The Best Approach to Helping Children Use The Toilet Independently
By Paula-Elizabeth Jordan
My Expertise and interest lies more in helping “Family Teams” to work together and co-create/ create (depending on whether you’re a couple, or a single parent family) success in all aspects of life for every member of the “team”. I do recognise the need to be able to give parents good, practical advice on areas such as how to help children learn how to use the toilet independently. As my background is in Montessori let me start by explaining the Montessori approach to assisting children to becoming fully independent when using the toilet.
Interestingly if you are very new parents, the Montessori approach starts literally from the beginning. – NB Please avoid worrying if you have a toddler ready to beginning being trained – it can still happen calmly and effectively. – The reason I say it starts from the very beginning is because it is recommended to use “cloth nappies” if you want to completely go with the Montessori Method. Cloth nappies are now very easy and efficient to use; the obvious only drawback to a lot of parents would be having to wash them – not so bad if they’re wet; the soiled ones require more effort. The reason cloth nappies are recommended is because disposable nappies are actually now so efficient at preventing the child from feeling wet that they don’t actually realise they are going to the toilet. Certainly for the first year and often up to 18 months (with some children it goes beyond 18 months) the child’s awareness just hasn’t extended to recognise this part of their bodily function. So when there is no “wet sensation” to be felt, they literally have no idea they’ve been.
Using cloths nappies enables a child to be aware that “something has happened” within that region of their body and thus helps them to become aware earlier than the use of disposable nappies. It’s interesting to note here that if you want to help a child learn something sooner, it is always best to find a way to increase their awareness of it. Other advantages of using cloth nappies are that, in the long term, they are actually cheaper as you obviously re-use them. Also, and this one is particularly important to me, they are “greener”, because you are not disposing of them into landfills. Disposable nappies take years to decompose and are not made of particularly environmentally friendly material.
Also, when changing a babies nappy the Montessori approach encourages you to talk to them about what you are doing so they can start to understand why you’re doing it – a lot of children don’t enjoy being change, so if they can have an awareness that it is necessary it helps them (and you!) to remain calm and it’s also respectful as it is their body. It is necessary to also say that we wipe from front to back; the reason this relates to using the toilet is because the child will automatically do what feels familiar so we start as we want them to go on. This is especially important for girls to avoid any infections that would almost certainly occur if wiping from back to front. We also use a warm damp flannel to wipe the child’s hands at the end so they learn right from the start that washing their hands afterwards is all part of the process.
So when your child is around one year of age; you may extend your “nappy changing conversation” to include “the practicalities of using the toilet”, so they start to become familiar that this will be required of them. It is always easier to “go in” to a new situation if you have some familiarity about it and talking to your children about using the toilet provides this. Also, let them see you use the toilet (may be not a number two!!). Be aware that they will observe everything, so think about how much toilet roll you use (you don’t want to use too much – certainly not none either) then flush the toilet and wash your hands with soap – perhaps a bit extra thoroughly to help them learn the importance of this –and dry them – it helps to mention each “step” in the process of “using the toilet” to them. If they can learn that this is what you do in the “activity of using the toilet”, they’ll grow up learning that washing their hands afterwards is just a natural part of the process and you won’t have to “chase them” to do so!
The most important part of the Montessori approach is first to remain respectful of both the child’s body and their pace of learning. The “aim” is to help the child to become as independent as possible at a pace that they can cope with. One important thing to note hear is that it really doesn’t matter whether your child is 18 months, or 3 years when they finally come out of nappies; what’s important is their happiness/ well-being and yours too! It is always quicker and easier to go at the child’s individual pace. I have worked with a child whose parents were slightly concerned that she was not as quick as her older brother to use the toilet independently. She was 2 years 9 months when she mastered using the toilet and it was a smooth transition; why? – Because she was ready. There are enough things in life that “create worry” so please avoid being concern about the unnecessary!! 🙂
Parents, I implore you to avoid being competitive with something like “toilet training” as it is unfair to first any child who is later in this area of development, plus the parents. There is enough to cope with bring up children without the pressure of “competitive remarks” that just cause anxiety and worry, thank-you.
A “Montessorian” wouldn’t actually refer to the “stage” a child learns to use the toilet as, “toilet training”. For a start, it makes it sound more like you’re talking about a dog!! Second, we see the aim more as supporting the child to eventually learning to be able to use the toilet completely independently. Thus, we set the environment up to enable the child to do as much for themselves as possible. I also feel that it’s necessary to mention hear that to avoid the child learning the same thing twice we would just take them straight to the toilet. Obviously in a Montessori classroom there are “child-sized toilets”. Most people do not have the room in their home to have a child-sized toilet in addition to adult-sized ones. The solution here is a toilet seat and I have actually seen toilets seats that are attached to the main toilet, so you even avoid having to remove them, and would just lift them up and sit on the adult seat yourself! Plus obviously keep a step in the bathroom so the child is able to sit on themselves.
