7 Signs of Toileting Readiness
by Joanna Piekarski, M.Ed
Toileting can be a frustrating time for you and your child. This simply may be due to your child’s lack of readiness. There are several signs that need to be observed before a child is ready to be toileted. Most toddlers are generally ready for toilet training between the ages of two and three, although some children are early starters and show signs of readiness at 18 months and some show signs as late as age 3 and a half. Daytime toilet training occurs earlier than night time toilet training which generally occurs around the ages of 5 or 6.
Here are seven signs that indicate that a child is ready to be toileted:
- The child has dry diapers for long periods of time – this indicates bladder control. I had a coworker who put her son in underwear at 18 months. He “dribbled” a little bit in his underwear every hour and she decided that he wasn’t quite ready for toileting. A child should be able to stay dry for at least 90 minutes before toilet training starts. If this isn’t the case, there will be accidents galore and this can be frustrating or discouraging for both the child and the caregiver.
- The child understands and can follow simple instructions. This is a foundational skill during the toilet training process. Good receptive language skills are needed for the toilet training to go smoothly. If you find yourself having to physically prompt your child a lot or if your child doesn’t understand instructions like: “It’s time to use the toilet”, “Let’s come and sit together”, “Pull down your pants”, “Flush the toilet”, etc. the toilet training will not be a fun experience for anyone. I would recommend working on speech therapy before you start toilet training in this case.
- The child indicates verbally that he has eliminated in his diaper. Verbal skills are also important. This is when the child states things like: “I had a “pee pee” or “poo poo”” or tells the caregiver that he needs to use the washroom in advance. Having good verbal communication skills definitely helps during toileting. It is much easier for a caregiver to recognize when a child needs to use the washroom when they are able to hear it verbally. This doesn’t mean that nonverbal children can’t be potty trained. Gestures, body language, and recognizing your child’s “pee dance” can be powerful indicators as well. However, some children’s nonverbal signs can be much more subtle than others. I often recommend that caregivers work on verbal communication skills before they start toilet training.
- The child tries to take off his wet or dirty diaper or complains about it being wet or dirty. This shows a level of body awareness that is needed for a child to have motivation to toilet train. If they are aware that having a dirty diaper seems uncomfortable or are aware of the smell, they will likely be more motivated to begin toilet training to avoid this level of discomfort.
- The child is interested in completing tasks independently – If your child enjoys copying the activities you do such as wiping up a spill, sweeping, wanting to help in the kitchen, etc., or are engaging in independent activities such as eating independently, beginning to dress independently, etc., they are showing a level of autonomy that is important when toilet training starts. Often the toilet training process will be shorter if your child is showing the desire to do things by themselves. If this is the case, it’ll be no time before your child says, “It’s OK, mom. I don’t need you in the bathroom anymore.”
- The child can get his pants up and down independently – This seems like a very simple prerequisite, but I find that often children struggle with this step because parents don’t offer this opportunity to them when they are getting dressed. They simply pull up their pants for them because it’s quicker. When toileting starts parents will often have to help the child put their pants back on after every time. This means that it’ll take even longer for you child to be able to use the toilet independently. My advice is to allow your child to practice pulling their pants up and down when they are getting dressed for the day or getting undressed for bed so that they could build and master these motor skills when you start toilet training.
- The child is interested in watching you go to the toilet – Your child often creeps into the bathroom while you’re having a number one or two. Sometimes they’ll giggle. Sometimes they’ll just stare. As gross as it sounds, your child may want to see what you’ve put into the toilet and may want to watch it go down as it flushes. Although this may seem weird, it is actually a sign of interest in toileting. When your child shows an interest in using the toilet, it makes the toilet training process even easier!
***Caregivers should NEVER force children to use the toilet when they do not observe most of these signs. If a child is being toilet trained when they are not ready, the child may develop feelings of incompetency and low self-esteem, and/or anxiety associated with using the washroom. For more toileting tips and strategies, check out our Resource Page.