Toilet Learning — How to Potty Train Your Toddler the Montessori Way

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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!


Toilet Readiness

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… !


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35 thoughts on “Toilet Learning — How to Potty Train Your Toddler the Montessori Way

  1. ahh i needed this! I think my Son is almost ready. Not quite yet but he is already starting to announce when he needs to “caca” or just did. I will try applying these techniques..fingers crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awe, this is great! I love how you added the infographics. I wish I would have known these tactics with my four. I’ll remember them for grandbabies in like 20 years from now because I refuse to think my kids will ever have sex – ew. Have a very blessed day! Thanks for posting =)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We are a Montessori family and put this plan in place for several months. However, we also used the book “Oh Crap” which is very much complementary to the Montessori approach, but it is focused on making it all happen more quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a fabulous post. Though we are a long way away from this in our house, I am definitely going to pin this post and keep it in mind for when this time comes! I like the idea of readiness and keeping an eye out for those signs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lovely post. I toilet trained my twin twice, the first time was when they were about 18 months, i tried to train them, i was following people’s saying that by 18 months, kids should be ready for toilet training but it was a fail as they were not ready. I tried again when they were a little over 2 years and it was a success with LESS stress

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have no idea how much I needed this. My child is 16 months old and I think he’s been showing signs of readiness, but after reading this I know he has. I’m going to use these tips to help him start to transition to the toilet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m about to get started with this though it will be impossible to stay in doors for such an extended period of time. I have noticed that every morning and every evening when we take off her nappy and put her in the bath she has a wee. I have tried a few times to get her onto the toilet but she is scared of falling in so going to get her a booster seat. Do you not like pullups?


    1. We went outside in the yard when toilet training — just not out to stores or friends’ houses or anything like that. 🙂

      Pullups are basically the same thing as diapers. I prefer going straight to underwear if the expectation is that your child will now eliminate in the toilet — kids can feel it better if they have an accident in their underwear. Pullups are ok if you’re still in the teaching self-dressing stage, but once you’re ready to commit to being fully toilet trained, I would stick with underwear. [Plus it will save you some money!]

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am still assisting with dressing at the moment my daughter is 18 months. She can put her tops or dresses on (and take them off) but not her trousers. I’m just scared of a poop accident in the pants. I have a queasy stomach lol


    2. These infographics are great- so helpful! We tried during Pearl’s sensitive period but it just didn’t stick. I really appreciate how attentive you are in this post to the readiness of the child and how to talk about it in grown up terms. Great post!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My son is 3.5. We have tried the things you have listed and many other methods! My son flat out says no. I have tons of underwear he wanted. I have a separate potty also a step stool and even a potty seat for the big toilet. I believe he knows what to do but just refuses.. HELP!!!!!


    1. Boys are hard! At that point, I would probably just get rid of all the diapers in my house. They just aren’t there anymore. The only choice is to wear underwear. He might start out by just peeing all over your house, but be consistent about making him clean it up and change himself every single time. It could be a really rough 3-5 days, or he could just pick it up the first time.


  9. I remember the summer my daughter instantly toilet trained herself. We had a kiddie splash pool in the back yard and explained that diapers were not allowed in the pool. She simply decided she no longer needed diapers and would tell us when she needed to use the toilet. It was a miracle! But go figure: teaching that she should wear a swim suit when in the pool somehow was more difficult to convey to her. Well, it was just the back yard…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My son is almost 4 and has motor and speech delays. He is capable of controlling when he eliminates but I’ve given up on potty training because it has lead to him holding it in. If he’s in underwear he will hold it all day until he can no longer hold it and then has an accident. Any advice on how to potty train him, when he shows all the signs and is capable of controlling it, just won’t do it?


    1. I’m not a doctor (or trained in motor and speech delays), so I’m hesitant to give you any advice on that. I’d suggest talking to his pediatrician or any specialists he might be seeing for the delays. 🙂


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