Montessori - A Parent's Guide

Potty Training with Montessori

Potty training was one of the parenting challenges I was dreading.

I’d heard horror story after horror story and had built it up to be an impossible task…and a messy one and a stressful one and a long one and a potentially psychologically damaging one. No wonder I was dreading it!

However I’d also heard from several Montessori parents that when a child was ready they would potty train themselves. That sounded idea! Where would I find one of these Montessori kids?!

As it tired out that’s exactly what happened.

Starting Potty Training with Montessori

Two weeks ago following his afternoon rest I asked Alfie if he wanted pants or a nappy, a question I’d been half heartedly posing since our first failed attempt at potty training two months earlier.

The exchange went like this;

Me: Do you want pants or a nappy?

Alfie: Nappy…no! Pants, pants!

Me: Wait, what?

Alfie: Pants on please!

And just like that we started wearing pants and using the potty! This was the second time Alfie had suggested pants. The first in mid-July was unsuccessful, primarily because Alfie wasn’t emotionally ready.

The three areas of readiness are;

Mentally ready – when the child knows what the potty is and how to use it

Physically ready – when they can ‘hold on’ for a little while and control the muscles

Emotionally ready – willing to move on from the care of a nappy and the comfort of ‘going’ wherever they like

Potty Training At 26 Months

We are using the simplest strategy imaginable. Every 20/30 minutes I asked Alfie if he needed to go to the potty. Without fail he immediately answered no every time. I reminded him how to tell me if he needed to go. I’d usually hear “Mommy wee wee potty” within a few moments if he did need to go.

We had a few accidents on the first day but less and less as the days passed until day 4 we had our first fully successful day! Success was based on frequent reminders which I reduced as the days passed.

We continued to use a nappy at night but Alfie has managed to hold on till morning and has been waking dry. Only once has he called us during the night for a wee. We tried carrying him to potty before we went to bed but that did not result in a wee and just confused us all!

I wish I had specific advise to pass on but the old Montessori cliche is true wait for the child and follow the child. When they’re ready they want to be clean and dry and work with you. Many Montessori parents refer to Potty Training as toilet learning and having experienced it I finally understand the difference.

We had the potties in the bathroom and pants in his wardrobe for several weeks, every day we mentioned them casually in passing (“It’s over there beside the potty. That’s where wee wee and poo goes.”) and occasionally asked him if he wanted pants. I think that by keeping it low key and completely without any judgement we set him up to succeed.

The only tips I’d offer are:

  • Have cleaning supplies handy (yours and theirs)
  • Keep fresh pants and a small laundry basket too so they can be responsible and independent
  • Make sure the path to the potty is always clear of toys etc and that if need be the light on is, this saves time in the early days when you don’t get much warning
  • Consider if you actually need a potty? It might be easier to go straight on to the toilet, though the potty is handy when you’re out in the woods!
  • Buy more pants, firstly to allow for their preference and secondly so you don’t run out.

Pants or No Pants For Potty Training

There’s lots of talk about foregoing pants during potty training. We tried that the first time and found it to be incompatible with Alfie’s needs and Montessori’s usual emphasis on realism. Wearing pants allowed Alfie to replicate what everyone else was doing and to act out the toilet routine he’d witness countless times. They also kept him hyper aware of when he was wet or dry, boy’s anatomy tends to keep the wet away from them if they’ve no pants on!

Crucially, I think this is what made the difference to Alfie, the pants let him measure his own success, just like the self-correcting element of the Montessori materials. He was so proud of his dry pants!

Potty Training and Praise

Abundant, vague praise has no place in the Montessori home and many parents avoiding offering any praise for potty training. While I understand the concept of not offering praise for an unavoidable bodily function I think potty training is a significant achievement and some recognition is warranted.

Freud has lots to say about potty training and a little to say about praise, I’m going with Freud on this one!

We narrated any accidents with complete neutrality, without any judgement or shame eg “We got here too late.” We invited Alfie to help clean up and put his clothes in the basket but he was under no obligation.

When things went well we spoke positively about what he had done and what was in the potty eg “You told me at the right time” or a simple “You did it” and a high five. We didn’t hold a parade and tried to keep Praise specific and relevant.

Every night in bed we recapped all his successes as we talked about the good times we’d had that day.

Hello and welcome! I’m Ted, a Mother, a Reader and a Montessori Believer! Here you'll find how we're using Montessori at home and all the ways that we try to celebrate the joy in every day (mostly with books, labdradoodles and chickens).

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