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What Montessori Parents Do Differently - Toilet Learning

Montessori toilet learning at How we Montessori  Otto 22 months

Otto is now completely nappy free at 22 months. Over the last week, we've moved from nappies at night to one hundred percent in underwear. He was wearing a nappy at night but I found that he was dry almost all of the time. I started offering him the potty first thing in the morning and now he goes there himself as soon as he wakes so we stopped using nappies completely. So far no night time accidents. Otis (now 8yrs) was also completely nappy free at 22 months. How is it done? I followed the Montessori method of toilet learning.

What makes Montessori toilet learning different, is that it follows the development of the child and it is respectful of each child. It is gradual and at the child's pace. Previously I have published a parenting handout from Forest Bluff School (with permission) on Montessori toilet learning. I have republished this handout below. I hope it is useful! If your child/toddler attends a Montessori school, ask if they have any parenting or toilet learning handouts or if they run any workshops or information sessions on the topic. It's best, if possible, to read up on the topic while your child is still in infancy.


Indirect preparations for toileting
  • From birth, change your child's diaper as soon as she is wet to give plenty of indirect preparation (this can sometimes mean as often as every hour).
  • Using cloth diapers from the beginning helps immensely in developing awareness because they feel wet immediately. This immediate feedback helps the child make the connection between the urge to urinate and the result of releasing her muscles. Toilet training thereby occurs gradually, over time.
  • When your child is at the age of pulling up to standing, let her stand while you change her and talk about what you're doing, even involving the child where you can. This way, she can see what is happening and take an interest. 
  • If you haven't done so already, move the diaper changing to the bathroom when your child starts to stand and walk. This helps them make the appropriate associations between action and location.
When to begin toileting
Between twelve and eighteen months is the sensitive period for beginning toilet awareness. It can begin sooner or later, depending on the child. Look for signs of readiness:
  • An interest in cycles (bib now goes in the hamper, hamper goes to the basement, into the machine, etc. Child watches with interest and even follows along).
  • Child is walking.
  • You notice child touches her/his genitals.
  • Child is beginning to have bowel movements at certain times of day.
Sometimes a child exhibits none of these signs but will become interested as soon as you begin to draw her attention to toileting, so we still recommend beginning before 18 months.
Equip for toileting success!
  • To get started, purchase as many as 30 pairs of thick underpants. We recommend Gerber training pants which come 3 in a pack for about 5 dollars at Target (US). They are the most absorbent and least expensive, but durable. For success, the leg holes must be large enough and the underwear loose enough that it can be pulled up and down without extraneous effort on the child's part. For a child between 12 and 18 months, Gerber training pants, size two, is recommended. As the child approaches 18 months, or if she is large for her age, she will need size three.
  • Put a piece of rubberized flannel in the car seat and buy several sheets of it for the bed.
  • Be sure you have many pairs of pull-on pants for your child, as he may need to change frequently.
  • Have plenty of bed sheets so you can change them often.
  • Pull up nice rugs.
  • Find "Nature's Miracle" at a pet shop, to quickly and effectively clean rugs or the floor when necessary. This product removes not only the stain, but the smell, is safe for nice rugs, and can simply be left on the rug.
  • Set out small potties, a variety if necessary, and encourage the child to sit on them, praising when he or she does. Our favorite is the very small Baby Bjorn potty, costing about $10 in catalogs. There are two sizes, both useful, rather than the real toilet, helps the child in two ways: he can be more independent and feel more secure; and he can more clearly see his results-waste in the potty-afterwards.
  • Place a potty in each bathroom with a small bucket to the left and small basket of clean underwear on the right. A folded towel or bath mat under the three items creates a non-slip surface and an organizes appearance.  
Once you begin toileting
These first three points are the most important, because they have to do with drawing your child's attention to this part of our daily lives:
  • Let her see you and other family members sitting on the toilet as much as you can.
  • In the beginning, take your child to the toilet every half-hour or so and encourage her to sit on it while you sit on the adult toilet (just for a moment, as would be natural). Doing this helps your child to learn through the experience of using the toilet, and this works much better than asking your child," Do you need to go to the bathroom?" Which usually gets a "No!" even when they do need to go!
