Toilet Training: A Key How to Succeed

How to handle toilet training? It seems to often become a great source of anxiety and frustration for parents, but it doesn’t have to be. In Montessori Infant and Toddler classrooms, we use a time-tested, practical and respectful way to support toileting.

What does actually a Toilet Training mean?

Toilet training is the process through which a child learns to control their body and sphincters, in order to eliminate into a potty chair or toilet, rather than involuntarily into a diaper. We are born without the capacity to do this: the newborn child, of course, can’t walk to the toilet, but also lacks properly developed nerves to control that part of the body. Physiologically, children usually become capable of toileting during the second half of their first year – right around the time they get very mobile, sit and crawl well, and begin to stand up. 

Motivation to “hold it” – how to develop it?

Of course, physiology is just the start. Next comes the trickier bit: for the child to understand their bodily functions and develop the motivation to “hold it”. Understanding comes from experience and becoming acquainted with one’s own body. Children tend to have an easier time toilet training if they had been spending time without a diaper, if they have used cloth diapers over disposables at least part-time (as they offer much more physical feedback than our ultra-dry-touch modern inventions), and if their caregivers explained and described things to them during diaper changes. 

toilet training in Montessori

Motivation is when most problems arise

All too often, adults resort to bribes, praise or punishments to “motivate” a child to toilet train, unnecessarily and often counterproductively – after all, a child who is anxious to disappoint or displease their parents is much more likely to have a nervous accident. Please avoid this mistake! All the motivation a child needs is innate: many children will find being wet uncomfortable, it means stopping play in order to go wash and change, and most of all they want to be “like their parents”.

So how do we go about things?

As soon as your child is able to stand, change diapers standing up (it is perfectly possible to manage with soiled diapers, but if you don’t trust me, at least try it with wet ones) rather than lying down. This allows the child a much more direct view and understanding of what is happening, as well as possibility to participate – pulling up the diaper, and so on.

During each diaper change, sit the child on the potty, at first just for a few moments. This can be as you’re fetching a clean diaper; the purpose is to get the child used to the idea of it. Now wait ...

The child will pee – quite by accident, at first. Probably they will be delighted and intrigued by this thing their body did. Acknowledge that it happened and name it for them – “I see, you peed in the potty” – but don’t praise or applaud, please – again, it’s unnecessary.

Once you see the child gets the idea – usually after pee ends up in the potty a few times – introduce time without diapers. Underwear is a great natural motivation, as most young toddlers are excited to wear it. Now, stand at the ready with some cleaner and towels, because ...

The child WILL have an accident. Acknowledge and explain what happened and have them sit on the potty again: it is important to establish this connection. Afterwards, have your child assist with the clean-up – even if it’s only by taking their wet pants to the washing machine (the idea is that they will be involved rather than off to play as you clean). 

And that – actually – is it. Lather, rinse, repeat. Trust me, it will work. Some puddles will happen, but likely not as many as you may think. Consider them a worthy investment into having your child out of diapers and into this next stage of their independence.

A Few Practical Notes

Selecting a potty. Please avoid all the light-up, music playing inventions – all that’s needed is a stable, non-slip, easy-to-clean model. Likewise, it’s not actually necessary to have more than one – we recommend placing it in the bathroom, or if that’s not practical, in the child’s bedroom. 

Take notes! Write down when your child fills their diaper, and then later on, whenever they have an accident. You might see a pattern emerge that will allow you to predict when exactly to put them on the potty.

Dress for success. For now, avoid adorable dresses, overalls, onesies or items with complicated and snaps. Settle for outfits that come on and (more importantly) off quickly and easily.

“I don’t need to go!” The time will come when you can trust your child on this, but that is likely far off in the future; how to show respect for their agency and avoid another puddle or a dash to the bathroom five minutes later? We recommend a simple workaround: tell your child that they don’t need to pee (perhaps they don’t!) but you require they sit on the potty (before leaving the house, after getting up from bed...). That way you’re not arguing whether they need to pee, you’re simply ensuring they have the opportunity to do so.

The toddler who won’t poop. This is fairly frequent, especially among children who were toilet trained later. Some children continue to require diapers, handholding or absolute privacy, or other special conditions for defecation long after they mastered urination. The best thing is to acknowledge their needs and meet them with a calm, respectful, matter-of-fact manner without calling attention to it or forcing anything as you wait for this to resolve itself; and make sure they are eating plenty of fiber and drinking water to avoid painful constipation. 

Sleep. The ability to stay dry at night usually develops anytime between two and six years of age. Therefore, some children, even while fully toilet-trained when awake, continue to use diapers for sleep. This is nothing to worry about; we recommend discussing with a pediatrician after age six just in case there is an underlying physiological issue, or if bedwetting returns after a prolonged period of dryness.


By Michaela Tučková / Toddler Teacher

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