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All children learn to use the potty or toilet at a different stage
in their life. Most children start to show an interest in moving on
to a potty or toilet at about two years old. If your child has a
physical or learning disability they may not be ready to start
until they are older.
On this page we explain how to start toilet training and what
you can do to deal with common issues.
What do we mean by 'toilet training'?
When should you start toilet training?
Once you start
Children who find it hard to
If your child takes a long time to learn to
use the toilet
If your child is having difficulty using
Getting specialist help
Toilet training helps children:
We are aiming for a child who is able to:
Look for signs that your child is ready to use the potty or
toilet. These might include:
What if your child does not show these signs?
If your child's condition means that they are not showing any of
these signs, you should discuss it with one of the professionals
involved with your child's needs. This could be the health visitor,
community nurse, occupational therapist, paediatrician, teacher,
teaching assistant or school nurse.
Choose a time when you can spend a lot of time with your child,
your child seems happy and there are no major distractions or
stressful events such as starting nursery or moving from a cot to a
bed. Make sure the time you choose fits in with you as well -
perhaps when there is someone else to help you if this is
It may take some time for a child to learn, so make sure that
toilet training can be carried out in the other places your child
visits such as the playgroup, nursery, or school. You will need to
be sure that any one-to-one workers contribute to the toileting
Tips before starting
Sit your child on the toilet or potty when you think they are
likely to have a bowel movement and encourage them to push down
gently. To encourage this, try making your child laugh or to blow
into a toy or whistle.
If nothing happens, say nothing and try again a bit later.
If it is acceptable to your family, take your child into the
toilet when you or family members go, to show the child what is
expected. It may take much longer than with other children, so be
Some children with learning disabilities smear their faeces
after going to the toilet. This could be a child has not understood
the process of wiping with paper. Others enjoy the feel of the
faeces, and providing them with an alternative activity such as
play dough can resolve the situation.
Some will use it as a way of getting attention, because they are
extremely upset and agitated., or because they have learnt they are
rewarded for such behaviour by being given a nice warm bath.
If your child smears:
Make sure your child can communicate to you when they need to
use the toilet and that they know where the toilet or potty is and
can get in and out of that room easily.
Some children who are able to speak will be able to use words.
Others may not be able to ask to use the toilet and may need to use
another system, such as a signing system like Makaton or a symbol.
Other children may be able to use a photograph or object, such as a
roll of toilet paper.
Make it fun - find a special toy, which your child only uses
when in the toilet - this will help them to associate going to the
toilet with fun and not stress.
If your child needs to be cleaned, make sure that people working
with them know this should be done in a private bathroom area in an
age - appropriate way. It is not acceptable for a physically able
young person to be 'changed' whilst lying down.
Speak to a doctor to check for physical problems if your child
is having difficulty in learning to use the toilet.
Some children, particularly those with profound and multiple
difficulties, may not be able to use the toilet on their own, but
will need to have a toileting programme which will ensure their
needs are treated with respect. Ask your health visitor or
community nurse for advice.
All children are different and the way they learn to use the
toilet may be linked with the specific condition they have. It is a
good idea to get in touch with the relevant support groups to get
advice from people who have more experience.
Your health visitor can give advice on toilet training and we
can send you a parent guide on this topic. They might refer you
If your child requires nappies over the age of three the NHS can
sometimes help by providing nappies and incontinence equipment.
Your health visitor or GP can tell you more about this service.