Teaching your child how to successfully use the potty (potty training) is a milestone for both little ones and parents alike. Throw in the pressure of (sometimes) having to take this step before entering preschool, and it’s enough to overwhelm even the most level-headed parents. As a Montessori teacher, mom to three, and head of learning at Monti Kids, I’ve guided many families through this process with minimal drama by focusing on the Montessori approach to toilet learning.
What’s the Montessori approach?
In Montessori, we refer to “potty training” as “toilet learning,” as a child will learn to use the potty through a natural acquisition of a skill just like crawling or walking.
As you chat with friends about this daunting milestone, you’ll hear wildly differing approaches to teaching a child how to use the potty. For example, offering rewards is a commonly used tactic and might sound enticing. But rewards or prizes can distract from the learning process.
Instead of external rewards, the Montessori approach to toilet learning focuses on a child’s intrinsic motivation and pride that stems from taking ownership of being able to use the toilet independently in those “I did it myself” moments.
The key is to watch for cues
All children are on their own unique path of development, so there’s no magical age to check toilet learning off your parenting to-do list. A key component of Montessori is following the child, so you’ll want to closely observe your little one to watch for both physical and psychological signs of readiness.
Physical signs include being a confident walker, which means your child has the muscle control needed for toilet learning. You might also notice they are going for longer periods of time with a dry diaper.
If your child is psychologically ready, they might become interested when other family members use the toilet, tell you when they need their diaper changed, or seek privacy when having a bowel movement.
Use a child-sized setup
It’s ideal to set up your child’s bathroom with a few child-sized items. I recommend preparing their space in advance — while they’re still in diapers — to allow time for the novelty of the new items to wear off. In this space, you could include a floor potty, extra underwear, wipes, a basket with several books, and a stool or faucet extender for independent hand-washing. Giving your child autonomy in the process will help encourage them to be willing participants.
Prepare for the big day
Once you’re ready to officially transition your little one out of diapers, there’s no looking back. You’ll want to stay consistent in your approach to alleviate any confusion. If possible, find a weekend when you are able to stay close to home.
When your toddler wakes up on “the big day” it’s best to talk to them about the switch from diapers to underwear. I suggest offering thick, cotton underwear because it’s absorbent, but your child can still feel the sensation of being wet if they don’t make it to the potty in time.
Then throughout the days ahead, let your child know it’s time to use the potty every hour or so. Take note of the timing of successes, and you’ll begin to see patterns emerge as your child becomes comfortable with this new way of life.
When the inevitable moment comes and your little one gets wet, use it as a learning moment to collaborate and talk. The more natural this process can be, without shame or judgment, the less stressful and more productive the process will be on the entire family.