In this article, you will learn what Montessori potty training is and how you know your child is ready for this process. You will also learn how to prepare your child’s potty learning environment and get book recommendations for yourself and your child.
Montessori potty training 101
No discussion of parenting a toddler is complete without a conversation about potty training. In fact, there are probably as many different theories and techniques for toilet training as there are dirty diapers in your garbage at the moment!
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a quick fix for your potty training dilemma, you won’t find it here. In Montessori, learning to use the potty is regarded as a natural process that the child undergoes at his or her own pace.
Let’s get to it.
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Potty “Learning,” Not Potty “Training”
The phrase potty training really isn’t even used amongst true Montessorians.
That’s right—perhaps the best way to explain the Montessori approach to a child’s transition from diaper to toilet is to break down the terminology. In the Montessori community, this transition is often referred to as potty “learning” as opposed to potty “training.”
This distinction is subtle but important because it acknowledges the process as a natural one that is learned by the child with little or no real intervention from parents or other caregivers. Like all other learning that takes place, it is the adult’s role to follow the child and provide support as he or she learns to use the toilet.
This is quite different from the mainstream parenting approach of potty training a child using rewards and incentives.
A Prepared Bathroom Environment
Since potty learning is truly a natural process, you may be wondering what exactly you’re supposed to do as a parent to support your child as he or she learns to use the toilet properly. One of the very first things you can do is prepare the environment.
The concept of a prepared environment may be familiar to you as it’s a common principle in Montessori pedagogy. Just as a Montessori teacher prepares the classroom to support optimal learning, a Montessori parent can prepare the bathroom at home to facilitate effective toilet learning.
At a minimum, preparing the bathroom environment means providing a kid-sized toilet for your little one to use as well as a place where he or she can wash up afterwards. Other helpful items may include a hamper for soiled underwear, a basket of favorite books, and a stool for reaching the sink.
It’s best to prepare the bathroom environment well in advance so that it’s ready when your child begins to show interest in using the toilet. This usually happens around 12 months, though every child is different.
Signs Your Child Is Ready to Toilet Learn
Unfortunately, there has become a stigma around toilet training in mainstream parenting circles. If a child is not fully potty trained by age 2, the parent is often blamed for not training the child properly.
Of course, this creates unnatural and unhealthy pressure for moms and dads, and in turn, the children themselves. Thus, it’s important to note that using the toilet is not something that should ever be forced on a youngster.
Instead, the caregiver should observe the child for signs of readiness. These could include:
- Having dry diapers for longer periods of time
- Removing diapers independently
- Communicating that a diaper has been soiled
- Watching other family members use the toilet
- Isolating themselves while using the bathroom (i.e., under a table or behind a door)
Supporting Your Child’s Toilet Learning
While you should never force your child to use the potty, there are certainly things you can do to move things along in the right direction so long as your little one is developmentally ready for toilet learning. In fact, you can even set the stage early on with a few simple strategies.
Prior to Potty Learning:
- Use cloth diapers so your child knows what it feels like to be wet.
- Talk to your child openly about natural body functions while changing his or her diaper. (e.g., “I see you’ve gone wee. Everyone does. Let’s get you cleaned up.”)
- Change your child’s diaper in the prepared bathroom environment to support healthy associations.
- Change your child while he or she is in the standing position so your youngster can participate in the process of removing clothing.
During Potty Learning:
- Encourage your child to take potty breaks every half hour or so, but avoid interrupting an activity if possible.
- Use cloth training pants that are easy for your little one to pull up and down independently.
- Accidents will happen. Respond calmly and matter-of-factly; don’t punish or demonstrate negative emotions.
- Avoid rewarding a successful potty experience. Using the toilet is a natural thing, and your child’s growing independence is reward enough.
Be Prepared for Setbacks in Toilet Learning
It’s more common than not for children to experience setbacks and regressions while potty learning. This can be due to some sort of disturbance or transition at home such as a move, a new baby, or divorce.
Or, it can happen for no apparent reason at all. While you may feel frustration or even disappointment, it’s important that your child see that you take it in stride and remain consistent.
Toilet learning should be a gradual process, and your little one should feel free to navigate this process without shame or pressure.
Book Recommendations for Montessori Potty Training
Want to learn more? While this post is intended to provide the basics of Montessori toilet learning, there’s much more information available if you know where to find it.
Here are my recommendations for books related to the Montessori approach to potty training.
- Toilet Awareness: Using Montessori Philosophy to Create a Potty Learning Routine
- The Tiny Potty Training Book: A Simple Guide for Non-Coercive Potty Training
- Toilet Learning: The Picture Book Technique for Children and Parents
What suggestions do you have for other parents experiencing toilet learning alongside their children? Share your successes and any obstacles you’ve overcome!
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