Why Toilet Learning at 1 Year

By Carrie

I hope you’ve enjoyed following our journey of toilet learning this week from Cloth Diapers and EC, to Standing Diaper Changes and Underwear.  To wrap up the week I wanted to share some of the reasons why I chose this route for toilet learning.

Avoid Power StrugglesDSC_0022 (4)_crop

Power struggles are more common when toilet learning/training occurs at age 2-3.  Ever heard of the “terrible two’s?”  It’s common that two year olds have an increased desire to make their own choices and assert themselves.  I want to take toileting out of the equation while A. goes through this.  There will be more than enough other ways for her to assert herself and things to tantrum about.  I hope that toileting is just a natural part of the day and that by age 2/3 A. will be ready for more responsibility and control of her own toileting.

Sensitive Period for Toileting

“The myelination of neurons necessary to ready the body for control of the bowels and bladder is completed by the time children are approximately twelve months old.” ~Montessori From the Start.   

Between 12-18 Months children go through a Sensitive Period for toileting.  This means that a child is gaining an awareness of their toileting needs during this time and if we take the steps to accommodate this developing awareness, then a child will more naturally learn to use the toilet than if we take efforts at a later stage.  From my experience working with children at my preschool and seeing various Sensitive Periods in action, when children are in a Sensitive Period they have intense interest and learn the concept quite quickly.  I want to devote my time to aiding my daughter during this Sensitive Period for toileting.  I believe it will be more of a natural, gradual development towards toileting independence.

Decreased Constipation and UTIs

Many children who have joined my preschool and have recently been toilet trained experience constipation.  While I’m not a medical doctor, I wonder if holding in poo (or pee) is related to the psychological development of asserting control which is typically stronger at age 2/3.  (I also know it is important to keep up fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, and whole-grains in a child’s diet to decrease constipation at any age)  Dr. Jill Lekovic in Diaper Free Before 3 indicates that earlier toilet learning decreases the risks for urinary tract infections and constipation.  So does Gwen Dewar at Parenting Science.

Get out of Diapers SoonerDSC_0066 (3)

Wiping a poopy bottom is not fun.  Wiping a bottom that has pooped in the potty, not so bad.  While the process may take longer than 3 days, typically the child who begins earlier is out of diapers at a younger age.  Decreased time and money spent on (washing) diapers sounds good to me.  There are also many who believe the increased use of disposable diapers has led to a later age for toilet training, when historically, and currently internationally, many children stop using diapers before age 2.  I think that wearing underwear and eliminating in a toilet is more comfortable than diapers and I want to help my daughter experience greater comfort by being in underwear sooner.

Because a Child is Capable of it 

I want to demonstrate to my daughter that I have faith in her abilities.  I have heard from so many friends that their children, and many Montessori toddler teachers that the children in their programs, are successful wearing underwear by age 2.  My early EC joys lead me to believe that my daughter does have the capacity to connect to her elimination and I want to support her in this.

“If parents remember that their mission is not a child in “dry pants” but a child successful in her formation of independence, coordinated movement, language, and will, they will know that their hard work on their child’s behalf is worth the effort.” ~Montessori From the Start  


Nature furnishes special protection for the young.  For instance, the child is born amidst love; his very origin is by love, and once born he is surrounded by the love of father and mother, a love which is not artificial or enforced by reason.  ~Maria Montessori, Education For a New World  


Filed under 12-18 Months, 18-24 Months, Carrie, Diapers/Toileting

15 responses to “Why Toilet Learning at 1 Year

  1. Jen

    Thank you for this. My daughter did 3-day potty training at age 20 months with success. She’s been in underwear full time since then. I love that toileting is just part of her life now that she’s 2.5. She doesn’t remember diapers. Those were behind us by the time she got to a more opinionated age. I also love that, unlike her older brother, I’ve never ad those moments of pinning down a three year old with a poopy diaper. It feels respectful of her abilities. I believe in “show me how to do it myself” and “never do something for a child that she can do herself.” I do want to mention that both my kids were physically ready for potty training at 18 months. They were dry for hours at a time and could say/sign potty before they went.

  2. Emily S.

    So I got really into toilet learning around one year, we started doing underwear and were having successful trips to the potty. I had a particularly busy time at work though, and my son’s caregivers didn’t follow through at all…and we are completely back in diapers. He just turned 16 months. What would you recommend doing now so that I take advantage of the sensitive period? TIA!

    • Having the potty out for your son to use and offering it to him to use is a great place to start. Children learn through observation so have an open door policy, or if your son is willing to do so, use the toilet/potty at the same time. I’m sorry to hear your son’s caregivers were unable or unwilling to follow through. Do you have the support now? You could start just on days that he is in your care and allow him to experience wetness to help him along the path of understanding and connection to his elimination. Thanks for reading and good luck! I hope you’re able to get back on track with your son. Bumps in the road are just part of the journey.

  3. Mama's Happy Hive

    I am going to give this a try! Little Bee gives me the sign for “poop” while he is going. He is 16 months old. I hope I didn’t miss the sensitive time and I still have an opportunity to try this method! I bought him a potty the other day and he has been playing with it. He likes to put his plastic balls in it and carry it around. LOL! I am going to have to try and teach him that this is a place to pee and poop… not play.

    • I think he’s exhibiting signs of being in the Sensitive Period right now! How wonderful! He’s gaining awareness of elimination and you’re offering him a potty to use. Sounds like you’re off to a great start!

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  7. Sarah

    Hi! My son is almost 16 months old and we just started potty learning. I’ve read about the signs of readiness and I’m not sure he’s there. He’s been in cloth diapers since 6 months but he doesn’t seem to mind being wet. We’ve been doing prefolds without a cover and undies and I change him as soon as he’s wet. He stops everything he’s doing and sort of spaces out while he pees, but he’ll pee anywhere and then just goes about his business. I’ve had success getting him to pee when he wakes up in the morning and after his nap but he usually doesn’t go at other times. And he doesn’t like sitting on the potty, he’s always on the move. I can et him to stay by reading a book with him sometimes. He also shows no interest in helping put on undies or pants. He likes throwing the toilet paper in the toilet and then closing the lid and watching me flush though. Should I keep it up? Or should I wait til he’s showing more signs of readiness?

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for reading and sharing your struggles. In the Montessori manner of toilet learning, it’s not so much about their signs of readiness and more about observing their signs that they need to go. I would encourage you to switch to wearing underwear during awake times. I started with just the mornings but after a week switched to the full day. I too found that even though my daughter had been in cloth diapers from birth, she didn’t have a strong connection with going pee/being wet. Peeing in training underwear really helped to make this connection. I always changed her right away and talked about the process. This helped her to learn “I went pee.” Soon, she would stop and hold herself as she went pee – learning “I am going pee”. I became better at observing signs that she needed to go, which lead to greater success at actually peeing in the potty. I also stuck to a very frequent schedule to “try going” when I first started my daughter in underwear. I soon learned nuances and lessened the frequency.
      As for offering a book, I didn’t at first but had to change to keep her interested long enough to sit and go pee. At first I did finger plays or played with her toes but soon I offered a book and now she always has a book. I think it’s best to keep interest just in the toileting process but for my daughter I needed to include a book.
      As for if you should keep it up, I think keep offering and trying. I kept going and although there were a lot of wet pants at first, one day it just clicked for my daughter. She waited until it was time for toileting or she would sign potty. She had made the connection of “I need to go pee.” It happened about 2 months after she started walking. So perhaps if your son is in a stage of learning a new physical capacity, e.g. walking, then not to stress about it too much, just keep offering.
      Have you read https://montessorimoms.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/1-year-old-bring-on-the-underwear/ and http://midwestmontessori.tumblr.com/post/103438202486/toilet-learning-getting-past-hangups These are two helpful books Diaper-Free Before 3 by Jill M. Lekovi and Toilet Awareness by Sarah Moudry.

      • Sarah

        thank you! We’ve kept at it and found a good rhythm that works for us. He never would sit on the little potty so we have it up on the toilet and we stopped doing books and started telling him we’d give him some privacy and walk around the corner. When we started doing that he seemed to realize he’s supposed to pee on the toilet and when he’s done he lets us know. Hes started giving cues when he has to go too. Working on getting him to sign potty when he has to go now and next step is trainers when we go out! Thank you for the reply and the awesome blog!

  8. So glad to hear you and your son have been making good progress. Everyone’s journey is a little bit different. So happy to have played a part in supporting you in yours.

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