Toilet Training vs. Toilet Learning: What’s the difference?

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Montessori offers a respectful, child-centered approach to toilet training that removes undue pressure on both parent and child

Is it possible for toilet training to be a low-stress experience? Yes! In fact, toilet training can be a calm and meaningful transition that is self-directed by your child, but this will require a mindset shift from: “I need to train my child to use the potty,” to “My child is inherently motivated to do this.”

This shift reflects a key difference between toilet training and toilet learning. While used interchangeably, these two terms refer to a pendulum of toileting methods that range from adult-led to child-led.

Toilet training vs. toilet learning

In toilet training: the adult largely directs the experience by determining a specific timeframe for the child to switch from diapers to potty. Some attention may be given to the child’s readiness, but the goal is often on fast acquisition of skills specific to using the toilet. 

This emphasis on speed can create a time and performance pressure. To get past this pressure, it’s common for training methods to utilize external motivators like rewards or treats in order to keep the child progressing in a linear trajectory. This can create an emotional investment in which the adult starts reacting positively or negatively to the child’s progress.

In this context, the child can lose ownership and interest in the process and may react with power struggles or big feelings.

In toilet learning: the adult takes a supportive role that considers the child’s readiness as well as their intrinsic motivation and interest in the process. It is generally supported over a longer period of time, but this is because it is more holistic in teaching the child other self care skills that relate to toileting success, like independent dressing skills. 

Despite this gradual timeframe, the actual transition out of diapers can be fast because the child is not being asked to abruptly change; they’ve had more inclusion in diapering and self care, which makes the leap into toileting more accessible. 

Most noteworthy to toilet learning, the adult places more trust in the child’s own capability and removes emotional reactions. Accidents are not treated as regressions or mistakes, but rather accepted as part of the learning experience. 

How children are capable to lead

Consider how your child’s development has been unfolding naturally since birth. Infants are distinctly wired to gain functional independence, which is why they go from supine to walking, crying to speaking, all at their own doing.

Toileting is just another progression in their development that will naturally occur. Instead of trying to “teach” it, we are much better off supporting it. 

Supporting your child’s toileting journey starts early

Toddlers get curious about toileting as early as 12 months old, with increased signs of physical, cognitive and emotional readiness between 18 and 30 months. It’s important to get familiar with signs of readiness so that you can be prepared to help them transition when they are most ready to do so.

Toilet learning doesn’t begin when all of these skills emerge; toilet learning invites us to consider these skills in stages. For example, interest in the potty might happen first. Instead of waiting for more signs of readiness, you could:

  • Invite them to join, observe, and mimic your daily bathroom routines
  • Talk about toileting in a neutral and factual manner
  • Prepare the bathroom in a way that’s more accessible for them to safely explore 

How your toddler’s toileting journey unfolds at Montessori school

If your child is enrolled in a Montessori toddler program, designed for ages 1.5 to 3 years old, your child will experience toileting as a normal, natural part of their development. Your child’s guide will observe for emerging signs of readiness while working on overall toilet awareness and related skills by:

  • creating positive exposure to a bathroom that has been safely prepared at the child’s level.
  • Using clear, factual language around how the body works, equipping them with important vocabulary that will help them communicate when they need to go.
  • Maximizing the child’s intrinsic motivation and self esteem by emphasizing choice and autonomy. Going to the bathroom is never forced.
  • Maximizing all related skills by practicing things like self-dressing and hand washing
  • Normalizing inclusion in what happens to their body before toileting begins through cooperative, standup diaper changes

Tips for toilet learning at home 

If your child is enrolled in a toddler program, partnering with your child’s guides on toilet awareness and toileting routines will send a consistent message of support, which is key in your child’s overall learning experience. 

If your child is home with you full-time, you can implement a toilet learning framework. Remember, toileting is not something foreign to your child that you must introduce abruptly and motivate with treats or prizes. It is a natural part of their development, which means you can focus on skill-building and bodily autonomy. 

  1. Prepare yourself to guide them neutrally
  2. Prepare the bathroom to be more accessible
  3. Observe their progress and adapt your support accordingly 

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N4 Montessori delivers an authentic Montessori education for independence in North Texas, offering Nido, Toddler, and Children’s House programs. 

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