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Potty training your child

January 2011

You have decided to guide your child through this critical stage in their emotional development.  Here are some suggestions that could make potty training more comfortable for both you and your child.

Is your child ready?

Bladder and bowel control requires a certain level of physical and intellectual maturity.  Potty training should never start before the age of 18 months. The ideal age is 24 to 30 months as it is the age when children have relatively good command of language and motor functions.

Your child is ready if

  • They are able to walk, sit and squat.
  • They are able to speak or ask questions, using three-word sentences. For example, "Want to pipi!"
  • They spontaneously imitate what adults do and love to play make-believe (pretend play).
  • They regularly ask to be changed when their diaper is wet or soiled.

It is useless and even harmful to force your child into potty training and to start too early: you may achieve the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.

A few facts

  • It is easier for a child to control the urge to have a bowel movement than to urinate.
  • A child urinates every 60 to 90 minutes during the day.
  • Making it through the night (or naptime) without wetting or soiling themselves and learning to use the potty in the daytime will not be achieved at the same time. Your child cannot be expected to learn to do both at once. It can take an additional six months to master staying dry and clean at night. Once your child has learned to use the potty in the daytime, you should avoid putting a diaper on your child at night.
  • Boys take longer to learn to use the potty than girls. Fifteen per cent of boys continue to wet their bed until the age of 12. Do not scold them when they occasionally wet their bed as this can have a negative effect on what you are trying to accomplish.
  • In the first few days, you should wait until your child has left the bathroom before flushing the toilet. Most children view their feces as a part of them and can, therefore, become quite agitated over their disappearance.
  • Avoid blocking your nose or grimacing at the sight of your child’s feces: they will believe that their bowel movements are dirty and disgusting. Instead, make them understand that "pooping is absolutely necessary and natural".

At what age should you stop wiping your child?

Generally, your child should be able to wipe themselves by the age of 4. The answer to this question greatly depends on the mother’s dependency relationship with the child and on her desire (often unconscious) to protect and watch over them. It is up to you to trust your child and to just accept having to wash a few more pairs of underwear at first.

Does your child refuse to relieve themselves anywhere other than in a diaper? Are they afraid of the potty or toilet?

Your child needs reassurance. Perhaps your toddler still associates the meaning of "making a poopy for mommy or daddy" with relieving themselves in a diaper. Do not punish your child or force them to use the potty against their will. Do not judge by saying "that’s good" or "that’s bad." Reassure your child, "It’s not a bad thing to go potty. You will go potty when you are ready." Meanwhile, treat your child as though they are a big kid and not a baby. In other words, do not lay them down on the floor, a changing table, or a bed to put on a diaper. Put it on quickly while your child is standing. Some children will try to prolong being babied and will try to maintain too much physical contact with the parent.

Before starting the process

  • For a few days, note down the times when your child urinates and has bowel movements.
  • Place a potty chair in the bathroom. Make sure that your child can access it. Tell them, "This potty chair is for you to pee and poop in." And be sure that they do not carry it around the house. You can say, "It stays in the bathroom."
  • Teach your child words they can use to express the feeling they get when they need to go, "Before you pee or poop, you feel something happening in your belly that makes you want to go potty."
  • Come up with an effective way of rewarding your child.
  • Have your child sit on the potty at routine moments of the day, or according to the times you have noted, or immediately when you notice any signs. Let your child sit on the potty chair for 5 to 10 minutes. If your child refuses or becomes agitated, give them a stuffed animal or toy to hold. Comfort them by talking to them, "When I was a little girl… It is like that in every family." Never force your child to remain seated in the potty chair/toilet against their will. Instead, invite them to explore it with you, "Look, I am going to sit on it! It’s not a bad thing. All the big kids do it."
  • Use training pants so that your child can experience what wetting themselves feels like. This unpleasant sensation will motivate them to stay dry and clean. Wearing training pants will also make your child feel like they are a "big kid." And you can tell them that!
  • Dress them in clothes that they can easily pull down and back up by themselves.
  • Have your child practice dressing and undressing themselves as much as possible.

During the process

If they soil their underwear

  • Let them know that their underwear is soiled.
  • Take them to the bathroom so that they can show you where they are supposed to go. Do not let them wander around in soiled underwear.
  • Have them sit on the potty chair/toilet for 5 to 10 seconds. You can say, "The next time, you can let me know when you need to go potty."
  • Ask them to put on clean underwear by themselves.
  • Let them return to their activities.

If your child goes in the potty /toilet

  • Praise them, "That’s great! You are a big girl (or boy), and I am proud of you!"
  • Give them a reward.
  • Encourage them to pull their underwear back up themselves.
  • Let them return to their activities.

If your child does nothing in the potty/toilet

  • Ask them to pull their underwear back up themselves.
  • Let them return to their activities.
  • Neither praise them nor scold them. Remain neutral.

Accept accidents, even if they are frequent.

Do not go back to using diapers.

Avoid saying, "Again, you peed/pooped in your underwear. That’s not nice." Toilet training has nothing to do with being good or bad. It has everything to do with emotional maturity. If your child continues to wet themselves, it is not a sign of bad behaviour., so you should not chastise them. Remember that your child is simply going through a learning process.


Have a little celebration with party hats, noisemakers and cake once your child has mastered staying dry and clean for a whole week. This will reinforce your child’s learning efforts.

When is the right time to toilet train your child?

Opt for the summer because children wear lighter clothes, and quick trips to the restroom are easier.

Avoid stressful moments, such as divorce, separation, birth of a sibling, moving into a new home, changing daycare or daycare staff, etc.

Choose a time when you can count on your child’s caregivers to help: babysitter, childcare worker, grandparents, etc. Let them know that negative comments are to be avoided.

Tell your child this when they do not succeed, "You know very well that it is not done like that. But you have time. You will get it right. You decide when."

Is there anything special that can be used?

No miracle drug or magic trick will help your child in this process. Every child is different, and each will express their personality in their own unique way throughout this critical stage of their development.

The toy-lending library of the Centre de réadaptation Marie Enfant has a doll that can urinate after filling its belly with water. Your child may want to imitate the doll by engaging in a roll-playing game in which the doll receives praise for urinating while sitting on the potty, "Bravo! You did it!"

Some toy stores sell musical potty chairs that play a tune when your child fills the potty. These may further reinforce their learning process.

  • Remember, you are the adult!   Your child is completely reliant on you.
  • So it is up to you to ensure your child’s emotional security and proper learning.
  • You must be firm, coherent and patient.
  • Your psychologist is available should you need personalized advice.


Isabelle Marleau, Psychologist
CHU Sainte-Justine
Clinic for Cerebral Motor Deficit Disorders

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Updated on 3/20/2015
Created on 1/19/2015
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