Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Toileting - The Montessori way

Part one is here

Following the last post, I want to talk about the alternatives available to go through potty training.

Although I will be focusing on toileting according to Montessori principles, I want to remind you that ECing, a natural way of responding to elimination exist, and is still being practiced by many people of the world. There are many websites and forum (and stores) dedicated to this, so I will leave it to that. But I truly believe that Ecing is absolutely compatible with Montessori, and feel free to check it out if you have interest on the topic.

Toileting with Montessori

Following the child. Once again, this is the principle upon which is built toileting in the Montessori community. Toilet LEARNING as is it called relies on observing the child for subtle cues of being "ready" and accompagny them through the process of being able to toilet successfully.

As with anything else Montessori, this process does not rely on coercion, control or force. It does necessitate all the same ingredients needed for other Montessori experience:
  1. a facilitator which most of the time is the parent
  2. the prepared environment which helps the child to be in succesful conditions right from the start
  3. the right time for learning (the sensitive period)
  4. and having/taking the time to do it (and let the child do it as much as he wants)

In the society we live in, these conditions are not easy to put together, as time is lacking most of the time, our set of belief are setting us in the wrong direction, and so our actions in preparing the environment accordingly doesn't follow through.

So let's go over each condition and see what CAN we do.

1. Being a facilitator:

Being a facilitator implies that we know what to expect, and what to expect so we know what to do when the time come.


Montessori defined a sensitive period for toileting starting at 12 months and finishing anywhere from 18-24 months. This is an important fact to know because current recommendations leads us to wait too late to take action.

What cues should we be looking for then?

  • being able to sit up unassisted (which means the myelinization process is completed for the bladder and the bowels. They are not fully functional, but innervation is completed)
  • fascination with the toilet (whether it is to play in it, wanting to sit on it, wanting to flush it...even at 12 months)
  • imitating sitting on toilet or following parents and siblings in there
  • being able to pull pants up and down
  • Being dry for longer periods of time and even waking up dry from a nap or in the morning
These cues are usually visible between 15-18 months of age, but some of them as soon as 12 months.

The Montessori community believes that toileting is a process that starts way before the child is ready. So as parent, we do facilitate the process by not allowing our children to be in disposable diapers, (and put them in cloth instead) , or remain dirty for a long period of time. This is helping them be aware of their elimination right from the start. If your child is in sposie, not sweat, just think about switching to cloth, even if it is part time. (or leave your child sans diapers during the day). A little cloth is better then none at all.
Cloth is better for babies anyways, and for the planet.

Allowing the process without blocking it

When the child start to show signs of being interested in toileting, we often have the reflex to stop them without even realizing it.

I am totally guilty of having blocked access to the toilet because I had find my children playing in it. But with a new look on the situation, when I find E wanting to play in, I understand that he might be interested in a water play, and so I set one up to fullfill the need, but I leave the toilet unblocked for him to go and explore it, (I'll take more about how we do it tomorrow, with all the tips I have gathered over the years) and not make an association that toilet is forbidden.

We also usually don't support our children sitting on the toilet to just sit there, We expect that if he sits there, it is for pottying. As a facilitator, we have to let the child explore just sitting on the toilet, and mastering this part of toileting. So organize the environment put a bench, and let your child just sit on and off and do it over and over again.

Flushing is the same. And although I understand that water is a ressource that sould not be used without thoughts, make a point of letting your child flush for you, or find any other way that is convenient and acceptable for you, but be careful not to create a negative association for the child.

Pulling trainers up and down, let them practice. THe child will want to practice that not only in the bathroom, but anywhere. As long as it is an acceptable place to do so, let the child practicing pulling up and down. Just like when learning to write and read, there are many preparatory steps, practicing this is a preparatory step to toileting.

And finally a word on accidents. They WILL happen. But our reaction to them is really important. Don't fuss over accident, and don't react too hard, it might scare the child off. Just state that he has just peed or pooped, bring him to the toilet where this should occur, and then just clean up matter of factly. it is not a big deal, children learn by making mistakes and just like they fall a couple of time before mastering walking, they will have accidents before mastering toileting it is just the same.

So watch your child, and let the process unfold by not (unconsciously) stopping it some way

A last point before heading on to the environment: being a facilitator is to observe your child. At 12-15 months, they usually start to have more regularity in their eliminations. By truly observing them, you'll be eventually able to figure out when they pee or poop. E pees about 10 minutes after a meal and every 2 hours or so. Poop usually occurs after dinner, or the following morning if he missed the night before.
Have a calendar, a note book, or just make a mental note, but you'll see a pattern emerge. This will really help to eventually bring the child to the potty regularly, at the time when they might be ready to void or eliminate. You might not catch anything at first, but when you do the child will start to be able to make the association (and the older the child, the quicker it will go, as long as he is still in his sensitive period)

2. The prepared environment

If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you know the importance I give to the environment. Montessori thought of the environment as being the 2nd teacher, and I totally agree. So I think preparing the environment is paramount in the process.

Trainers and cloth diapers:

I have talked about cloth diaper just before, and I think this is the first step in setting the right environment. Normally, starting at 12-15 months old, the use of trainers can be initiated. Don't think that because you have put your child in trainers that he will not pee in them. The use of trainers at that point is just to 1. feel that the child is wet (they absorb one pee, that is it) and react as soon as possible not leaving them soiled for a long period of time and 2. to already be ready when the child will start to push their pants up and down.

Then, the physical environment has to be adapted.

The changing table:

Looking back, I have, with all my 3 kids, had resistance in diaper changes around 12 months of age. I had to battle to be able to change their diapers, even if this process had never been a battle before. I think they just reach an age. So this is a first environment to modify.
When this happens:
  • changes can occurs standing up, yes, even poop
  • It is good to transfert all potty activity to the bathroom to make the association even stronger between elimination and the toilet. I have also seen people not being comfortable to change diapers standing, and so some had set their changing station in the bathroom.

The bathroom:

This is IMHO the most important place

The potty:
Have the potty out. Let the child explore it. Let him sit on it as he wishes. Potty are most suited for young children as they can have their feet grounded to help them eliminate.
Use a potty with NO bells and whistles. Potty are not a game, they are just what they are, toilets for children.
My favorite is the Baby bjorn potty (I'll have all my favorite things in tomorrow's post)

If you rather, have toilet benches, toilet adapters, or whatever other tools that works. There are many things out there for children and the toilet, use what works for you. But have it out early, so it is already there when the child is interested in exploring it.

The trainers:

Put the trainers/diapers at the child's reach. A basket, a low shelf, a low drawer are all good solutions. He might not get why they are out at first, and the child might even play with them, but when the time come, he will know they are there, because he has seen them before, and he is used to them being there.

Clean up station:

Have a clean up station ready for oops. Again, make it child friendly.
Use old towels, or special cleaning cloths and a bar of soap (just wipes if you rather) for the child to clean himself. A towel to dry himself is also nice to have on hand. Have a special place for all of those items so the child knows where to get them when he will be able to do it himself (or with little assistance). A bin to put all soiled items should be available for the child to help cleaning up.

You can also have a basket of old rags or old prefold diapers (our choice here) that are used for cleaning up accident on the floor. Have a spray bottle with water for the child for clean up ( and set one aside for you with the cleaner ).

Think you environment through, try it out, and make the necessary changes. But try to keep it as untouched as possible when you are happy with it for the child to learn where things are and what is the routine.

3. the right time:

I think the important information to know here is that Montessori described a sensitive period for toileting that is way before the current recommendations. So open your eyes and don't get stalled with the current recommendations!

4. Having the time/ Taking the time

In the times we live in, this is a biggie.

for the child:

Pottying accident are more and more common to children that are older and older. Websites like Potty MD sells items for children that are having issues with potty process. They seem to think that the vast majority of pottying accidents are because of an issue of time. Lack of time that is. Kids being kept too long in soiled diapers getting them used to be soiled or wet, that are introduced to the diaper at a time when it is inconvenient for them, because they are busy elsewhere, and don't want to go. Children at the age of 3, don't want to stop their very cool activity to go potty, because well, they are having a blast (and children are in the moment and are concentrated) and because THEY HAVE NOT BEEN TAUGHT TO! (why I am stressing on this? Because this is the problem I am experimenting with my oldest) They rather retain and wait, and that causes cases of constipation and encopresis that are getting more and more common.

Pottying learning does take time. It does, just like any learning experience. And it does not pay to try to skip this. E is learning at 12 month old to stop to go potty. He doesn't fuss in the morning when he is on the potty, because he knows that it is time for potty. I think these are habits that are being taught for a lifetime, and in the long run, it pays. Stopping an activity to go potty is an important aspect to learn. Does that mean to always break the concentration of the child for pottying? NO! But when the signs are clear, getting close to the child and say" I see you have to go potty, Let's go now and come back after" is I think a respectful way to do so.

for us.

In the midst of having 10 000 things to do, stopping for pottying, or even truly looking at the child is hard. But just as we take the time to sit and read a book with them, or play we them, we have to assist them in their potty experience. We have to remind ourselves that it won't last forever (and sometimes, it is hard to do so) and that we are teaching them lifelong habits.

Also, we have to give them the time to learn all the technics and moves that goes with pottying. Like I mentionned in the first point, letting the child pull his pants up and down 30 times a day might drive us crazy when we'd rather have him dressed up, but it is an important work for him/her. Let the game of sitting on and off go as long as it is needed for the child to feel confident in it. And when the child is on the potty, and you feel like you should be flying somwhere else to do 10 other things, just take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is not forever, and that it is worth your time. Problems after pottying are WAY worst, take my word for it.
Also, I can honnestly say that I am having very good times with E when he is on the potty. With 3 kids around, when I am on the potty with him, it is really one on one with him. And I have grown to enjoy that.

In a nutshell, get yourself ready way before time. Use cloth, set your environment thoughtfully, and think your process through while your child is a baby. Your child is older? just dive in. Makes changes and go through them with your child, or just start like if had always been like that. Be patient though.

Make time to go potty regularly during your day, watch for cues he might give before he needs to go, and change your child as soon as he is wet. This way, he'll learn the difference between being wet and dry. If there is an accident, don't sweat: it is a good time to learn. Have this whole process being something that has always been like that. The child will see this as the same as dressing up or going to eat.

I think he needs to potty what do I do?/ He is showing me cues that indicate he need to go potty:

Just bring him there, say something like "let's go to the potty" have him sit, or sit him there (according to the age), and just say that it is time to pee or poop. At first, it probably won't work, don't get discouraged! But just keep going, mention when he has an accident (you've just pee or poop. Let's go to the restroom/toilet/bathroom...)and keep him dry by changing him as soon as possible. Eventually, it will all come together.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how we do it, and I'll show you how we work here. That will probably help you picture the whole process.
Keep in mind that we are part time ECing and that does influence the way we work.

For more information about pottying the Montessori way have a look here:

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