Kickstarting Toilet Learning (Potty Training): Step By Step Guide


Inform your child it’s time to sit on the toilet. The morning toilet learning begins, you will want to let your child know shortly after they wake up that, “It is time to sit on the toilet. Would you like to sit by yourself, or do you want me to help you?” Or you can also give them advance notice: “In five minutes, I am going to take you to the toilet.” Do NOT ask open-ended questions such as: “Do you want to use the toilet?” as they will almost always say, “No.” (It is the stage of development that they are in!)

Have your child take off their underwear/diaper. (Assist only if necessary.) Please note, we encourage a bottomless 3-day kickstart.

mom potty training child

Have your child to sit on the toilet for 1-2 minutes. You want them to be comfortable and relax while on the toilet, which allow their bodies time to respond. If nothing happens, say, “You did not pee/poop in the toilet. That’s OK. We will try again in 10 minutes.” Then allow them to get up, continuing with the remaining steps. Teach boys to sit for urination as well as bowel movements. You will also want to ask them to gently press on their penis so that it is aimed into the toilet. As they grow older, they will be able to better control their aim while standing and urinating.  Teach your daughter to wipe her vulva from front to back one time after urinating.

Wiping after urinating may help prevent UTIs. Choose 2-3 squares of toilet paper, fold, and wipe.

Teach boys and girls to wipe their bottom from front to back after a bowel movement. We generally tell children to choose 2-3 squares of toilet paper, fold it in half, then to reach back and wipe. They should do this 3 times before getting an adult to check/help. Note: sitting and wiping can be challenging due to requiring the child to shift their weight and balance.  Alternatives are to ask the child to stand (or squat near the toilet) and wipe. And as yucky as it sounds, by showing them what happens when they wipe, they will understand why they need to do it! 

If your child has a miss, do not shame them or embarrass them. Simply say, “You wet your pants. Pee goes in the toilet. Let’s go sit on the toilet.” (More on this below.)


Have your child flush the toilet.


Have your child pull up their underwear/pants (if they are wearing them) We encourage a bottomless 3-day weekend, so if you choose to follow that approach, do not have your child put their pants/bottoms back on!


Have your child wash their hands – singing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing ensures they wash for a sufficient length of time. Their hands should be washed every time they sit on the toilet, not just when they are successful.


Set the timer. If your child was not successful, set the timer for 10 minutes, but meanwhile, closely watch your child for signs that they need to urinate or have a bowel movement. If they were successful, set your timer for every 20-40 minutes and let your child know that when they hear the timer, it is time to sit on the toilet again. You will also want to have toilet tries during transitions such as: when waking up, before going to sleep, before and after meals; after bath; before getting the car; upon arrival at a new destination; before and after nap; before and after outdoors time.

Demonstrate using the toilet. When you need to use the toilet, you can invite your child in to watch you and explain what you are doing.

Watch your child for signs
that they need to urinate or have a bowel movement, then calmly let them know, “It’s time to use the toilet,” and lead them to the toilet. Do not elevate your voice or startle them with sudden movement, as it may frighten them.

Frequently offer liquids.
The more often your child needs to eliminate, the better! It will help them identify and respond to the signals their body gives right before elimination.


Instead of cheering, bribing and praising for toilet use, state facts. “You used the toilet and now
your underwear are dry!” “Can you hear the urine?” Toilet learning is a natural process which
should not be stressful or require rewards! “You sat on the toilet and peed!” Please do not give
stickers, candy or other bribes.

Do not scold your child for failure to use the toilet or for “misses”. Avoid questions such as, “Why did you do that?” Or “Gross, how could you do that?” Natural consequences are acceptable. Meaning, if they miss using the toilet, they will have to pause their play to clean themselves and the floor up.

You may have some successes and other days, struggle. This is a normal part of toilet learning. Do not grow frustrated with your child, nor embarrass them by comments such as, “What happened? I thought you knew how to use the toilet?” Be matter of fact. “I see you are wet. Let’s change your underwear.” Remember, regression can also be caused by diet, health, and changes in routine.

What if your child says “no” to using the toilet, or becomes emotional?

First, make sure that you are not offering them a false choice. For example, do not say, “Do you WANT to go?” or “Do you NEED to use the toilet?” First, they are unaware of their need, and of course they would rather play than go use the toilet!

Instead, say: “It’s time to use the toilet.” Then offer them a choice. “Do you want to sit on the little toilet or the big toilet?” “Do you want to walk to the bathroom alone or with me?” “Do you want to use the toilet first or should I?” “Do you want to read this book or that book while you sit on the toilet?”

Second, stay calm. You do not want toilet learning to become a power struggle. Try to avoid this by offering choices and explaining natural consequences:

“We are going to use the toilet, then we will go outside to play.”
“We cannot go to the park until you use the toilet.”
“After you sit on the toilet, we will go make a snack.”

Or, if they end up wetting themselves, explain:

“You didn’t use the toilet when I invited you. It looks like your bladder was full. Now we need to stop playing and go change your pants.”

Third, do not force, bribe or threaten them into compliance. You want the process of toilet learning to be desirable and inviting.

If there are several days of power struggles, it may be time to step back and pause the toilet learning. If the child and/or parent are emotional and stressed out over toilet learning, it is best to stop and try again later, perhaps after a week or so.

Join us next week for part 3 of our series on the 3-Day Potty Training Kickstart!

Note: Montessorians general refer to potty training as “toilet learning”. We will use the terms interchangeably on our blog, as we know that most parents are familiar with the term “potty training.”


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