Normalization: How early potty independence makes for better toddler behavior, freeing up the brain to learn
Early potty independence can cause better toddler behavior, freeing up the brain to learn. It’s called “normalization” in the Montessori school of thought, and something I feel compelled to share with you about today!
A few years ago I received an email from our Certified Coach, Elizabeth, in Colorado. She is an AMI certified teacher - a Montessori educator who specialized in the 12-18 month class at the time we spoke.
The children in her class wore cotton underpants with no outer pants right when they entered the 12-18 month old classroom, regardless of whether the parents were engaged in any sort of potty training at home. The core Montessori philosophy is to take care of potty capabilities during the 12-18 month stage of “sensitivity” to that task, as I’ve covered previously in this podcast.
That is the core task that the entire class takes on through rhythms, increasing sensitivity by wearing cotton pants, and “group training” in a matter of fact way - this is what we do here. The environment is set up for success with small toilets and things all arranged in a child-accessible, simple manner.
After the children are all confident in their pottying abilities, they are able to move on to their next “work” with a clear mind and self-efficacy under their belt.
I asked Elizabeth about this - because it is so impressive to train an entire group of 1 year olds to do anything! - and she replied that early potty learning at this absorbent age actually normalizes children’s behavior and frees them up to learn the next thing with a calm demeanor. It reduces tantrums and causes peace in the soul of the young toddler. A contentedness that is unshakable. An efficacy and self-knowledge that strengthens the child and reduces the need for tantrums and wild, disruptive behavior.
As she told me this, I realized that, yes!, this must be why I’m constantly told at restaurants and on outings that my children are SO well-behaved. They have had full mastery over their bodies, ownership, control, from very early ages, which honors them as people and allows their dignity to remain intact. They are GOOD kids, well-behaved, and have a sense of calm inner peace to them (mostly! When at home alone with mom, that’s another story LOL.).
Elizabeth shared this email with me to explain:
The fact that the toddlers act differently when toilet trained is what Montessori calls the process of normalization. Toilet learning is one major factor in aiding the child's sense of order. The purpose of dressing young toddlers in cotton underwear is not necessarily to have dry pants. It is to develop the child's will. This is one thing the child has full control over, and once given the opportunity the child is delighted to show that he or she can control it.
Many research studies have been done in relation to the process of normalization. One good book about these research studies is The Science Behind the Genius, by Angeline Stoll Lillard.
So I, being the inquisitive little Virgo that I am, grabbed a copy of Lillard’s book and began flipping through its encyclopedia-like chapters.
What I found is a LOT of evidence that supporting a child’s developing will, in complete rhythm and harmony with their natural development, absolutely frees them up to learn things and move more securely and calmly through the world.
Toddlers find a sense of order and right action once this self-mastery has taken place.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child who looks so anxious, so wild, so completely ungrounded - one whom I just want to hold and rock and tell “it’s okay, it’s okay” - one who just runs out into the parking lot and cares not what mom or dad says...a child without a sense of calm or groundedness. And every single time I see a child ridden with anxiety like this, I see a very full diaper with probably 6 hours of pee in it, sagging down toward their knees like a sad puppy begging for food (or to be changed). Every. Single. Time.
I assumed the two were connected...maybe the child is trying to run away from that literal baggage and trying to find his sense of dignity somewhere else far, far away. Maybe she is crying out for literal help...needing released from this embarrassing shackle but not knowing how exactly to ask for its removal (because no one thinks she’s mature enough to handle going to the bathroom, herself...being potty trained).
And when they need to poop? Running and hiding to do it in private, then throwing an absolute fit when needing to be changed. I mean the confusion! The chaos! The child’s mind versus his instincts...and I feel so sad for that chaos that truly has not existed until the 1960s when disposables hit the market. It was then that we started using them longer and longer and longer, without regard to our children’s natural development and needs...guided by a pediatrician who said we’d damage our children if we didn’t wait for them to say “I’m ready.”
Whew! It boils my blood that we’ve been so misled...for a giant industry to make a buck off of us. Terrible. And yes, I’ve made a podcast on that one, as well.
So back to the Montessori way of normalizing this behavior through early mastery of self-toileting.
