The Montessori approach to toilet learning is very different from the conventional approach. First, we call it "learning" rather than "training," which sounds like semantics, but it actually highlights a conceptual difference. We don't use rewards to train children; we set up an environment that allows them to teach themselves how to use the toilet.
Extrinsic rewards like stickers, candy, and other special treats work like magic, but, if overused, they can create children who are dependent upon adults in order to make good decisions. I saw the effect of this when I was a first-year teacher. I worked at a school in rural Louisiana that had corporal punishment, so I worked very hard to never send children to the principal's office. Instead, I relied on all sorts of extrinsic motivation to get my children to make positive choices. And it worked! But then they would move on to 4th grade and all of the motivation dissipated because I was no longer there dolling out the rewards.
Then I moved to a middle school that used the same kind of extrinsic motivation system of rewards and punishments. I thought it would work better because we were using the same system consistently for four years. However, once the children went onto high school, the same thing happened. They hadn't really internalized anything that we had been trying to teach through rewards and punishments.
When I found my way to Montessori, I learned all about how using extrinsic motivation can actually hinder the development of intrinsic motivation. At a workshop I attended, the speaker explained really clearly that using extrinsic motivation creates children who are dependent upon adults for affirmation. When those same children become middle-schoolers, they shift their dependence to their peers instead of their parents and are are more likely to make bad decisions in order to get affirmation from their peers.
So the toilet learning process uses very natural consequences in order to enable children to learn how to use the toilet independently. Here's the process:
- Start very young. Montessorians tend to start the toilet learning process with children between 12 and 18 months. We started Henry at 18 months, but we have not yet started with Tate (who is 22 months). We are going to start wholeheartedly this summer.
- Set up the environment to support independence. Children need a comfortable toilet (like this one), a place to get fresh underwear, a basket to put dirty underwear, a stepping stool up to get up to the sink, access to soap, and a towel to dry their hands.
After that, the process is really simple (and hard!). You simply help your child put on training underwear instead of diapers. I love the Hanna Anderson underwear because it is very absorbent and doesn't let pee splash out onto the floor, but it's also expensive so we use Target ones as well. About every hour, you tell them that it's time to use the toilet. They will inevitably have accidents. You simply help them change into new underwear and repeat.
The most helpful book I've read on this topic is Toilet Awareness by Sarah Moudry. I'm thrilled that she offered to do a giveaway on Feeding the Soil!
To enter to win a free copy of Toilet Awareness:
- Leave a comment with your first name and the first letter of your last name
- Enter by Friday, June 5th at 11:59pm EST
- Only one entry per person (but you can ask your friends and family to enter on your behalf!)
I will announce the winner on Monday and ask that person to e-mail me their address.