Montessori philosophy approaches toilet use as a learning process without coercion (no rewards, no punishment). This approach differs from training in both method and theory.
The sensitive period for toilet learning occurs at twelve to eighteen months. I also believe that the learning process necessitates a walking child, so I wait for that.
Montessori Toilet Learning employs a prepared environment, scaffolds for independence, and modeling. Set up a child-sized potty in your bathroom (generally not in other rooms unless you explicitly section off an area to be a toilet environment). You may wish to put a few baskets–one to function as a hamper for wet pants, one full of fresh training pants, and anything else directly necessary for going to the bathroom. Keep it simple and functional. Ensure that your toddler can access the toileting area independently.
When beginning toilet learning, dress your child in pants with elastic waistbands over and training pants or pull-ups. Ability to undress herself While at home you may also opt to leave your child bottomless, which heightens their awareness. We chose to go bottomless at home and switched to pull-ups while out.
Modeling matters. Yes, you need to pee in front of your toddler. And talk about it. Name it and narrate it. Sorry. Without modeling, we can’t expect interest in or understanding of the toilet.
Place your child on the potty every hour or so. Do not fall into the anxious trap of prompting them way too often, or having them sit until they go. This confuses our little ones further as it doesn’t isolate the potty for its purpose. Do not prompt more frequently than every thirty minutes, and don’t wait longer than thirty seconds. State that it’s time to go, rather than asking the question. However, trust a “No” response.
Montessori Potty Learning is noncoercive, which includes omitting the use of rewards and praise. When the pee or the poop goes in the potty, respond neutrally and factually. Resist the urge to clap (a smile and a warm tone are just fine).
As you embark upon the learning process, work on skills to support mastery. Awareness of body functions will build with experience, but it’s helpful to work on pulling pants up and down, for example. Target the skills your child needs to facilitate independent initiation.
For a less-verbal toddler, sign language aids in communication. Sign “potty” (I recommend using the correct ASL signs, whether or not your little one can pronounce sign language precisely–more on why in my sign language article) while your child sits on the toilet.
Accidents happen. Respond neutrally, as you do with successes. Clean up and get changed, involving the child as much as is sanitary.
Montessori Toilet Learning follows the child. A general misunderstanding might imply that we should wait for the child to express the desire to use the toilet. Of course, if that happens, respond! But if that doesn’t happen, remember that the child has no way of knowing about a brand new concept unless we present it as the societal norm that it is. When following the child, knowledge of child development and sensitive periods comes into play. Remember that we’re either training our toddlers to use a toilet or to use a diaper. Gentle toilet education respects the child and enhances his self-confidence.