Helping Your Preschooler Use the Bathroom on His Own

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You may have started toilet training when your child was a young toddler, or perhaps, you decided to wait until now. If you're just beginning, you might find it helpful to take a look at some of the suggestions on potty training in the "Infants and Toddlers" section.

Using the bathroom independently involves a set of skills—and is a big achievement for every child. Although there's disagreement among parents, doctors, and child development specialists about when to start toilet training, many preschools expect their students to be able to go to the bathroom on their own, so your child will benefit from being toilet trained before he starts 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 he needs a small stool to reach the toilet, be sure it's exactly where he expects to find it. Do the same for toilet paper, soap, and a hand towel—put them all in places that he can reach by himself.
  • 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 or hand-over-hand techniques to show your child how to manipulate fasteners may help him learn how to deal with them now.
  • 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. For a while, you may have to remind him to lift the toilet seat first. You also might have to give him some hand-over-hand help in the beginning to teach him to aim accurately.
  • If your child has an accident, involve him 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

A lot of children (and grownups, for that matter), whether sighted or visually impaired, are uncomfortable and sometimes nervous about using public restrooms. As you can imagine, your preschooler may need more help when using an unfamiliar bathroom. You can help him 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 him the stalls, sinks, and other features of the room, allowing him 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.

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