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.
This goes the same for toilet learning. Both parents and the child need to learn a new way of doing things, in this case the elimination process.
- Montessori toilet learning – setting up the environment
- Montessori toilet learning / potty training stages
- Other toilet learning or potty training tips
Montessori toilet learning – setting up the environment
First of all, like many of the Montessori approaches, a prepared environment is essential. Montessori mantra is “follow the child”, and I like the concept of having this critical milestone child-led to. Though I am well-informed there is no miracle, and we would still need to support our young child in this.
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. This is earlier than most recommended timeframe from experts or grandparents / other parents based on experience.
When my son 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 potty training area:
- a potty or a toilet equipped with a child seat and stairs to get onto
- 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
- a basket with clean training underwear and a tub to throw in soiled ones
- a basket of books
Without creating a dreamy idea of how all this will go, I will explain the stages that we have been through with my son 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.
Training pants / Training underwear
Since using the Montessori method means allowing the child time to slowly get accustomed to going to potty and toilet the normal way, a training pants or training underwear is essential. This helps the child to feel confident, so that they do not stand in a puddle of water if an “accident” happens. They can also take charge and remove their soiled underwear themselves and change to a new one.
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 normal underwear. It absorbs well for a full pee; the child will feel it is wet, but it will not leak out!
How many training pants to buy? If you have been using cloth nappies, then a good way is to follow the same amount in training pants. At the start, your toddler may wet the training pants almost as often as the diaper. If you have not used cloth nappies before, a good start will be at least 8-10 pieces, though be willing to wash frequently at the start.
Montessori toilet learning / potty training stages
Around 12 – 13 months old
This is a very early stage, and my son was even afraid of the potty at the beginning. He sat only for 1 second before he popped up from the potty. We didn’t even dare to try the toilet. He also sometimes peed on the toilet floor after popping up from the potty. When this happens to you too, all I can say is, persevere. This, like so many other toddler related issues, it is just a phase!
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 in the bathroom for him, next to the toilet where he sees his parents use for elimination.
We only finally manage to get him to sit long enough for something to happen with books. Using books may not exactly align to Montessori, who advises having this process as simple as just elimination and nothing else. Still, it seems to work for my son, so I stick to it. He did use the potty 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 with him reading.
14 – 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, my son wears training underwear at home. When we go out or during sleep, we put him on cloth nappies. Sometimes I mix with disposables too, depending on the situation.
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” (German word for poo) at the tender age of 13 months. His “kaka” at this point may mean for both pee or poo.
We have also seen times, actually, way more times, that he just pee in his underwear and ignored 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.
19 to 21 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 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 toilet learning. I recommend getting this book if you want to bump up your toilet training process and especially if you do not know where to start at all. This book breaks down the potty training by blocks.
Oh Crap Potty Training Blocks
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 have it under control.
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 have to acknowledge it and incorporate it into our way of life.
My few potty training tips are:
- 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.
- 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 outside, regardless if there is a lot of not. He understands the opportunity of it.
- 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!
- If there are regressions or general refusal of the potty, you may be over hovering or over prompting/offering. Back off a little and try again later.
The child moves on to training underwear, which on hindsight, we have rushed this a little 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.
As recommended by the book, if needed, move back to pants or even bare-bottom to realign. We did not have this luxury as he needs to go to the daycare, we stuck through it for weeks of underwear wetting and then suddenly, he holds it in longer, and we are able to catch them in the toilet more regularly.
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. We achieve this when my son turned 22 months. This also coincided with his ever-growing independence and his ability to manipulate his clothes.
At this point we also moved on to wearing normal underwear during awake time. He still wears a diaper to sleep as we have not tackle night potty training yet. We plan to wait till after winter to do that. He loves his sleeping bag for now!
22 months – toilet learning completed!
I am happy to report that we are finally in phase 4 of the toilet training blocks. My son can hold longer now in between pees and has kept consistently to only poo in the toilet or potty. He also tells us now when he needs to go and generally do not like it when we ask him to go. So for now, we will suggest to him whenever we think it may be time or invite him to come along if we are going. Else, we let him tell us when he needs to.
There may still be an odd occasion where he waited too long or was distracted that he accidentally pees in his pants, but for this, we make no fuss and simply go for a fresh change of underwear and pants. Lias also knows well where to put his soiled clothes and where to get new underwear. This helps him to stay confident with his own ability.
Other toilet learning or potty training tips
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 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, be it play, language learning or potty training should be the same for either boy or girl. But one thing I need to do was to teach him to bend forward while peeing. This is to prevent the pee from shooting all out onto his pants and even you!
Others had also mentioned to teach the child to hold his penis down while peeing, but it never worked with my son. This method has too many chances of going wrong – pressing it the wrong way or sideways or too much or too little.
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 spilt 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.
Toilet training regression
The key to tackling regression is to stay consistent. At one point it got really bad where my son peed in his pants almost every time, and for days. It seemed like as if we have regressed to stage 1. I almost gave up here but persevered for a few more weeks and then like magic; he got over this phase. We keep reminding him where the toilet/potty is while inviting him to come and change his wet underwear and pants together.
Sometimes if you find that you are in a thick of a regression, where your almost potty-trained child forgets everything or refused to cooperate, it helps to look around his environment or routine. Has something changed, or is something else bothering the child?.
Cloth nappies / diapers
Around six months plus, when I finally get some breather, I started reading up on cloth nappies as I felt bad with the number of disposables we were throwing each day.
After a lot of researching, I came on 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 (made in Germany) 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 they pee. Disposable nappies absorb so well that they do not get a chance to understand what is happening.
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.