Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Today Leander used his small stair to go to the big toilet. We had the stairs in the bathroom for almost a year now. He refused to use them. Until today. It's been a long walk from the first poop in a potty until now.

In spring 2012 - so more than 15 months ago - Leander pooped in the potty for the very first time. It was in the creche. He was just about to 2. They sent me a message saying that Leander will have some very exciting news for me. Well considering he was barely talking sentences by then and not telling me anything about his day apart from "ate" and "slept" I did not expect much. And he didn't say a word. Still they made a big deal of it and told us that NOW the window has opened and it would be time to start potty training.

Coming from a RIE perspective we thought differently. We were rather overwhelmed with what had happened. Every now and then I got some updates on his potty being. In the cloakroom they would just quickly tell me about his pees and poops. And how things went. This is how I figured out what potty training meant in a montessori daycare centre. Basically they would ask the children every 30 minutes if they needed to use the potty. They would ask them before circle time and before garden time, before lunch and after nap time. They would c-o-n-s-t-a-n-t-l-y- ask and remind the children if they needed to use a potty or toilet. Something I simply did not want. So when we had a parent consultation the potty situation was on the agenda. We told them our point of view. That Leander was not interested in using the potty at home much. That even if he was naked he would pee anywhere but in the potty. That we believed him just being excited by all the other kids using it and that this was all the motivation for him to use it too. And that we did not want him to be reminded to go, that we did not want any training but him to learn about his body all by himself. They nodded politely but obviously couldn't just for us stop doing their thing. They couldn't stop asking all children and therefore if Leander was around he was included.

More and more often I would pick up Leander wearing no diaper. By then my husband and I differed in opinions. He believed that they couldn't harm him. I was concerned that Leander - when asked to use the potty regularly - never really filled his bladder and also for a long time did not realize what a full bladder meant. I had read the article and was concerned (and close to sending it over to the daycare centre).
Then summer came and I thought things would just calm down. I decided to let Leander walk around the house naked as often as possible to see if he really was ready to go without diapers. The result was that he went back to creche in September with diapers back on. He had a few accidents which for me were a few too many. What happened then was that we sent him to the creche in diapers in the mornings. They took the diapers off him and let him walk around without all day. He had hardly any accidents but for me this meant nothing - since he was asked to use the potty regularly I couldn't trust that he really knew when to use the toilet. That he understood his body functions in order to know what to do. Because for me this is what Toilet Learning instead of Potty training is about:

1. Realizing what the body signals are for needing to pee or poop.
2. Knowing where to do this and how.
3. Understanding the signals early enough to find a place.

By then Leander started using the potty at home frequently too, but not all the time. Not consistently. And so we started to ask him what he wanted. In the mornings he got the choice of diapers or underpants. More than often he chose diapers so diapers it was. On weekends he sometimes wore no diaper at all. It was on and off. When the end of the year was close we gave up on discussions in the creche and they did so too. In January he was moved up to the bigger groups in kindergarden and we decided to see how things went in there.

In the one chat I had with one of the teachers from the bigger groups she asked me if he was still wearing diapers. I said yes but that sometimes he would not. That it was his choice in the mornings. I don't think she understood. So for the past 7 months Leander decided on what to wear in the mornings.

Around his 3rd birthday in April this year we realized that he did not poop in the diaper at all anymore. I was excited that after all it was him who took the small steps all by himself. Almost without us realizing. I got a bit too excited and so there were a few occasions when I thought I could give him a little push and instead of offering a choice of diapers or underpants in the mornings I just offered him a choice of two different underpants. When he went in the trap those were the few occasions when I picked him up in changed clothes because he had wet himself. So I quickly stopped that.

During the parent consultation we had in May potty training was on the agenda again. They said that they thought Leander was ready to go without diapers. For the last time I told them that it was his choice in the mornings and that with all the experience we had I would leave it completely up to him. I was probably never that clear about anything as I was in that moment. Maybe because I knew they would bring it up and I was annoyed that they always seemed to know what he was ready for.

A few weeks ago we got a little confused again. Over the weekends Leander would go without diapers no problem. Monday morning he would choose diapers again. And he would pee in them. After a few discussions we decided to leave it like that and see what summer would bring. And Leander himself showed me that this was the right decision: I changed his diaper before bedtime one evening and I said that he had a sore bum and it would do him good not to wear a diaper for a while. He said he needed it because in kindergarden "all children have to go to the toilet." And he added: "I don't like that. I don't want to go." I was so amazed and somehow proud of him. For him standing to what he knew he was capable of (or not) and persistently wearing diapers. And for realizing how awkward it was to go to the toilet with all children. Something that intimate. He also kept mentioning that he was scared of the toilet in kindergarden. That he was scared to fall. From that moment on I did not mention the diaper at all anymore. Best decision ever.

