What is child-led toilet learning and how does it work

Toilet training is a necessary evil for parents and there are many ways you can tackle it. One of these is child-led learning where parents aren’t in charge of the process and are guided by their children.

 What Is Child-Led Toilet Learning And How Does It Work?

But what exactly does it entail? We’ve asked Healthy Mummy writer Jess to explain it a little more…

With a two-year-old boy expressing his own interest in using the toilet, it has me looking back on how my two girls learned to use it.

To be perfectly honest I have a hard time recollecting exactly how it happened. I have a vague memory of my eldest seeing a toilet step and wanting to try it out around the age of 2.

But after that if you asked me how we trained I wouldn’t be able to answer you, because essentially we didn’t.

So while I’m no expert in parent-led training, over the years I have realised that children have an innate desire to refuse their parents’ demands.

Why make an already challenging time even harder? As a result I looked into child-led toilet learning.

Parent-led training vs. child-led training

The biggest difference between parent-led toilet training and child-led toilet learning is in the attitude of the adult. They need to remain positive and affirming and avoid placing a time limit on the process.

What the child requires is supportive and communicative parents who are attuned to the responses and behaviour of the child to facilitate this process.

Remembering that each child will learn at their own individual rate.

Child-led toilet learning was originally introduced by practicing paediatrician Thomas Berry Brazelton in 1962.

He had noticed an increase in toilet training failures through his work; severe constipation, refusal and stool smearing.

So he investigated and reasoned that toilet training was failing due to the child being introduced to the toilet far before they were ready.

He suggested that toilet training should be delayed until the child is initiating his own spontaneous interest.

3 signs that a child is ready to use the toilet

According to specialist Magda Gerber a child needs to reach three different types of readiness before they are capable of accomplishing toilet learning:

1. Physical readiness

The child must have full muscle control and a bladder and bowel capacity.

2. Cognitive readiness

The child is aware of when they need to urinate or have a bowel movement and understand what they need to do to achieve this.

3. Emotional readiness

The child must be ready to move from what they are comfortable with, for example weeing in a nappy. The child also must be emotionally capable of ‘letting go’ of their urine and faeces, as they literally perceive these as belonging to them.

What Is Child-Led Toilet Learning And How Does It Work

How to encourage child-led toilet learning

Model behaviour

Children naturally want to imitate what their parents and older siblings do. So let your children observe you on the toilet (as if you have a choice?)


Invite your child to participate in all self-care practices from birth. Try to communicate what you are going to do, for example ‘I am going to wet your hair now, would you like to help?’

Be sure to avoid negative verbal cues when referring to any of your child’s anatomy.


Offer your child the choice of nappies or undies when you observe an interest in using the toilet, it might encourage them to get it a try.


Be ready to commit entirely to this process, once you have started, there is no turning back. So choose your timing wisely if you can.


Learning to use the toilet is a process and will naturally take time. Do not rush or manipulate your child. Trust that he will learn in his time.

I used to think this was the lazy parents’ approach to toilet training.

But the more I read about it and the more I observe my children naturally gravitate towards the toilet in their own time, successfully transitioning to using the toilet from using nappies, the more I believe that children want to accomplish this.

They can accomplish this on their own, if only we give them the time and the support.

Grab a copy of our Healthy Kids Cookbook!

The idea behind the Healthy Kids Cookbook is to provide parents with simple recipes which are delicious and nutritious for kids and parents alike. All the recipes have been designed and cooked by a nutritionist, and eaten by real kids.

healthy Kids Cookbook

There are recipes for babies, breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas, and even treats for kids parties. All the recipes have been designed to be cooked in around 30 minutes (although a few take a bit longer with freezing or cooling times).

For more information on the Healthy Kids Cookbook click here.

written by:

Jessica Black

Jess is a fiercely passionate storyteller who is mad about fitness and wine drinking, usually not at the same time. She’s a freelance writer who juggles being a mummy to three and hospitality work. When she’s not busy tapping away on her keyboard with a smile on her face she’s chasing the kids or jogging on the beach.