One of the most human and possibly most underappreciated milestones that children master in the beginning of their young life is the completion of the much anticipated (by their parents) toilet learning. Aside from sleep it is probably the most discussed, lamented and celebrated topic between parents and teachers in a Montessori toddler community. Whether you believe in cloth diapers, elimination communication or, “The naked approach” the end goal is the same. Get them out of diapers and eliminating on the toilet!
Although toilet learning is far from glamorous it is one of the most intimate, and dear interactions you can have with a young child. It happens to be one of my favorite parts of being a Montessori toddler guide (believe me; I almost fell off my chair when I first made this realization as well!) As is true of almost anything in life, your mind set is the most important tool for success. However, I realize telling a parent to have a positive mindset about toilet learning can be as futile as telling a toddler to just, “Poop in the potty already!” What I have discovered is by understanding your child’s signs for readiness for toilet learning, some insight to the mysteries of the toddler mind and a good sense of humor toilet training doesn’t have to be the nightmare so many parents dread.
If you are wondering if your child is showing signs that she may be ready to begin toilet learning first consider these three questions.
1. Is your child physically capable of controlling the muscles and body parts involved in elimination?
By the time your child is walking upright independently they have actually been physically capable of, for lack of better words, “Holding it” for months! Generally speaking we don’t encourage toilet learning at six months (which is actually when they first gain control of these muscles) because there are so many other more important and more intriguing things to a toddler. Generally we begin toilet training when the child begins to show interest in the toilet and/or acknowledgment of elimination.
2. What is the cultural expectation your child will be faced in regards to toilet learning?
Unless you are in touch with Montessori jargon you’re probably wondering what in the world that means. Let me clarify, I’m writing from the understanding that the child in consideration lives somewhere that the cultural norm is to eliminate in a toilet. Therefore, said toilet will be located in a bathroom. This means that the toilet learning should take place on a potty or toilet with training ring in a bathroom — not the living room, nor outside and not in the back of your minivan. I often see parents putting pottys in every room in the house in the hopes that close proximity will equal quicker toileting success. I understand the sentiment and desire for your child to be successful but this is not actually encouraging your child to practice using the necessary muscles. Instead this is actually toilet training for the adult. If you’re going to go to all that effort you might as well follow your child around with a potty trying all the while to catch your child’s urine (that was a joke, please don’t chase your child with a potty, we are trying to reduce the likeliness of toilet trauma not form lifelong avoidance). Instead, tell your child when it is time to walk to the bathroom and do so at regularly and predictable times. Do this even when they have already had an accident. You will find that your child will have accidents closer to the bathroom as they become more aware. The key is to tell them it is time to go or tell them that they are wet, NOT ask. They need the adult to model the expectations around their elimination in the beginning so it is not a question of, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” Their answer inevitably will ALWAYS be, “No” at first.
3. Is your child psychologically ready to begin toilet learning?
In order for toilet learning to be successful your child must make the mental connection between eliminating in the toilet and the desire to stay dry. Counterintuitively this means they must have accidents, they must feel wet in order to make steps towards mastering toilet learning. Therefore, when deciding to begin toilet learning with your child you must commit to eliminating the diapers (for the most part). In the beginning they will still wear, “sleeping diapers” for nap and bed time or even for long road trips etc. But they cannot practice toilet learning while still wearing diapers,
Let’s return to that positive mind set I mentioned in the beginning, what I am saying is that you want your child to have accidents. Instead of dreading when your child misses the toilet, consider that this is actually a step in the right direction! Remember that this is another wonderful step towards your child’s independence and can be an exciting and happy phase in their life. If you still don’t believe me and just cannot get on board the positive mindset toileting express than simply repeat this to yourself after the two hundredth accident, “This too shall pass.”
Written by Morgan Spivey, Director of the Young Children’s Community Program and Guide in the Fireside Classroom. She is an SCM alumni and has been a guide since 2011.