Helping Your Preschooler Use the Bathroom Independently

You might have begun toilet training when your child was very young. Or maybe you’re starting now. If you’re just beginning, check out the potty training tips in the “Infants and Toddlers” section.

Learning to use the bathroom alone is a big step for kids. Parents, doctors, and child experts don’t always agree on the best time to start. But many preschools expect kids to go to the bathroom by themselves. So, it’s good for your child to learn this before starting preschool.

The following suggestions will help you work with your child on going to the bathroom independently.

Tips for Helping Your Child Learn Independent Skills

  • At home, keep your child’s path to the bathroom clear of obstacles. Clutter can make any child hesitate to move around the house freely out of fear of falling and getting hurt. You also might want to put a piece of textured cloth on the bathroom door or hang a small object from the doorknob so that your child can easily find the right room.
  • Keep the things your child uses in the bathroom in the same place all the time. For example, if a small stool is needed to reach the toilet, be sure it’s exactly where they expect to find it. Do the same for toilet paper, soap, and a hand towel—put them all in places that they can reach.
  • Help your child understand the need for privacy. Make closing the door part of the bathroom routine so that your child will do the same when using the toilet away from home.
  • If snaps, buttons, or zippers are difficult for your preschooler to use, you might want to replace them with Velcro but continue to work with your child on learning to use more complicated fasteners. Using hand-under-hand to show your child how to manipulate fasteners may help your child learn how to deal with them now.

Independence in the Bathroom

  • Teaching your son to urinate standing up may take time, so try to be patient. If your little boy has some vision, you could try using color markers in the toilet for him to aim at. Show your son how to use his feet and the edge of the toilet to line himself up. You may have to remind him to lift the toilet seat first for a while. You also might have to give him some hand-under-hand help in the beginning to teach him to aim accurately.
  • If your child has an accident, involve them in cleaning up without treating it as a punishment. Make it an ordinary part of what needs to be done when your child doesn’t get to the toilet in time. Show your child where to put soiled clothing and how to wipe the floor. Don’t expect perfection—you may end up having to do most of the cleaning up!

Using Unfamiliar Bathrooms

Many children, whether sighted, blind or low vision, are uncomfortable and sometimes nervous about using public restrooms. Your preschooler may need more help when using an unfamiliar bathroom. You can help them toward independence by describing where things are generally located. For example, toilet paper is usually to the right or left of the toilet; the flush is either behind the right side of the toilet or might be a flat button or raised knob in the middle of the top of the water tank, or, usually, the flat button is to be pushed down and the raised knob is to be lifted up. Pick a relatively quiet time in a location like a restaurant and give your child a “tour” of the restroom. Describe the room and show your child the stalls, sinks, and other features of the room, allowing time to touch the fixtures and become oriented.

Armed with this information and fairly confident of having the necessary skills, your child will have taken a major step toward independence. And you can congratulate yourself for helping him achieve that goal.