Toilet Learning – The End

Joshua's toilet station

I am often asked about Joshua’s toileting. He attends his Montessori classes and has never had a miss there and the teachers consider him ahead of most of the kids in his group in this area and were surprised at how good he was even at just on 2 years old. Am I surprised? Not really. Joshua was mostly done with daytime toilet learning at 20 months old. You can read about our toilet learning experiences here and here. I don’t see this as a race. To me he did not start or finish particularly early or late, he started and finished in his own time.

Our toilet learning experience was a pleasant one, it was difficult at some points but generally was not stressful. We have not rushed or hurried through. We have taken our time. Joshua has done things when he has been ready and has easily moved through night time learning at his own pace.

When I think back to when we started this process. I have observed others with their own paths with their children toilet training. Some wait until later. Some start earlier. What I have observed is the sensitivity to this topic. There are strong feelings about this topic. Why? Starting too early and we might damage a child. Start too late and we might cause irreparable damage or never learn. I don’t accept any of these arguments as a reason delay or not commence toilet learning as life experience – not as a chore to be gotten through. In our experience we have allowed Joshua to show us where he is at with his toileting. He showed sensitivity to soiled nappies and wetness from quite early on. We would talk about the toilet/potty and talk about one day when he would use the toilet.

So how did we do it? There is no special trick or easy path in my opinion. There is no set formula for how a child should or will learn. But here is a quick summary of what we did do before we commenced and before we made changes as Joshua progressed:

1. Observe.
I considered removing nappies altogether to progress Joshua’s learning. This allowed my observations to improve. When and what signs was Joshua showing before he needed to go? How frequently? Was there a time of day that he usually needed to go? I observed. I watched and waited. What did he seem to have the most awareness of? Initially with Joshua I noted he was quite aware of when he needed to poo and gave some very obvious signs that he needed to go. This was an interesting observation for me as many people I spoke to said that their child found wee much easier to get under control, possibly as they have more practice at it each day. Observation goes both ways – we have had an open door policy to Joshua and he has been observing us using the toilet since he was young so it is a natural part of daily life, like eating or sleeping.

2. Plan ahead and having a robust plan in place prior to making changes.
There were many considerations and each of the things I put in place were based on the observations I had made. I put down a waterproof sheet. I left the door open. I put up a night light in the bathroom. I considered putting a potty in Joshua’s room at night – we decided against this as we wanted Joshua to identify the bathroom as the place to go to the toilet, not his bedroom.

3. Be prepared to change your plans.
The best laid plans sometimes don’t work. Tweaking the setup or adjusting your approach – this includes your words as well as your actions – is expected. I found that Joshua responded best to having 2 stations available, one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs toilet is small so we could not fit a potty in there so we put it directly outside the toilet. We set up a little chair, a bucket for soiled clothing and a basket for fresh clothing and underwear. Upstairs we didn’t need a little chair as Joshua would sit on his step stool – which is just the right size for him to sit on – and change himself. I could also sit behind him to help him with his clothing or cleaning up. Fairly quickly it became obvious that Joshua would be better off on the toilet so we set up steps and an insert on the toilet so he could do so, he can climb quite well.

4. Know what values your family holds – generally as well as regarding toileting – and try to remember these when things get difficult.

One thing I refused to do is the “dream wee” which is when you place your child on the toilet before going to bed yourself (they are still half asleep) so that they go to the toilet and theoretically can last until morning. As Joshua sleeps through the night it felt wrong to me that we should wake him and part of his experience of learning is that he needs to learn to wake himself and take himself to the toilet when he needs to go. This has come to him naturally but has taken some time. He gets himself up, he comes to us to ask us to go with him as he likes company in the bathroom at night. He gets up to the toilet independently. He takes himself back to bed. For us it was important that he learn this in his own time and way, no matter how many times we told him that he needed to get up or wake himself up at night to go to the toilet it was a new and difficult thing to do. So we waited it out. We did not rouse him because it suited us for him to start or to finish toilet learning. We talked a lot about how good it would be to wear undies all the time and not nappies. And wouldn’t you know it he told us that he wanted to wear undies and not nappies at night and has understood that he needs to get himself up to go to the toilet – or ask for help. For us it felt wrong to wake him, for others this might not be the case. For others there are other factors that are more important to them – their child might drink a lot of water before bed so they feel that this is necessary for example. Whatever works for you.

