We know talk of advice on when and how your child "should" use the toilet is almost always slightly controversial. We fully understand that the timing of toilet independence, like many choices in parenting, will be a personal decision.
There’s no judgement here - no matter what you choose.
There’s also a few slightly different schools of thought on Toilet Independence within the Montessori community. The info below is from our Montessori Infant Toddler Teacher (MACTE) and Director of Infant and Toddler programming at the Montessori Teachers College.
She’s just one voice, albeit a smart one :), among thousands in the Montessori community.
Why Montessori Calls it Toilet Independence and Not Potty Training
The word training makes us focus on the end result, i.e. the child has been trained to use the toilet, and can take our focus away from the PROCESS of learning how to use the toilet. A process that varies for each child.
Learning how to use the toilet is a natural stage of development and one that most children will eventually master. Trusting that your child will learn how to use the toilet independently (when they're ready), helps us to have more patience and compassion throughout the process. It allows us to recognize the need to break toilet independence down into steps (introducing the potty to the home early, practicing sitting on the potty first with pants on, practicing pulling pants down independently, etc.) and follow the child.
The adult's role in toilet independence is not to "train" the child how to use the toilet but to observe signs of readiness and guide the child towards toilet independence.
Toilet Independence From Birth
Elimination Communication - have you heard of it?
It’s basically the idea of toilet independence from birth.
You observe your infant’s signs that they need to poop or pee. When you’re clear on what those signals are, you move your infant onto the toilet to eliminate directly into it.
Some Montessori enthusiasts use this approach as it is technically child-led. You’re following an infant's cues for bathroom use. Parents also rave about the minimal use of diapers and waste.
Of the 4 of us that work at The Montessori Room, none of us have direct experience with this method in our own homes, so I’ll direct you to one of the most popular resources on this topic if you’d like to learn more >>>https://godiaperfree.com/
If you have done Elimination Communication, I’d LOVE to hear about your experience. I’ve never done it and am really curious about how easy or hard it is. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Toilet Independence In Toddlers
Most Montessori schools take the approach that children will use the toilet when they’re ready. You just have to look for the signs and guide them.
This approach, like most things in Montessori, is all about respecting the child and the idea that they will learn something when they’re ready.
This differs slightly from some other methods that give parents full control over when a child is using the toilet independently. Certain methods encourage a specific age or timeframe, regardless of whether or not the child seems ready.
What are the main signs you’re looking for:
They tell you they’ve soiled their diaper- this signals an awareness of the process. They may tell you with simple words or non-verbally, by pointing or pulling on their diaper.
They regularly stay dry through naps and throughout the day for 2-3 hour periods - meaning they can physically hold their urine.
They show interest in using the toilet - they might ask you questions when you’re using the toilet, request to sit on it, or become fascinated with the water (flushing, reaching in, etc).
They have a special place in the home they like to poop - meaning they’re aware of the fact they’re about to have a bowel movement.
The General Montessori Approach
Below is the basic Montessori approach to toilet training, without writing a novel.
If you feel like this approach would work well for your family, check out Sarah Moudry’s book Toilet Awareness: Using Montessori Philosophy to create a Potty Learning Routine.
She includes all the specific information you’ll need to implement this method at home - including the setup, language, and FAQs.
Around this age, you can also begin to talk to your child about bodily functions while doing diaper changes, as well as begin doing diaper changes in the bathroom. This will help them build the vocabulary and correct associations around using the potty.
When your child can stand, you can also begin standing diaper changes to promote more independence around bowel movements and urination.
For toddlers, it’s a good idea to choose comfortable, loose clothing, specifically pants with elastic waistbands. Not only is it better for movement in general but it’s great to give young children the option to pull down their own pants when beginning a diaper change or when they start using the potty.
You can also have them get their own diaper and wipes when they’re still in diapers or provide a laundry basket and clean clothes in the bathroom so a child can grab fresh clothes for themselves if they have an accident.
Create routine and consistency
The Montessori approach is gentle and routine-led.
Begin by offering the potty at times when your child would normally pee or poop, for instance upon waking, before going outside, after coming in from outside, after lunch/before nap etc.
Use a neutral phrase, like “It’s time to use the toilet” rather than “Do you need to go potty?” because the answer to that question will always be no!
And always avoid forcing a child to use the toilet to avoid any stress or negative emotions around the situation.
Some children find it helpful to have a visual schedule. Check out our Routine Cards here, which includes 6 "Use the Toilet" cards.
Avoid praise or too much positive reinforcement
It’s simply a biological process that you want them to feel comfortable doing, not one we want a child doing for their parents' benefit. Avoid phrases like “You’re a big boy/girl now”, “Great job”, or “I’m so proud of you” and stick with the always useful “You did it”.
Choosing the Right Approach
As always, choose the approach that’s right for your family.
One important note to keep in mind, no matter which method you choose, is to keep the process as emotion-free as you can.
Mentally prepare yourself that this process can be challenging but it’s best to avoid shaming or showing frustration.