Monday, April 15, 2013

Early Potty Learning the Montessori Way- Our Journey

Disclaimer: This is a long post!  But, do not fear, you don't have to read it all-  I really want it to be helpful for those interested, so I've presented lots of information and lots of the same information in different ways, so you can choose which version works best for you!  If you have questions or tips for other parents, please comment!

Here's what you'll find below:
  • Overview
  • Our Basic Action Plan
  • Summary of Early Potty Learning by Month
  •  What I'd Do Differently
  • Our Favorite Potty Books
 As I've described in several posts, we began potty learning quite early by current Western standards.  Dr. Montessori considered the "sensitive period" for potty learning from 12-18 months.  We started at 14 months. When I started our journey, I looked for sources and stories from other families for inspiration, but, frankly, I did not find very much. Two of my favorite Montessori blogs had some information (How We Montessori (it was especially interesting to follow this mom's journey as her son and my son are the same age, so we were struggling together!) and Vibrant Wanderings).  Additionally, I used some elimination communication resources (specifically this book and this book) for tips, although we were certainly beyond the timeline for EC.
   It was a very slow road- with many pit stops along the way, but ultimately one that I'm very happy we took.  So, I wanted to share our journey- month by month- with the goal of helping or possibly inspiring other early potty learning families.

Our Basic Action Plan
  1. Introduce potty, when child is interested and comfortable, encourage her to sit on potty.
  2. A few hours of daytime diaperless time.  During elimination, introduce your sign and/or verbal cue.  Move child to potty during/after every elimination and explain that all elimination happens on the potty.  Encourage them to help clean up any messes, but otherwise use no reward or consequence.
  3. Increase diaperless time during the day as understanding progresses.  Move to diaperless time during naps.
  4. Go diaperless outside of the house (use trainers or just bring extra clothes).
  5. Go diaperless at night.
***If at any point, your child is clearly uncomfortable or upset by the potty, put it away for awhile.  You don't want your child to have negative feelings toward the potty!

Short Summary by Month

13 Months
For the first time, I noticed that Q-ball indicating to me that she was "feeling" when she was peeing.  As a baby who was never bothered by dirty diapers, I felt this was a significant change that signaled readiness for potty learning.  For the next few weeks, I researched potty learning (see sources listed above).

14 Months
I finally got around to buying a potty. We just set it in front of Q-ball on day, explained what it was for and waited for her to be comfortable to sit on it.  It really didn't take long- just about a day or two.  At this point, we started going diaperless at home for a few hours a day.  When Q-ball peed on the floor, we would make the sign for "pee" and a "pssss" sound.  We then moved her to her potty and encouraged her to clean up the mess.  We went through lots and lots of towels.  We were lucky that Q-ball did not mind sitting on the potty; if anything, she loves it- we get to read lots and lots of books.  But, no "catching" this month. 

15 Months
Q-ball started to make the sign for "pee" and within the next 10 minutes would normally pee.  Still, we didn't catch every pee.  Mainly, in retrospect, because I do not think I was fully committed.  I was a little too casual about potty learning at this point, I think as a result of reading some Montessori resources over resources completely devoted to potty learning.  When Q-ball signed, I would not completely drop everything and wait on the potty for the next however long.  As a result, I think I missed a real opprotunity at this point to help Q-ball connect a her physical sensations to moving to the potty. 

16 Months
Not much changed.  Diaperless time did increase to any time at home.  One major difficulty for us was that I was never able to figure out Q-ball's elimination schedule.  I kept lots of notes and observations, but, frankly could never really figure out a schedule that was consistent.  Perhaps she started holding her pee very early in the process?

17 Months
Q-ball was obsessed with watching others go potty.  Whenever we were out and someone went into another door, she would look at me and make the sign for "pee" with the "psss" sound.  Also, I was dragged into bathrooms during every outing.  Q-ball herself, however, was not overly interested in eliminating on the potty herself.

18 Months
For the first time, Q-ball moved to the potty herself and peed!  Biggest success yet!  She was very excited and kept looking in her potty to see if it's full of pee, but, alas, we still didn't have too much success.

19 Months
At times, Q-ball catches accidents half-way and runs to her potty, but, mostly, we still go through lots of towels.  I should stress that we sit on the potty A LOT.  Like, Q-ball will ask to sit on the potty for over an hour reading but will not think about peeing.  She definitely holds her pee.  As we still wear diapers when we go out and at night, and I know that she is holding her pee until these times.

20 Months
Stomach bug strikes household for several weeks.  After a traumatizing diaperless experience for Q-ball and Daddy, we decide to take several weeks off potty learning to prevent any major setbacks.  (Q-ball clearly was really disturbed by the incident was begged not to go diaperless during this time.)

