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Ask A Montessori Teacher - Toilet Learning, Going from Potty to Toilet

Otto Toilet Learning at How we Montessori

Welcome to a new series I've titled 'Ask A Montessori Teacher'. I often have questions that I would like to ask someone who is Montessori trained. Sometimes I feel like I need reassurance, sometimes I need new ideas and suggestions or just someone else's point of view. Do you ever feel like that?

The person I go to for Montessori parenting questions is Meghan Hicks. She is a parent to two boys who she has raised in a Montessori way since birth. Meghan has run toddler groups, homeschooling groups, she now works with individuals and families and lectures internationally. She has experience and training in 0-12yrs (wow!). We hope that she will do adolescence training soon, so she can help us with that age group too. Meghan's advice has made the difference to my parenting and I hope that she can help you too. 

If you have any questions about Montessori parenting (or home schooling or hosting Montessori groups) at any point within the 0-12yrs age group, please leave a comment. The first two questions are mine and are about toddlers but she is happy to answer questions that arise throughout childhood. I'm excited to see the questions that you have! Today's question is about toilet learning. 

Q: My toddler has been successfully using the potty for over a year. When we travel we use a travel potty. He does not like and will not use a toilet even at home, it's always the potty. How can we best support our toddler to use the toilet? We only have a step stool at the toilet, would you suggest greater support like little steps with a hand rail or something else?

A: In infant toddler classroom communities we usually have our potties and our toilets co-located so that children can choose which one they would like to use. Bear in mind that a lot of the things that happen effortlessly (or seemingly so!) in Montessori classroom communities, happens because children observe each other and self care routines are modelled consistently and continuously every day.

I would initially suggest that it is not essential for a toddler to use the toilet. If they prefer the potty and you are happy to support them, then I would not be at all concerned about extended potty use. In fact, potty use actually puts the child’s physical body in the ideal position for pooping, and encourages healthy sphincter action as well as the complete emptying of the bowels. Because we have conscious control over our bowel sphincter (versus our bladder sphincter which is only partially under conscious control), pooping in the right position leads to good bowel habits right from the start and reduces the risk of constipation (a common problem for toddlers). The potty also has the added benefit of being portable, and being used by a single person (making it a much cleaner option).

Obviously the toilet is a more convenient option for you, so if you are really invested in it, then you will need to set up the environment for maximum success and maximum independence.

  • Ensure that the toilet paper is not located too far from the toilet. If your child has to reach precariously over a large gap between the toilet and the wall, they will not be able to use the toilet paper independently and this will undermine their confidence.
  • Make sure that your toilet seat is not too big for your child’s bottom. If they feel as though they might fall in, they will not want to sit on the adult sized seat. Add a toilet seat adapter to your toilet to make the seat smaller. Keep that adapter on the toilet at all times. If you only have one toilet, everyone else will have to remove and replace the adapter when they use the toilet. If your toddler has to manoeuvre a seat adapter into place before they use the toilet they will likely have a toilet accident. If your toddler has to wait for you to put the seat adapter into place before they use the toilet, they will resent the loss of independence.
  • Make sure your child has something to hold onto. Establishing the habit of holding onto the toilet seat at home, will mean that your toddler holds onto the toilet seat everywhere else. Communal toilets are not very clean, so bear this in mind and start how to mean to continue. Even the smallest change to toileting rituals is disconcerting for a young child. So provide a hand rail of some kind.
  • Set up a small bench where your toddler can sit down to remove their clothing. Toddlers are top heavy, so they cannot manage the removal of clothing whilst standing up, or bending forwards. Your toddler won’t be able to climb to the toilet seat with pants around their ankles, so they will likely have to remove their pants entirely. If you have a daughter, put her in shorts for the duration of toilet learning - it’s too complicated to master holding skirt or dress up out of the way, along with all the other skills needed for success.

Lastly... many toddlers are frightened by the loud flushing of the toilet. And many toddlers are inexplicably saddened or distressed by the thought of their faeces being swept away out of sight. If you have a toddler who is affected by either of these fears, please be sensitive to their emotional expressions, and be prepared to reassure them in a consistent way each time.

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