Introduction To Toilet Training
By Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D. 

For many parents, toilet training their young child can seem like a looming hurdle. Most parents know that children need to be trained sometime between two and four-and-a-half years old. Some children, regardless of age, are trained quickly and adjust to using the toilet with hardly any accidents. The majority of preschoolers learn after some stops and starts, having accidents along the way, and showing some resistance or disinterest during training. Then there is a third group of children who pose the most difficult challenges – children who are uninterested and resistant, strongwilled, and maybe fearful. The Parents’ Guide in the 2011 book, I Don't Want to Go To the Toilet, will help you with the insights and variety of techniques for successfully training all these children. This Guide will also help you manage your own feelings and frustrations through the process.

Toilet training is a big change. Very young children have had some awareness that peepee or poop was coming out of them, but no responsibility to do anything about it. Then they come to an age when we need to start toilet training, Toilet training is far more work than it is fun for most young children. It’s a very different experience than learning how to walk – which is a natural developmental process that unfolds along with exciting, new, and fun capabilities. Toileting is a societal expectation which requires much from young children: First, the child has to notice the sensation of bladder and/or colon pressure. Then she has to “hold it” so it doesn’t just come out. Next, she has to stop what she’s doing and get to the bathroom. Then she has to take down her pants, sit on the toilet for a while (or, for boys, stand in front of it), let out the peepee or poop, wipe herself, pull up her pants, flush, and wash her hands with soap and water and dry them. Many children don’t like this new bothersome interruption in their day and have trouble accepting the responsibility. From their perspective, it’s too much work and it’s too many times a day. They’re being asked to notice the urge and go to the bathroom on their own. When you look at toileting that way, it becomes easier to understand why some young children may resist toilet training and take a long time to learn this skill.

In the last 20 years there has been an increasingly relaxed view about when children should begin toilet training. The standard advice used to be to start at age two. Although some pediatricians still recommend this, most suggest that parents wait until their children express interest and readiness – which may not happen until age three or even four. Yet many preschools expect children to be toilet trained whenthey enroll, and that is usually between two years nine months and three-and-a-half. And child care center teachers often take on a lot of the toilet training and the age depends on their center’s policy. These differing views can be confusing for parents.

Adding to this confusion is the fact that toddlers at about 18 months old often appear to be interested in toilet training. But for most, efforts to train them at this age fail, because toddlers aren’t ready for that level of responsibility. Young two-year-olds may also have trouble getting toilet-trained, because children at that age are often very resistant to their parents’ requests, so toileting can become a long battle.

The most developmentally acceptable recommendation would be to start toilet training between age two-and-a-half and three, when your child is typically physically ready to be trained. By this age, children know the names for urination and defecation, can sit still for a while on the toilet, and can take their pants on and off. Most children this age are far enough into the oppositional age that their parents have found ways of dealing with their child’s refusals. If you start training at that age, your child can usually be toilet trained in a few months. However, if your child doesn’t show an interest even after you’ve tried several tactics and read the suggestions in this guidance section, you should wait a few more months. But if you wait a year, hoping that he will eventually show interest, you’ll risk your child getting more entrenched in the habit of letting go in his diapers and becoming even more resistant to using the toilet.

Toilet training usually takes about three months from start to finish, although some children learn in a few days or weeks, while others take a year or more. Your role in toilet training your preschooler is important. Pick a period of several weeks when you aren’t rushed or preoccupied and can be more patient. Expect toileting to be a front-burner issue for that time. It’s possible that your child may just train herself – but if she doesn’t, you need the time and energy to help her along.

Another important toilet training issue to consider is the individuality of your child. Some children are very active and have trouble sitting for long periods; while others are reluctant to acquire new skills, making them more resistant. Active children need extra exercise before they can sit long enough on the toilet, and often need some riveting activity to keep them interested while they sit there. Children who adapt more slowly to changes need lots of verbal preparation, small steps, and emotional support. Remember that about half of children train pretty easily and the other half need you to patiently provide motivation and guidance.

Annye Rothenberg, Ph.D., author, has been a child/parent psychologist and a specialist in childrearing and child development for more than 25 years. Her parenting psychology practice is in Emerald Hills, California. She is also on the adjunct faculty in pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg was the founder/director of the Child Rearing parenting program in Palo Alto, California, and is the author of the award-winning books Mommy and Daddy are Always Supposed to Say Yes … Aren’t They?, Why Do I Have To?, I Like To Eat Treats,  I Don't Want to Go to the Toilet, I Want To Make Friends and I'm Getting Ready For Kindergarten. These are all-in-one books with a story for preschoolers and a manual for parents. Her new series is for elementary school childen and their parents. The first book is Why Can't I Be the Boss of Me? (2015). For more information about her books and to read her articles, visit To find out about her counseling practice and her speaker presentations, go to

Perfecting Parenting Press 2015