A Quick Guide to Toilet Training Your Child with Positive Reinforcements

Having trouble training your child to use the bathroom? Psychological research shows, positive reinforcements are the best way to train a child to use the toilet, when nature calls. Punishing or shaming your child will mostly likely cause behavioral and psychological issues. Some of these issues may persist even when they grow up into adults.

A positive reinforcement is anything that is given to a child, when he or she does something desirable. In this case, rewards are given to the child in a graded manner, until he or she is able to use the toilet independently, without your assistance.

 How do you know your child is ready to use the toilet?

Child are ready to start toilet training between the ages of 24 and 27 months. here is how you know when your child is ready:

  • Wants to please you
  • Displays need for privacy and independence
  • Tries to imitate adults
  • Communicates using very basic language
  • Able to follow single-word instructions, such as "go", "sit", "run"
  • Able to pull their clothes down
  • When nature calls, they are able to express the need to use a toilet, using facial expressions, gestures or words

Make a hierarchy of rewards

Firstly, choose and grade the positive reinforcements or rewards you plan to use. Positive reinforcements could range from something as simple as a pat on the back, or a word of praise to candies and expensive underwear with prints of your child’s choice. Make a list of 10 such rewards, from the most basic reward (such as a pat on the back) to the most desired reward (an expensive toy or underwear with favorite prints).

Make a hierarchy of toilet-related behaviors

This requires a little bit of planning and customization. Based on child’s capabilities, start with the easiest and most natural behavior, and grade them till the behavior that requires the most effort from the child. For example, the most basic behavior could be grimacing when the child wants to use pass stools or urine. The most complex behavior requiring a lot of effort is the child successfully using the toilet, cleaning himself/herself up, and also wearing the clothes and flushing the toilet.

Start training

Match the hierarchies of desired behaviors and positive reinforcements in a graded and incremental way. Basic behaviors should be rewarded with the most basic positive reinforcements. Reserve the most desired rewards for the most complex behaviors, such as successfully using the toilet, flushing it, or wearing clothes without making a mess.

Situation 1: Your child grimaces or utters something, indicating he/she want to urinate.

Positive reinforcement: Utter “Very good!” in a kind and respectful manner, and lead the child to the bathroom.

Situation 2: Your child successfully learns to flush the toilet after use.

Positive reinforcement: Reward the child with candies or toy, whichever is high up on the hierarchy you’ve just made.

Proceed slowly, be kind

Always remember to proceed slowly with toilet training and adopt a positive tone even when failure occurs. Most importantly, do not forget to shower your child with kindness. Your child is still growing, and is making every effort to learn something new and difficult. Treat him/her with respect. Never yell, scream, or shout at your child, during the toilet-training practice.

If you have specific questions regarding your child’s bathroom behavior, do write to us in the comments section below.

This blog post was written by freelance writer and clinical psychologist, Jaiyant Cavale.

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1 comment


Great article. I needed more info though and step by step instructions on what to do and I’ve found it in Susan Urban’s guide “How to make your child love going potty”. Really solved potty prolems with my two kids. It was quite some time ago but I can see it is still available on the same website: www.parental-love.com
When i needed help with potty training I’ve read about this guide on some website and now I wanted to share becasue somebody else perhaps need some help now

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