How often have you heard your child yelling “Mum! Dad! I’m done!” from the toilet? Wouldn’t it be nice if they could wipe their own bottoms? Wait, what age is that again?
By 4 years old, your child should be to wipe their own bottom but may need some occasional help. Of course, each child learns toileting at different ages so this may vary between 3.5 to 5 years old.
If your child is over 3.5 years old and still isn’t able to wipe their own bottom after a poo, then maybe now’s the time to start teaching them. We have included some tips and activities to help your child become more successful in wiping their own bottoms, so you don’t have to anymore.
What age should we start teaching our child?
Parents often find themselves in a bind when their little one is too old to be changed but not quite old enough to wipe their own bottom. So how do you know when the time is right?
Each child starts their toileting process at different ages and that’s the same with wiping their own bottom. For some children, this may happen as early as 3-4 years old and for others, they may not be physically or mentally ready until 5+ years old.
It can be tough deciding whether or not your child needs help with wiping after bowel movements. Before you start getting them to wipe their own bottoms, it is important to make sure they are prepared for it.
- Make sure your child feels like there is nothing embarrassing about this! Make talking about toileting a natural part of your day and that everyone needs to do this.
- Make sure they feel comfortable about this new responsibility by explaining why you want them doing it all on their own now. It will be hard work at first, but it’s important to keep up the training until they get the hang of it.
- Even though your child might want to be independent in doing the wiping all by themselves, it is important to still check their bottoms to make sure they are all clean. Hopefully, over time, they will be able to wipe more cleanly and you will no longer need to help them.
What if my child is 5 and has not learned to wipe their own bottoms?
This is okay because children learn at all different speeds. There may be many reasons why they haven’t learned to wipe their bottoms yet. Maybe they started the toilet process later compared to their peers. Maybe they didn’t like going to the toilet and this has reduced the number of practice opportunities. Maybe they have difficulty with fine motor skills and therefore have trouble with wiping. These are all real reasons and guess what? Practice makes perfect.
We have outlined some ways to teach your child to wipe their own bottom and some activities to practice outside the toilet.
How to teach your child how to wipe their own bottom?
For your child to learn to wipe their own bottom, they need to develop certain skills.
They need to have good sitting balance
Good sitting balance means they need to be able to sit on the toilet seat and turn their head slightly without falling off or into the toilet. For a child to wipe their bottoms, they need to reach their hands behind them and look at the toilet paper to see whether it is clean or dirty.
You can use a range of equipment to help them feel more balanced and confident on the toilet. These include:
- Toilet insert – A child-sized toilet insert makes the toilet seat smaller so they don’t fall into the toilet.
- Steps or stool – Toilet steps, don’t only help your child to get onto the toilet by themselves, they also help your child feel more balanced when they place their feet on the step or stool. By placing their feet on a solid surface, this can make them feel more balanced when they are wiping themselves.
They need to be able to fold the toilet paper
How many times do they pull too much toilet paper, scrunch it up into a wad and dab to “wipe”? Children learn best by giving explicit instructions and watch from an adult modelling the behaviour to them.
If your child is using too much or too little toilet paper, you can put a sticker on the wall to indicate how much they need to pull down. Normally about 4-5 squares is a good amount to start with. Once they rip the toilet paper off the roll, teaching them to fold the toilet paper in half and how to hold the paper correctly in their hands is important. Make sure the toilet paper covers the majority of their hands. The less mess the better!
They need to know the wiping motion
When they know how to fold and hold the toilet paper in their hands, they need to learn the wiping motion – where to start and where to go. Initially, they may need you to hold their hand and show them what to do.
Check whether they are clean or not
Once they have wiped their bottom, get them to look at the toilet paper to check whether they are clean or not. If it is dirty, they need to continue wiping. Even if they start showing clean toilet paper, as an adult, you will still need to check.
Common mistakes of bottom wiping
Not wiping from front to back
Make sure your child is wiping from front to back, especially for girls. This avoids germs and bacteria going to the urethra (pee hole) and vagina. This is less of a concern for boys as their pee hole (i.e. penis) is further from their bottom. However, it is good to continue to practice this wiping method anyways as it can help with a cleaner wipe.
Poor quality toilet paper
We want our child to be set up for success as much as possible. Imagine learning to wipe our bottoms and then constantly having holes in the toilet paper. Gross! Your child is going to learn the amount of pressure they need to apply when wiping. This is a lot easier when we are using good quality paper and know that it is not going to break on us. As they learn to wipe better, you can slowly reduce the quality of toilet paper if you want. However, during this learning process, it is important to have some good quality toilet paper.
These wipes are not actually very flushable. If you are using wet wipes (even if they are advertised as flushable), it is best to have a bin in the toilet and put the wet wipes in the bin instead of the toilet bowl.
Flushable wipes are great for children who have trouble using toilet paper. The wetness makes it easier to wipe so flushable wipes are a good spot to start if your child is having lots of trouble wiping themselves clean.
Additional practice outside the toilet
Apart from learning to wipe after bowel motions, you can still practice wiping skills outside of the toilet.
Encourage your child to wipe the tables down
Yes, get them to practice wiping down tables, countertops, windows etc. with a cloth. This helps them understand the concept of dirty and clean. It can also help them with learning to push down on the surface to wipe it properly.
Develop finger strength
Do activities to help your child develop finger strength. Better finger strength means they can wipe better with less toilet paper. Some finger strengthening exercises include playing with putty and clay, cutting with scissors and playing with tongs and tweezers.
Fun balloon wiping game
There is a video about a teacher teaching her students to wipe their bottoms with balloons. If you want bottom wiping to be a fun activity, you can try this balloon wiping game at home.
- Blow up 2 balloon to a small size. These balloons are going to represent our butt cheeks. Tie them together and stick them to the back of a chair.
- Smear some peanut butter in the middle, between the two balloons.
- Get your child to sit on the chair and with some toilet paper, the goal is to wipe the peanut butter off the balloons until the balloons are clean.
Benefits of knowing the right age for toilet training
Helpful guideline for first-time parents
Although each child is different, knowing the approximate age that other children learn to wipe their bottom is helpful. Parents, especially of first-borns, may not know what is age appropriate so having some sort of guideline can be helpful.
Knowing when to start
Depending on the style of parenting, you may encourage your child to do things more independently or you may do things for them. Knowing that your child, at age 4 years old, should start learning to wipe their bottoms by themselves allow parents to start this process at home.
Increase time to do other things
When a child learns to wipe their own bottom, it means there is more time to do other things. If your child learns to wipe their own bottom, parents can come in and check, rather than constantly being there during the whole toileting process.
Develop your child’s independence
Apart from benefits for parents, teaching kids to wipe their own bottom promotes independence. This is important for them to learn especially as they start going to school and may need to wipe their own bottoms at school, without help from an adult.
As your child reaches the age of 3-4 years old, they should be able to wipe their own bottom after a bowel movement. Essentially, by this age and older, they should be able to wipe their own bottoms without much help from an adult. Of course, each child learns at a different pace so it may vary between 3.5 to 5 years old. If your child is over 3.5 years old and still can’t wipe their own bottom, hopefully the above tips and strategies are helpful starting points for your child to learn how to wipe their bottoms successfully.
If you would like more tips and strategies on toileting, check out our ReadyKids platform. It is filled with tips and activities recommended by our Occupational Therapist – tried and tested in the real world.