It’s time to teach your child to wipe. But how? How do you actually do that? This step by step post has the answers you need (and the humor to get you through this).
How many articles exist on the Internet about how to potty train? A million? Maybe more. Everyone on Earth talks about helping kids learn to use the toilet… but where’s the help when it’s time for them to be independent with all their going needs?
No one talks to us about how to teach kids to wipe. NO ONE. Everyone says “make sure they can wipe their butt before school” but then no one actually shows up with information on how to make that happen.
Fine. I’ll do it. I will graphically and somehow eloquently explain “how to teach your child to wipe” and give you all the knowledge I’ve learned from three rounds of wipe-training.
Note: This post is based on cultural practices and norms around wiping that are specific to the United States (where bidets are uncommon and paper is flushed). I fully acknowledge that other practices and norms exist in other countries and cultures.
Let’s get down to brass tacks: this post is about butts
I vividly remember the day when, years after successfully potty training my first born, it hit me like lightning: “This child needs to learn to wipe on their own.”
And a dark cloud descended on my land.
No one had explained to me how to teach a child to wipe and everyone I asked had the same puzzled look or couldn’t remember from their days in the toileting years. “It sort of happens.” “They just learn.” “They’ll figure it out.”
I’m all for child-led learning – trust me, it’s literally my life’s work – but when poop is involved, that’s where I guess I draw the child-led line. I’d like to have a solid hand in this learning process. My carpet, laundry, gag reflex all depends on it.
Before starting this process with my oldest, I came up with a game plan. Turns out, I’m a pretty good planner and what I came up with has been the process for all of my kids, many of my friends’ kids, and lots more families who have dared to DM some lady on the Internet asking for a wiping tutorial (so much respect for those people – that takes guts).
So now I write this for all the world to see: A how-to guide on wiping butts – and somehow, this doesn’t feel that abnormal in my line of work.
What age should a kid be able to wipe themselves?
Age is but (lol) a number. There’s a lot more that goes into wiping than a chronological date stamp of “here your parent wipes for you” and “now you have to do it alone.”
Here’s what I considered with my kids:
- Can their arms reach? I was pretty shocked realizing how old many children are before they can “reach” the target. Check they can reach before assuming they are ready for this skill.
- Are they dexterous enough? Do they have the coordination for this? Wiping takes a shocking amount of skills. This is why wiping is one of the last steps in potty training.
- Is the maturity level there? This is especially personal for each family but you are mostly looking for cues that your child can handle this fairly major responsibility.
For my kids, this was sometime from 4-5 (approximately), with the major goal being kindergarten-age. If your child is attending traditional school (vs homeschool) they need to be able to wipe before going to school.
A quick note as a teacher:
Putting my teacher hat on over my parent hat right now: every year in kindergarten, it is heartbreaking for the kids who come to school without wiping skills. And many do.
There are often tears. It’s awful and gut wrenching, but legally, public school general educators are strictly forbidden from toileting students (this is different for many special educators who receive additional certification/clearance in toileting).
No matter how much I wished, wanted, or would have helped: I could not. Teachers cannot help. Please, please, please make sure part of your child’s kindergarten readiness is wiping.
RELATED: Looking for more non-academic kindergarten readiness skills? Read my list.
The official step by step: How to Teach Your Child to Wipe
Disclaimer: This is what worked for my family. Take it with a grain of salt, find ways to make it work for your family, or shrug me off completely.
I’m not trying to say that I’m an expert in the wiping field, but without too much TMI about my children, we are a “skid mark free” house. That feels like as good a credential as any for my wiping method.
I’m breaking this into STAGES because each stage needs time – how long is up to you and your child and how it’s all going.
A lot of the wiping process is scaffolding and stepping kids through information that is both second nature to us AND that we have no memory learning ourselves. It’s tough to teach from that position, which is why I’m happy to share some guidance.
Stage 1: Setting the stage for actual wiping (the before wiping steps)
There are 3 “pre-wiping” steps to take with a child to set the stage for their independent wiping future.
1. How to fold toilet paper and how much to pull
First up on the road to wiping is understanding how to get toilet paper, how much to pull, and how to fold that paper for usage.
Before your ever ask your child to start wiping, ask them start helping you with gathering the toilet paper. Show them how much to pull. Show them how to fold it. Do this on repeat. Have them be the “puller and folder” of the toilet paper, and then pass the paper on to you.
Stay in this stage a while. Get your child really, really comfortable and fairly expert level at pulling and folding paper – don’t rush. Rushing or skipping this step is how toilets in your future get clogged.
2. Narrating the process
You are going to over share and over narrate the wiping process.
To kids, butts get wiped basically magically.
We know that’s not true. There’s so much know-how and knowledge that goes into this.
