Toilet Learning – A Mind Set to Success

Potty training: Just mention this phrase, and many parents of toddler cringe. Books and blogs have been written about the subject–including opinions on potty training for boys and potty training for girls–and parents and educators continue to debate the right time and approach for children to transition out of diapers and learn to use the toilet.

With so much information available to parents, it can be overwhelming to distinguish between fact and fiction. Potty-training can quickly become stressful when you’re hurried or trying to get a child ready to start preschool, go on a vacation or have another baby on the way. (So, take a deep breath and read on.)

At BRMS, we apply Montessori principles to this important childhood milestone: toilet learning is an integral part of our Montessori infant/toddler programs, and, of course, it is included in the program at no additional charge. (Noticewe say toilet learning, not potty training, for a reason–read on, and you’ll find out why!)


The secret to a successful straightforward potty-training experience is to flip your idea of the process. You will not be potty-trainingYour child will be toilet-learning. As parents and care-givers it is vital that we realize that this is not an adult-centered activity; this is your child learning independence. We as parents and caregivers are facilitators in this process. Your child’s body (with the help of her mind) will be learning how to control this bodily function. The good news is that this is something innate and natural.

Toilet learning the Montessori way is often much easier than parents expect when they first approach the “potty training” process. When parents and school work closely together, a child can easily complete toilet learning well before the age of three, the time the child transitions to the primary classroom, which requires him to be fully independent in the use of the toilet. 

Use the following guidelines for a smooth and straightforward way to guide your child out of diapers and into pants!

Let your child wet her pants!

A diaper or pull-up is designed to wick away the moisture from your child’s skin. But your child needs to feel the difference between wet and dry. Watch your child. The first time he wets his pants you will see a look of surprise cross his face as he experiences the sensation of wetness. Then, he will use his muscles to stop the flow. He will begin to make the connection between those muscles and control of his bodily functions. He will also make the connection between urinating and the uncomfortable feeling of wet cotton on his skin.


Leave Fashion at the Door

The easier you make it for a child to pull down and up his pants when he has to go, the more successful he will be in making it to the potty in time. Therefore, when at home let your child be in underwear and a t-shirt. When out and about, or at school boys and girls should wear two-piece outfits (shirt and elasticized waist shorts or pants).  Avoid clothes that are difficult to fasten or unfasten because of belts, snaps or buttons.

Find Out When Your Child is “Ready “to Learn

In our Nido (infant) classroom when we diaper babies we do so in the bathroom, this way children will begin associating elimination processes with the appropriate location right from the beginning. We invite them to help: to lift their legs, to climb up on the changing table, to pull open diaper tabs. Once a child can stand up steadily, we start changing his diaper while he is standing up. We also invite him to sit on the little potty, sometimes for children just barely over a year old. We never force a child to sit on the toilet or otherwise rush the process of toilet learning– normally, they become interested in these activities the same way they become interested in other things older children or adults do! 

Some parents choose to wait until their child can dress and undress herself or when she expresses an interest in what goes on in a bathroom, and that’s ok too! Because it’s not a question of maturity or personality or emotions. It’s just about introducing your child to the potty in a consistent way, and making it a part of a child’s routine.

Sit them on the potty first thing in the morning, after nursing or a meal, before a bath, before you leave the house, and right before bed. Chances are they will have to go when they are sitting there and will get a level of comfort with what is expected of them.  Remember it is all about consistency and routine.

Learn the Truth about Rewards and Punishments

The pride she will feel in knowing how to use the toilet and wear “big girl” pants is reward enough. She does not need external reinforcements (sticker charts, M&Ms, the promise of a toy when she has learned). At the same time, this is also not a time for punishment or guilt! 

The truth of the matter is you will have to wash a lot of panties and clean up some puddles, but that is part of her learning curve…every “accident” is just another lesson on the way to mastering toileting. In fact, misses are a way to reinforce the connection between cause (not going in the potty) and effect (a wet mess to clean up) by including your child in the clean-up process “Let’s get you some clean pants and dry you off and then we can come back to clean up.” Ensure that there is no shame or blame in the “mess” and that the clean-up is a learning, not punishing experience.


Tell, Don’t Ask

In a clear and positive voice say, “It’s time to go to the potty.” Do not ask your child if he wants to go; that is setting yourself up potentially for an argument if he refuses, and as you may know, toddlers are especially wired to refuse. Instead guide him and encourage him. If your child is struggling to keep dry pants, then you may need to set a timer for 30 minutes and build up to hour intervals to have him sit on the potty.

Understand Set-Backs

You may encounter some regression with your child in her toilet learning. The arrival of a new baby might result in wet pants. Your child hasn’t forgotten how to use the toilet; she is just looking for ways to earn your attention. Other disruptions to a routine – teething, sickness, moving to a new place, starting a new school – can also be triggers for changes in toileting behavior. Even successfully reaching a developmental milestone may take her focus away from toileting. Identifying those triggers are the first step. You and your child can then talk and work through getting back to a place of toileting awareness and independence in taking care of herself.

Don’t Hurry, Be Happy

Don’t stress yourself out, there is nothing you can do to speed up this process other than remaining consistent and supportive. Over the years, we have taught children who have learned toileting in two weeks and those who took longer. The key is consistency. It’s tempting after a long, hard day and want the ease and convenience of “just one day of diapers.” But the inconsistency will confuse your child. Think about the long-term reward for your wallet when you don’t have to buy all those diapers!  Remember lots of deep breaths and patience! Don’t fret, we are here to support you and your child during this time of growth!