Lillard writes, “training in attention appears to reduce aggressive behavior.” She details this idea in Chapter 4 of her book.
She quotes Montessori here: “When we speak of the freedom of a small child, we do not mean to countenance the external disorderly actions which children left to themselves engage in as a relief from their aimless activity, but we understand by this the freeing of his life from the obstacles which can impede normal development….This goal leads to the creation of a suitable environment where a child can pursue a series of interesting objectives and thus channel his random energies into orderly and well-executed actions.” Montessori, 1967b, p. 62, p. 99 in this book.
She also mentions on page 112, “people are happy when their attention is engaged in what they are presently doing, and this happiness can lead to better social functioning” which she supports with various studies. I think what she means here is that focused attention on a task results in happiness, and I see this with my own children. Doing the whole potty routine takes focus, as does paying attention to one’s own need to go pee or poo. So I can deduce that EC can lead to better social functioning and a happier baby, and I’m sure you ECers out there can attest to that!
Lastly, I’d just like to share one more thing from Lillard’s book on page 116:
“Dr. Montessori believed that her method of education returns children to their true nature, or their normal state, free of perturbations. She described the normal state of a child as “precociously intelligent, one who has learned to overcome himself and to live in peace, and who prefers a disciplined task to futile idleness” (1966, p. 148). In Montessori theory, normalization of the personality occurs naturally when children are able to make their own choices in a prepared environment; in such a situation, they begin to concentrate their attention.”
And that’s why Elizabeth told me that training the class of 12-18 month olds is the teachers’ primary task. From there on out the children’s behavior is normalized and further learning can take place.
Doing EC and wrapping it up during months 12-18 is the same bag...and I highly recommend it if you, too, want to have a child who is calmer, more self-assured, and less prone to tantrum...one who has full control over their bodily functions and does not have to feel shame by peeing and pooping into a diaper in front of others in a social setting at this age...one who is self-confident and truly holds the keys to their castle.
What a gift we can give by doing EC and early potty training. A less anxious, more confident, grounded child. Yes!
Now it’s your turn. Tell me:
Have you also found that EC or early potty learning has normalized your child’s behavior?
Do share with us now and I’ll look forward to seeing you in the comments below!
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)
With my oldest daughter it absolutely normalized her behavior and allowed her to better focus and learn new skills!
My second not in the least despite also being EC’d from birth and in undies since 12M. Bawling screaming fits daily still about how she doesn’t want to do well everything. But with 2 months until she turns 2 she is officially dry through the night.
Hoping baby girl 3 takes after her biggest sister.
So true Rose, every child is different. Sometimes they have such big emotions. It sounds like you are an EC pro! I have no doubt you will rock it with your baby girl. xx Andrea
I love EC! Persistence is key and babies are a lot smarter than we give them credit
You are so right Christy! Babies are so smart and capable of so much. I’m so glad to hear you are enjoying EC! xx Andrea
I think it also has to do with how parents who practise EC are a lot more attentive to signals and cues from the child, which creates a responsive relationship built on trust and communication. Children will act out if they feel that it is the only way they can get attention.
That is a great point Patricia!
I think so, yeah. Based on my daughter’s experience, I think when kids have no potty awareness and participation in the situation, they are bound to tantrum at times. Now my daughter can initiate at least some of her hygiene practices because I have taught her to pee in the potty and pull down get own pants. And she may still tantrum sometimes, but I am troubleshooting and taking a more active role in her digestion, hygiene, and learning. We are both more active/responsible! Win/win.
That’s great Elisa! It really does help when kids can have more independence.
Are children physically ready at that age?
Is there any research on this maybe. My cousin says that in France doctors advise not to start early as it could create issues later on?
This is from Sarah Oakwell book;’
The absolute key to the calmest, easiest potty training is to begin when the child is emotionally and physically ready. Science tells us that physical readiness tends to occur in quite a small time-frame between 24 and 30 months. This means that the child’s body is mature enough to potty train. ‘
Thank tou very much!!
Hi Nina, They absolutely are ready. Babies are born ready. Check out the about EC page here on my website. The “science” you’re referring to is also discussed on this blog post. xx Andrea