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Potty Training the Montessori Way – Q&A with an Expert

Potty Training the Montessori Way – Q&A with an Expert


I’ll be honest. When it comes to potty training, I have felt pretty clueless as to where to start and what to do. Like everything else, there is a lot of conflicting information on the subject.

About six months ago, I bought the book Diaper-Free Before 3. While I didn’t read it cover to cover, my biggest take away at the time was that I needed to introduce my then 18-month-old to the child-sized potty sooner rather than later.

I immediately ordered one of them and within two days it was at my home. From there, I began talking to him about the potty and giving him time (during the day) without his cloth diaper on. Within just a few days, he was routinely using the potty, both poop and pee. I was amazed. I kept thinking, “Wow, cloth diaper kids really do adjust quickly to using the potty!”

There were numerous times when he didn’t even need prompting to go use the potty. He would simply stop mid-play and race over to the bathroom. We were on a roll and I was in awe at how simple this transition appeared to be.

After about two weeks of this, he just stopped. He lost all interest in using his potty. I respected his choice and let the potty training take the back seat, all the while wondering what I could have done differently and if I rushed him by introducing it so “soon”, as some in my network had suggested.

With his second birthday knocking on the door, I decided to ask an expert on the Montessori way to potty train. I made a few phone calls and within a couple of days I was connected to Tina Wallace, program director and lead teacher for Oxford Academy Toddler Environment. She has her AMS Early Childhood Montessori Credential from MMTEC and her AMS Infant and Toddler Credential from MECA-Seton in Chicago, Illinois.

It was a true blessing for Tina to share her knowledge with me; her passion for children and the Montessori way of life is contagious! I shared my son’s potty training story with Tina, and then dove into my questions for her.

Q: Could you share with me what the best potty-training routine looks like for a toddler in your Montessori classrooms and WHEN the best time is to start? 

Sure! Diaper changing and potty training are a regular part of the daily routine in our toddler classroom. We are careful to “follow the child” and proceed at each child’s individual stage of development. We watch for the child’s interest and other indicators that show he/she is entering a sensitive period (usually around 18 to 24 months) for potty training.

From the start, children are changed in the bathroom area.  This is important as it sends a clear message to the child that this is where we go to be changed and use the toilet. Each child is invited to go to the bathroom when they feel the need to go potty. Caregivers are down on the floor to assist the children as needed. We want children to be an active participant in the changing process, so they are changed in the standing position. This helps encourage independence with self-care (dressing and undressing), and also eases them into the transition of using the toilet.

Q: What if your child is resistant to potty training?

When children are resistant to being changed or sitting on the potty, acknowledge their feelings by repeating back to them what they may be saying, (“You don’t want to go potty now”). Follow this with, “In one minute it will be time to try the potty.” Be sure to avoid adding, “OK?” at the end of this statement because you will be giving them the choice of whether to try again or not. Move away and allow the child to absorb the information you have just given him/her.  Be sure to follow through with your directions to the child and come back to assist them as needed. If the child is involved in an activity, wait until he/ she is finished, or invite the child to take part of the activity with them to the bathroom.

Q: Is it common, like in my case, for a child to stop potty training?

It is not unusual for children to make good progress for a while and then stop or regress a bit. This is a big step for them and it will take time to figure out and practice. Try not to get discouraged or give up. Keep moving forward and be consistent everyday!

Q: How can I make sure my space is set up to be a more adequate Montessori environment?

Make sure the bathroom area is prepared for the child to use. Sturdy stools and/or potty seats aid in helping children to feel stable and safe while sitting/standing. Removing shoes and pants completely and freeing the child’s feet and legs will help them balance better while sitting on the potty. Allow the child to decide what position (sitting or standing, facing front or backwards) they are comfortable using to go potty in. It is sometimes helpful to have a small basket of books or objects, or pictures on the wall, to help the child pass the time.

