Charlotte Montessori Blog

Oh Crap! Toilet Learning

A quick google of the words “Potty Training” will lead you to some very interesting blogs, chatrooms, books and media all on the subject of teaching toddlers to use the toilet. I also took the time to poll my local mommy group for the most outlandish toileting advice they have ever received.  I have made some notes about repeating themes and plan to tell you why I disagree with most of them.  I am also going to provide you with a no muss, no fuss guide to toileting, without all of the flashy extras that do not work in the long run.

I will begin by telling you, I have a real issue with the phrase “Potty Training.” The Montessori Method grounds, even the youngest child in reality.  We surround children with “real” things, and provide them “real” language.  We call the toilet a toilet.  We call body parts by their anatomical name, or at the very least a factual “private parts.”  Made-up and cutesy words have an appropriate place in a creative writing class.  Let’s give our young toddlers the respect of teaching factual language from the beginning.  I prefer the term “Toilet Learning,” because I am not in the business of house breaking toddlers, but rather teaching them a life skill.  A very important life skill.  Just a small turn of phrase gives a child dignity during one of the most important skills they have learned thus far in their life.  (steps off soap box, smooths shirt.)

When researching potty training one of the most promoted books/blogs on google is Oh Crap! Potty Training. This book was brought to my attention by parents several years ago.  Skimming the overview of this method, my first thoughts were; this is a lot of transitions, this is going to take forever, is having a toileting toddler walk around commando really auspicious?  The more I learned about this method the greater fault I took with it.  Being naked at all times does not ground the child in reality. It can also cause the child to regress when clothing and underwear are introduced.  This is because by spending several days naked the child has not learned the timing needed to manipulate their clothing to effectively sit on the toilet.  Also a key part of this method, largely overlooked by parents, is the recommendation to stay home from school and activities for a week to cement the process.  From a classroom perspective having a child come to school commando can cause a health concern. We know that accidents are expected, especially poop accidents.  Removing the failsafe of the underwear can cause fecal matter to be spread across the classroom or playground, increasing the chance of someone getting sick from the exposure.  I know because I have seen this first hand.  Disclaimer: I have known children who benefited from spending time naked to learn the mechanics of their bodies, but I do not recommend this to begin their toileting journey.

Every method I read about involved some degree of undress, tiny potties, chocolates, stickers, and other exuberant measures to bribe children to use the toilet. I will let you in on a secret.  Children are not meant to learn the toilet or any other skill because it suits us.  They do it because it is crucial to their development and to THEIR life.  That is why pushing our agenda of getting them out of diapers by a big vacation, or before the new baby arrives, just does not work.  Kale-Eating-Cynthia-In-The-Pilates-Pants may disagree with me, but if her toddler was in underwear before the new baby arrived it was because the child was ready, not because of the method she used.

No muss, no fuss, guide to toileting your child. (well there will be some muss, there always is, it’s just a part of the process.)

  • Make sure your child is ready-Acknowledging they are wet or soiled or a good understanding of their bodily functions-Having success when sitting on the toilet
  • -Emotionally ready, feeling settled and in a good routine
  • -Able to manipulate their clothing independently
  • -Showing interest in using the toilet
  • Make sure YOU/your teacher is ready.-You have a low key weekend where you can stay close to home and the toilet-Your teacher/classroom can support the needs of a toileting child. NO big transitions.
  • -You understand your child will need a lot of support and encouragement during this time, specifically every 30 minutes for a whole weekend.
  • -You have a clear schedule and no major changes in the next few weeks

When all of these stars align and you feel the time is right, plan on a toileting weekend. Leading up to the weekend of choice prepare your child by talking positively about what is going to happen.  Take them to the toilet every hour or so to prepare them for the process ahead.  Make sure all caregivers are on board for starting this journey.

Step 1. On Friday evening arrange a special shopping trip to pick out new underwear.  Talk about the toileting weekend, and inform your child that diapers will only be for sleeping.

*Pro-tip: go for the cheap underwear and buy lots of them.

Step 2. First thing on Saturday morning take your child to sit on the toilet, throw away their diaper and let them choose a fresh pair of underwear.

Step 3. Set a timer for every 30 minutes to remind you and your child that it’s time to sit on the toilet.

*Pro-tip: keep an eye on the timer and give your child a 5 minute warning if they are very                             focused on an activity.

*Pro-tip: The timer can be adjusted or manipulated if your child needs longer or shorter                                               stretches between trips to the toilet.

Step 4. Expect accidents, handle them with grace. This is new and challenging for your child, shaming them can cause reluctance or even regression throughout the process.

Step 5. Keep the diapers for naps and nights until you see your child is waking up dry. Sleep is crucial for toddlers and should be preserved until your child is ready.

Step 6. Repeat on Sunday.

If your child successfully completes a toileting weekend they are ready to wear underwear to school. A successful weekend is 5 or fewer accidents over the period of two days.

If you are following all of the steps, even shorting the time from 30 minutes to 15 and your child is still having many accidents. This is a sign they might not be ready for the process. Forcing them will make the process long and tedious.  It can even negatively affect the child’s self-esteem.  If the toileting weekend is not a success continue with diapers and toileting practice and try again in a few months.