How can we prepare the bathroom environment to promote potty independence? These tips apply to families practicing elimination communication with a young toddler; parents who are doing non-coercive potty training; and caregivers guiding a toddler through Montessori toilet learning.
Montessori Toilet Learning
I recently started reading about Montessori education, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori through scientific observation of the way children learn. Montessori principles are a wonderful source to draw from in guiding the transition from elimination communication, in which the parent is actively involved in the process, to toilet independence, where the child takes over responsibility for their bathroom routine. Montessori recognized that the sensitive period for toilet learning occurs around 12 to18-months-old. You can take advantage of this window to start transitioning your toddler to potty independence at an age where they are receptive and cooperative.
Fundamental to the Montessori method is careful preparation of the environment in such a manner that gives the young child the freedom to do tasks independently. Toddlers crave learning to master new skills and “do it myself!”.
Preparing the Bathroom for Toilet Independence
If you have been doing diaper changes in the bedroom or have potties scattered throughout the house, once your toddler starts walking it’s a good time to move all potty activities to the bathroom. Except, perhaps, a bedside potty for nighttime. This teaches the child that the bathroom is the location where we take care of our elimination needs.
When preparing the bathroom environment in a manner that encourages toilet independence, it helps to think through the bathroom routine and make sure that each step is accessible to the child. Ask yourself, “Is there any obstacle that is preventing my child from doing the entire process himself?”. Then modify the bathroom to remove that obstacle, or teach a necessary skill, such as pushing down pants.
I will use my 27-month-old son’s bathroom routine to guide us on a bathroom tour. This is what his routine looks like when he says, “I need to pee/poop” or when we prompt, for example when we are about to leave the house.
Getting to the Bathroom
First he runs or walks to the bathroom. Our bathroom doesn’t get much natural sunlight and the light switch is a bit too high for my son to reach, so he needed someone to come with him to turn on the light. In order to allow him to turn on the light by himself, we installed a light switch extender.
Next, he pushes down his pants and underwear. This skill took him a while to master, so I encourage starting to teach this skill early. As soon as your child is standing (around 9 to 12-months-old), it is helpful to switch from diapers to cloth training pants. This allows your child to help push the training pants down and pull them back up. When your child is around 18-months-old, you can can teach him to push down his pants himself by hooking his thumbs into the waistband and pushing down.
Potty or Toilet Seat Reducer
Then he sits down on the little potty. To help him learn to sit down on the potty by himself I let him watch a YouTube video of a toddler sitting down and using the potty. If you know a child of a similar age who is using the potty already it would be great to have him demonstrate, since children love to learn from their peers. A small potty works well for fostering independence. The BecoPotty is a nice narrow option, and it is also biodegradable! The BabyBorn Smart Potty works well from the newborn phase through potty independence.
You can also equip your bathroom with a toilet seat reducer. I recommend using a built in reducer that is attached to the toilet seat. A tall step stool or secured ladder can allow your toddler to climb onto the toilet. Make sure to give your little one a chance to practice this new skill of getting onto the toilet at a time when it’s not urgent.
Near my son’s potty we keep a small basket containing a toilet paper roll with a little bit of toilet paper remaining; wet wipes; a couple cloth wipes; and a clean dry pair of underwear (previously training pants). I originally included a copy of the Tiny Potty board book in his bathroom basket, but my son promptly informed me that books do not belong in the bathroom and took the book and put it on the bookshelf in the living room. Another option is to include a bathroom specific toy, that can provide entertainment while using the potty. My son usually occupies himself by unrolling the toilet paper or opening the pack of wipes. We also keep a Planet Wise wet bag in the bathroom, for any wet undies. A small hamper is another option for wet training pants or underwear.
After the pee and/or poo goes in the potty, it’s time to clean up. For pee, my son uses a cloth wipe or a square of toilet paper to “pat pat dry”. Some parents of boys teach just to shake for pee. For girls, it’s important to teach a forward to back motion when blotting dry the pee. If there was poo, I help by wiping with one wet wipe first, and then let my son wipe with a second one himself while bending his knees. Then we throw the wipes away in the trash or toilet paper in the toilet.
It is also convenient to have a basket of old towels or prefold diapers nearby, to clean any splashes from the floor.
My son’s favorite step of the routine is dumping the potty into the big toilet and flushing the toilet. Then I wash his potty.
He climbs up his step stool to wash his hands. Getting an Ikea Bekvam step stool that allowed him to reach the sink was one of the best things we did to promote his bathroom independence. He suddenly loved washing his hands and brushing his teeth! First he washes his hands with soap and water. Then he likes to brush his teeth and brush his hair. We keep his personal care items on a wooden tray on the counter, where he can easily reach.
Next, it’s time for him to climb down and dry his hands on a hand towel that hangs within his reach.
In a Montessori bathroom there would be a small chair for him to sit on while dressing. We don’t have much space in our bathroom, so I taught him to sit on the lower step of the Ikea stool while putting on his underwear and pants. I’m still helping with the getting dressed portion of his routine. I’ve been eyeing the new Tiny Undies LEARN collection, which helps promote self dressing.
And with a flip of the light switch, that wraps up the bathroom routine, and it’s back to play!
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What are your tips for encouraging toilet independence? Please leave a comment below.