In Focus:

Oran O'Connor   31 Mar 2023

In Focus: The Toileting Journey

Round 2 of In Focus: is an important opportunity to take a look at one of the many exciting journeys that a child will take in their life – the toileting journey. This one comes with hot demand – navigating the minefield that is toileting. The surprising fact is that toileting doesn’t have to be a minefield, it’s just all in the approach. For many younger families much earlier in their toilet journey, this will be the full run down on toileting and how to minimise fear, sadness, and withdrawal as well as an array of physical obstructions. Let’s get into it!

In Focus:

For those new families who haven’t seen these before, In Focus is our short Scola bulletin containing tips and tricks for all aspects of raising diplomatic, responsible and caring young people. You can find out about previous In Focus pieces on our website at

Breaking Down “Toilet Training”

It’s important to break down the toileting journey into manageable signs and steps, so that you don’t have a break down over toilet training. The first and most important step is that you need to step away from the idea that children need to be trained to use the toilet. Children are so curious and observant that there are very few things that they do need training in. Dressing oneself, using the toilet, eating, walking in the house, table manners, and an array of life’s earliest learning points often come naturally to children with only a few gentle reminders as they see the more knowledgeable people in their lives doing the same.

The idea of toilet training is a very new one in the grand scheme of raising and educating children. The way of old is that a child used to see people going to the toilet and over time would understand the basic principles and begin to do the same themselves at an age appropriate to them. Nowadays, parents are bombarded with a litany of advice, recommendations, expensive courses and much more as the world endeavours to have children using the toilet as early as they can – but to who’s gain? The truth of the matter is that overconsumption of advice, horror stories, opinions and experiences can create a much larger issue of the toileting journey than needs to be necessary. The feeling that toileting is a milestone again can create an array of unnecessary stress in your life and your child’s life as you rummage through your mind to find the answer to your child’s two favourite phrases: “why?” and “no”.

The reality of using the toilet is that your child will tell you when they’re ready. They might not explicitly tell you “Dad, I’m ready” (that would be impressive) but they’ll definitely tell you through the things they don’t do. In many cases, it might not be as soon as you want or expect, but you need to be attuned to what they aren’t saying and doing as much as what they are saying and doing. A few things to look out for:

  1. Resistance will dissipate – if you’re still getting “no” and “why” stick with pull-ups for a little while longer as you create an understanding of what’s happening.
  2. They’ll understand what they’re doing, how to use the tools and how to dress themselves without bombarding you with requests for help (a little help is fine when learning, a lot of help requires more time). Being able to access the toilet and hand basin is essential so make sure you have stairs, small toilets or whatever your preference.
  3. Bowel movements will be consistently healthy and they’ll have an ability to empty their bowels fully (take a look at the below for more information on healthy).
  4. Nappies will be drier for longer and you’ll notice your child is uncomfortable in their dirty nappy, wanting to change it sooner than later.

    healthy toileting.jpeg

Why Wait?

The toileting journey can be a long process, but it is absolutely worth the wait. Forcing the matter can cause an array of health issues and is ultimately a risky and uncomfortable scenario for children to be pushed into. When we talk about readiness, there’s a number of factors that we’re considering:

  1. Emotional readiness – children are used to the change of circumstances and are ready to let go (i.e., happy to use the toilet in its entirety). They understand that their movements are not a piece of them (yes, children do believe that they’re literally letting go of something that belongs to them) and are just a waste product.
  2. Physiological readiness – there is bladder and bowel capacity and muscle control (i.e., they’re not peeing every 5 minutes and are able to control when they make movements).
  3. Cognitive readiness – children understand what they’re supposed to do (from understanding the signal to getting clothes on and everything in between).

Emotional readiness is almost always the last piece of the puzzle, but it is an extremely delicate piece of the puzzle and one that demands respect. Pushing your way through emotional readiness against resistance can result in delaying the whole process, while also causing an array of physiological problems such as holding for prolonged periods, UTIs and constipation and fissures, and emotional withdrawal from a comfortable environment or relationship. Not a fun thing to think about, but even less fun for a child to experience. The easiest way to go about it is to let your child’s toileting journey take its own course – as long or as short as this may be.

So, what can be done?

Just wait – it’s the simple secret. Wait and wait and eventually your child will be done with the nappies and will not miss a beat. Take it from someone who has educated young children for over a decade now, the children who wait are better off and often go through the process with barely an accident to witness. They exhibit fewer feelings of frustration and withdrawal, and often are given additional time to understand the change versus their counterparts.

The best way to do it is to start by having firm boundaries around how and where to do it. Don’t build a habit of using the garden, but do build a habit of talking about it when the signs above start to come up. Tell them when you’re going to the toilet, and that you need to go to the toilet when you feel those urges. Make it predictable and ask them hourly if they need to use the toilet (again, specifically need as evacuating the body isn’t a desire or a want, it’s a must for a healthy body). Help them learn to use the tools and tell them to try it all themselves; don’t wipe them, let them wipe themselves first before assisting – we can always wash our hands after all. Responsibility using the toilet means learning to do the whole process independently; from getting their clothes off to flushing the toilet, they’ll need to be doing it all.

Your child is on the toileting journey from the day they’re born. They’re forever learning about the signs and signals the body sends, how to use the tools for the processes, the timing, and an array of other items. Toileting is not a milestone, nor should it be treated as something for your child to achieve – in fact doing so will only cause you, and most importantly them, a lot more stress than either of you deserve. If you ever feel like your child should be doing something, like toileting, it’s important to step back and focus on the huge steps they’re taking in other areas of their life. Take time to consider these things: how capable your child is becoming in overcoming adversity, making friends and discussing interests with peers, problem solving and thinking outside the box and an array of other important life skills.

As always, we’re happy to hear your thoughts and feedback and are always here to help!