University of Missouri Extension

GH6128, Reviewed December 2004

Toilet Training

Toilet training is a developmental milestoneLynn Blinn Pike
Department of Human Development and Family Studies

Methods for toilet training vary. Parents may depend on their child care provider to guide the training process or read popular books for accomplishing the process in only one day. Whatever approach is used, the process should be approached with calmness and patience.

Toilet training is a developmental milestone. It cannot be rushed. Adopting an attitude that "it will eventually happen" will ease parents' frustration and protect the child's sense of esteem.


In many areas of child development, children must reach a certain age or be in the proper setting or situation before they are ready to learn. Children are ready to learn when they are healthy, well nourished, and not pressured to achieve at a level above their capability.

Children often are pushed to grow up long before they are ready, as noted by child development expert David Elkind. "Growing up emotionally is complicated and difficult under any circumstances, but especially so when children's behavior and appearance speak 'adult' while their feelings cry 'child.'"

Early childhood is a challenging period. Children are exploring their growing sense of independence. There is a sensitive balance between how this search for independence is accepted by others and the child's developing sense of shame and doubt.

If children are given encouragement, then they are able to provide parents with clues and cues of readiness. If children are pressured to feed, dress themselves, or be readily toilet trained before they are physically or intellectually capable, then there will be unavoidable accidents and embarrassment. Embarrassment combined with parental disapproval increases the child's sense of doubt and shame.

A word of caution to parents and caregivers in this stage: Proceed slowly, taking signals from the child.

Lessons from research


Most young children may be frightened by or curious about toilets. The size, noise and rapid water movement could be alarming to them. It is important to have a child-sized toilet for them to use. You will also need to help a child watch a toilet function and allow them to ask questions. "Where does it go?" and "Will I fall in?" (and disappear!) are common concerns. Be patient and give honest, simple explanations.

Some parents find children will play in the water or clog plumbing by throwing objects in the toilet to see what happens. Adults may have to be very clear about why nothing else can be put in the toilet. Make sure you know where the valve is located to turn off the water to the toilet — just in case! A word of caution to parents and caregivers — attempt to separate the behavior from the child's sense of self. Otherwise, the process may be delayed if the child feels shame and doubt instead of a sense of independence.

How to begin

To start toilet training your child, first figure out his/her readiness by asking questions like:

After figuring out the child's readiness, take a look at your readiness to begin toilet training your child:

Bowel training

Since bowel training usually occurs first, begin when you see a consistent pattern in your child's bowel movements. As soon as you see signs of concentration and pushing, take the child to the bathroom and help him or her finish in the toilet. The next day, take the child to the toilet to "try" at the predicted regular time. Be consistent and supportive until they recognize the need and take themselves.

Training for urination

How parents can help

Toilet training for special needs children

The same training methods apply to special needs children as to other children. More record keeping may be necessary to find patterns such as in the time between eating and drinking and need to eliminate.

If advised by consulting physicians and specialists to toilet train the child, a great deal of patience and a longer time frame may be necessary. Many other skills accompany even simple routines for children with physical or mental impairments.

You need to do a clear task analysis of each process that trainers and parents often take for granted. This may involve actually writing down every step taken in order to go to the toilet. The tasks might include some of the following:

To see if your child is ready to learn toilet training, answer the following additional questions.

Human sexuality implications

Toilet training is a part of a life-long process of learning about the body and its functioning. Adults' attitudes toward genitals and the natural process of toilet training have an important influence on the child's developing feelings about her or his body and taking responsibility for bodily needs.

Make certain the child has observed a parent or trusted adult using the toilet. Answer questions in a relaxed manner. Toilet training accomplished in a calm and positive way is an important support for life-long appreciation of human sexuality.

Young children feel pleasure when they urinate or have a bowel movement. They may want to play with their urine or feces. They also may want to examine their own or other children's genitals when using the toilet. This is normal experimental behavior. It is a good time to teach correct names for body parts and body functions. The goal is to teach children that all parts of the body are good, and body functions are natural.


This guide was originally written by Karen DeBord, Human Development and Family Specialist.
GH6128 Toilet Training | University of Missouri Extension

Order publications online at or call toll-free 800-292-0969.

University of Missouri Extension - print indicia