Toilet Learning Tips – Do it the Montessori Way

In this post, Irene – the author of an amazing Montessori parenting blog, Montessori Life As We Know It shares her successful experience during the process of toilet training her toddler.

I am often asked about Joshua’s toileting. He attends his Montessori classes and has never had a miss there and the teachers consider him ahead of most of the kids in his group in this area and were surprised at how good he was even at just 2 years old. Am I surprised? Not really.

Joshua was mostly done with daytime toilet learning at 20 months old. You can read about our toilet learning experiences here and here. I don’t see this as a race. To me he did not start or finish particularly early or late, he started and finished in his own time.

Animals and their homes montessori nature sort matching free printables sign up

Our toilet learning experience was a pleasant one, it was difficult at some points but generally was not stressful. We have not rushed or hurried through.

We have taken our time. Joshua has done things when he has been ready and has easily moved through nighttime learning at his own pace.

When I think back to when we started this process. I have observed others with their own paths with their children toilet training. Some wait until later. Some start earlier. What I have observed is the sensitivity to this topic. There are strong feelings about this topic. Why?

Starting too early and we might damage a child. Start too late and we might cause irreparable damage or never learn. I don’t accept any of these arguments as a reason to delay or not commence toilet learning as life experience – not as a chore to be gotten through.

In our experience, we have allowed Joshua to show us where he is at with his toileting. He showed sensitivity to soiled nappies and wetness from quite early on. We would talk about the toilet/potty and talk about one day when he would use the toilet.

So how did we do it? There is no special trick or easy path in my opinion. There is no set formula for how a child should or will learn. But here is a quick summary of what we did do before we commenced and before we made changes as Joshua progressed:

1. Observe.

I considered removing nappies altogether to progress Joshua’s learning. This allowed my observations to improve. When and what signs was Joshua showing before he needed to go? How frequently? Was there a time of day that he usually needed to go? I observed. I watched and waited. What did he seem to have the most awareness of?

Initially, with Joshua, I noted he was quite aware of when he needed to poo and gave some very obvious signs that he needed to go.

This was an interesting observation for me as many people I spoke to said that their child found wee much easier to get under control, possibly as they have more practice at it each day.

Observation goes both ways – we have had an open-door policy to Joshua and he has been observing us using the toilet since he was young so it is a natural part of daily life, like eating or sleeping.

2. Plan ahead and have a robust plan in place prior to making changes.

There were many considerations and each of the things I put in place were based on the observations I had made. I put down a waterproof sheet. I left the door open.

I put up a night light in the bathroom. I considered putting a potty in Joshua’s room at night – we decided against this as we wanted Joshua to identify the bathroom as the place to go to the toilet, not his bedroom.

3. Be prepared to change your plans.

The best laid plans sometimes don’t work. Tweaking the setup or adjusting your approach – this includes your words as well as your actions – is expected.

I found that Joshua responded best to having 2 stations available, one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs toilet is small so we could not fit a potty in there so we put it directly outside the toilet. We set up a little chair, a bucket for soiled clothing and a basket for fresh clothing and underwear.

Upstairs we didn’t need a little chair as Joshua would sit on his step stool – which is just the right size for him to sit on – and change himself. I could also sit behind him to help him with his clothing or cleaning up.

Fairly quickly it became obvious that Joshua would be better off on the toilet so we set up steps and an insert on the toilet so he could do so, he can climb quite well.

4. Know what values your family holds – generally as well as regarding toileting – and try to remember these when things get difficult.

One thing I refused to do is the “dream wee” which is when you place your child on the toilet before going to bed yourself (they are still half asleep) so that they go to the toilet and theoretically can last until morning.

As Joshua sleeps through the night it felt wrong to me that we should wake him and part of his experience of learning is that he needs to learn to wake himself and take himself to the toilet when he needs to go.

This has come to him naturally but has taken some time. He gets himself up, he comes to us to ask us to go with him as he likes company in the bathroom at night. He gets up to the toilet independently. He takes himself back to bed.

For us, it was important that he learn this in his own time and way, no matter how many times we told him that he needed to get up or wake himself up at night to go to the toilet it was a new and difficult thing to do.

So we waited it out. We did not rouse him because it suited us for him to start or to finish toilet learning. We talked a lot about how good it would be to wear undies all the time and not nappies.

