Toilet training guidance

Toilet training for children with additional needs can be quite daunting and may seem like an impossible goal, however, research and experience tells us that for many children with additional needs, becoming toilet trained is an achievable goal.

This video by ERIC on the Go Potty Method will help to prepare you and your child for toilet training.

Please remember that this advice is a starting point and offers general information. Some of these strategies may take your child a little while to adopt or they may need some extra support.

When toilet training children with additional needs, follow these simple rules:

  • Take it at their pace. Make everything as fun and as light-hearted as possible and give masses of praise and encouragement.
  • If it’s not working, stop trying for a few weeks or months and start again.
  • Don’t set them up to fail or make them feel bad about themselves in any way.
  • Don’t let it become a chore or allow them to sit for too long.
  • Count successes, not when it doesn’t happen. Sitting on the potty or toilet is a success.

ERIC offers more specific guidance on how to support children with special needs, including delayed development and physical disabilities. 

Toilet training and starting school

Toilet training can be a stressful time, especially if school is looming. If it doesn’t happen easily, it can create a lot of anxiety for parents and children.

Legally, schools aren’t allowed to turn away children who haven’t yet mastered toilet training or are still in nappies. They have a duty of care to your child, and in an ideal world school staff and parents should work together to support children who need help getting reliably clean and dry.

Schools cannot deny admission to a child still in nappies

The Equality Act 2010 states that schools must not discriminate against or disadvantage disabled children or those with special educational needs. A delay in achieving continence, or not being toilet trained, is considered a disability. It is therefore not acceptable for a school to refuse or delay admission to children who are not yet continent.

The Children and Families Act 2014 places a statutory duty on schools to support pupils with medical conditions, including bladder and bowel problems. If a child has an identified continence issue which won't be resolved before they start school, whether related to toilet training or not, the school cannot refuse entry.

It is not acceptable practice to ask parents to come into school to change their child

Although school staff should use their discretion and judge each case on its merits with reference to a children's individual healthcare plan, it is not generally acceptable practice to ask parents to come into school to change their child after they've wet or soiled themselves.

Only one member of staff needs to be present when changing a child, as long as another member of staff is nearby, so it shouldn't be necessary to call in a parent.

For more detail on this, see the statutory guidance on implementing the Children and Families Act.

Two members of staff do not need to be present to change a child

There is no legal requirement for two members of staff to be present to change a child. Schools should not refuse to clean a child if only one member of staff is available to leave the classroom.

For safeguarding reasons, staff who help with intimate care of a child should make sure another member of staff is aware they are going to change a child and is in the vicinity, and visible or audible. 

It is good practice to ensure that all aspects of continence care in school are documented in advance, for instance, using an individual health care plan making sure parental consent is obtained for named carers to meet the child's needs.

The guidance also states that 'intimate or personal care procedures should not involve more than one member of staff unless the pupil's care plan specifies the reason for this.'

Further support

Useful websites

Contact - provide general information and tips for toilet training children with SEND. They also offer toilet training workshops.

Bladder & Bowel UK - provide advice about bladder and bowel issues in children, but also provide link to organisations that sell toilet related products.

National Autistic Society provide guides for toilet training children with Autism.

Little Bunny Bear - have free resources, how to guides and blogs around toilet training. Read about potty training for children with SEND and learning potty training skills for children with sensory issues.