Learning toilet training readiness

Toilet training readiness: skills to teach before the first birthday

Toilet training readiness can start earlier than you might think! There are skills you can teach before the first birthday to make potty training a breeze.

Every parent has feelings about potty training. Some parents can’t wait to get their kids out of diapers. Some are hesitant to even start, and some are just plain scared! And by some people, I mean me. It was me. I was scared. Have I mentioned that I have four boys? Also, that I changed diapers for ten consecutive years? Toilet training was a big part of the things that kept me up at night, particularly the timing of toilet training. 

Was it too soon? Was it too late? Was there someone else who could just do this for me? These were the questions. 

The truth is, toilet training does not get the place of honor it deserves. It’s not just a milestone for the baby book; it is the fusion of all the cognitive, motor, and language skills a toddler has been collecting since they were born. Toilet training represents a miracle of skills acquisition. It’s the real deal. 

If I asked you to label the steps in potty training, you would probably say “go to the toilet, pull down your pants, sit, wipe, wash your hands” and while that’s all going on externally, there is a literal explosion of highly advanced cognitive skills–like problem-solving, and symbolic thought, and subtle body awareness, and memory, and task interruption, and language decoding—that all has to happen in support of the toileting process. It’s not just pee-pee in the potty. It’s a freaking cognitive miracle. 

By the time a child is ready to toilet train, they have been attending a masterclass in development to gain these skills. And the great news is that we can begin working on these skills with our kids from birth in support of helping them with all the advanced cognitive development they need—whether it’s toilet training or college essays.

Checklist for toilet training readiness: Skills you can teach before the first birthday


Imitation is the shortcut we use for all learning. It allows infants to pay attention to their caregiver and learn skills quickly and efficiently. Practice imitation as early and often as possible. Encourage your baby to match your facial expression. Bang on the floor with a block and prompt your child to do it with you. Match dance moves. 

Gross motor skills:

Gross motor skills start with tummy time and just expand from there as toddlers learn to walk, and then run, and then jump. Balance is big deal in toilet training, as is coordination. Give your baby and toddler a rich environment to explore big motions with their body. Climbing up the stairs or bending over to pick up balls from the ball pit is cross-training for future toileting. 

Labeling language:

To toilet effectively, preschoolers have to be able to label their needs, their actions, and their internal feelings. This is why you should label things constantly with your little ones. “This is a cup. You are petting the dog. We are walking by the trees. I see a bird. Your diaper is dirty, let’s change it.” This isn’t just teaching your baby to talk, this is teaching them how to identify things in the future with language. 


There are a ton of ‘doing’ things your child might not want to do in a way that he doesn’t want to do them in potty training. Being willing to do things is an important pre-requisite skill to toilet training that begins in the early years. For little ones, compliance is built by giving clear instruction, helping your child to follow through, and praising them like crazy with specific words.

Body awareness/interoception:

“Head, shoulders, knees, and toes” is not just a song. It’s a learning activity. Labeling body parts and learning how to locate them is vital to toilet training.  It’s also important that little ones learn how things feel inside their body. This is the sense of interoception. We help develop interoception by labeling internal senses that we can notice. Yes, it’s labeling again. Say things like, “Your tummy is growling, you must be hungry,” or put your baby’s hand over their heart and say, “I feel your heart beating.” And for sure, when you see their faces getting all red and grunty say, “You’re going poo-poo.” (Or whatever specific language your family uses.)

The value of yes and no:

Do you need to go potty? That’s the question you will say four million times between the beginning of toilet training until your child’s first birthday. Toddlers and preschoolers have to be able to respond to these questions correctly. ‘Yes’ means yes and ‘no’ means no. Help them learn it. Preference-based questions are the best way to learn yes and no. When your baby is in their highchair and you know they are soooo ready for a banana say “Do you want a banana?” and then nod vigorously and say “Yes, you want a banana!” as you hand them the banana. On the flipside, you can ask them if they want something you know they don’t and pair that with saying no. 

All of these skills can, and should, be practiced from infancy to the first birthday to prepare for toilet training—and for many other future cognitive gains. 

What happens after the first birthday? There’s another set of advanced skills that need to be practiced and mastered. Oh, and none of them have anything to do with pulling down pants! Learn what comes next in the toilet training readiness program!

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Toilet training readiness: skills you can teach your baby and toddler NOW for readiness later!

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