Joshua has learned so much during toilet learning – but so have I. I have learned:

  • To trust and respect in a child’s ability to master his own body.
    Joshua is only 33 months old and it is hard to think that he was not yet 2 (20 months old) when he completed day learning and 30 months when he completed night learning.
  • To engage a child during day to day processes and doings.
    I see toilet learning as opportunities for bonding and love, not a time for resistance and power struggles. I am so glad that we have avoided this over toilet learning. I see Joshua exerting his will elsewhere and we can deal with that but toileting has never been an area where we have had issues. I remember watching and waiting for signs that he no longer wished to be changed on his back and clearly remember how much happier he was when we talked about and then started changes standing up.
  • Referring to body parts by proper names.
    Too often I have seen and heard parents referring to body parts by nick names. This process has enabled us to refer to body parts properly so there is no mistaking what we mean.
  • Patience.
    I don’t think I have ever gritted my teeth and asked for strength so many times while we were toilet learning. Patience to understand that Joshua was learning. Patience to clean up another miss. Patience because he didn’t ask for the toilet when he needed to go. Patience because he refused to go and wet himself. Patience to remember that Joshua is and was just a little boy and still learning and not to take the opportunities away due to my own frustration.
  • The impact of positive and negative language.
    All too often I observe people referring to a child’s miss as an accident. That in of itself to me has negative connotations and shame. I have observed parents getting angry and yelling at the child or at least raising voices and telling a child how disgusting it is that they didn’t go in the toilet. How smelly it is, how big a mess they have made. We tried very hard to make experiences positive for Joshua. We referred to them as misses but as opportunities to learn. Joshua learned to pull down his pants, pull up his pants, wash his hands, wipe himself. Sometimes he needed to help clean up too, put his wet clothes into a bucket for washing. This is important even when the child is in nappies and still small.
  • The importance of experiences.
    A child’s life is made up of experiences – both positive and negative. I believe those early experiences are so important and that it is my job to make Joshua’s early experiences the best that they can be. Toilet learning is an experience that he has had and one that he needed work at and master in his own time. This is not an adult led experience – I did not feel it right to let him get to *insert appropriate age* and then expect him to learn how to use the toilet immediately without any mistakes. As with anything like learning to walk, learning to feed himself, these things take time and deserve opportunities to master.
  • Kindness and understanding for toilet learning.
    So often I hear of about how painful and frustrating and what a chore toilet learning/training is. I found it hard. The washing and cleaning up from it was not hard but if you’re anything like me you like a clean house. Having gone through the process I can say that I look at others – whether they are doing toilet training or learning – and I think that there needs to be a lot more kindness for those going through it, the child and the adult. We hear about how the child missed again, or how the parent started too early or too late or other criticisms. Toilet learning is hard. For parents and children in earshot of such comments it makes it harder and more frustrating. A little kindness for this process is requested and so much more helpful. We found encouraging Joshua’s little friends through the process too so helpful. We all get there in the end.
  • Love.
    Seeing this small person go through such a challenging process makes my heart feel so big. Throughout all the obstacles and all the clean ups one thing remains. Love is needed for this whole process. Love, understanding and empathy for this little person who is growing up so quickly. All too soon it is over and before you the toddler is gone and the child is in his/her place.

So the answer is: we didn’t do it. We provided the opportunities to learn. The accomplishment is for Joshua alone. This has been his journey and we have been along for the ride to watch him progress from unknowing to knowing. Mastering his body and accomplishing self care and life skills. We are pleased that we have never offered him rewards to do this, that he does this for himself and no one else.

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Toilet learning – the next stage?

Night learning items collage

Since my last post we have made significant strides with regard to toilet learning. The days are mostly dry, even after nap time and going out and about.  Joshua still needs to be offered the toilet but is generally making it known that he needs to go – more often than not now he is indicating he needs to go rather than us asking. Learning out and about is going smoothly; he holds on very well, and we generally offer the potty when we arrive at our destinations. Initially when we commenced the process I would offer it whenever we arrived somewhere, but after observation of Joshua’s toileting habits, I generally go by feel now rather than stringently offering the potty when we get somewhere as he might have gone prior to leaving the house. We use his potty out and about with ease: at friend’s houses, in the back of the car (benefits of having a hatchback!), in public restrooms (potty on hand) and at the park. We even did a day trip to the zoo and had no misses and we were gone from the house most of the day. Joshua’s Nonno has been caring for Joshua too, he helps him to the toilet at his house. Joshua is getting more comfortable using a toilet as we have transitioned him to using one at home. When we are at other people’s houses he is starting to want to use those instead of the potty, as long as he is able to climb onto the toilet comfortably, or is helped up to sit (we have a toilet insert that I bring along and Joshua is mostly happy being there as long as he can hold onto me for support). Nonno found Joshua trying to climb up on their toilet to go which is a good sign that he is feeling comfortable about using the toilet elsewhere. At parent-toddler class he also uses the toilets. At the moment he still needs help to get onto it but is quite happy to use it.

Practically Joshua can now pull down his trainers and pants. He still needs help pulling them up but makes a good effort at it. He is able to hold for a lot longer so the control is there so if there is a need to wait (e.g. stuck in traffic, just not able to stop) he is able to control this long enough to be offered. Often he still requires a bit of assistance to get pants down and up as he might really need to go but he is practicing. Often he likes to completely remove his shoes, pants and trainers/underwear to sit on the toilet (especially at home) and still wants me to go with him. He still needs reminding to wash his hands thoroughly and often wants me with him to help him, especially when we are out and about.

With this in mind we have commenced our transition from trainers to underwear during the day.  Joshua’s toileting confidence is increasing by the day; I see the rare misses we have these days as practice – that I have missed an opportunity to identify that he needs to use the potty or distraction by Joshua being preoccupied, and we just clean up and move on. At almost 23 months old it is still my job to assist him until he is able to completely do it himself. In this process I do not have the expectation that Joshua will be taking himself to the toilet all the time on his own, he will continue to need prompts to go. Overall I feel that this stage has been progressing well. We attended a housewarming party and Joshua indicated his need to use the toilet so I hurried him there. Luckily there were toilet steps and a seat insert available, much like the one we have at home, so it made the experience a good one for him. He needed more help here as he did not know where the toilet was. (Mental note: let your child know where the toilet is when you arrive at an unfamiliar destination.)

After his night sleep Joshua sometimes wakes up dry, other times wet. He is now able to open the door and come into us in the morning. I suspect that he might be coming to me because he needs to go to the toilet, but then again it could be hunger. In the evenings he is starting to resist putting on a nappy and sits down to put on his underwear or trainers. In any case we will be ready to try night learning shortly. I’m expecting disrupted sleep, changes of clothing and sheets that will be required and tweaking and adjustments to the current plan to commence the learning process. So at the moment these are the items that I believe will be required:

  • Waterproof cover for the bed.
    Initially we were not going to use anything but the mattress protector but as time has gone on I have changed my mind. In the middle of the night I do not want to be pulling up the bed sheets! I have considered a few options, these include Brolly Sheets (and other similar products), possibly lanolised woollen blankets or just putting down a small waterproof circle pad that I have from giving Joshua nappy free time when he was little. If we use woollen blankets I would need to lanolise them however from a comfort point of view Joshua often sleeps face down these days so I am not sure he would find putting his face on wool very nice to sleep on. It is however a good option as it is a natural fibre, breathes, and is not expensive.
  • Potty.
    We have some high back potties from Joshua’s earlier toilet learning for the house. We used Ikea high back potties and for out and about the Ikea smaller portable potty. I do love the Baby Bjorn potty chair as it is nice and stable but as we needed 2 of these – we have upstairs and downstairs toilet stations – it was a little pricey so decided on Ikea as the more thrifty option. I thought putting a potty in his bedroom would make it more accessible for him rather than leaving his room at night to go to the toilet. If we did this we might need to put on a light in his room so he can see what he is doing and sit on the potty. Otherwise we would leave it in the bathroom which might necessitate leaving his door open while he sleeps rather than closing it which is what he is used to.
  • Changes of clothes.
    These should be kept on hand right near the bed to ensure that all changes are done quickly in the night if needed without needing to disturb Joshua by trying to find new clothes and turning on the lights etc.
  • New bedding.
    Bedding should be on hand nearby to change if needed (Joshua currently sleeps with a few bamboo blankets on him).
  • Bucket.
    For soiled clothing/bedding to throw into quickly if required.

