into the routine of using a toilet, explains Debow. And staying dry at night often takes longer.

If you and your child try toileting for two weeks and make little progress or your child is resisting, Debow suggests a break. “You don’t want to push it so it turns into a negative thing.