Montessori potty training is quite different from the traditional approach. “Toilet learning”, as it is referred to in a Montessori setting, can begin as early as birth.
If the thought of potty training with rewards, a schedule and short timeframe sounds stressful, it’s because it is. Montessori toilet learning takes the pressure off both parent and child and helps children learn this natural process in an organic way.
What is Montessori toilet learning?
Montessori toilet learning refers to the time that a child spends learning how to control their bladder and bowels, eliminate on the toilet, and understand this natural process.
Rather than waiting until a child is well into their toddler years, Montessori parents often begin the process of toilet learning as early as birth. There are no rewards or punishments, children are able to set their own time frame, and there is no pressure for the child or adult.
Instead of forcing a child to become potty trained in a matter of days or weeks, Montessori toilet learning involves talking to children about their bladder and bowel movements from the time they are young babies. As they gain more physical independence, toileting is incorporated into the daily routine.
Montessori parents never force children to begin potty training, but rather, follow their lead and pace. Once a child begins to express interest in toilet learning, parents provide opportunities for them to gain independence and explore this natural process.
What age should you start Montessori potty training?
Maria Montessori believed that there is a sensitive period for toilet learning, during which most children are highly interested in learning the skills and activities of potty training.
This sensitive period typically occurs between 13-24 months of age, with most children beginning to show some interest and awareness between the ages of 13-18 months. However, there is no set age for Montessori potty training.
The key to learning when your child is ready to begin formal toilet learning is to observe them. Continue to support them as they explore and experiment, and don’t force or rush the process.
Signs of Readiness for Toilet Learning
Every child is different, and since there is no set age that marks the beginning of toilet learning, it is up to the parent to observe their child’s signals in order to understand when they are ready.
The following are signs that your child might be ready to begin the process of Montessori potty training. They may begin to show some or all of these signs as they enter the sensitive period for toilet training.
- Lasting longer periods of time with a dry diaper
- Seeking privacy during bowel movements
- Communicating that they have urinated/had a bowel movement
- Showing interest in what others are doing in the bathroom
- Confidently walking (a sign that muscles have developed, giving them the ability to hold their bladder)
How to Prepare for Montessori Potty Training
Before you formally begin the potty training process, it’s important to prepare yourself, your child and the environment for the period of learning that is to come. The Montessori philosophy focuses on maintaining a prepared environment in all aspects of learning, and it is no different when it comes to toilet training.
Here are a few steps you should take to prepare for a consistent, successful potty learning experience.
Wait until the adult is ready
In the Montessori philosophy, potty learning can begin as early as birth. Parents begin by explaining to their children what they are doing while they change their diaper, and helping children understand that the process is natural and normal.
However, there will still be a transition once your child is ready to begin the more formal aspects of potty training. Montessori potty learning encourages the adult to support and guide the child, without being emotionally invested in the process.
In order to do so, it’s important that the adult is mentally and physically ready for the process just as much as the child. If you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the idea of Montessori potty training, then it’s important to wait – even if your child seems ready. Find a time when both you and your child feel prepared and encouraged to begin the process to warrant maximum success.
Make it a gradual process
While the formal aspects of potty training have a very definite beginning, the lead up to the moment your child begins successfully eliminating on the toilet should be a very gradual process. Begin by talking them through what you are doing while you change their diaper as they are young.
Make eliminating feel natural and normal. Allow your child to explore the bathroom, and take the time to demonstrate different routines and objects if they show interest.
Once children are able to stand independently, teach them to pull their pants up and down on their own. Introduce them to real underwear so they are able to feel wet versus dry. When they show an interest, allow them to sit on the potty without any expectations. This slow buildup will help the process flow more naturally for both you and your child.
Set up for independence
One of the biggest differences between Montessori potty training and a more traditional approach involves the child’s ability to be independent from an early age. Establishing a bathroom routine and environment that allows your child to function independently will promote confidence and success as they navigate potty learning.
Create a child-size area in the bathroom that allows the child to find their own diapers, underwear or wipes. Provide a space for their own potty, or provide access to the toilet that they can navigate independently.
Before your child transitions to toilet training, begin changing their diapers standing up. Allow them to pull their pants up and down on their own and collaborate in the process in any way that they would like. With each new phase, they will gain confidence and enthusiasm for toilet learning.
