Potty Training the Montessori Way

The hallways are buzzing with morning chatter as parents quickly catch up with one another before whisking off to the next destination of the day. The topics range from weekend plans to the last school party or snack sign up, but today, parents are comparing potty training notes. When’s the RIGHT time to start? HOW do we start?

Have no fear, Heritage is here to help guide parents through the potty training process with a Montessori perspective for successful results!


Child Development and the Potty

Potty training is seen as a major step in a child’s social, motor, and cognitive development as it pieces together many components to create a successful act. Developmentally, potty training cannot occur until essential motor and cognitive skills have developed. Potty training usually occurs between 18-33 months in a child that has reached all developmental milestones at the “normal” ages. Nighttime dryness can occur up to one year later, which is considered normal.

Are you Ready for this?

The first order of business is to decide if YOU are ready. Potty training can highlight certain feelings or social dynamics in you and your family. Parents may find that feelings of competitiveness, anxiety, frustration, and fear may surface. Have confidence! Humans have successfully potty trained children for centuries; you can do it! Potty training can be a great way to learn more about your child as it showcases your child’s personality in a new and exciting way. You may even learn more about your child’s learning style and apply this knowledge to other areas. Take this opportunity to observe how your family works together as a unit.

Step 1: Know when your child is ready

Your child will give you clues that he or she is ready to begin training. Watch for the following:

  • Age appropriateness. Studies have shown that children exhibit “readiness” at around 2 years of age. One study found that starting to train before 2 years old led to a longer duration of training. Keep in mind that on average, girls are trained about 3 months earlier than boys; however, both sexes are typically successful by 3 years old.

  • Physical readiness. Potty training requires specific motor skills to dress and undress. Your child is one step closer to training when he or she can dress him or herself alone and can walk and sit by him or herself.

  • Psychological readiness. Your child must be able to communicate well enough to establish dialogue and appropriate expectations for the training process. Your child is ready for potty training when he or she can demonstrate independence by saying “no” when they do not want to do something, express interest in potty training, and can indicate when he or she needs to go. Your child also demonstrates interest by using potty words. To discourage inappropriate use of potty words, do not give the words attention, whether positive or negative. A lack of reinforcement means no attention for the behavior, making the child naturally stop the behavior.

  • Begin only when the consistency of the stool can facilitate a regular potty routine. Stools must be soft! Hard stools can be painful, which could lead to your child avoiding and ignoring the urge to go. It is also important to note that an overly aggressive potty routine may result in straining, which again creates negative associations with the potty.

*Tip for working parents: Maintain easy to pass stools to create a seamless potty routine that can fit your busy schedule! Tips for soft stools include:

  • High fiber, low dairy diets that can soften stools and maintain regular bowel movements

  • Consult your physician for a recommended stool softener

  • Don’t overdo it: Uncontrollable diarrhea creates an environment where the child has lost control, which then leads to a loss of confidence in his or her own abilities. This fear can cause withholding, which further exacerbates constipation and delays the training process further.

  • Curiosity with the bathroom. Your child may become interested in your potty needs and may want to imitate your behavior. Create a Montessori inspired home lesson where you teach children where things belong in the bathroom and how to dress and undress themselves when it’s time to go. It’s important to note, however, to stay away from negative words like “stinky” to maintain a positive environment, so your child wants to keep trying to use the potty. If your child continues to show excitement and willingness to participate in the lesson, it’s a good sign that your child is ready.

*When to consult the pros: include your pediatrician in the process. Your child’s physician should be able to assess readiness, particularly when considering the motor and cognitive requirements needed to start potty training.


Step 2: Create a plan to start when YOU are ready

It doesn’t matter if your child is physically, mentally and emotionally ready if you are not. It is essential to create an environment for success to avoid delays or regression because the child does not feel secure enough to undertake this milestone. When you’re ready to commit, commit!

  • Choose a time when the family is not and will not be traveling. The first few weeks of potty training are the most important. It is vital that the child does not feel rushed and is comfortable in the environment.

  • Begin on a weekend. Do not start the first day of potty training at school. Instead, help your child feel confident and secure by starting when your attention is dedicated to the process. Starting with the right attitude in the home will create positive feelings towards potty training and will give your child the confidence to jump in.

  • Patience, patience patience! It’s important to remain calm even in the midst of accidents. Some children are successfully trained in a few weeks; others may take months.

  • Handle accidents appropriately. The adult’s role is to allow children the space and time to become aware of what is going on with their bodies and how these feelings relate to the act of using the potty.

    • Point out the obvious, “You had an accident.”

    • Help the child clean up and change, “That’s okay, let’s clean it up together.”

    • Stay calm. The calmer the adult, the easier it is for the child to focus on body awareness to learn from the accident.

    • Always have extra clothes, underwear, and shoes wherever you go. Keep them in the car and keep a full set at school at all times.

  • Use thick underwear, not pull ups. Underwear helps the child feel when he or she is soiled. Part of this process focuses on the concept of conditioning, meaning that the child learns to associate feelings and acts with an outcome. Here, the child can learn that when he or she has an urge to go, the outcome is that the underwear becomes soiled, resulting in an accident. The child can start to focus on body signals that occur before the accident and associate those signals with using the toilet and staying dry. In addition, underwear should be worn throughout the day. Switching between diapers and underwear during the day can confuse the child and delay the process.

  • Consistency is key. Just as when a child is introduced to new material on the shelves of a Montessori classroom, potty training is a new concept that takes repetition to reach mastery. Recreate your daily routine to allow for the time needed to maintain consistency and build training into your schedule to repeat the process every time your child has to go. Ask about using the bathroom at key times in your daily routine such as before dressing or bathing. It’s also important to educate yourself on your school’s potty training policies to create a routine that aligns with that of the school to maintain consistency, a hallmark of Maria Montessori’s philosophy on child development. Communication is essential to blend your home school routine for seamless training throughout the day. Your teachers should know when you start the process. Heritage Montessori teachers help families succeed with potty training every day. A Montessori classroom allows for individual progress in all areas of life, including potty training.

  • Create environments for success. Maria Montessori believed that the prepared environment allows for a child’s natural growth, development, and success. This principle can easily be applied to the potty training process. Plan your approach at a time when your child is most cooperative. You may begin to identify times of day that are best for these lessons. Shy children may need additional support and encouragement. Have a potty chair in the bathroom. While you go to the bathroom, have your child practice sitting on the chair. Do not pressure the child to use the chair; instead recommend that they use it but do not force them to sit there if they say no. Let the child flush if he or she wants to. Consider teaching boys how to urinate sitting first, as sitting is also used for bowel movements. Watch for behaviors, poses, or facial expressions that may signal the need for a bowel movement or other bathroom function and ask if they need to go.

  • Praise! It’s important to create positive associations with the bathroom. Praise your child whenever they tell you they need to go, when they tell you without being reminded, and when they make it to the bathroom without an accident.

  • Connect with your child. The potty training process is a great time to connect with your child. Read books on potty training with yo before bed and continually offer your support. Children respond very well to praise. Use positive reinforcement (rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior) to create an environment where your child wants to continue potty training.

Final Thoughts

There are many different techniques to potty train (For example, the Foxx method boasts that your child can be potty trained in one day!). It’s important to pick a plan and stick to it for the best results.