When the child is finished using the potty, gently encourage him/her to dress self (assist as needed) and wash their hands. We always acknowledge whatever progress the child made during each time and say, “Hooray, you tried the potty today! We will try again (then name when it will be time to try again).”

Q: When should a parent begin a child’s transition to underwear?

When children are staying dry for long periods, telling you when they are wet or messy and having success using the potty, it may be time to transition into underwear. The thick quilted training pants work best as they allow the child to feel the wetness and are more absorbent then the thinner cotton underwear. When circumstances allow, let the child go bare-bottom. This can help them see and understand what is happening. Once children start wearing underwear, it is important to keep using them. Going back and forth is confusing to the child and sends the message that we don’t trust or expect them to continue using the toilet. In the long run, potty training will be more successful for the child and you if all caregivers help and keep the child’s routine consistent.

Q: It’s so easy to get frustrated. Do you have any advice specifically for the parent/caregiver’s mindset, during the potty training process?

Potty training can be a pleasant experience. It is important to be calm, relaxed and PATIENT! These feelings will transfer to the child and help them feel safe and comfortable during this journey. Be careful to avoid giving the child negative messages about their body or what is in their pants. We talk about what we are doing throughout this process and how it feels good to be clean and dry.

What great advice! I already feel so much more confident moving forward. As my intuition has guided me, this entire process is truly about providing your little one with the right set of tools, a little proper structure and a whole lot of love and patience.

Do you have any questions about potty training your toddler? Ask in the comments below and we’ll follow up with Tina Wallace to get them answered! Feel free to also share your potty training experience – what worked and didn’t work for you?

Some Toughts (7)

  1. Lisa
    added on 23 May, 2015

    Any advice on potty training a 2year old that is unable to walk or talk yet? He sits and uses the potty chair as part of his diaper change routine currently.

    • Tonya Holcomb
      added on 2 Jun, 2015

      Hi Lisa!
      I wish had some concrete advise for you, but I would need to have a better understanding of your situation as a whole to really help. From this question, I think it’s great that you are including the potty chair as part of your diaper changing / self care routine. Making it a small part of your every day will go a long ways. Blessings to you mama. ~Tonya

  2. added on 2 May, 2016

    Hi Tanya

    Great tips here really enjoyed reading your article,

    I think preparation is the biggest part of potty training, if you nail this you will have great success.


  3. added on 6 Dec, 2016

    This sounds a bit more like conventional potty training advice than Montessori toilet learning. Montessori recognized the sensitive period for toilet learning to be 12 through 18-months-old. This is before the toddler begins to resist the process. At this age, the child can switch to cloth training pants and be reminded when it is time to use the toilet.

  4. Bridget
    added on 4 Apr, 2017

    Hi, I have a 23 month old who has every sign of readiness for potty training, for example he asks to sit on toilet (he’ll poop 5 minutes later in his diaper), we also cloth diaper.
    Even though we are Montessori inclined, he goes to a Mothers Morning Out twice a week which does not do potty training or have the option of using a potty. He has to wear disposables there as well. Unfortunately, after he goes to MMO it feels as if every week its a regression.

    I know he’s in a sensitive period and I don’t want to miss it. How can I effectively potty train while my child is in a mmo that doesn’t support it?

  5. Ebony Pearson
    added on 7 Feb, 2019

    My 2.5 y son is doing exceptionally well with potty training, but struggles at daycare due to their philosophy of putting child on every hour or so. When at home, my son goes when he needs to go and doesn’t feel the need to tell us.
    I am considering putting him in a montessori school once he turns three but i wonder how he will make the transition. do you have any suggestions on how i can make the transition to montessori from traditional daycare easier for my toddler?

    • Amanda
      added on 4 Mar, 2019

      Hi Ebony-

      Transitions can be challenging, even for adults. My suggestions would be to stick with routines. Have open communication with the staff and work together so that routines are similar at both daycare and home.

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