Toilet Independence : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

In Part 5 of Making Montessori Your Own, Ana shares how she introduced the toilet to her daughter, how she transitioned from disposable diapers and guided her daughter towards independence in the toilet.


Hi Ana, share with us how you began introducing the potty to Sia. What was your routine around this?

I think the first step, even before I spoke to her about it, was really to prepare myself. When my daughter was nearing the 1 year mark, I got nudges from grandparents that we should start potty training her. But I didn’t know anything about this. So I did some homework, and discovered the “Oh crap! Potty Training” book by Jamie Glowacki. It resonated with me. Having a resource that speaks to my approach and style is my way of preparing myself, and that’s where I started on this aspect of toddlerhood as well.

For my daughter, there were two ways I helped her prepare for potty training before we even got a potty seat.

First, we spoke about pee and poop freely and often. I was conscious not to just wrap and throw away a diaper, but to (casually) talk to her and even show her what was going on. I was okay with her seeing me on the toilet and again spoke to her casually about what was going on. We tried to make  pee and poop a normal thing for her, and no big deal. 

Secondly, we helped her become independent in taking her diaper/underwear on and off on her own – so she wouldn’t be dependent on us for this when we did start potty training. We practiced lots in the months leading up to the change, and this one helped us a lot.

Some children who have been in disposables for a while become attached to these, making it harder to transition to cloth underwear. Did you experience this with your child? 

No. I think it again comes from the fact that we spoke to her about and treated ‘underwears’ as a normal everyday thing. She saw that we (the adults) wore underwear, and we spoke to her that she’s wearing a diaper because she’s a baby, and she will learn how to wear underwear when the time is right. We didn’t do this in a ‘formal talk’ but as part of normal life – for example when she saw us folding laundry. If she asked, ‘what’s this?’ we didn’t shy from using the word ‘underwear’ and explaining matter-of-factly what its use was.

I’m a big advocate for sportscasting from infant age- explaining to your kids what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, where they are, everything. I think that is what helped us here too. 

These days, we have options to ‘train’ children to use the toilet independently over the weekend, in a few days, etc. Do you feel these are helpful? 

So here’s the nuance on this one – I think it is useful for parents to set aside time and be conscious that this is a big transition for your child. Using a potty is usually the first thing we actively “teach” our children because it’s a social expectation. And so, they need us there with them for this – and so setting time aside to start on this journey is a good thing.

What doesn’t help is setting any expectations on the time it will take your child to learn this. Just as with walking or speaking or any other ability you’ve seen your child build, it takes time and there are messes along the way. Putting any unfair expectations on ourselves or our children just increases stress, and thus, might actually impede the process.

Many working parents find it increasingly difficult to help their children with independence in the toilet. As a working mamma, how did you make this work?

In hindsight, there were three things that helped me handle this one smoothly- first, by not having expectations on ‘the right time’ to potty learn, second, by educating myself on the process and feeling mentally prepared, and third, by allocating time to be at home with my daughter during the initial days.

I actually tried potty training my daughter the first time when she was 14 months old. But I gave up in a few days thinking “she’s not ready.” In hindsight, I think I was the one who wasn’t ready. I didn’t believe she could do it, and so I didn’t support her in the way she needed me to. After this attempt, I began preparing myself more earnestly, and we tried again when my daughter was 19 months old. This time, I had an innate confidence that she was ready and that helped me be more patient and confident as we worked through the zig zags that are inevitable on this journey.

IN “Oh crap!”, Jamie speaks of building blocks of potty training, of how children transition from “I peed” to “I’m peeing” to “I need to pee”. I connected this to how we scaffold skills – breaking them down into small steps – all the dots that need to connect regarding peeing in my child’s brain. So for the first couple of days, all we were looking for was a realization that “I peed” – if there was an accident, it was no big deal. We cleaned it up together. There were no rewards, and no pressure. Sure, we said, “We don’t pee in the underwear, we pee in the potty.” But it was calm and matter-of-fact.

Third, I made it a point to take up potty training when I could be home with my daughter full time. The first time we tried, it was Diwali break. And the second time, I was in between jobs. After the initial few days, she didn’t need me as much, it became a part of her routine – even the accidents and the cleaning up – but I do think setting that time aside to be at home, not going out much in those initial days reduced the pressure and sense of urgency for me and hence, for her.

Lastly, based on your experience, what are some do’s & don’ts wrt toilet independence that you would like to share with other parents? 

  • Prepare yourself, and find an approach that works for you.
  • Have no expectations on timelines and don’t give in to expectations others may have of you.
  • Talk about pee and poop freely, matter-of-factly from an early age.
  • If you can help your child learn how to take their clothes off before you begin potty training, it’ll make things much smoother ‘in the moment.’
  • Lastly, set some time aside to be there with your child as they begin this journey.

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