21 Months
I really start to take potty learning more seriously this month.  I keep fairly strict schedules for when we sit on the potty, although if Q-ball is clearly upset, I don't force anything. Also, we don't always do diapers when we go out- we also wear cloth trainers. Potty successes daily- mainly when we first wake up and before bed.  But, we also traveled to see family, and Q-ball was not interested or comfortable practicing anywhere other than home.  We took about a week to get back into our schedule at home.  I know that we are still dealing with some pee holding. 

22 Months
Q-ball's "I-got-it!" day finally has struck.  I think that my increased focus on potty learning had a major impact.  Where we once sat on the potty for 15-20 minutes before Q-ball eliminated, now there is success pretty much as soon as we sit on the potty.  We now do not wear diapers outside of the house, although we still have accidents- we just bring lots of extras.  We ordered an extra potty for the car and encourage Q-ball to use the potty before we go into a store, to the park, etc.  Q-ball even took rather easily to pooing on the potty.  While we did have a few instances of holding her poo and some emotional potty experiences and explanations of how it all works, we did not have complete refusal. 

23 Months
I'd been looking for the time to introduce nighttime pottying with Q-ball, nervous that it would be quite dramatic as diapering is part of our very set bedtime routine.  But, one night, Q-ball announced she only wanted to wear pants to bed. So, that answered the question.  A few nights, Q-ball has asked to put on a diaper, and we have her help us lay out her nighttime diaper and tell her it will be close by "in case she needs it." This satisfies her.  We certainly have not been accident-free, but I feel as though we have as many successes as misses.  Her potty is set up in the corner of her room, and, if she calls me into her room at night, I help her sit on the potty (which, I admit, she's not always happy about.) or I quickly lay down a new towel and change pants if necessary.

24 Months
I certainly consider Q-ball toilet-trained by two years old.  She is still hesitant about using a "big potty," but we have been looking at pictures from EC sources of babies sitting on big potties, and she has had success.

What I'd Do Differently
  • I had a difficult time finding Q-ball's elimination schedule, I'd recommend starting to figure this out before going diaperless or immediately upon going diaperless.
  • I was very, very relaxed at first, waiting for Q-ball to always show interest, or ask if she wanted to sit on the potty.  I'd use a bit more of a schedule next time- on the potty every 60 or 90 minutes for a few hours each day.
  • In the early days, Q-ball was uncomfortable pooping on the potty, so I did not force it.  However, it is much easier for a caretaker to anticipate when a child will poop than pee.  I'd recommend continuing to try to master pooping first or along with peeing.  (Some books recommend that poop-learning come first as when a child poops, they as tend to pee.)
Our Favorite Potty Books
Many potty-learning books are for older toddlers.  These were the ones that we found were most helpful in the early days and weeks.  Q-ball really, really studied these books and clearly used them for tips and encouragement.
  • A Potty For Me!  A lift-the-flap book, this was fun for Q-ball.  Also, stressed that the child was proud of her accomplishments rather than external rewards.
  • Potty The most simple potty book we found.  Q-ball (and I) still say "Uh-Hmm-Ha-He! when we really have to use the potty!
  • Even Firefighters Go to the Potty All kids love firefighters!  This was just a fun one to read that encouraged her to sit on the potty for a long period, when necessary.
  • I Want My Potty We found this older book at the library.  While I do not think the author intended it, this became our "poo poo book."  The pictures in the book seem to show the little girl really pushing on the potty- we used these pictures to discussed different methods that can help with pooping (this was especially helpful during Q-ball's poop-holding time.)


  1. Love this post and love the Montessori theory! My daughter is now 21 months and I have been a bit exasperated that she hasn't "gotten it" yet (we started at about 14 months). I felt as though I was getting held back by the fact that her daycare educator was unwilling to have her diaperless for fear of accidents etc, so she has been wearing nappies to daycare everyday (4 days per week). At home, she only wear nappies at night and gets on to the potty 100% of the time during the day. We have had a huge leap in success in the last month when going out since I started "trusting" my daughter to tell me when she needs to use the potty. Previously, I would ask repeatedly if she needed to go and then if she continued to say 'no' and she had not been for over 2 hours, i would get her to sit on the potty - but this just made her upset. So I decided just to ask when we were leaving the car / coming back to the car and then just accept it if she said no. It took a couple of days of accidents before she started telling me that she needed to go. I don't think I've needed to change her clothes since then because of an accident! My daughter also has a fear of "the big toilet", so I'd be interested to hear how you overcome this!

  2. It was certainly frustrating when Q-ball didn't get it right away! Right after writing this post, Q-ball said that she wanted to use a big potty. It took a few minutes and guidance, but she got up their (with me holding her), and she's been ok with it since. Although, she still likes her potty. I think showing her pictures of other babies on potty from books on EC (I like "Infant Potty Training" the best) was absolutely the key. Good luck and thanks for sharing!


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