Editor’s Note: Several years ago, a Montessori parent wrote to us with concerns about the right way to help toddlers learn to use the toilet. She was quite frustrated and so was her child. We turned to our dear friend and toddler expert Susan Tracy, and we are reprinting this article after I went searching for it to help with my two toddler grandchildren. —Joyce St. Giermaine, Editor
Toileting is accomplished most easily with preparation that begins far in advance of the time when the child is ready.
I believe that most Montessorians who work with very young children would recommend that parents put their infants in cloth diapers from birth on. In addition to the obvious environmental reasons, natural cotton fiber is kindest to the baby’s tender skin. Also, in preparation for later toileting, children can easily sense that they are wet and discover the cause and effect of their urination and the resulting feeling of wetness. This is the first step in helping infants prepare themselves for toileting when they are developmentally ready.
Around the age of twelve months, children often become quite interested in the bathroom. They want to explore, play with the water in the toilet and may persistently follow their parents when they go into the bathroom. These are early signs of the child’s first interest in toileting.
By the age of fifteen months, children often show interest in wearing underpants. Many become fascinated with the process of dressing and undressing and may undress when it would be least expected. It is not uncommon for children of this age to try on their older siblings’ or parents’ underpants. What may seem to be simply cute or attention-getting behavior is probably just another indication that they are becoming curious about toileting.