Successfully "potty training" your child can be an intimidating task. Luckily, the Monti Kids Learning Team has some tips and tricks to navigate the Montessori toilet learning process with minimal drama! (Plus a Montessori Toilet Learning Kit that includes everything you need to get started.)
Is the adult ready for Montessori potty training?
Instead of “potty training,” or “toilet training” the Montessori method refers to the process as “toilet learning.” That’s because a child learns how to use a toilet through a process natural acquisition like walking or crawling, which don't require training.
Toddlers crave independence (or haven't you noticed 😉) and having to lie down while someone else changes their diaper will begin to bother them as they prefer to be on their feet and in charge of their own activities. Keeping this in mind can help motivate parents to approach toilet learning as a journey to independence.
Although many parents don't think about toilet learning until the toddler years, you can actually begin to prepare a child for success in this area beginning at birth.
Here are some easy steps to take in the months before officially kicking off the potty training process:
- During diaper changes, discuss what your child is feeling in the moment, using phrases like, “You’re wet,” or “Your diaper is full.” Exposing a child to this language will give them the tools to communicate their bodily functions when the time comes.
- As they begin to walk, you can make putting on pants a collaborative process, so that they are on their way to being able to pull down their pants by themselves.
- When you notice your little one can coordinate both hands together to do a task, you can give them self-care jobs like rubbing their hands together with soap under running water.
And that's the whole job! We are simply teaching our children about the words, feelings, and tools that will allow them to use the potty successfully.
Potty Training Tips from Montessori Experts
Preparing the Environment for Toilet Learning
You'll want to create a prepared, child-sized toileting environment before your child is ready to start learning to use the "potty" or toilet, maybe around 13-15 months. The magic of the prepared environment lies in the fact that you'll be ready to respond to your child's needs.
Once you have a prepared environment, you can start doing "stand-up" changes in your child's toileting area. Stand-up changes allow for more independence of a child as the child is able to collaborate more on the process, like pulling down their pants. You can set up a Montessori bar in the bathroom, or have your child hold onto the tub as you change them. After every diaper change, invite your child to sit on the toilet, so they get used to that routine.
Items for Toileting Environment
- A small "potty" seat or toilet a child can access independently
- A little basket with a collection of several books
- A small sink or source of water where a child can wash their hands
Observe the Child
There is no magic age for toilet learning as every child is different. But, there are both physical and psychological signs of readiness to watch for.
Two Physical Signs of Toilet Learning Readiness
Once a child is a confident walker, their sphincter muscles have formed, which means they have enough muscle control for toilet learning.
When you notice your child going for longer periods of time with a dry diaper, they are beginning to show signs of control.
Psychological Signs of Toilet Learning Readiness
- A child will learn the diaper is a foreign object and begin to try to rip it off.
- You may notice your child hiding behind a door or under a table during a bowel movement as they seek privacy.
- A child may show interest in what other family members are doing in the bathroom.
- A child may tell you they had a bowel movement or urinated.
Clothing for Toileting Independence
It's important to set your child up for success when they have an urge to go to the bathroom, and that can even come down to the type of clothes they're wearing. Overalls, big dresses and tights can get in the way.
Elastic pants are great for toilet learning as your child can learn how to pull them up and down easily. Your child will first learn how to pull up and down their pants through collaborating with you, before eventually learning how to do it independently.
(Read more about potty training boys here >)
Committing to the Toilet Learning Process
When your child is showing the signs of toilet learning readiness, it’s time to fully commit and make the switch from diapers to thick, cotton underwear.
The training underwear, also called training pants, will be absorbent so your child won't have urine running down their leg if they wet themselves, but they will still learn what it’s like to feel wet. We recommend sizing up, so your child can pull on and off their underwear independently.
During this time of toilet learning, you'll want to invite your child to sit on the "potty" or toilet about every 30 to 40 minutes, beginning when they wake up in the morning. If your child is in a group care setting, you'll want to make sure the caregiver follows your routine as closely as possible.
Some families choose to let their child still wear a diaper overnight in the early toilet learning stages. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to stay consistent, as it can be a confusing time for a child. If you decide to continue with a diaper overnight, watch for a streak of three to five mornings when your child wakes up with a dry diaper. That's an opportunity to switch your child to training underwear overnight.
You can prepare for middle of the night bed-wetting incidents by layering a child's sheets. Just put a second mattress pad and fitted sheet over the first set. That way, you'll only need to remove the top layer in the middle of the night. You can also lay out a dry change of pajamas. This will lead to better nights for the entire family.
You'll also want to be ready if your child has to go - while on the go!
Some tips include lining your car seat with puppy pads to make cleanup easier. You can also keep a travel potty in the back of your car. If your child has the urge, you can simply find a spot to pull over and line the potty with a diaper, which will make cleanup much easier.
Toilet Learning Struggles and Regressions
Some days it may feel like toilet learning is not clicking, while other days are successful. This is completely normal!
With our friends, we might say that our little ones are going through a regression, which may be the case, but in true Montessori style, avoid telling your child this or at the moment that they had an accident. We will continue to focus on the experience of being wet and dry. Remember, they are sensorial learners.
Say "Let's change those wet underwear," instead of "Uh-oh, you've had an accident." This way, we place emphasis on the sensation they are experiencing rather than something they did, which can result in shame. We don't want a child to feel bad about themselves or the process, but rather build their confidence as they continue to learn.
You can also expect regressions which may occur during big life changes like the arrival of a second child or moving homes. Even simple changes in health or routine like a cold or a dropped nap can produce regressions.
Be patient and try to focus on the successes.
What About Rewards?
In the Montessori approach to toilet learning, we avoid rewarding a child with prizes for using the toilet. Otherwise, your little one will start to expect a reward each time they have a success. The reward will lie in their pride as they grow in their independence.
Read more about rewards charts for potty use here >
Monti Kids Recommendations
We have linked some items to our affiliate Amazon.com for your convenience.
- To read more about toilet learning, Sarah Moudry's book Toilet Awareness
- A wipeable hamper for a child's wet clothes
- A small stool or bench a child can sit on to change into dry clothes
Montessori Toilet Learning Kithelps in the transition from diapers to toilet independence $90
- Floor Potty for independence
- 8 Illustrated Routine Cards to introduce self-care
- My Toilet Learning Journey board book
- Faucet Extender for easy handwashing
- Cloth Basket for supplies