Toilet learning- the Montessori way

Phew! Just when you think you have diapers and a poop routine figured out, people start asking if your child is toilet trained yet! The woes of  a parent never end eh?!
Why toilet learning? Why not toilet training?
Toileting is more than just a milestone. It is an everyday skill that is about independence and self esteem.
Toilet learning, is more child-led, more about a child learning to use the toilet and less about an adult telling the child “you’ve gotta pee now, the way i want, when i say so”.
Montessori bathroom

Child sized bathroom fittings in a Montessori set up

1. Readiness

Obviously one cant expect a 2 year old to write 4 languages. Similarly, the sensitive period for starting toilet learning happens somewhere around 12-months, give or take.
At months baby V finally started showing signs of readiness. By this, I mean, she started being aware of when she wanted to pee and when she was peeing (this started with a keen interest in pee). Also, almost no pee during naps and an almost dry diaper at night  ( indicating quite a bit of voluntary sphincter control). She also showed some signs of cognitive readiness- able to understand/ follow basic instructions and communicate. And that is when I decided to start “toilet learning”. We are still in the process, so this is more of me jotting down pointers for myself as much for others.

2. Materials

Goes without saying, training pants or underwear are amazing, as are cloth diapers because, the child can immediately feel wetness and understand that it is pee.
So ditch those disposables and stay-dry cloth diapers for a while.
It also helps to have a potty seat/chair or ring reducer so that the child has a designated potty space. The potty chair is wonderful as the kid can independently use it. Somehow I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of 2 transitions and directly started her on the ring reducer. Helps to have a step stool so that the child can independently climb up and off the seat with minimal help.
As they get older, clothing choice makes a difference too- always easy to pull up frocks or pull down pants as opposed to difficult to maneuver zippers or buttoned pants.

Cloth diapers and training pants – Hello new best friends!

3. Consistency

The child needs to associate the wash room with “toilet business”.
Can be done by
A. Taking her to the washroom at regular intervals (personally I found this difficult and confusing for baby V, but some children are more comfortable with this)
B. Taking her to the washroom as soon as she shows signs of expelling waste.
C. Taking her to the washroom to clean up after an accident. Always. I started changing her underwear/ diapers in the washroom and within a week she formed the association.

4. Disturbance

Respect the child’s space. If it is time for you to take her to the washroom, but she is engrossed in an activity, wait until she finishes it.
Also, do not distract your child when she is on the potty and seems to be taking longer or irritated.

5. Reward

Okay I really really need to work on this point. The reward of the whole act of learning to use the toilet on their own is the accomplishment and independence itself, the pure joy of unlocking something, the realization that they can do something this important on their own now. So ideally no gifts or prizes, but most importantly(gulp) no/ minimal praise. I am following a genuine verbal praise only policy because I am still struggling with any form of minimalism.

6. Patience

As I see and learn everyday, there are going to be hits and misses– probably more misses than hits. Baby V had a bad bout of viral fever for a week and went into a toilet learning regression; it took us about a month to get her schedule and toilet learning back on track. Some kids learn in 3 days. Some may take a month, some more. Be patient and understanding.
If she wants to clean up her mess after an accident ( happens all the time here), let her. Dignity of labor is an important value that can be taught. But ensure that cleaning up isn’t used as a means of shaming the child or as a punishment (Example –
A.”Look what you’ve done, you naughty girl! Clean it up yourself!!”
B. “Would you like to help me clean up?”)

7. Resources

I loved Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jaimie Glowacki. Potty  by Leslie Patricell is a cute book too, if you want to reinforce it through a book.

8. Bonus Tip

Although this is not always possible, when the child sees you use the washroom to relieve yourself, they imitate and model behavior. So, if not them standing over you, supervising you while you are at it ( unfortunately, I know how this feels) ; even telling your child before you use the washroom ( putting it into words) helps.
A clear note helps, ( ” I am going to go *insert word here* in the bathroom) rather than a vague, open ended one ( I am going to use the washroom)
Hope this was useful. I’l keep updating this post as and when I think of more.


  1. themeemmum says:

    Once again a precise, helpful, tuned article. Its amazing to know how the babies and toddlers know what they should be doing by using simple instructions as a medium. There is a long way to go, for us. But I will keep looking out for all the readiness signs! Thanks a ton for this!

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