In Montessori, we don’t potty train so much as we potty learn. The difference being potty training is something adults try to do to children; Potty learning is something children do themselves. Here are some ideas to help your child’s potty learning along.
Start early. Introduce your child to the potty as early as possible. It helps to make it part of your diaper changing routine. Take off the wet or dirty diaper and sit your child on the potty while you get a fresh diaper ready. Let them sit for a couple of minutes and then take them off and put the fresh diaper on them. Children as young as twelve months can become familiar with the potty and what it is for, particularly if you use cloth diapers and so they recognize the different feelings between wet and dry and clean and dirty. Disposable diapers absorb so much liquid that it can be difficult for children to differentiate between an unused diaper and a used one. This is part of why our society ends up waiting until the age of 2 before even trying to introduce the potty. I recommend cloth diapers for a number of reasons, but not the least is how much easier it can make potty learning. Some children do not complain about being wet or dirty. If you have one of these, make sure you begin changing diapers as soon as you recognize that it may be wet or dirty so the dirty diaper becomes uncomfortable to your child and he would prefer to be in a clean one. You will start going through many more diapers, but cost effectiveness is yet another reason to use cloth at this time over disposables. You can use disposables during this time, but plan to start spending much more on them.
Be consistent. Though year-old toddlers may recognize the potty and even know when they need to use it, it may take several months of consistent potty use during diaper changes before they start showing you that they want to or can do it themselves. The habit of sitting on it will come first. Eventually they will start to use it during diaper changes, and at some point they will initiate the use themselves and start the diaper change without you. If they start doing any of the process by themselves, make sure to congratulate them. Dressing your toddler in clothes he can put on and take off himself without help also makes a difference. Stick to pants with elastic waists, rather than snaps or buttons. Whether you use cloth or disposable diapers, choose the kind that can easily be slid on and off. Do not revert back to old habits because they are easier once you start helping your toddler potty learn. He may regress and take much longer to get back to the same place. It is important for both parents and all other caregivers to be ready to do all of this when it is time.
Set a schedule. You obviously want to change diapers when it is needed, but you also want to set some times during the day that are always potty times: When your toddler gets up, after breakfast, after lunch, before he goes outside to play, before he lies down for a nap, after dinner and before bed. You probably also want to get into the habit of having potty time before you leave the house. It may also help if you have it at some other set times throughout the day. If your kid attends a daycare ask them about whether they only change diapers when needed or if they incorporate set potty times, as well as how they approach potty training. Many preschools will not accept a child who is not already potty trained, but some do. It is a tough needle to thread, if you’re a working parent with a toddler.
Accidents happen. Rather than calling them accidents, call them lessons and try to maintain neutral emotions when they happen. Remove the wet clothes and sit the child on the potty. Remind them gently that we pee on the potty and clean up the mess. Put fresh clothes on him and move on.
Some children catch on to these things early and have a good grasp on what is going on. Some children take longer. If your child is taking their clothes off themselves or showing interest in the potty, that is a good sign that he is ready to start potty learning. If he is a year or older and showing no interest, you can still start incorporating sitting on the potty into diaper changes, but try not to pressure him into anything further. Pressure doesn’t help anyone and if you worry about it too much, it is only going to stress you out.
The most important thing is that you do not let anyone else belittle you or your child while you are going through this process. Some people think that developmentally, a three-year-old should be able to use the toilet without accidents himself. For many, if not most children, this is simply not true. Most kids that age need, at the very least, reminders throughout the day. Let it be and work through it together. Follow the child. Tell your critical friend whose kid was potty trained by 9 months (read: SHE was probably trained to know her kids signals, but her kid was not ready to use the potty alone) to shove it.