Toddlers and Toilet Training

“There should be no pressure, no reward or punishment, no adult deciding when the child should learn to use the potty. The environment is prepared and the child is free to explore and imitate in these natural developmental stages.” (The Joyful Child)

One of the largest works of the toddler is that of toileting. The sensitive period for a toddler is believed to begin around 18 months, so most children start our program ready to begin the exploration of becoming toilet aware. For the child, this doesn’t happen over a weekend or in a couple of weeks. It is a process of a child becoming aware of a need that they have, and retraining the body and mind. Using the toilet is a very natural and gradual process that develops at the child’s pace, not the parent’s.

Typical signs of readiness include:
·     Diaper staying dry for longer periods of time
·     Ability to push down and pull up pants
·     General interest in the toilet
·     Using the toilet periodically with success

Starting at Home

Once you’ve observed the signs of readiness, begin having your toddler start using the toilet as part of your everyday routine at home. This may begin by having your toddler sit on the toilet when they wake up in the morning and sitting on it at night before bedtime. By making it part of the routine, toddlers know what to expect and become more comfortable and familiar with toilet training very quickly. To help your toddler conquer this large task and feel more confident doing so, it is important to offer a toilet that is on the floor that they can get on and off of independently, or safe steps up to an adult sized toilet if preferred. Also consider the child’s clothing – do their pants have tricky clasps or buttons that they are not able to do/undo independently? It is helpful to have toddlers in loose, elastic waist band shorts/pants when toilet training to help them be as independent in the process as possible. When a child has involvement in the process, they then also have ownership of the process.

A large part of the Montessori philosophy is based around respect of all people, and treating humans as capable beings. This means the language that we use when talking about toilet training is positive, respectful and factual. Some phrases that we use in the classroom that can be incorporated into toilet training at home may include the following:

  • “Your pants are wet, let’s go change them.”
  • “You peed in the toilet, just like mom and dad.”
  • “Would you like to sit on the toilet?”
  • “Let’s try standing to change your diaper since you are so stable.”
  • “Can you help me pull down your pants please?”

As your child transitions into underwear, it may be helpful to have them only wear underwear (no pants) when at home. By doing so, they have fewer layers that are likely to get wet and will notice their bodily functions much faster and easier. When leaving the house with a toddler who is toilet training, it is important to bring extra pairs of underwear, pants, wet wipes, and bags for wet clothing. Having a “travel toilet” in the car is also always a great idea.

Allowing your child to regularly try sitting on the toilet sets them up for success, rather than waiting for them to tell you they need to go or waiting until it is too late.

Building Confidence at School

“Learning to use the toilet is a natural process that begins when your child’s desire to be grown up and his neurological development have reached the point where he can control his bladder and bowels. We don’t train children to use the toilet, we support them when they are ready.” How to Raise an Amazing Child: The Montessori way to bring up caring confident children by Tim Seldin

When signs of readiness are clear, we are here to help toddlers succeed. This will mean conversations between teachers and parents about whether the toddler is showing interest in using the toilet at home, how regularly they are wet, etc. When the parents and teachers feel the toddler is ready to transition to underwear, we ask parents to send in many extra pairs of underwear and pants, as accidents will occur for the first few days/weeks. Toddlers often have accidents, and this is not something we ever treat in a negative way. Instead, you will hear us say something like, “Oh look, your pants are wet, let’s go change them.”

Toddlers at school use a toilet that is their size, get changed standing up, are asked to help with the dressing and undressing process. We have a mirror in the bathroom so that they can see themselves, and their body parts, and are always asked to flush the toilet and wash hands. We have specific times of day when we do toileting with toddlers, and those times are more frequent when a child is just starting to wear underwear (usually every 45 minutes to 1 hour).

Working as partners, with your child as the natural guide, toileting can be a successful endeavor. To read more about this amazing stage and the Montessori approach with your Toddler, check out The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies.