Potty Training or Toilet Learning?

When it comes to potty training or toilet learning, it is as much a learning process for the child as it is for the parents. In this journey, together with my son, my husband and I have learned a lot too. 

Thinking about it, we were diaper learning as well when Lias was born. We learn how to put a diaper on him, hear his cry when he soiled it, and how to change his diaper (especially in the cold, he was a winter baby). 

At some point, we were all in the groove, and we, the baby and parents, got the rhythm of this whole diaper business.

Cloth nappies / diapers

Later on, around six months plus, when I finally get some breather to be me, I started reading up on cloth nappies as I feel bad with the number of disposables we were throwing each other. 

After a lot of researching, I came to a system that works for us, I may write more about this at another time, but just to share, we are using the Windelzauberland nappie cover together with XXKO muslin cloths

Cloth nappies are also helpful towards toilet learning as the baby can learn from very young on the direct effect of wetness when it pees. Disposable nappies absorb so well that they do not get a chance to understand what is happening.

Elimination communication

Also, during this research, I stumbled upon elimination communication (EC) and was impressed with it. 

I wondered if we should have done it since Lias’ birth, but upon reflecting, on all the struggles of being a first-time mother in a foreign land, juggling breastfeeding and the non-existent long sleep, I could not have done it anyway. There is a reason why nappies were invented! 

But for those who are up for it, then elimination communication is a natural way to start learning about, well, elimination. 

Montessori Toilet Learning

Anyway, I digress, back to toilet learning. About the same time, as I have been mentioning all over this site, I learn about Montessori. I read about their mantra of “follow the child”, and I liked the concept of having this critical milestone child-led too. 

But I am also well informed that there is no miracle in this. We cannot expect a 12 months old or even an 18 months old child to suddenly say “hey mum, I will like to use the toilet/potty from now on and ditch the diapers”.

In Montessori, they say that the best window or age for a child to learn to use the toilet/potty is from 12 to 18 months. I am aware that this is way earlier than most recommended timeframe from experts or grandparents / other parents based on experience. 

Therefore, when he was around 11 months plus, I bought a potty and set up a potty area for him, with inspiration from Montessori parents around the world. The idea is to have an area where the child can access and explore it whenever they want to. It should also be set up to aid in independence. Here are the basic things that I did to set up the area:

  • a potty or steps to go up to the toilet equipped with a child seat. 
  • accessible cloths and sink for self-cleaning. I started with a sink over the bathtub and later moved on to step stool at the sink when he got tall enough to reach the tap
  • basket with clean underwear and a tub to throw in soiled ones
  • basket of books. 

I found this potty to be perfect for early potty learning as it is low enough for a young child to get on it independently.
The extra high splashguard is also good for boys!

This sink over the bathtub is a genius for small bathrooms.
My son is able to use this at just 11 months, and I love to foster independence from early on.

We got this foldable step stool for our tiny bathroom and my son goes on it to access the sink.
We also move it as a step stool to the toilet when needed.

Without creating a dreamy idea of how all this will go, I will explain the stages that we have been through with Lias in terms of learning how to use to the toilet or in German they call it Sauberkeitserziehung, literally cleanliness education. I love the idea of it. 

Age for Potty Training or Toilet Learning

Around 12 months old

This is a very early stage, and Lias got even afraid of the potty. He sat only for 1 second before he popped up from the potty. We didn’t even dare to try the toilet. 

I understand that he is young at this time, and he is still learning to communicate. Hence the idea is just to let him get used to the potty. To get used to having the potty at the bathroom for him, next to the toilet where he sees his parents also using it for elimination. 

We only finally manage to get him to sit long enough for something to happen is with books. Using books may not exactly be really aligning to Montessori, who advises having this process as simple as just elimination and nothing else, but it seems to work for my son so I stick to it. He did use it a lot as a seat to read books with us, but since I love books and want to have him learn to love it too, I gladly sit there with him reading.

13 – 18 months old

This is the longest period or stage that we had. It is mainly because we did not take it seriously enough and hope that at some point, it will be child-led and progress by itself. 

At this stage, Lias wears training underwear at home. This underwear comes with a thicker lining at the crotch to absorb pee, so that when “accidents” happen, the child won’t have to be standing in a puddle, but will still get the immediate feedback of wetness. When we go out or during sleep, we put him on cloth nappies. Sometimes I mix with disposables too, depending on the situation. 

We really like this Flyish training underwear, after trying a few other out. It is 100% cotton for the inner and outer lining, and it feels almost like a normal underwear. It absorbs well for a full pee; the child will feel it is wet but does not have to stand in a puddle!

We were going back and forth during this period. We have seen times when he goes to the potty himself or told us when he needs to go. He started saying “kaka” at the tender age of 13 months, much to my delight but much to the chagrin of Oma, who do not like that word. His “kaka” at this point may mean both for pee or poo. 

We have also seen times, actually, way more times, that he just pee in his underwear and ignore what had happened. Of course, we would discover it pretty quickly, and I will take him to the potty and sat him down anyway just to let him understand the process. Then we do some cleaning and have a change of clean underwear. 

Luckily for us, my son started quite quickly to consistently inform before pooing, which I will explain further below.

So this goes on for five months, without much progress.

19 months until now at 20 months old

At this point, summer is rapidly coming to an end. I know that if we want to get serious with this toilet learning, and kind of bumping it to toilet training a little bit, we need to have some bottom naked time. 

I got this practical and funny book call Oh Crap Potty Training and love the block by block breakdown on how to tackle this learning. I recommend getting this book if you want to bump up your toilet learning process and especially if you do not know where to start at all. This book breaks down the potty training by blocks.

Block 1

The child needs to go bare bottom. We had a two weeks holiday planned in August, and I think that would be the best time for us to take the plunge and go for it. There is a lot of carrying him and rushing to the potty as he pees, then it moved to when he did a drop and he held it till the potty and then finally he tells us when he needs to, but we often only have 1 minute to get there. 

Going out has of course been nerve-racking. The book insisted that we ditch the diaper for real, except for nap and sleep, hence we really need to be prepared for “accidents”. It turns out actually that when we are out and about, we parents and the child are actually more aware and has it under control. 

Block 2

We moved to only wearing loose pants without underpants so that the child does not get confused that it is a diaper. We transition seamlessly here, basically the same only that now we have to change the pants along with cleaning the floor when “accidents” happen.

Overall in these two blocks, I feel that we as parents did a lot of learning along with the child. Upon reflection, it is really about changing our way of life together. Instead of being so used to having the comfort of a diaper and forget about this natural thing call elimination, we just have to acknowledge it and incorporate it into our way of life. 

My few potty training tips are:

  1. Include potty time into the daily routine – upon waking, before going out, upon returning from outside, before/after a meal, and all the time in between when there is a long gap.
  2. Not to forget to look for a public toilet or in my case, a tree for my son, when out and about, and offer the chance to pee. My son always pees when offered when out, regardless if there is a lot of not. He understands the opportunity of it.
  3. Get a good feel or rhythm of your child’s elimination and offer the potty at the right time – every hour or every 2 hours, every child is different, and they even change from time to time. For example, it got more frequent now as the weather gets colder! 
  4. If there are regression or general refusal of the potty, you may be over hovering or over prompting/offering. Back off a little and try again later.

Block 3

The child moves on to underwear, which on hindsight, I feel we have rushed this a little bit and hit some regression, as he started peeing in it again. As mentioned in the book, the child may be confused or think that it is a diaper.

Block 4 and beyond

We all got the hang of it and move on with going to potty or toilet as a normal way of life.

Toilet learning – poo!

In the case of the poo, I read that it is generally a bigger issue or something harder to learn, but as I have mentioned, my son learned this way earlier than for pee. 

It somehow worked out because we have incorporated to offer the potty upon waking since 12 months old. At that time, it was the time that he usually poos. So quickly without fault, he poops in his potty every morning, and he got used to it. Then whenever there is a need to poo outside of this time, he will go to the potty or let us know. Kaka! Now he also does not poo the same time anymore, but we have no issue at all with him being consistent. 

I think this is a classic example of, if we had managed to be consistent and have been offering him the potty at the right times, he might have had got used to peeing in the potty only too. But that said, he pees way more often, and it is harder for me to catch. Hence, the bare bottom time is gold and is a must!

Potty training boys

As I have a son and many may wonder is it harder or different to potty train a boy? In my opinion, most of everything should be the same for either boy or girl. But one thing I need to take note of is to teach him to either hold down his penis or sit with legs more closely. This is to prevent the pee from shooting all out on his pants and even you! 

Also, after researched, many recommended getting Baby Bjorn potty for boys because of the higher splash guard at the front. I have to say it is useful, as I have many other opportunities on the potty at grandma or the daycare, where way more pee spill out compared to at home with our Baby Bjorn. This Baby Bjorn potty is also not too big and fits a younger child from the start.

Is our toilet learning completed?

We are not complete yet in this toilet learning journey. Lias still has 1 or 2 “accident” a day, be it because he was busy playing, we forgot to offer the potty, or he was refusing it. We continue to stick to no diapers during awake time and will remind him that it’s only for sleep when we put it on then. 

I will update here again, maybe with more tips, and how to tackle regressions, once our learning is done. This is when going to the toilet/potty has become a natural activity in our life.