Potty training, or toilet learning, as Montessorians prefer to call it, can intimidate many parents. There are many approaches out there: potty chairs vs toilet seats, sticker charts vs candy rewards, pull-ups vs underwear, waiting for the child to initiate vs training the child. Not to mention differing opinions in when a child should learn to use the toilet!
Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise that the child begins toilet learning around the age of 18 months? This may seem extraordinarily young to many of us, when children in the United States don’t typically give up diapers until the age of 35-39 months, but it is within the parameters of the global average. In agreement with the AAP, Montessori instructors have found that the easiest time to introduce toilet learning is between 18 and 24 months. Montessori teachers have observed that after 24 months of age, toilet learning becomes more difficult as the child’s self well is more fully developed, and they can be more resistant to the idea of toilet learning.
Potty training is a vastly under-researched field, but available research indicates that children who train earlier tend to experience better results and have fewer problems (i.e. incontinence, withholding of stool, toileting refusal for stool, urinary tract infections). In addition, some studies indicate that training after 24 months is associated with higher odds of daytime wetting.
We encourage parents not to avoid toilet learning due to the inconvenience of the learning period, as they may miss the optimal window of opportunity and ultimately delay toilet learning. However, we understand that children develop on their own unique timeline and that we should avoid comparing them to peers or siblings. Toilet learning is not a matter of choice – it is a matter of whether that child is developmentally ready to learn. We encourage you to talk to your child’s teacher and pediatrician about signs of readiness or if you have any questions or concerns.
Indicators of Toilet Learning Readiness in the Child
What are the indicators that your child may be developmentally ready to learn?
- Confident walker – while a child is learning to walk, they are consumed with mastering this skill, and have little time or interest in other activities, such as sitting quietly on the potty chair or toilet! Confident walking also indicates the sphincter muscles, which control the bladder and the rectum, are developed.
- Can speak in three to four word sentences – the child is able to communicate their needs to you.
- Longer periods of time with a dry diaper and regular patterns of urination and bowel movements (If your child is constipated, or has irregular or frequent stools, it is best to wait until they digestive system has regulated before starting.) Most toddlers urinate 4-8 times a day, about every 2 hours. They may have 1-2 bowel movements each day, but some more or less – regularity is what you are looking for.
- Understands the diaper is removable, may attempt to take it off
- Can take pants on and off
- May hide during a bowel movement – expresses need for privacy
- Complains or indicates when they have urinated or had a bowel movement
- Interested in the toilet, open to sitting on it
- Can follow three to four step instructions
If you observe these signs in your child, talk to your partner and your child’s teacher about starting toilet learning!
Indicators of Toilet Learning Readiness in the Parent
Toilet learning is a process that takes time. Your child may be ready, but the parent must also be ready to fully commit to toilet learning. Toilet learning is “inconvenient” to the parent (one of the reasons parents may postpone learning), in that it requires them handle an increase in laundry, clean up messes, modify outings and social activities, and give their child more attention and time than typical. But if your child is 18 months old and shows signs of readiness, it is a window of opportunity you do not want to miss! Parenting is all about nurturing your child and providing them with the environment they need to gain independence and thrive – it is based on what our child needs, not what is convenient for us as parents.
- We advise that you modify your activity level for about a month during toilet learning. This allows you to have the time to support your child and ensure their success. Some children may toilet train very quickly while other children may take more time.
- We advise you to consider your child’s bowel movements and regularity when beginning toilet learning. If they have irregular bowel movements, a UTI, stool withholding, constipation, etc., it is best to talk to your child’s pediatrician before beginning toilet learning.
- If you are going through, or about to go through major life changes, we suggest delaying toilet learning. Life changes may include:
- a new sibling
- divorce or separation
- visitors or house guests
- holidays or vacations
Toilet learning can be a rewarding journey for both parent and child. In determining your toilet learning start, it is important to follow your child, and provide them with the support they need to master this new skill!
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