How to Teach a Kid to Wipe Their Bottom

Oh, the joys of potty training. For parents who are going through toilet training for the first time, it can be hard to get used to how much gross is involved. And the same is true for changing diapers, and hopefully by the time you get to potty training stage, you have been changing pretty disgusting diapers for 2 years or more.

But let’s say you are at a stage now where your child is interested in using the kid’s potty or is even using the big toilet regularly. For many parents, they continue to wipe the child’s bottom because it is just less messy, and less gross overall.

As kids learn to wipe themselves, inevitably they get their fingers in the poop, and that poop ends up everywhere. They make a mess of the toilet paper, and that mess can extend beyond the bathroom to other parts of the home.

boy wearing red backpack walking away

Schools require that children be able to wipe themselves

When do you teach a child to wipe his bottom? This is a common requirement in preschools and in kindergarten, the child must be able to clean themselves in order to be able to attend, because care providers at most of these organizations will not wipe the child for them.

This can come as a surprise to a lot of parents, who assume that the care providers would assist the children in the bathroom, especially given that some preschools admit children as young as two and a half.

The decision to send a child to school can mean that the child needs some additional training to become completely toilet independent.

In a lot of cases, it is extraordinary for a two-and-a-half-year-old to be able to adequately wipe themselves. Yet you see potty trained 2 and a half year olds in preschools, and how can that be so?

A lot of parents in these scenarios have taught kids the basics of wiping and then just deal with them being messy for a while. They send extra clothes with the child to school, and the school can change the child if it is needed.

The school will not wipe the children, but they will assist the children to change their clothes or direct them to do so.

Getting started with wiping

You can approach wiping as a instructional process where you show them how, or you can first begin by introducing them to the concept.

Is your family the kind of family it where privacy in the bathroom is very important? Has your child ever observed you or your spouse or any other adult or child wipe themselves?

If not, it is time to introduce them to the bathroom when other people are using it. Allow them to observe just how you utilize the toilet, and how you clean up afterwards.

A key component of this process is washing up, and when the child is with you in the bathroom, feel free to narrate exactly what you were doing, and the importance of doing what you are doing. Inevitably, if the child see you doing something over and over, he will want to adopt that into his own routine and process.

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If you have already introduced your child to wiping, and the need to do so and also of being clean and neat while you do it, the next step is to allow them to do it. I would recommend that you talk to them about the specifics of what to do and how to do, but a really key component of learning how to wipe is just doing it.

If you feel uncomfortable with letting your child wipe themselves after they have pooped, have them practice wiping sitting on the toilet when they have not pooped. Let them know that you are practicing, and you can help them get the paper off the roll, get the paper ready, and show them where to put the paper and which direction to move their hands.

When there is no actual poop back there, there are very few consequences. The child sits on the potty and hold the paper in their hand, and you can even stand nearby and direct their hand where it needs to go.

Another thing that I would do is help a child become comfortable with touching themselves on their bottom, especially the area where they will have to clean themselves. Some parents may not feel comfortable encouraging their children to touch their bottoms. And that’s okay, but wiping is about touching that behind-you area.

In the bath or shower, you can encourage the to find that area during washing. After all, we encourage them to wash their genitals, and wash their bottom.

You can ask them to reach behind and confirm that they know what that space is and where it is, and encourage them to check to make sure that it is clean. They may even be interested in sitting down and taking a look. If they are flexible enough they can bend over and peak, or you can let them look at themselves in the mirror.

This might be embarrassing for an adult, but for a child, they may be completely unaware of what they have down there and what it does.

Like everything, your attitude about wiping will dictate how well training them to do it goes

One thing I don’t recommend is being very authoritative or aggressive about this process, or anything else about potty training. You have to be understanding that wiping for a child is hard. Not because they don’t understand how to wipe, or what the purpose of wiping is.

Instead, children develop the actual motor skills, the physical ability, to do the very complex actions of wiping at their own pace. If you find that your child is really struggling to get the paper ready, and to be able to adequately wipe themselves, maybe it is time to step back a little bit and do some focusing on their motor skills, especially the fine motor skills.

If your child can’t get the paper off the roll, practice that skill with them. Or give them other tasks that involve wrapping and unwrapping things, such as wrapping string around a tube and then unwrapping it over and over. Most likely they will think this is a fun activity and not realize that it is associated with helping them learn to use the bathroom.

If they are really struggling with getting their arms behind them and directing their hands where they need to go, think of an activity that allows them to practice doing that. Do they need to work on reaching behind themselves?  You could help them develop the skill by attaching stickers to the back of their pants or their lower back, and ask them to reach back there and pull the stickers off or to touch them.

multiple children at school sitting for snacktime

Trouble shoot other problems by looking at the whole picture

If a child is really struggling to wipe themselves on the big potty, recognize that part of this may be that the party is just really big. If their feet are not touching the ground, they may need one or both of their hands to balance themselves on the circular seat.

You can help them get stabilized by having them use a how did that is closer to the ground, or by putting a block down for them to put their feet on so that they don’t constantly feel like they are going to fall off or fall in.

When he continues to call for you even though he knows how

Sometimes a child will continue to call for you to come and wipe them well past when they should be able to do it themselves. It could be that your child is afraid to do it, or that he doesn’t want to make a mess of himself or his hands, or he is intimidated by what would happen if he were to do it wrong. He may have developed the belief that he needs you to do it for him and that he can’t do it on his own.

I can see how this would happen in the case where a parent is very assertive about doing the wiping for a child, mainly because they want to avoid having poop all over their house and having to do the cleanup constantly. This makes sense, but eventually the child is going to have to learn to do it without you.

If you think that you are in a scenario where the child is refusing to wipe because they don’t know how to do it, then you will focus talking to them about the mechanics of it and encourage them and support them to do it.

If it is a scenario where the child already knows how to wipe, and just like for you to do it, then you may have to put your foot down and let them know when they call for you that they are going to have to do it themselves.

Putting your foot down may elicit some strong feelings. Your son may may cry or throw a fit. Or they may refuse to wipe and get down from the toilet without wiping. This is a phase that you can work through by supporting them and talking with them a lot about the importance of wiping and how they need to learn to do it on their own.

Sometimes, children need to learn that when they fail to wipe themselves very well or at all, they end up having some uncomfortable in this back there, but their clothes get dirty, and that it can smell.

Not every parent is a fan of the natural consequences approach, but it is something that I have found to be effective in my home. And these cases, I end up washing the child a lot more to help us get through this.

The best instruction is to let them do it on their own, and trust them to be able to figure it out

Finally, I think the most important thing you can do to help a child learn how to wipe himself, is to let him wipe himself. What is that old saying, sometimes you win and sometimes you learn? If your child tries to wipe himself and does it badly, this is a learning opportunity.

The only way for him to gain the gross motor skill to adequately wipe himself, is to practice wiping himself. You can talk to him regularly, daily, or even every time he uses the potty, about what to do and how to do it well.

But ultimately, if you want him to start wiping himself, and not yell for you to come and do it for him, is to trust him to do it himself.

Check out this recent Mom Advice Line Article you might like: Language, Speech and Listening Development Parent’s Guide