The other advantage of the child using the toilet straight away is that you do not have to empty the “content of a potty” into the toilet to flush away, and then clean it! This is something you would obviously have to do; thus it supports children’s independence to just go straight to using a toilet. I have known of children flatly refusing to use a potty as they want to be more “grown up” and use a toilet; in this instance it is definitely a positive refusal to co-operate! Obviously a travel potty can be very useful for when on the move. It saves a child still in the early process of having learnt to use the toilet themselves to wait in a long queue if they’re desperate to go.
Other ways of setting up the environment to help the child learn to use the toilet as independently as possible is to keep a bucket in the bathroom for wet cloths when the child hasn’t quite made it to the toilet on time. Please note here that if you start when the child is ready, and believe me, you’ll know, this will happen minimally. And either inside the bathroom, or close by outside, have a small drawer of spare clothes so the child can change their outfit themselves if need be. Two things to note here, first, have cloths available that are easy for the child to put on and remove themselves. Second, the child needs to have been “shown” how to dress/ undress themselves beforehand. Trust me, children are capable of learning this far earlier than most adult appear to believe. The youngest child so far that I’ve “shown” how to dress/ undress herself has totally mastered it by 23 months!! Even babies between 7-12 months can start to pull their arm out of a top etc. if you ask them. I’ve seen an 11-12 month attempt to put her socks on. She knew where they went, she hadn’t quite figured out how to get her foot inside!!
In my mind one of the most important steps to learning how to use the toilet fully independently is for the child to also learn how to wipe themselves properly. This is straightforward enough when they just need a wee; it’s the number twos that are more tricky. I can tell you an interesting story about when I was young here!
Being slightly OC (Obsessive Compulsive – I’m probably near the boarders of being OC); which if I can just add is not necessarily a “bad thing”; there are a number of respected celebrities who have come forward as being OC. I actually find it very motivating and it gives me a “be bothered attitude” as opposes to a “can’t be bothered” attitude! – It’s when it holds you back that it’s wise to seek help. Ok, back to the story! I didn’t want to wipe myself after a number two so up to the age of about 4, 4.5 I just kept quiet and called my Mum to do it!!!! – Yes, children are capable of “little tricks” like this if the adult is not wise to it! When my Mum realised that actually, I was old enough to wipe myself she just told me to do it myself. Without going into detail I actually remember really thinking through the whole “process” in a really detailed way so I would be wiped completely clean with no “mess” on my hands, or anywhere else! 🙂
The vast majority of children are not going to be a thorough as this unless they are slightly OC too. So ensure that they learn it is important to “have one clean wipe”. That is, if there is “mess” on the toilet tissue, they need to still wipe themselves. You can buy moist wipe that help with this. I have known children who think one wipe is enough, even if it is very messy. Hence, they have stains in their pants/ knickers that could lead to infections in girls. Plus, if they put their fingers inside their pants to scratch themselves – as they may do because it feels uncomfortable – then they will have “toilets germs” on their hands that could really cause them to be very ill if they put their fingers in their mouths, or rub their eyes. Sorry to be so graphic; these things are definitely best avoided.
It’s also wise to check for the first few weeks to just monitor how much toilet roll they use. First it helps them to learn that half a toilet roll isn’t necessary for one wipe! Plus it’s environmentally friendly to use less. Finally, it also will avoid you having to discover that they’ve blocked the toilet with so much toilet roll and after flushing lots of “dirty toilet water” has gone all over the floor – and if they stepped in it and walked it through to where you are – it just doesn’t bare thinking!! So please, save yourself any unnecessary hassle! 🙂
Another Expert who definitely has great tips for helping children learn how to use the toilet is Gina Ford. From feedback I have heard parents have mentioned that you do have to spend three to four days completely at home to follow her method. I think spending at least a few days round the house to assist your child with this in fairly unavoidable, but worth it for their learning. I know that Gina puts forward to use a sticker chart; I do actually believe in the Montessori Philosophy of avoiding sticker/star charts – I have helped children effectively and never had to use them. Thus I have been able to observe first hand that when they’re not used, the child is more focused on the “goal”, as opposed to receiving a sticker! It’s definitely best however to do what you feel most comfortable with.
For more information please email me at; [email protected] or message me through Twitter/ Instagram, @FamilyTeamCoach, or through Facebook/ LinkedIn at Paula-Elizabeth Jordan, thank-you! 🙂
Paula-Elizabeth Jordan is a Montessori trained Child-Development Expert who’s passionate about helping “Family Teams” work together for the benefit of each other, as this is how successful, well-balanced, happy children are raised. She has been Montessori trained for over ten years now and also has a degree in Theology with an Art minor. She is presently writing her own book entitled; “How to Bring up A Successful Human-Being”. www.paulaelizabeth.com