Toilet Learning in Child Care
Learning to use the toilet is an important developmental milestone that commonly occurs during the years children are in out-of-home care. Parents and providers can be partners and support each other during this process to make it as easy and smooth a transition as possible for everyone.
When Is a Child Ready?
Every child develops differently, so it’s important to look for the cues that a child is ready for toilet learning. The start of toilet learning should be based on the child’s developmental level rather than age or the adult’s eagerness to start, and should not begin while the child is experiencing major disruptions or transitions such as a new sibling. Attempting toilet learning before a child is ready can create stress and anxiety for the child, and in turn delay the process. While the right time to start toilet learning will differ for every child, it is recommended that the process not be initiated until the child is 24-27 months old.
Signs of toilet learning readiness include an increased awareness of a need to go, curiosity in others’ bathroom habits, demonstrated interest in the toilet, having words for using the toilet, an understanding of “wet” versus “dry,” and imitation of bathroom behavior. In order to start learning to use the toilet, a child also must be able to:
- follow simple instructions
- cooperate with adults
- stay dry for at least two hours at a time during the day or be dry after naps
- understand words about the toileting process
- have regular and predictable bowel movements
- express verbally, through facial expressions or posture the need to eliminate
- get to and from the bathroom area
- help pull diapers or loose pants up and down
The toilet learning process generally takes two weeks to six months. Mastering nighttime dryness may take an additional six months to a year. Since toilet learning is a multi-step process, setbacks are common, should be expected, and do not necessarily mean failure. Remember that the child is taking a temporary step back to a more comfortable place, which helps support later progress.
Reprinted with the permission of the California Childcare Health Program.
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