The hot topic for the last few months here has been toilet learning and as such I decided to write a post on it.
We started introducing the concept of a potty from the time that Joshua was 6 months old. While we did not engage in elimination communication we did start encouraging and introducing the concept of toilet learning from what is generally considered “early” in modern Western society. This has been driven by the desire to allow Joshua the chance to learn about the toileting process without pressure or rewards, as it remains important to us that Joshua learn things from an intrinsic desire to do things himself rather than through extrinsic motivation. It has remained to this day one of the most challenging aspects of parenting in that we have had to really work at refining the process (which you would think would be fairly straightforward, but as we progressed it became obvious that adjustments were needed with a younger child to facilitate the process). It has also sometimes tested the limits of our patience, but has also become a shining example to us of how we need to trust our child and let him try.
Montessori philosophy holds that toilet learning sensitivity is between 12-18 months. (Please note that if toileting has not commenced during this period it is not to say that toileting cannot be achieved, this is Montessori theory). During this time we noticed that Joshua would be unhappy if he had a bowel movement and it was not cleaned up straight away, and he also displayed increasingly clear indications that he needed to go. We had already introduced the potty at times when we thought he might like to go, such as on awakening from a sleep or before bath. Once Joshua was 14 months old we started to increase the frequency with which we offered the potty as we did not want to miss taking advantage of this period where Joshua seemed more aware of what was happening. We have never forced Joshua onto the toilet or potty; he is offered it on a regular basis and if he chooses not to use it and subsequently wets himself then he is taken to be changed without recrimination.
Joshua has 2 toileting stations in the house, one upstairs and the other downstairs.
There are a few important things we have integrated in our toilet learning process which are as follows:
- Changes standing up.
Once Joshua was able to pull to stand we commenced doing all changes standing up. This is a little trickier on the care giver but we found that changes for Joshua on his back resulted in being kicked. A lot. I believe standing up made Joshua feel more involved in the process and respected. It also presented a great opportunity for Joshua to help dress himself, thus making him a part of the process.
- All changes done in the bathroom/toilet.
This helped to strengthen the association between the toilet/potty being where these things occur. The potty was available from around 6 months old and positioned in the bathroom at all times. We do not have potties lying about the house even though this might be easier as we wanted Joshua to associate toilet/potty with those certain areas of the house and not to just do it in whatever room he was in.
- Have an action plan.
I firmly believe you need to be prepared for success. Our process so far has been well planned and the significant steps we took so far are as follows:
* Nappy free time – and lots of it. Joshua has never suffered from nappy rash because of the amount of nappy free time he has had, as inconvenient as it has been for me sometimes. Please note that ANY amount of nappy free time is a learning period and should be encouraged so parents should not feel discouraged if they have not been able to give a lot due to time constraints.
* Cloth nappies – if possible Montessorians encourage parents to cloth nappy their children. While this is more labour intensive for the caregiver, it gives the child lots of time to recognise that they are feeling wet and will want to be changed. For convenience purposes many parents today do not want to use cloth nappies but cloth is definitely recommended and is cheaper than disposables in the long run.
* Observation – We took some time to observe Joshua’s toileting habits. For us it seems he needs the toilet to urinate far more in the mornings than afternoons and evenings, bowel movements tend to be afternoon or evenings.
* Slow but eventual removal of nappies – we made it clear that there were no more nappies at certain periods of the day and then finally removed them altogether. Joshua no longer wears nappies during the day and mostly stays dry. There are still occasional misses but for 20 months old we feel that Joshua is progressing well and is achieving good control.
* Trainers – we decided to invest in some quality trainers to facilitate the process. We have several different pairs, some are organic cotton and others are Bright Bots trainers which are perfect for little learners. These allow the child to feel the wetness but without having the urine simply go straight through and onto the floor/carpet so gives the caregiver time to get the child to the bathroom to be changed.
* Underpants – these are currently being worn at home and substituted with trainers while out and about. Eventually Joshua will wear underpants everywhere and we will then start on night learning.
- Requesting but not forcing child to use potty/toilet.
It has remained important to us to remain as emotionally detached from the process as possible. If Joshua does not use the potty and wets himself we simply clean it up and move on. There have been periods where he has refused to use the toilet and has seen and felt the natural consequence of his choice. While frustrating and annoying he is definitely learning.
