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Toilet training is actually something I kind of enjoyed when I was a toddler teacher — I know, I know, it’s strange. There’s just something about guiding teeny tiny people on their journey to independence that is so satisfying! I toilet trained close to 100 children during my teaching years, plus one so far here at home, so I put together some of my best tips and tricks for toilet training the Montessori way!
First, how do you know when it’s time to begin? There are a few common signs of toilet readiness that most children exhibit when they are ready — however, all children are different. Your child may only show a few of these signs, or your child may just be old enough that she is physically ready but just not interested because it is easier for her to have you change her diaper.
Montessori talks about “sensitive periods” a lot, and the sensitive period for beginning toilet learning is between 12 and 18 months. This does not mean that your child should be completely toilet trained by that age — it simply means that around that age your child will probably show an interest in the toilet and will begin to have more physical control over her own elimination. In my experience, the earliest I have had any children completely toilet trained was closer to the two year mark, while most are between two and three years old. I have observed that girls generally toilet train earlier, while many boys are more successful after 2.5 years of age.
So how do you know if your child has reached toilet readiness? If she knows when she is eliminating or tells you when she needs her diaper changed, she is probably ready. If your child hides behind chairs or goes to a specific corner of the room to poop in her diaper, she is aware of her bodily processes and able to control where she eliminates. Another sign is that her diaper may stay dry for hours at a time, with only a few wet diapers each day.
So what can you do before your child is ready to take the plunge and go straight to underwear? There are several steps you can take during that sensitive period time (or after, if you missed it!) to help prepare your child for toilet learning. First, once your child can stand, get rid of your changing table and change all diapers in the bathroom. Changing diapers while your child is standing up allows her to take an active part in the process as she can help with the diaper tabs and pulling up and down pants — and I actually find it to be easier than changing diapers with your child laying down. After you take off a dirty diaper, invite your child to sit on the toilet — even if it’s just for a second of two. This communicates that the toilet is where she will eventually eliminate, and it might even happen by accident on occasion!
Materials Needed for Toilet Learning
- Underwear — take your child out on a special shopping trip and let her pick out her own underwear. Buy extra. Sometimes poop accidents are so messy that you won’t want to save that pair of undies.
- Sweatpants — make sure your child is wearing clothes that are easy for her to pull up and down by herself. No jeans with zippers, overalls, or onesies!
- Stepstool — I like this one because it provides more space for you child to turn around before sitting on the toilet. Here is one that’s more aesthetically pleasing. 😉
- Extra clothes in the bathroom — to change into after accidents.
- Baby wipes — for wiping legs after accidents.
- Rags and disinfectant — for cleaning up accidents on your floors.
- Somewhere to put dirty clothes in the bathroom — such as a garbage bag or laundry bin.
- Optional: Child Seat for regular toilet — we don’t use one of these, but it may be helpful if your child is afraid of falling into the toilet.
What don’t you need? A separate potty seat. I mean, do you really want to empty that after your child successfully eliminates in it? Save the extra step and just use your regular toilet.
How to Toilet Train Your Toddler the Montessori Way
Okay. You have observed signs of toilet readiness in your child. You have set up the groundwork in getting your child accustomed to the bathroom and toilet, and you have bought all of the materials. You’re ready to go. Now what?
First, hunker down at home. Make sure you have no outside plans and that your child is healthy and well-rested. Don’t go ANYWHERE for 3 to 5 days. I won’t lie to you, the first couple of days are going to be difficult. You will question yourself and wonder if you should just give up and wait a few more months before trying again. DON’T QUIT. You both can do it.
Next, take your child’s diaper off and put on those special undies you two picked out together. Make a big deal about the undies. Talk about the characters on them. Remind your child that “You don’t want Minnie Mouse to get wet!” Tell her that she can keep her undies dry by running to the toilet when she has to pee.
In the beginning, take your child to the toilet every 30 to 45 minutes. You can read a book on the toilet to try to spend a little more time there, but never force it. Elimination is one of the few things toddlers have control over, and trying to force the issue could result in your child becoming sick from holding it in. Sometimes she will refuse to sit on the toilet when you tell her to — that’s fine. She may have an accident, or she may know her body and ask to go sit when she really has to go.
When your child successfully eliminates on the toilet, talk about your observations. What did it sound like when she peed/pooped on the toilet? What color was it? Use real, grown-up terms when discussing these things — your child doesn’t need to be baby-talked.
What about when your child has an accident? She will have many, many accidents. DON’T GIVE UP. The first time she has an accident, show her how to change herself. Have her sit on the toilet to see if there’s any more. Show her how to clean up the accident on the floor. The next time she has an accident, she must change herself and clean up the accident on the floor. This allows her to take ownership of the elimination process and provides more motivation to use the toilet instead. If she has a poop accident, dump the poop into the toilet — that’s where it belongs.
After about three days of consistently following these steps, your child will have fewer and fewer accidents and be more successful on the toilet by herself! Depending on her age, she will still occasionally have accidents — that is completely normal. Don’t berate her for accidents or punish her — just use the natural consequence of having her clean up the accident and change her own clothes.
Your child will still need diapers while she sleeps, as it is harder to control your body when you are not awake. It will be time to get rid of diapers overnight when her diaper is consistently dry in the mornings and she is able to wake up and use the toilet during the night instead of eliminating in her diaper.
And that’s it! This method has worked very well for me both in the classroom and at home, and I kind of can’t wait for my littlest one to be ready to start… !