Getting to the toilet while potty training might get all the attention, but there’s an oft-overlooked part of the process: teaching your kid how to properly wipe their butt. Because while U.S. kids potty train pretty late by international standards they still might not have the motor skills necessary to wipe well.
The problem is they can’t see back there to know if they’ve done it right, and have no internal sensation to tell them when they are done. And no matter how much they want to be big kids and go to the bathroom entirely independently, toddlers simply may not develop the dexterity needed to properly wipe their butt with toilet paper for some months.
How to Teach a Toddler to Wipe Their Butt
- Set Realistic Expectations: Certain motions, no matter how important, can’t be done well without a certain level of motor skills. Not every kid will have those motor skills yet, and that’s OK.
- Be an Active Coach in the Bathroom: Wiping is less intuitive than using the potty, and kids need explicit instructions, practice, and review from their parents.
- Skid Marks Aren’t the End of the World: While a child is still learning a skill, sometimes their underwear isn’t going to be the cleanest. It isn’t personal.
- Safety Wipes Keep the Skid Marks at Bay: Once a kid has gone through the routine, parents can check to make sure things are clean and touch up with a wipe, if needed.
- Stay Calm: Nothing derails skills-building like the pressure of an impatient parent.
“A 3-year-old, a 4-year-old – sure you can have them do it, but it’s not going to be done well,” says explains Dr. Roseanne Lesack, a licensed psychologist, board-certified analyst, and director of a child psychology unit at Nova Southeastern University. “You have to really think about what is developmentally appropriate for the age of your child. Though you may want to be done wiping your child’s butt, the truth is they may not be ready for it, and that’s OK.”
So, for the months when you’re teaching your toddler to wipe their bum (or more, depending on the kid), parents may be on the hook for ass-wiping duties. (That’s what they invented shittens for.) Parents can coach their kids, check if their bum is clean, and give them feedback on their technique. Technique varies from family to family, but remember that little kids have no point of reference. They don’t know how many toilet paper squares to use to wipe their butt, or if the toilet paper goes in the toilet or the garbage, or what can be flushed down the toilet (hint: not wet wipes, even if they say “flushable”).
Once toddlers have an understanding of a butt-wiping technique, parents should still stick around to offer a safety wipe, or a wipe down by an adult after the kid tries it, because chances are the kid won’t be particularly good at it for some time. This can be frustrating for parents who just want the process to be complete, and their butt-wiping days to be over; there’s a temptation to compare kids to their peers, siblings, or relatives. But that’s neither fair nor helpful. In fact, stressing about potty training can really interfere with the process.
Finally, along with wiping properly, kids need to learn to wash their hands too.
“Going to the bathroom is dirty. We want it to be a sanitized kind of experience, but it just isn’t, especially for kids who don’t have very good motor skills,” says Lesack. “Imagine: if a child can’t hold a pencil really well, are they going to be able to get that efficient smooth wiping motion? Probably not.”