How to Toilet Train Your Toddler

One of the things I actually quite enjoyed while teaching infants and toddlers was toilet training.  Strange, I know.  There’s just something about seeing a young child becoming more independent and feeling proud of herself that gives me such joy.  And then I did it with my own child, and it was even better!!!

I’d better start with this disclaimer:  I did not want to begin toilet training L.  I had a new baby, and L can be quite stubborn.  I foresaw potential power struggles and tantrums.  But L had other ideas.
About a month and half before L’s second birthday, she began taking off her diaper every time she was alone in her room for nap or overnight.  Every time.  I began to dread entering her room in the morning, as there were quite a few times that I found bright white toddler buttcheeks shining up at me while a poopy diaper lay on the floor next to the bed.  My friend and former co-teacher pointed out that maybe this meant L was ready for toilet training.  I said, “No way!”  I was just not ready.  L had been sitting on the toilet for months, but she never peed in it.  One day, I went in after nap and her diaper was off, as usual.  As soon as I came in, L ran to the bathroom, pulled out a diaper, and begged me to put it on her.  As soon as I put it on, she peed.  At that moment, I knew I had to give in and begin toilet training.  She could clearly control her bodily functions and did not want to make a mess on the floor or her bed.
We ran out to Target that night and looked at their underwear selection.  L is obsessed with princesses right now (although I’m pretty sure she doesn’t actually know what a princess is… she just loves the pretty dresses and crowns), so we bought a few packages with princesses, along with some cheaper pairs of plain undies.  I kind of went a little overboard and bought 42 pairs of underwear — only because I expected her to poop in a few and I was planning on just throwing those away.  Of course, she never ended up pooping in her undies, so now I have an overabundance of little girl undies.
When we got home that night, L helped me take the undies out of their packages and put them in the laundry.  Allowing L to help pick out undies and prep them for use helped her take ownership of them — she became invested in taking care of them and making sure they didn’t get messy.  I set up her bathroom upstairs and our downstairs bathroom with a bin full of undies, stepstools for the toilet, wipes to clean up accidents, and plastic bags to collect wet clothes.  The next day, we began as soon as L woke up!


As a teacher, I would always take toilet training kids to the bathroom every half hour in the first few days.  Well, my students at school listened to me a lot better than L does… She is very independent and does not like to do anything unless it’s her idea (kind of like a man, am I right?).  So I let it go, and we went when L wanted to.  There were many many many accidents that first day.  Seventeen, if I am remembering correctly.  Many of them were small, as she caught herself beginning to have an accident and ran to the bathroom.  The first day, she did not actually pee in the toilet very much at all.  Each time she had an accident, she would get a washcloth from the pile we keep in the dining room and wipe it up.  (I would clean it better after her).  Then she was responsible for taking off her own wet clothes and putting them in a plastic bag.  By the end of the day, I was quite discouraged.  I’ve toilet trained close to a hundred children over the years, but it’s different when it’s your own!  Their success or failure feels much more personal when it’s your own child.  I reminded myself that this was a normal first day of toilet training, and determined to stick with it.  The next day was slightly better.  The third day was even better than that.  And by the fourth day, L wasn’t having any accidents at all.  Just like that, she was toilet trained!  She does occasionally still have an accident (usually when she’s having too much fun to stop and go to the bathroom), and that is normal.  She just turned two!  And she does still wear a diaper while sleeping, as that takes a little bit longer to control.  But for all intents and purposes, L uses the toilet.


Now, I must admit that I did something that was not Montessori at all — I used the common m&m bribe for peeing on the toilet.  As a mom at home, sometimes you need to bend the rules a little bit for your own sanity!  However, I regret doing it.  I did it in the hopes that L would sit on the toilet more often just so she could get an m&m.  L didn’t really care about getting an m&m.  She decided that she was only going to sit on the toilet when she actually had to go, and the m&m that followed was just a happy side effect.  If I had to do it again, I would not offer an m&m in exchange for peeing on the toilet.
When your child is ready to be toilet trained, please DO NOT force her to sit on the toilet.  Peeing/pooping, eating, and sleeping are the only things young children have complete control over.  If you try to gain control over one of them, it can quickly escalate into a power struggle.  Your child may hold it in rather than doing what you want her to do, which is not healthy.  Let your child realize for herself that it is better to pee in the toilet than to have wet clothes.
*** We use the word “toilet” instead of “potty” in our house.  I hate the word “potty.”  It sounds so babyish.  But you can use whatever you like!

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