Ask Rebecca: At what age can children wipe themselves?

It depends on the age at which you gave him the opportunity to practise this skill says Rebecca Mottram.

Dear Rebecca,

We started potty training our oldest son when he turned 3 (bit late to the party, I now know!) but he’s now almost 5 and still struggles to wipe himself thoroughly. He asks us for help every time he poos and I guess I am wondering at what age he will stop expecting us to do it for him.

The age at which your child is capable of mastering any potty skill is unique to them, but the age at which your child can be given the opportunity to begin learning and practising potty skills is often much earlier than parents expect. As you now know from joining my Facebook Group, you can start building this foundation as early as birth. Below is a potty skills grid which explains what children are capable of at different ages.

(Request your FREE Potty Skills Grid download in high resolution here or via the form below)

As you can see, when it comes to wiping, if children are given the opportunity to learn, they are typically capable of doing this by around 24 months (2 years old.) but wiping is typically the most challenging physical aspect of pottying for children to master and for parents to feel confident in so it’s not unreasonable for them to still need help by the age of 5.

When it comes to potty learning, if you start early, you finish early but just because your son started late, doesn’t mean he’s not capable. Whether he needs help with his mindset (believing he can do it) or with mastering the physical skills, you can support him through this milestone.

Mastering the physical
In order to wipe, he will need gross motor skills and flexibility to help him to reach around and will need fine motor skills to hold the tissue and do the wiping motion. If he is in school or pre-school he will probably already be doing lots of work on co-ordinating those fine and gross motor skills already, so if there are no developmental delays that could be impacting him, practice is all he needs. By the age of 5, most children should be capable of wiping effectively. When it comes to wiping pee, girls can easily wipe from the front by the age of 2 and boys can shake their penis dry by 2 but it comes to wiping up poo, both boys and girls will need practise to be able to truly master this skill, long after they are physically capable of first managing it.

Mastering the mindset
Give him lots of verbal encouragement to do it independently. Remind him he is a big boy and can do wipe all by himself, and that he doesn’t need Mummy and Daddy to help him any more. It can be hard for parents to be confident that they have been thorough (we don’t want them to get nappy rash or for us to have to do extra laundry after all!) so it is common for children to want or need to be checked, but you can give them opportunities to practise.

5 Tips for practising wiping
1) Start sooner rather than later
2) Put a mirror in the bathroom so he can check he is clean
3) Encourage him to be thorough by explaining what he needs to do using specific and positive language “wipe and wipe again until the tissue looks clean” rather than negative language like “don’t leave skidmarks.”
4) Put a sticker on the wall to show how much toilet roll to pull off
5) Practise the motions of wiping with a learning game. Putting a ribbon or sticker in their back pocket for them to reach around and pull out. This will help them to practise gripping something as thin as toilet paper and develop the ability to reach around.

Hope this helps! Let me know how you get on.

Do you want to know what your child is capable of at each age/developmental stage?




If you have a potty dilemma, why not ask Rebecca? Submit your question to our Potty Talk series.

Rebecca Mottram, the founder of Little Bunny Bear and author of The Baby Pottying Guide for babies aged 0-18m, is a registered Children’s Nurse, potty learning researcher and consultant. Rebecca provides coaching to parents and carers around the world via private consultations and workshops. She also designs the Go Potty™ range of nappy belt systems, mattress protection and potty learning clothes and the Sew Potty™ range of sewing patterns.

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