Potty training or Toilet learning the Montessori way

Is your child ready to potty train? Are you wondering how to start, when to start and basically what to do?

Read below or watch the video:

In Montessori circles, we prefer to say "toilet awareness" and "toilet learning" than Potty training. Why? As a matter of respect for the child. We don't train children (we train dogs and even training dogs make me uncomfortable). We guide children and we role-model.

Toilet awareness is a natural process and a skill that all children will develop in time. Potty and nappies are accessories that we have created to make our modern life easier or possible with young children. 

As a family, you may skip the potty and nappy entirely (aka you may do Elimination Communication) or your child may go on the main toilet straight away. 

The definition of toilet awareness is "when a person is aware of the toilet, how to use it, the body functions that are required and the sensations that signal when to use the toilet".

So let's see how to promote toilet awareness...

Here are my tips for a successful toilet learning process:

If your child is still quite young, you will have the possibility to lay on some foundations for when your child is ready.

  • If you can, put your child in cloth nappies from birth or switch from now on. When your child wears cloth nappies, he is more aware when he is wet than if he is wearing disposable diapers which have been specifically manufactured to make your child feel dry for long periods of time, even when he has wet them. Therefore, your child stays attuned to his bodily movements. When your child wears cloth nappies, he can connect the sensation of wanting to eliminate followed by the feeling of being wet or soiled. The biological feedback sent to his bladder helps him to gain control over his bladder much faster.
  • Talk about your child’s bodily functions when you change her. It should be casual such as “you are wet, you have done a wee, we now need to change your nappy.”
  • Talk positively about their bowel’s and bladder functions. Avoid making faces or shaming them when you change their nappy
  • Encourage your child to help during a nappy change; he can hold the new nappy and give it to you
  • If your child can stand up or walk, try to change your child standing up to give him more control and independence
  • From around 1 year of age, many children show an interest in the toilets and are curious about you sitting on it or want to flush the toilets.
  • Using the toilets is natural and should be treated that way. So, let your child be curious about you going to the toilet
  • Have a potty ready at your child's disposal as soon as possible. You can suggest to your child to sit on the potty next to you while you are yourself on the toilet. It sounds gross but trust me; they need to know what it is for. And you are your child’s role model
  • Your child might also show an interest in dressing and undressing themselves. Encourage them to master this skill by providing easy to wear clothes. Forget buckles and complicated fastenings.
  • You can also help your child to wash his hands after each nappy change to get into the routine for when he will use the potty.

In need of sleep support?

My Gentle and Montessori sleep course is starting on the 4th of April. 

Learn what to expect of your baby and toddler sleep and how you can all have better sleep!

When is your child ready?

If your child is curious about the potty or the toilets, if he has some level of independence regarding dressing skills, then he might be ready to try.

But first, prepare yourself by acknowledging that toilet learning is a process and should not be hurried. Like with any other skills, he might progress then regress.

Studies are contradictory about when is the best time to start, if there is indeed a “sensitive period for toilet learning”. But, if your child is curious, you should take that as a cue to make a start.

Prepare the environment:

Have clean underpants in a basket next to the potty.

Have a stool for your child to reach the sink to wash his hands.

If he prefers to use the adult’s toilet, make sure you also have a stool and a seat reductor ready.

Have some toilet paper at your child’s reach next to the potty.

Many parents like to have several potties all around the house. It’s a good idea to have more than one potty when you decide to remove the nappy. If you have a downstairs toilet, your child might have time to reach the potty but otherwise, don’t worry about having a potty in the middle of the living room. It is only temporary.

Now, basically, what do you do?

Make toilet training part of the routine:

  • Suggest the potty every time you change your child
  • Suggest the potty when your child wakes up, before the bath, before and after the nap, before leaving home.
  • When I say “suggest”, I want to encourage you to be casual and matter-of-fact about it. You can say something along those lines. It’s time to go to bed but first let’s go to the toilet together. It’s where role-modelling will be very important.
  • Don’t congratulate, reward them if they use the potty successfully. It is a natural process, and they do it that way because it’s how everyone does it when they can be “physically” independent. You can state “I see that you did a wee in the potty, that is where the wee goes, now let’s flush it in the big toilet”
  • Equally, don’t force them to sit on the potty. The process must be enjoyable!
  • Don’t interrupt your child in the middle of an activity to insist that they use the potty. Wait for them to finish what they are doing before offering the potty.

That might be enough for your child to get it, most of the time and you will feel confident to remove the nappy. Because let’s face it, at some point you need to remove the nappy!

  • Start with a few days with no pants and no trousers. Obviously, you need to be able to stay at home for a few days.
  • When your child can use the potty most of the time, let him have trousers to go out but avoid the pants/nickers. The reason is that the closeness of the fabric will replicate the sensation of the nappy. Many children then regress and soiled their pants.
  • When your child masters the commando style (trousers but no nickers), you should be able to reintroduce wearing nickers.
  • When your child has an accident, treat this casually. “I see that you are wet, we need to change and find some dry clothes.”

As it’s a process, no one can tell you how long it will take and, please be wary of the miracle 3 days potty training method. It’s unlikely that your child will be learned to go on the toilet in such a short time, or at least not with respect and understanding.

To help you further, I suggest that you have a look at the website Go Diaper free about Elimination Communication from the Start. I have also enjoyed chatting with Jamie Glowacki, the author of “Oh crap Potty training.” You can watch those videos here; she answered so many common issues.

If you want more support regarding the Potty training process, ask me about my one to one service. I can tailor a step by step toilet learning plan and help you to overcome any reservations and issues you may come across.

Contact me for a chat about toilet learning or anything else!

About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.

  • Danielle says:

    Thank you for this video! I am a potty training coach in Canada, and this is exactly the way I teach. Start early if possible (with EC or a Montessori potty learning approach), otherwise, non-coercive potty training is the best way to begin. I will be sharing this with all my followers <3

  • >