Read more about toilet learning here: Toilet Learning Readiness for Toddlers and Parents and Preparing for Successful Toilet Learning in Infancy & Beyond.
Whether you are the parent of an infant, toddler or preschooler, how you communicate about toileting matters. It forms the child’s understanding of and feelings around toileting. Here are a few specific terms to use and some to avoid.
Toilet Learning Vs Potty Training. We prefer to use the phrase “toilet learning” rather than “potty training” or “toilet training”. Toilet training is adult-led and on the adult’s time. Toilet learning is child-led and involves them in the learning process. We follow the child’s cues and guide and support them as they acquire a new skill, just like they acquire the ability to crawl, walk and speak.
We approach toilet learning as one of the “works” in the Montessori Toddler Community, and we invite the child to the work. We understand that children’s attention spans vary, and they may not follow through with all the steps involved in the work of toilet learning, just as they may not follow all steps of other works in the classroom. They may sit on the toilet for 30 seconds rather than 1 minute. They may just go in the bathroom, pull down their pants, then pull them back on. That is to be expected as they learn! As a child becomes comfortable with knowledge about toileting and the sequence of toileting, their concentration will develop.
Miss Vs Accident. We do not use the word “accident,” which can have connotations of guilt/shame. Instead, we call it a “miss” or we may just state that the child has wet their pants.
“I see you have wet your pants, let’s change them.”
“I see you had a miss. Let’s clean up!”
“Are your underwear wet or dry?”
“Your underwear are soiled. It’s time to get cleaned up.”
Neutral Vs Shaming Language & Expressions. Avoid shaming words, tone of voice and facial expressions. Do not use words like “dirty”, “stinky”, “gross”, “yucky”, “naughty”. Studies have shown that the use of negative terms can delay toilet learning.
Anatomically Correct Language Vs Slang. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that when we make up names for body parts, it may convey to our child that there is something bad about the proper name, or about those body parts. We use precise language so that the child does not have a sense of shame associated with toileting and to promote a healthy body image. We also use anatomically correct language so that our child is equipped with knowledge about themselves and how their body works. (We also use precise language to help guard our child against abuse and to equip them to talk about it should it happen.)
We use the following words to reference the process of elimination: urine, urinate, bowel movement. We also use pee and poop, since they are frequently used by adults. We do not use pee-pee, wee-wee, number 1, tinkle, number 2, poo-poo, etc. We might say things like, “Do you hear the urine?” when they pee in the toilet, or “It looks like you need to have a bowel movement.”
We also use anatomically correct language to refer to their private parts and to explain the process of elimination: penis, vulva, bladder, urethra, large intestine, rectum, etc. We might say, “Do you feel any urine in your bladder?” “We urinate when our bladders are full of urine. The urine leaves our urethra and goes into the toilet.” “Next, we wipe the vulva from front to back.”
We hope these tips and tools will help you towards a successful toilet learning journey! You can check out the following resources for more information or contact your child’s teacher or pediatrician for more information!
Montessori from the Start by Paula Lillard
Diaper-Free Before 3 by Jill Lekovic, MD
The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies
Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki