The Joy of Toilet Training

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Yes, you read that right: the “joy” of toilet training. And yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic. However, it truly is a joy when your young ones are out of diapers and eliminating in the appropriate places. So most parents tell me they are ready to do “whatever it takes” to achieve this goal.

Here at Beaumont’s HOPE Center, we train lots of kids to use the toilet. The techniques we use here are tried and true and will work with your little pee-er as well! I also trained my two children at home using these methods and happily report that they remain fully trained at ages 6 and 9!

Rapid Training Method

You may have heard of the “rapid toilet training” method. Azrin and Foxx published a book called Toilet Training in Less than a Day in 1974, and the book has been reprinted and is still widely available. For comic relief, I recommend looking at the original book, with its amusing illustrations.

Personally, I made a few modifications, but held true to the essence of the training, which is quite simple. Now with technology, we can also use alarms that make a nice loud noise when any liquid touches them. Toilet training can be rapid, or a bit slower, but the same ideas and techniques generally apply.

One Thing You Need

You don’t necessarily need any special gadgets to train your child, though. But you do need one very important thing: organization! Plan carefully and you will save yourself months, if not years, of unsuccessful pleading, cajoling, and squatting in the bathroom waiting for JUST ONE DROP…

Is Your Child Really Ready?

First things first: readiness. If your child is not ready to learn to use the toilet, all your hard work is for nothing. Here is what to look for:

1. Physical readiness: a more mature bladder. Babies and toddlers just let it fly whenever the bladder has a little pee; older kids’ bladders can hold until they are full, then signal that it’s time to empty. We look to see about 1- 1 ½ hours between wetting to be sure the bladder is “grown up” enough. This can easily be tracked through checking the diaper/pull up every 30 minutes and logging the results in a chart.

2. Ability to follow simple instructions like “come here”, “sit down”, etc. We need to make sure little Kylie or Josh can listen and comply with our requests, or else we will all be frustrated. I had to work with my daughter a bit on the motor skills of getting her pants up and down over her chubby little thighs, so she could avoid soaking herself. You will find that newly-trained kids do not leave a lot of wiggle room between the time they tell you they have to go or realize it themselves, and the time it is a dire emergency!

3. Motivation and reinforcement! If your little darling acts as if there is a restraining order preventing her from coming within 100 feet of the toilet, it’s best to do some work pairing the bathroom with fun first. Trust me, it is not enjoyable to hold screaming toddlers on a toilet, and not a useful method. You’ve likely heard the saying, “you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” and this is true. Motivation to eliminate in a whole new way is not going to come overnight for all our children. True, some are excited to be “big” boys and girls. However, quite often I hear of all the enthusiasm over the Princess and the Frog big girl panties, and then the next thing you know, they’re all in a sodden mess and much crying ensues on the parts of both parents and children. Still others find creative ways to “hide the evidence”, which eventually become apparent. Ick.

For Those That Don’t Pass The Test

“My kid flunked the readiness tests! What do I do?” If the problem is No. 1 readiness, just wait. If the problem is No. 2 following instructions or No. 3 motivation or both, you’ll have to work on improving these skills.

Practice giving easy instructions and rewarding your child when he complies. If the problem involves motor coordination, practice removing and pulling up pants until it is easier. If you are dealing with stubbornness, you may need to use a graduated approach. Some kids “sniff out” the demand and are having NONE of it. If so, you will need to ease into the whole toileting situation.

Now It’s Time

Once your child appears ready, you can study Azrin and Foxx and get started. The method involves:

  1. showing the child how a doll successfully “uses the potty”
  2. “fluid loading” (giving lots of preferred drinks to increase opportunities to practice peeing in the proper place)
  3. frequent checks for dry pants
  4. scheduled sittings
  5. lots of reinforcement for dry pants and/or peeing on the potty

We also reinforce sitting on the potty, even if nothing happens, but of course the reward is bigger if our child actually produces.

When accidents happen — as they will — we use a procedure called positive practice. We have the child practice getting to the bathroom and sitting on the toilet quickly, from wherever they were when they had the accident. They also must help clean up, and we express our disapproval of wet pants. Never our disapproval of the child! Just of the wet pants.

Happy reading and best of luck!

— Lori Warner, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Licensed Psychologist, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

2 Responses to “The Joy of Toilet Training”


  1. 1 Anonymous March 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Love your simple, easy to follow instructions. Questions: How often should a parent schedule sittings and does this apply during the middle of the night? Thanks, Dr. Warner!

    • 2 lwarner@beaumonthospitals.com March 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks for your comment! The schedule is going to be more frequent at first, and then as your child learns to keep his or her pants dry, the checking and sittings will space out until they are just a natural part of the day. Eventually you won’t do dry pants checks any more. The Azrin and Foxx book is very helpful in this regard!

      Overnight training is always a question – the authors recommend no diapers whatsoever, but I’ll tell you a secret, we did pull-ups at night for quite a while. Daytime training is generaly first, and many kids still have accidents at night. Some kids do train for day and night naturally at the same time. Best of luck!!
      -Dr. Warner


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