And wouldn’t you know it he told us that he wanted to wear undies and not nappies at night and has understood that he needs to get himself up to go to the toilet – or ask for help?

For us, it felt wrong to wake him, for others this might not be the case. For others there are other factors that are more important to them – their child might drink a lot of water before bed so they feel that this is necessary for example. Whatever works for you.

Joshua has learned so much during toilet learning – but so have I.

I have learned:

To trust and respect in a child’s ability to master his own body.
Joshua is only 33 months old and it is hard to think that he was not yet 2 (20 months old) when he completed day learning and 30 months when he completed night learning.
To engage a child during day to day processes and doings.

I see toilet learning as opportunities for bonding and love, not a time for resistance and power struggles. I am so glad that we have avoided this over toilet learning. I see Joshua exerting his will elsewhere and we can deal with that but toileting has never been an area where we have had issues.

I remember watching and waiting for signs that he no longer wished to be changed on his back and clearly remember how much happier he was when we talked about and then started changes standing up.
Referring to body parts by proper names.
Too often I have seen and heard parents referring to body parts by nicknames. This process has enabled us to refer to body parts properly so there is no mistaking what we mean.

I don’t think I have ever gritted my teeth and asked for strength so many times while we were toilet learning. Patience to understand that Joshua was learning. Patience to clean up another miss. Patience because he didn’t ask for the toilet when he needed to go. Patience because he refused to go and wet himself. Patience to remember that Joshua is and was just a little boy and still learning and not to take the opportunities away due to my own frustration.

The impact of positive and negative language.
All too often I observe people referring to a child’s miss as an accident. That in of itself to me has negative connotations and shame. I have observed parents getting angry and yelling at the child or at least raising voices and telling a child how disgusting it is that they didn’t go in the toilet.

How smelly it is, how big a mess they have made. We tried very hard to make experiences positive for Joshua. We referred to them as misses but as opportunities to learn. Joshua learned to pull down his pants, pull up his pants, wash his hands, wipe himself. Sometimes he needed to help clean up too, put his wet clothes into a bucket for washing. This is important even when the child is in nappies and still small.

The importance of experiences.
A child’s life is made up of experiences – both positive and negative. I believe those early experiences are so important and that it is my job to make Joshua’s early experiences the best that they can be. Toilet learning is an experience that he has had and one that he needed work at and master in his own time.

This is not an adult-led experience – I did not feel it right to let him get to *insert appropriate age* and then expect him to learn how to use the toilet immediately without any mistakes. As with anything like learning to walk, learning to feed himself, these things take time and deserve opportunities to master.

Kindness and understanding for toilet learning.
So often I hear of about how painful and frustrating and what a chore toilet learning/training is. I found it hard. The washing and cleaning up from it was not hard but if you’re anything like me you like a clean house. Having gone through the process I can say that I look at others – whether they are doing toilet training or learning – and I think that there needs to be a lot more kindness for those going through it, the child and the adult.

We hear about how the child missed again, or how the parent started too early or too late or other criticisms. Toilet learning is hard. For parents and children in earshot of such comments, it makes it harder and more frustrating. A little kindness for this process is requested and so much more helpful. We found encouraging Joshua’s little friends through the process too so helpful. We all get there in the end.

Seeing this small person go through such a challenging process makes my heart feel so big. Throughout all the obstacles and all the cleanups, one thing remains. Love is needed for this whole process. Love, understanding, and empathy for this little person who is growing up so quickly. All too soon it is over and before you, the toddler is gone and the child is in his/her place.

So the answer is: we didn’t do it. We provided opportunities to learn. The accomplishment is for Joshua alone. This has been his journey and we have been along for the ride to watch him progress from unknowing to knowing. Mastering his body and accomplishing self-care and life skills. We are pleased that we have never offered him rewards to do this, that he does this for himself and no one else.

Visit Irene’s blog to learn more about parenting the Montessori way!

Posted with permission from the author.

About Anastasia - Anastasia is an early childhood teacher and the founder of Montessori Nature - a blog about Montessori living and learning and nature-based explorations. With many years of experience working in a Montessori environment and homeschooling her children, she directed her passion for all things Montessori and nature into creating educational resources. You can learn more here and browse her printables on Teachers Pay Teachers.