I have heard people talk a lot of about a “dream wee” when they are toilet training their child which means you take them to the toilet when they are half asleep at the same time every night so that they can urinate and head straight back to bed on an empty bladder so they can hold the rest until morning. I don’t believe that the introduction of a “dream wee” will be beneficial at this stage as I think Joshua will not appreciate being disturbed while he is sleeping. That is my thought at the moment – I might change my mind throughout the process as 12 hours is a long time to go without using the toilet. This may result in early morning disruptions as Joshua is very aware of wetness these days and I am sure will wake from discomfort and call for me but I am prepared to do that rather than wake him fully to put him on the toilet. I am sure I would not be very happy to be woken to go to the toilet and then put back into bed in the middle of the night while in deep sleep – we trialled this during the day which resulted in Joshua waking and being extremely grumpy. Part of toilet learning is learning to wake because your body alerts you to the fact that you need to go to the toilet. An alternative to this is to have a potty in Joshua’s room however I am uncertain about this as I do not want to weaken the association of toileting in the bathroom so I am as yet not decided on how we will proceed on this front. Should we decide leave it in the bathroom then we might need to ensure there is adequate lighting for him to make his way to the toilet. My husband is talking about putting in some night lights which flick on when there is movement which is a power saver as compared to having overhead lights on all night.

As you may have guessed from my posts I am an advocate for having a plan and being prepared for the toilet learning process. Having everything on hand and being prepared for as many eventualities and problems that might be encountered is a must, especially as this is night time learning and it is best to deal with issues promptly to cause minimal disruption to the child at night. We planned our daytime learning very meticulously so that to date we have never actually been caught out having run out of supplies or not having a potty available to use. Our process is robust and we have not had any misses that have gone into the bath or into the car seat. Part of that might be luck but mostly I think the planning and consistency we put into this has seen the process be relatively smooth.

Yes this has been a long process, one we commenced some time ago. We are seeing many benefits of having a toilet learning toddler who is I would say most of the way to completing the process. No nappies. No nappy rash. A strong awareness and want by Joshua to complete this function on his own (but my company is welcome!). As with the first part of this process it is daunting. Taking off the nappy for night sleeps is a very long period of time to not have a nappy on. Trust is required. Trust that Joshua will call me if he needs me. Trust that with practice he will learn to wake and take himself to the toilet in the night and will learn to hold until morning.

Jill Lekovic, the author of “Diaper Free Before 3”, has this to say and it sums up for me why we are persisting to do what we do here. 

“I often hear parents in the office express concerns that it will ‘take too long’ if they begin training earlier. People have developed a sense that if their child is not toileting without much reminding or help then they are wasting their time and should leave him in diapers until he is older. Many parents have proudly told me that their child one day ‘asked for underwear’ and then ‘trained himself’ with almost no accidents at all. No child should have to reach the stage of development where he can recognise underwear at the store and tell you he would want to wear it instead of diapers before you even introduce him to the potty.

Parents should not measure how successful they were at potty training by how little time and effort they invested in it. If there are benefits to the child who has delayed toilet training, then they have not been reflected in any of the {many} studies done on this topic. The problems with delayed training are discussed at length in this book, and I think there are more than enough reasons to make an extra time commitment to this task.”

It is not for savings in nappy washing or costs or to prove anything to anyone. We are doing this at Joshua’s pace and I anticipate not too many posts on toilet learning as we are almost complete.

Do you have experiences with night toilet learning? If you have any suggestions on the issues I have raised above I would love to hear them.

Toilet learning – the story so far

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.

Joshua's downstairs toilet station

Joshua’s downstairs toilet station

There are a few important things we have integrated in our toilet learning process which are as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Toilet learning toddler

Toilet learning toddler

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.