- Working on toileting out and about in your routine.
This has definitely presented challenges as there was a stage when Joshua refused to use the potty elsewhere so there were misses. He seems to get it now and we have had several successful days out and about without any misses at all. There has been resistance to using the toilet elsewhere but I guess this should come as no surprise as most people prefer to use their own toilet at home.
- Positive language.
We do not refer to misses as “accidents”. This might seem trivial but even the word carries a negative connotation. We also do not tell him “oooh that stinks” or “yuck” for the same reasons. Yes it smells, but it would still be the same smell if you had to clean it out of a nappy. Toilet learning is about learning the process and remaining positive about the whole process is a key factor in getting Joshua motivated to continue the process and want to master it. If he has wet himself I will say Joshua you are wet, we need to get you changed. We also ensure we use the proper language to describe what is happening and body parts. If it is not something we would use in everyday conversation then we don’t refer to it in that manner.
- The prepared environment.
Be prepared for success. We set up the toileting stations and made modifications as needed to ensure that the process would be smooth once the process was underway. As you can see all of Joshua’s things are available at every toilet station in the house, we have one upstairs and one downstairs. We have trainers nearby and available for Joshua to get if he is wet, somewhere for him to sit to get changed, a bucket for soiled items to be placed into for laundering. At home he tends to prefer sitting straight on the toilet but out and about he will use a toilet or a potty which means we are able to get out and about without too many problems.
- Modelling appropriate behaviour.
We have an open door policy on toileting in our house at the moment in order to model the correct behaviour. Children learn best when led by example! This includes wiping, flushing the toilet, washing hands after going to the toilet and drying them. Every time.
Things to note:
Yes, it takes a longer time to get the process done – but all forms of learning take time. Just as we have had to teach Joshua how to prepare a snack for himself, how to eat and how to use a spoon, so does this area require the same love and patience and the time to master them.
Yes it is frustrating – all forms of toilet learning are. Believe it or not your child is also frustrated if they can’t get to the toilet on time and have a miss.
Yes there are still misses to clean up – but toileting results in misses at all ages.
Yes it requires a lot of patience – but all forms of toileting requires patience, whether or not you start when we did or later.
Yes Joshua still needs a lot of help at this stage – but there will come a time when he is able to do most things for himself. All children need help with toileting such as wiping when they are trained too, and still need it until they are much older.
Yes we have to keep reminding him at this busy stage – but how many people do you know that you still have to remind to use the toilet (e.g. partner, older child?) You may even find yourself forgetting to use the toilet in the rush of reminding everyone else before you pile out the door!
We aren’t finished yet and have not yet tackled night learning. Joshua no longer wears nappies during the day and has made significant strides in his toileting which is partly because he is ready and also because he has been an active participant in this process.
If you are considering taking the toilet learning journey I encourage you to read and draw from the variety of resources available – kindle and e-readers are wonderful for immediate download and access to the information and online resources allow parents access like never before both local and international. A few useful resources are listed below.
- Diaper free before 3 by Jill M Lekovic. This is a good read for those interested in the background behind toileting and how disposable nappies have changed the toileting landscape.
- Aid to Life – this is simple but doable information which I have found invaluable and I keep referring back to it throughout this process.
- Toilet Awareness by Sarah Moudry. I have not read this book myself but this comes highly recommended by Montessorians around the world.
There are several books that you can read to your child. We prefer those that have real pictures in them but you can also have those that are fun and make the process something to enjoy. Joshua has enjoyed Potty by Leslie Patricelli as it is a quick fun book to flip through and we read it to him while he is using the potty. We tend to keep some books in a basket nearby to read to keep things casual while on the toilet. The idea is to try and enjoy being on the toilet and Potty was amused by the story when it was read to him and clearly has understood the message of the story which has assisted with the process! There is debate for and against having books while on the toilet but we found that having some books helped Joshua relax and this in turn helps him go, especially for bowel movements. Things that I hope Joshua remembers from his toilet learning is having fun with Daddy and Mummy while on the toilet and enjoying one on one time with us. Things that I will take from this process are patience, love, understanding and happy memories of seeing Joshua’s achievements and strides forward in this area all done in his own time and achieved through our love and support of his independence.
Please remember that toileting is a process that each child needs to learn and misses are a part of this. A little understanding and kindness to parents going through the toileting process is appreciated.