  • It is very important that your child change into dry underwear immediately after wetting it. We want her to be used to the feeling of dryness, and to respond right away to wetness.
  • In the early stages, your child could wear just her underwear from the waist down, so that using the potty and changing is simple and doesn't take long.
  • Timing is key with getting bowel movements into the toilets! If you notice that your child has a bowel movement around the same time each day, make it a routine time to go the bathroom together and sit on the toilets. If your child is irregular in his timing, watch him carefully and take him to the toilet immediately if he went in his underpants, so you can help him change, watch the BM go into the toilet and flush it down.
  • Continue your attempt to get him to sit and "hang out" on the toilet when you think a bowel movement might be on its way - you can even read books together to pass the time if that works.
  • Continue to try to involve the child in dressing and undressing. 
  • If the child urinates in her toilet, show her that you are putting the urine into the larger toilet and flushing. Then collaborate in redressing her, giving special attention to helping her learn to put her dry underwear on independently.
  • Then collaborate in redressing her, giving special attention to helping her learn to put her dry underwear on independently.
  • It helps in the early stages to have a potty in whatever room he's playing in so he can see it and get to it in time.
  • He should only wear pants that are easy to pull up and down himself, and could be naked or in underwear from the waist down when reasonable during this stage.
  • Throw out all diapers when you begin this stage. You child needs to be set up for success and sense our confidence that, eventually, he will be able to use the toilet every time.
  • Many children sleep too deeply to wake and use the toilet until they are older. There are different ways to handle this, depending on your child, her age, and the stage you've reached in toileting. Talk to your child's director. 
  • During the early stages of toilet training, bring a potty with you (to use at your destination) when you take your child out in the car. Place it in the bathroom of the house you are visiting, even if it's just a short stay. This helps set the routine of going to the bathroom upon leaving the house and upon arriving at destinations.
  • When out and about, take your child to public toilets often, before leaving the house and upon returning. We recommend making it a habit, and matter-of-factly saying, "We all sit on the toilet for a moment before going out and upon coming home". (Just get them to sit for a moment - if they pop back up or don't urinate, just ignore it and move on. Eventually, they will choose to use this opportunity.)
  • For special events or plane rides, we encourage you not to put your child back into a diaper, but rather, put a Nikki diaper wrap over her underwear. Made of soft waterproof fabric this diaper cover allows you to still check for wetness, so that the training period isn't interrupted. This is a nice " safety net" for you in certain public situations. 
  • Always keep a couple changes of pants and underwear in the car, so that you can return to the car for a quick change as soon as your child is wet, and then resume your shopping.
Every parent will find their own way on the toilet learning journey. We have a plane ride coming up so while I feel nervous regarding pubic accidents I'll be considering this advice. We are currently living in a small home, so our potty is not in the bathroom but nearby. If you have any specific questions on our toilet learning journey, please feel free to ask in the comments.  
Some of our previous toilet learning posts can be found here:

Other Montessori toilet learning resources you might find useful:

"A common misconception is that there is a goal in mind in that it's just an end product and that it should happen by a certain age which is not true, in terms of any acquisition any development a child is doing. For example with walking, a child can walk between 8 and 18 months, so there is a broad range in terms of when this acquisition is going to happen and it's same thing with toileting. It's a process there is preparation for and it will happen eventually and it needs to happen when the child is ready. It will happen when he decides not when the adult decides... With toileting we can offer, we can ask the child 'would you like to' but if he doesn't want to we can't make him. With choosing that work that might mean he might do part of that work. That happens commonly with toddlers, that they might only do a part of a cycle of work... and it might be the same with toileting they might only take their underwear on and off... it also might be a long process." - Toilet Learning from Montessori Guide.

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