Preparing for Potty Independence (Montessori Inspired)

This is a Guest Post from our Go Diaper Free Certified Coach Heidi Avelino - she writes about EC and early potty training at ECpeesy.com/blog. Enjoy this very helpful post! xx Andrea
Preparing_for_Potty_Independence

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.

Bathroom Routine

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.

Undressing

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.

Bathroom Basket

Bathroom_Basket

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.

Cleaning Up

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.

Toddler_Bathroom_Routine

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.

Montessori_Care_of_Self_Tray

Next, it’s time for him to climb down and dry his hands on a hand towel that hangs within his reach.

Dressing

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!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, Heidi will earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

What are your tips for encouraging toilet independence? Please leave a comment below.

Heidi Avelino

About Heidi Avelino

Heidi Avelino is a Go Diaper Free Certified Coach based in Honolulu, Hawaii. She practiced EC with her son starting when he was one-month-old. He is now three-years-old and potty independent. Heidi is here to help make your child's potty learning journey easy peasy. Find her writing about elimination communication and Montessori toilet learning on the EC Peesy Blog. To receive helpful tips on practicing EC and early potty training please join the EC Peesy Mailing List.

17 Comments

  1. Kerstin on April 8, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Nice article Heidi! I love the note that your son told you books don’t belong in the bathroom, they are such organized creatures :) Preparation of the environment is key to them feeling appreciated and capable and gives them such a boost of self-esteem!
    As for helpful gear I would add a faucet extender and sink handle extender (which I see from the picture wouldn’t work for your sink, but does with handles that turn back-forth or single hand mixers). http://www.amazon.com/Aqueduck-Child-Faucet-Extender-Single-Handle/dp/B00KDSBJQ8/ref=sr_1_11_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1460129536&sr=8-11&keywords=aqueduck (not an affiliate link, and other similar products are available).

    • Andrea Olson on April 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      Great recommendation Kerstin!!! We’ll have to use those in our house too.

    • Heidi on April 8, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks, Kerstin! Yeah, I thought the Tiny Potty board book looked so cute in the basket, but we had never given my son toys or books to play with while he was on the potty. Since learning about the Montessori method, I now realize how toddlers love to keep things orderly and in their place! Thanks for suggesting the faucet and sink handle extenders, those would be helpful too.

  2. Michelle - The Potty School on April 8, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Heidi, love this article! The photos are great and help to point out how simple we can make things on our kiddos! No need for elaborate sticker charts and bribery…just a simple basket full of “I do” items!

    • Heidi on April 8, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Michelle! The topic of stickers and M&M’s and other prizes came up in our last local Go Diaper Free meeting. I tried to explain that for toddlers, the pride of being able to “do it myself!” is enough of a reward. And for my son, his “prize” was getting to dump the little potty into the big toilet and flush.

  3. Robin on April 8, 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve never heard of the light switch extender. Thank you for the new idea. My kiddo just moves the stool across the bathroom for the light switch, then to the sink for washing hands. But if it is too dark, then the extender makes sense. As a social worker I so love the idea of removing barriers to potty independence. It probably reduces the frustration or resistance that some parents face from their toddlers, and has the benefit for the kids feeling accomplished.

  4. Heidi on April 8, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Robin! We got the Kidswitch Light Switch Extender, and it also glows in the dark. For us, it was the last little piece of the puzzle to allow our son to do the whole process himself.

  5. Jessica on April 8, 2016 at 8:13 pm

    Heidi, thank-you so much for the brilliant suggestions and lovely pictures of how you prepare your environment. I have always loved the Montessori style of teaching and learning, and I love how proud our children feel when gain that sense of independence and they finally master a new skill on their own. This was an excellent read. Thank-you!

    • Heidi on April 8, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks, Jessica! I love seeing the pride in mastery, that alone is enough of a reward!

  6. Danielle on April 9, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Really do-able simple ideas that make all the difference. Thanks for sharing it Heidi!

    • Heidi on April 10, 2016 at 2:09 am

      You’re welcome, Danielle!

  7. Starla on April 9, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Heidi, thank you so much for this article! It is exactly what I needed. Just yesterday I was standing in the bathroom thinking my 10 month old will be walking soon and I know she will want to “do it herself”. Now I know how to set up my bathroom so it will be toddler friendly and give her the best chance at being potty independent. Thanks for all the good ideas!

  8. Heidi on April 10, 2016 at 2:11 am

    You’re welcome, Starla. I’m glad you found it helpful and timely!

  9. Di on March 14, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Hi. We have started putting my 6 month old son on a Munchkin potty. And after he is done, I pick him up and wash him with water from a squirt bottle (not sure how else to describe the bottle, but it is the bottle I received from the hospital after delivering him). I have noticed that washing with warm water and then patting him dry is the number one reason to reduce diaper rash. He still wears a diaper, haven’t figured out how to “catch” the pee.
    My question for you ladies is, what do you do when not in your home or someone else’s home.

    • Andrea Olson on August 10, 2017 at 10:27 am

      Hi Di – Sorry just seeing this comment today! I am sure you’re well past this, but for others who see your question, I’d like to answer it now. That is a peri bottle you’re talking about (a perineum wash is usually what is put in it, water or herbs or betadine). :) You can learn how to catch with my book – https://godiaperfree.com/thebook – but to EC in someone else’s home, just bring a mini potty or toilet seat reducer in your diaper(free) bag! :)

  10. Kevin on April 18, 2017 at 3:17 am

    Hi, I have a problem with my child that she does not wants to seat in the tools or anythings else. So it very difficult to control her when she wants to go in toilet.
    So what can I do on this situation.

    • Andrea Olson on August 10, 2017 at 10:26 am

      Hi Kevin! The best thing in your situation is to use a toilet seat reducer such as this one –
      https://godiaperfree.com/weepod – so that your child will remain seated until potty time is done.

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