Toilet Learning, Respectfully

This is a topic that often has a red flag for the parents of a child in the beginning toddler years. It is a topic that brings much attention from outside family members and friends. So many have theories about the “best way” to support parents who are “teaching this habit.” There are many parenting books about this process as Magda Gerber eludes to in her writing in the RIE® Manual for Parents and Professionals (Magda Gerber, 1979-2012 pp 36-39).

I believe the most important concern for parents must be showing respect and empathy for their child beginning a new experience for their life. Rather than a process to be taught or trained in, toileting is a new method being learned. Learning new habits comes with awareness and readiness to change, as adults all know.

The ability to learn to use the toilet is based on development and maturity. In the time when I was the parent of my first child it was “popular” to pride oneself in how early your child was “trained.” My daughter, Marci, had to sit on the toilet from the time she was 12 months old with my desire for her to show intelligence and learning quickly. Of course, she had books and toys around the stool and we ran water, etc. It seemed as if we spent hours in that room and I was the one being “trained” to watch the clock to stop our play and go to the bathroom every hour. I know that she did not experience independent choice in the matter until much later in her age, although I just can’t remember more than that grueling beginning. I do know that I was not respecting or trusting her abilities or her needs.

Quality time with her could have been much better spent simply changing the diaper with mindfulness, attentiveness and intentionality from both of us. I could have been talking to her about what we were doing and soliciting her cooperation with lifting her legs or standing in a helpful position; holding the clean diaper for me; talking about re-dressing and the clothing; and talking about that one day when she would use the toilet like the rest of her family members.

I could have encouraged her to accompany me and other family members when using to the bathroom to get to know the process step by step. Toddlers love to mimic adult ways just as they know how to play kitchen. I could have begun to include in her story reading time many toddler books that depict the process. (See some titles in the list below.) I could have provided a step stool in close proximity and an extension ring to allow the seat to change for a smaller “hole” size in the event that she might have wanted to practice climbing up and sitting. I could have encouraged hand washing at the sink using the step stool for both of us after I used the toilet. I could have purchased the first underpants talking about how they are put on and how thin they are compared to the diaper and other pantie attributes.

THEN, I could have WAITED until she decided that she was developmentally ready to make the change from diapers to toileting to underpants. I was reminded yesterday by the parent of a toddler, who was perusing this article, that many times a child will show interest in using the toilet even before the parents are really ready. Her son is not yet two and he is beginning to tell her when he is peeing and does know that he could go into the bathroom like his older brother rather than use his diaper. Some parents choose to have a week or so for wearing no diaper or pants to help the child move quickly to the bathroom with no barriers to being speedy when necessary. The child’s body must be developmentally ready to give the cues of muscle control and signals for the timing. The child must be mature and knowledgeable about the experience of what to do when the body provides the information. It is not a task that one can be trained in as “training a pet to sit!” It is a task one learns through development and maturity.

The RIE® way is to RESPECT and TRUST your child that “they can and will learn” to use the toilet in their own time; in their own space with your support and calm attitude.


Anita Cooper Ebright

Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

RIE® Associate™ and Mentor™

ECE Lethbridge College Instructor (retired)


1 The RIE® Manual for Parents and Professionals (1979-2012) Edited by Magda Gerber. Expanded Edition: Deborah Greenwald with Joan Weaver. Pp 36-39.

Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE®) Los Angeles, California.

2 List of Toddler Books re: Toilet Learning

Once Upon a Potty (Alona Frankel)

Potty (Leslie Patricelli)

All By Myself (Mercer Mayer)

P is for Potty, Sesame Street (Kleinberg and Moroney)

These are only some titles and authors. Be sure to check your local

library or book store in the toddle board book section for many more suggestions.

RIE® Associate Bio: I live in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada with my husband, Leon and black lab, Kati. I retired from Lethbridge College after 30 years as an instructor with the Early Childhood Education faculty and have many memories of fun and challenging experiences with young children and ECE certificate and diploma students. I am a dual citizen of Canada and the USA. I have been a RIE® Associate and successful completer of the RIE® Pathway™ since 1993. I was fortunate to have trained with Magda Gerber for a year in Silverlake, CA at “RIE®”. I teach RIE® Foundations in Canada and Mentor Pathway™ students.

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