Talk openly about what you are doing when you wipe them. “I’m working front to back (explain why!).” “I’m checking the toilet paper to see if we are done.” “I’m refolding it to keep wiping from a clean spot.”
These are all parts of the wiping process that are second nature to adults but kids need explicit teaching, modeling, and information about in order to learn.
3. Consider an open door policy
If you are comfortable, an open door policy on your own wiping is very helpful. You don’t need to show them anything, per se, but letting them watch your process and hearing you narrate your own steps is big.
My feeling was always this: they’re in here anyways with me because heaven forbid I poop alone, why not make it educational?
Stage 2: Learning to Actually Wipe
Like I wrote earlier, for me, this was a very very “hit me like a ton of bricks” moment with each child. It’s like choosing a good melon, you just know when it’s time to teach them to wipe and it’s time to start handing over this step of independence to them.
As ridiculous as it may sound, wiping becomes one of (if not the) last bit of the baby we loved so much. Despite all the jokes about “I’m so tired of wiping butts!” – for many people, this is an emotional final step that closes the door on this child’s baby years. I get that.
Stage 2 is all about scaffolding the wiping process.
Scaffolding is a term used in education that means “an adult is going to provide a lot of help to a child who is learning a new skill and scaffold their learning so they’re capable of success, then slowly start pulling back until the child is fully independent.”
That’s what we are going to do with wiping.
Now that they are experts a getting toilet paper and folding it, and you can see their arms are long enough, they’re dexterous, and the maturity is there: it’s time.
Scaffolding part 1: Wiping together, you do the most work.
Ask them to hold the toilet paper. You will need to (guess what) model how to do that. Show them how to hold the paper to prepare for wiping.
In this first step, they are going to have their hand on the toilet paper with your hand over the top of theirs. You will be doing the bulk of the work here, making their hand essentially an extension of yours. Think pottery scene from Ghost.
You will very specifically and openly narrate this process. Name the anus. Talk about how to clean it. Give them every single piece of information that you can about what you are doing, looking for, how to know you’re done, etc.
Again, in this first scaffolding phase, you are guiding their hand while wiping but you are leading this expedition and fully in control. Their hand is there to start learning what wiping feels like and the motions of this.
Stay at this stage of scaffolding as long as needed. Do not rush to the next stage for the next poo. Stay in “part 1” until you feel they are ready for part 2.
Scaffolding part 2: Wiping together, you work together.
In this second part of scaffolding, the child begins to take on a bit more of the wiping workload. With your hand still guiding theirs, take off some of the pressure so they are a bit more in control (though not fully yet).
Daily, you’ll adjust how much they are guiding the process as you quite literally begin to pull back.
Scaffolding part 3: Wiping together, they do the most work.
Have you ever seen a child on training wheels where the training wheels aren’t even touching the ground anymore, but the child won’t remove them because they like to know the training wheels are there?
That’s this stage. Your hand will now be lightly over their hand during the wiping process, doing little actual work (just moral support).
This is the stage in wiping where you start to see them “getting” it. You’ll feel and notice that you aren’t as involved. They’re doing it. You’re just there for support and any emergencies.
They’ve come a long way by this point. It’s almost time to wipe on their own.
Stage 3: Independent wiping (Rafiki voice over: it is time)
Don’t rush to independent wiping. There is no prize for rushing through the foundation of Stage 1 or the Scaffolding of Stage 2.
In fact, skid marks, itchy butts, and bathroom messes befall rushing…
When your child is ready for full independent wiping (ie: your hand is no longer with theirs wiping – you’re just sort of there), here’s what I do.
- For the first few independent wipe attempts, stay in the bathroom. Be the cheerleader on the sidelines.
- Give a “courtesy” wipe (kind of like a spot check) before they get up.
The Courtesy Wipe is actually crucial for multiple reasons.
The Courtesy Wipe gives you a way to support your child so they don’t feel totally hung out to dry on this process. You’re still scaffolding and they have a safety net.
The Courtesy Wipe gives you a chance to “spot check” how they did and offer additional support immediately.
If you notice that Courtesy Wipes are consistently not clean, go back to Stage 2: Scaffolding. We want them to master this skill, not rush to a “faux-mastery” level. It’s much more comfortable to go back a stage than press on.
Stage 4: Totally independent toileting
Eventually, you’ll phase out the Courtesy Wipe and that’ll be it. Your days of wiping this child have come to a close. And thus closes one major chapter in parenting.
This concludes “How to teach your child to wipe”
…A blog post I never thought I’d write, but I’m glad I did because no one talks about this. So let’s change that.
If you use my method, or have one of your own for teaching kids, comment below so we can give other parents even more tips/tricks for helping kids with this often overlooked skill.