The Montessori Approach to Toilet Training Your Child

A Montessori Approach to Toilet Training Children Sixteen Months to Three Years

At LMS we will support your child’s toilet learning process when you have committed to the taking this journey with your child. The toilet learning journey starts when the child shows an interest in the toileting process around 16-18 months of age when the sensitive period for toilet learning begins. Bypassing this period and waiting until the child is two years and older makes the learning process much more difficult for the child. There are different developmental changes the child is undergoing then and responding to the toilet learning process is difficult at that time.

“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)

A natural, gradual process
Toilet learning is a natural and gradual process that develops at the child’s pace, rather than when the parent decides the child is going to be toilet ‘trained’. To bring awareness to the toilet learning process it is a good idea to encourage the interested toddler to sit and imitate others – even before bladder and bowel control has begun.

Toddlers around 16 months of age start showing an interest in the toileting functions as their bodies slowly begin developing the physical ability to control bladder and bowel. They enjoy flushing the toilet, and watching the water go down the drain. As their fine and gross motor skills develop, toddlers also become interested in dressing and undressing themselves. At this stage, it would be best to choose clothing they can manage themselves by being able to pull their own pants up/down. Elastic-waist trousers are the best to use at this stage of toilet learning.

As the child progresses along the toilet learning process, using cloth and plastic training pants not only aid the child in learning that wet clothes are uncomfortable and need to be changed, but also vital motor and coordination skills for successful toilet learning. Disposable diapers and pull-ups are good at keeping the child dry; however, they do not allow the child to feel wet and uncomfortable which can delay the toilet learning process.

Give independence
Once the child is showing interest in using the toilet, the bathroom can be set up to give the child as much independence as possible. Toddlers thrive on doing things independently and preparing the bathroom to encourage independence expedites the toilet learning process. Providing easy access to the laundry hamper for soiled clothing, a stack of clean underwear and elastic waist pants/shorts enables the child to take ownership of the process. But most importantly, the toddler needs an uninterrupted block of time to complete the process. Toddlers cannot move at adult speed. They do not have the necessary fine/gross
motor skills or the developmental maturation of adults.

“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)

The adult’s role
It is best for the parent to support the child but not become emotionally involved. To assist the child in the process of learning to use the toilet, the adult can utilize some techniques below:

1. Find ways to make the child feel confident, for example, a stool for the feet when using the toilet
2. Encourage the child to use the toilet at times when s/he normally does e.g. upon waking, before going outside, after coming in from outside, after lunch/before nap and bedtime.
3. When encouraging toileting, calmly say to the child “It’s time to use the toilet” rather than “Do you want to go to the toilet?”
4. Never force, scold or over-congratulate a child for toileting.
5. Do not interrupt the child’s activity and tell her/him to use the toilet. Wait until the activity has been completed before suggesting toilet use.
6. Timers work very well in getting the child to use the toilet without adult direction. Set it depending on your child’s stage of toilet learning. Introduce the timer and the sound to your child explaining that whenever the timer (the sound) turns on; it’s time to use the toilet.
7. Don’t compare your children’s progress. Each child will learn at her/his developmental pace.

When they don’t make it in time…
Toileting accidents are normal in the toilet learning process. Setbacks after plenty of success are part of the learning process and children quickly learn muscle control to make it to the toilet in time. If your child soils the clothing, it’s important to stay calm and be reassuring. You may wish to say, “I see you are wet. Let’s go get some dry clothes.” Your child can change independently into the clean clothing from the supply in the bathroom. Toddlers need plenty of time to complete tasks. It is important to let them complete their tasks at their own pace and give help if they ask for it or seem overwhelmed – “may I help you” or “would you like some help” are toddler appropriate phrases before attempting to help them.

If you observe your toddler clearly needing to use the toilet but not ready to leave the activity to toilet, inform her/him that it’s OK to stop and use the toilet first. The activity is safe and will be ready to use after toileting but toileting cannot wait. When toddlers feel reassured they will be more inclined to use toilet readily upon suggestion.

As with all things developmental, certain issues can cause a setback to the toilet learning process. A birth of a younger sibling, a divorce, a move to a different home, an illness or some other upheaval in daily life can cause short term setbacks. The setback usually resolves itself if the child is allowed time to process through the difficult situation with empathy and patience.

Additional resources: Montessori guide toilet learning video made by

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