When it’s time for children to make the transition from diapers to using the toilet, “potty training” (or, more precisely, “toilet learning”) can bring up intense emotions for parents. But done the Montessori way, toilet learning is a gradual, natural approach that helps children achieve this important milestone successfully and joyously.
Observing your child is key to knowing when they are ready to begin the process. Look for verbal cues (recognizing the difference between wet and dry), staying dry overnight or during nap, taking interest in the toilet, letting you know when they have urinated or had a bowel movement, etc. Not all these cues have to be present, but you will notice that many of them emerge simultaneously when it’s time.
Preparing the Environment
Even before beginning the process, placing a small toilet in all bathrooms is highly recommended. When children see this, it stokes their curiosity and gently encourages them to mimic what they see adults do every day. Describe the purpose of the small toilet; eventually, they will come to it. Never force children to sit down as the key is to have them associate the experience with positive feelings.
Making “Toilet Talk” a Regular Thing
It’s okay to use the words urine, poop, toilet, wet, dry, clean, unclean, etc. as you guide them through the process. You want to set the tone that this is a normal process our body does to get rid of things we no longer need. One thing to avoid is making grimacing faces (and accompanying words/sounds) while changing soiled diapers or clothes as they provide unconstructive context to children and may lead them to conclude that toileting is gross or embarrassing. Children are still learning about their bodies, so it’s important for them to understand that toileting is necessary and nothing to be ashamed of.
Once children are at walking age, give them opportunities to dress and undress themselves. This will help them become more independent in toileting when it is time to pull down/pull up their pants or change their clothes. Be prepared to have extra clothing by the toilet in case they do not make it in time; not only does this save time for parents, but it enables children to feel secure that they will be taken care of.
The Role of the Adult
When beginning the process, it’s important to evaluate your daily routine and identify the times you will take your child to the bathroom. This is a commitment! In the beginning, you will want to take your child to the bathroom every 15 – 20 minutes (that’s 50 times in a child’s typical day!) or whenever you notice that your child normally urinates. Eventually, you’ll focus trips to the bathroom during all transitions: when they wake up, before they leave the house, before and after meals, before and after naps, before going to bed.
Never scold or over-congratulate a child. Though it can be hard to not clap or praise, you want to ensure that the child is not relying on this type of praise; as your clapping fades, they may start regressing since they are no longer getting the response they expect. Instead, be direct and to the point. Let them know that they used the toilet and that they should be proud of themselves.
Word choice and phrasing is critical. Never ask the child if they want to use the toilet (because the answer will usually be no). Instead, speak declaratively: “It’s time to use the toilet” or “Let’s use the toilet before we…”. In later stages, you will start to check in with them to see if they need to as they gain confidence, but this will vary from child to child.
If they do not make it to the toilet in time, use positive words and avoid shaming. Children need to feel reassured. In the moment, let them know that they are wet and that it is time to change their clothes. Allow them time to change and do what is needed to feel dry again.
Prioritizing the Process
Toileting learning can and should be a positive and relatively quick process for both parent and child. But before beginning the process with your child:
- Make sure you and they are not experiencing other life changes (like a new job, welcoming a new brother or sister, or moving to a new house) or anything that may disrupt your or their normal routine (going on vacation, having family visit, etc.)
- Plan to designate two solid weeks to provide consistency and time to develop new routines ; the process should never feel rushed
About Hala Kahiki
Designed for children 18 months – 6 years, Hala Kahiki is the first and only authentic Montessori school on Lāna’i. Under the guiding influence of specially trained teachers, children work with multi-sensorial materials to help them learn to think critically and become well-rounded global citizens. We would love to partner with you to give your children the best-possible early childhood education; please let us know how we can help you achieve your goals for your child.