What to Buy for Toilet Learning
In order to create a prepared, child-size independence, you’ll likely need to purchase a few items. Luckily, the accessories needed for Montessori potty training are very budget friendly, and can be modified for any environment.
Here are a few examples of items that can be helpful to have on hand as you begin the toilet learning process.
- Pants with elastic bands for easy on and off
- Thick training underwear to help understand wet vs. dry
- Child-size potty or toilet seat that the child can access independently
- Hamper or basket for soiled/wet clothes
- Stool or chair to sit on while changing
- Basket for books, wipes, fresh underwear, etc.
- Small sink or step stool to access sink to wash hands
- Cleaning supplies to quickly take care of accidents
6 Tips for Montessori Potty Training
While the Montessori approach to potty training is certainly more relaxed and less-stressful than a traditional approach, the transition can still bring some anxiety for both parent and child. Here are a few strategies to help the process build confidence and enthusiasm, rather than stress.
Prepare for accidents
Regardless of how interested or ready our children might be as they begin potty learning, they are going to have accidents. Just as any other major milestone brings some failed attempts, potty training will as well.
In order to minimize the stress or feelings of inadequacy that can come with accidents, it’s important that the parent prepare themselves and the environment. Anticipate accidents and prepare yourself with cleaning products and a plan to get rid of the mess.
Accept that there will be middle of the night bed-wetting incidents at some point during the process, and keep a waterproof mattress pad on the bed as well as extra sheets nearby. Create a plan for travel, pack accordingly, and make sure your child understands that these accidents are normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
Commit to the process
It is confusing for both the child and adult to continuously change a routine or expectation. When you begin the process of Montessori potty training, commit to it. For the most success, you’ll want to fully embrace potty learning and everything that comes with it.
In the traditional process, most parents are hesitant to switch their children out of diapers from the beginning. However, this can really hinder their awareness and confuse them when it comes to feeling wet versus dry.
Commit to Montessori potty learning and stay consistent. When you’re ready to begin, switch to thick underwear so your child can feel when they are wet. Invite them to sit on the potty every 30-45 minutes so they have plenty of opportunities to go in the toilet. Stay consistent with the routine, even if the child does not eliminate in the toilet at the beginning.
Take the pressure off
In a Montessori setting, potty training does not involve rewards or punishments. Children should never feel pressured to eliminate in the toilet, and never feel ashamed if they have an accident. It’s important to avoid forcing your child, interrupting them or even over-congratulating them during potty learning.
Once you are committed, stick to a routine each day so your child has a chance to learn what to expect. Accept the fact that this process will take some time and is not a short, quick fix.
There will be mistakes, accidents and regressions along the way. As the adult, it’s important that we take the pressure off both ourselves and our child to succeed or “be perfect” from the get-go.
Allow your child to set the pace
Another difference between Montessori potty training and traditional methods is that in the Montessori method, children are allowed to progress at their own pace. They are not expected to be fully potty trained within a few days, weeks or even months.
As you navigate potty learning, allow your child to set the pace. Guide them through the process, but be careful not to force them to follow any timeline you might have set in your mind.
Be there to support them and encourage them, show them that this is a natural process, and follow their own unique pace. Get rid of any preconceived timelines or expectations you may have in your head before you even begin the process.
Expect regressions and struggles
Children rarely make linear progress during potty learning. There will be plenty of times when it feels like they are making great progress, only to be followed by a surprise accident or regression.
As your child continues to learn and grow, help them focus on the feeling of being wet and dry. Emphasize the unique sensation and what that means when using the potty. If they have an accident, stay calm and help them understand that it is normal.
If they do make a mess, allow them to help clean up. And when there are big life changes in your family, expect that your child will likely go through a regression – which is completely normal.
Give it time
Above all, Montessori potty learning takes time. It is not a “quick fix” or easy way out of diapers. This process is led by the child and guided by the adult.
If you are feeling frustrated by your child’s progress, give it time. Children all have their own unique time table, and there is nothing we can do to change it. Provide them with the tools and environment they need to succeed and be patient as they navigate this new chapter.
Montessori potty training is a stress-free, confidence-building way to help children learn to use the potty. By allowing your child to go through the potty learning process in this way, you are setting them up to build confidence, engagement and control over their own bodies. The journey certainly will have bumps along the way, but will likely be a positive experience for both you and your child.