Last week was his last in this kindergarden. He has been home for almost a week now. He has not been wearing a diaper ever since except at nighttime. Today he told me he needed to go to the toilet. When I aimed for the potty he said: "No, toilet!" He got the stairs out and went up.

I will not put the potty aside yet. He should not have the feeling that going one step forwards means not being allowed one step back. Because this is about him and his body. About his own feelings of his own body functions. This is important and he has shown us that he is completely capable of deciding when he is ready for whatsoever.

Parents often wonder if their children really decide to go diaper free one day. Just like that. I believe we all think that we need to show and teach and train our kids when they are born. But we don't. In fact - we mustn't. There are things they need to learn. How to cut with a knife. How to hold the pen. Stuff like that. But the things regarding their body - gross motor development, speech, toilet use, how to sneeze, etc. it's all up to them. They do it. In their own time. At their own pace. Sometimes over night.

The last 1,5years have been exhausting. At some point I said to my husband that I feel like the kindergarden pulling Leander on a tied rope and us pulling him back all the time. We felt misunderstood for a long time. But every time I heard a mother in kindergarden asking her child if (s)he needed to go to the toilet before they left, responding to a "No." with "Are you sure?" I knew I was right. I did not want to be responsible for his pee- and poop times throughout the day. Instead by now I know that if he tells me he needs to pee in the subway or on a bus I can tell him to wait until we find a toilet or tree. Oh how he loves the trees.


  1. I've been a Montessori Early Childhood and Toddler teacher for over 10 years and I've never heard of toilet learning handled that way! As a toddler teacher, the potty was available to children at all times and sometimes offered at diaper changing time; most children were not interested and that was fine. By the end of the year many children were nearing 3 and nowhere near being out of diapers, which was totally ok! We did remind the couple of children who were in underwear to try to use the toilet at 3 set times a day (around the same times we changed diapers) but that's all. I'm so sorry that you and your son had that experience. I think you are exactly right in how you have chosen to respect your son and help him learn to listen to his body.

  2. My son was 3 and a bit years old when he started pulling his nappy (diaper) off during the day. At first I didn't know what he was doing, then realised that maybe he didn't want to wear them anymore. We went and bought some underwear and have never looked back- no accidents ever! I never tried to potty train and he obviously recognised his own body signals and taught himself. My friends who tried to train their children at age 2 were amazed! The same happened for night time. He just pulled off his nappy and told me he didn't need to wear them anymore- kids know! Trust them!!!

  3. If my 8 month old is going to decide when she needs to wear a diaper it would be gone already. I am fine with that as long as she can tell me when she needs to go to the bathroom...

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  6. just watched the LOCZY documentary... really shaming to see a toddler sucking his thumb, roaming half naked and waiting to get a new diaper... very sad indeed however we need to consider that Pikler / Rie principles emerged from caring for orphans, so delaying meeting the needs of the children is a part of them surviving.

  7. just to repeat what has already been said - what was done there was NOT montessori toilet learning, rather remedial conventional toilet training. Offering every 30min is about handling children who have become diaper trained to pee little & often to relieve the pressure on the bladder rather then learn to empty fully. True Montessori Toilet Learning starts with Toilet Awareness from infancy so that the child from the beginning is not only diaper conditioned & can more fairly and easily progress to increased independency in toilet use as their own motor skills develop. Before the necessary gross motor skills are there they are still aware of & able to practice proper use of the muscles connected to coordinated release & full proper emptying. I have trouble accepting increasing hands off approach to RIE toileting that seems to be leaving children in diapers longer than ever in human history. Diapering is a parent led process & unless you are changing a wet cloth each time immediately it's asking alot of a baby & young child to connect the diaper change moment, however respectful & gentle, with their actual bodily sensations around the time of needing to go & going. Thus it's diaper training & then good luck kid you need to figure it out just by watching the external acts of others using the toilet without having a clue whats going on in your own body & consciously practicing using your sphincters. There is a study showing Vietnamese babies allowed to eliminate free of a diaper when signalling or at biologically normal times (upon waking, after feeding) have the same sphincter control as a 3yr old conventionally toilet trained Swedish child. They concluded some sphincter control is present at birth but if ignored it is lost, but if they are allowed to practice consciously the control is mastered further. Then there is the 2012 study that shows that any diaper including thin disposables (note: they are not so thin after some pee is in there) significantly affects natural walking gait vs no diaper, causing more falling & wider unnatural stepping. Piker commented alot about the natural grace of animals & how the modern child is hampered by clothing & unnatural sitting devices, that the naked (diaperless) child moves more freely & more capably. I encourage more people to read up on what Montessori Toilet Awareness & Learning actually is. Here's a good start: