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8 Montessori-inspired phrases to use for each stage of potty training

The Montessori approach to potty training is SO much less stressful—and encourages your child's growing independence.

montessori potty training

As parents we look forward to milestones like introducing baby to their first foods and watching them take their first steps—but for some reason potty training doesn't exactly incite the same feelings of excitement.

Part of this is undoubtedly the mess. But another part is that toileting is one of the few things that children are in complete control of. You cannot force your child to use the toilet (and you shouldn't try!).

Because children are in control of whether or not they use the toilet, the language you use with your child is very important. The goal is to empower them and their growing desire for independence, without starting a power struggle or inadvertently causing feelings of shame or failure.


Montessori uses distinct language with children learning to use the toilet, starting with the term "toilet learning" rather than "potty training." The difference may seem subtle, but reflects Montessori's emphasis on the child's engagement and participation in the process, while "training" implies a more passive role.

Here are eight Montessori-inspired phrases to use during each stage of toilet learning:

1. “Your diaper is wet. Let’s go change your diaper.”

Learning body awareness and the language around toileting begins at birth. In the early days, we spend SO much time changing diapers. This is a great opportunity to help your child become aware that they feel wet because they peed in their diaper, that you are changing their diaper so their body is clean and comfortable.

From a Montessori perspective, it's important to avoid using any negative language (or faces!) when changing diapers. Saying it's gross or stinky can impact how your child feels about their bodily functions and toileting later on.

Montessori-style diaper changes are also as collaborative as possible. For the youngest babies, this may just mean explaining what you're doing. With an older baby, you might ask them to lift their own legs so you can put the diaper underneath or, if they're mobile, to bring a clean diaper to you.

The type of diapers you use is a personal decision, but many Montessori parents use cloth diapering because cloth diapers allow the child to feel wet more than disposables, which can lead to greater awareness of what's happening with the body.

2. “You’re so stable now. Let’s try standing for your diaper today.”

As soon as a baby or young toddler can reliably stand up with support, the Montessori approach switches to stand-up diapering. The child stands, holding onto a low bar (a wooden closet rod can easily be installed at home) while you change their diaper. If you don't want to install a bar, some families ask the child to hold onto the edge of the bathtub or a low shelf or table instead.

If you've been completing diaper changes in your child's room, this is a good time to move diapering to the bathroom to help them begin to connect bodily functions with the toilet.

3. “Please push your pants down.”

Once your child can stand with some stability, it's a great time to encourage independent dressing. This is an essential skill, as they'll be able to undress quickly to get to the toilet in time.

Make sure they have elastic or stretchy pants that are easy to push down and pull up. This is a process that requires lots of practice and patience for children to master, so it's good to start early!

4. “Would you like to sit on the potty?”

In the Montessori approach, we begin asking the child if they would like to use the toilet once they can get on and off independently.

Even if they always say no at first, it's useful to offer each time you change them. Your little may just sit there for a couple of seconds, but they're still getting used to the idea of using the toilet and will become more comfortable each time.

While there is no universal age for children to start using the toilet, many children begin to become interested between 12-18 months.Try not to put any pressure on your child or seem too eager. This is just a time to explore.

5. “It’s time to use the toilet.”

As the child's interest and ability in using the toilet increase, change your phrasing to "It's time to use the toilet." Many toddlers will automatically say "no" if you ask if they would like to do anything.

While you should never force a child to sit on the toilet, this change reflects that using the toilet is now an expectation, rather than just an option to explore. Ask your child to use the toilet each time you change a diaper. Try to time this according to when they usually need to go, such as upon waking and after a meal.

If they don't want to, try offering a limited choice, such as, "You may use the toilet now or after you finish putting away your puzzle."

You might also try something like, "You're saying no, I see you're not ready. I'll come back in three minutes, and then it will be time to try."

6. “You peed in the toilet just like Mom and Dad.”

The Montessori approach does not use any punishments, rewards, or extravagant praise.

Too much praise can put a lot of pressure on a child to repeat the performance, which can cause anxiety and an aversion to using the big kid potty.

Make fact-based, positive observations, but don't let your child think you are emotionally invested in whether or not they successfully use it as. That's too much pressure and too much control for a little one.

7. “You’re ready for underwear now.”

"Follow the child" is a common saying in Montessori, and this includes going to the bathroom. Rather than using a predetermined age when you think your child should be potty trained, try observing your child for signs of readiness.

These signs often include:

1. Their diaper staying dry for longer

2. Ability to push down and pull up pants

3. General interest in the toilet

4. Telling you when they need a diaper

5. Regularly using the toilet with success

Once your child seems ready to give up diapers, make the switch all at once (for his waking hours). It is too confusing to go back and forth (such as underwear at home, diapers while you are out).

Stay home for the first few days if possible (weekends are great) and remind them to use the toilet every 30-45 minutes. Cotton training pants can be very helpful during this time—unlike pull-ups, they allow your child to feel wet, but avoid some of the mess.

8. “Your pants look wet. It’s time to change clothes.”

Even after your child is successfully in underwear, they will certainly not make it to the toilet every time. Try not to seem annoyed or grossed out when this happens, just observe what you see and state what needs to happen. "I see your shorts are wet. It's time to use the toilet and change clothes."

Involve your child in the cleanup process when they don't make it to the toilet in time, giving a towel to help dry the floor and asking to choose fresh underwear to put on.

The toilet learning process can seem so daunting, but it helps to embrace the fact that you're really not in control. All you can do is set your child up for success by encouraging their independence, having lots of patience, and using language that makes it a positive, low-pressure experience for everyone.

[This was originally published August, 2018. It has since been updated.]

Create a school-ready capsule wardrobe for your kids

Dress for success whether virtual learning or in the classroom!

Tina Meeks

Going "back to school" this year may be less of a literal statement than in years past—but there is just as much reason for your kids to celebrate moving on to new grades. Just like in every new school year, a big part of the fun is refreshing your kids' wardrobe with clothes that allow them to express themselves.

Even if finding back to school clothes this year doesn't include a trip to the mall, you can still make an event of it by shopping H&M's kids collection from your computer. Pull up another chair for your shopping buddy and get the cart started with these fave capsule wardrobe options we've already scouted.

Here are our favorite picks:

A t-shirt made for play

H&M t-shirt

Call them essentials, not basics. A graphic t-shirt aces the test when it comes to being perfect for school. And because your little student will probably want to wear something that expresses their personal style as often as possible, it's great to know the shirts can stand up to school time, playtime, downtime and everything in between!

$4.99

Dressed-up casual shorts for total comfort

H&M boy shorts

Whether pulling up a chair for a virtual meeting with the class or heading back to the school for in-person learning, some comfortable, yet stylish, shorts will help your kid focus on the real tasks at hand: learning—and having fun while doing it!

$19.99

Layers for when seasons change

H&M sweatshirt

When it comes to feeling comfortable at school, layers are the MVPs. Whether the AC is blasting or the day started off cool and is warming up quickly, having a unique sweatshirt to shed or add will help your kid look cool while staying warm.

$9.99

A bit of flair with distressed denim

H&M distressed jeans

A school staple for generations, denim is both classic and continually fashionable with updates like distressing and new wash colors. If you're shopping online for jeans this year, take note of H&M's generous return policy—your kids can try on the orders at home and return anything that doesn't fit without a trip to the store.

$24.99

A fashion statement piece

H&M girls skirt

What's better than expressing yourself through a stylish outfit when school is back in session? Still feeling perfectly comfortable and ready to tackle anything the day holds while looking so good. With so many fashion-forward looks available at budget-friendly prices, H&M's children's collection means every kid can find an outfit that speaks to them.

$14.99

Some comfy kicks

H&M boys shoes

A sure way to put a little pep in your child's step this year, cool and cozy shoes are a staple on all back-to-school shopping lists for good reason. (Plus, it's fun to compare them to last year's shoes to see how much your kid has grown!)

$19.99

Anything-but-basic blouses

H&M girls blouse

Whether in the classroom or showing up for a video call with the class, a styling blouse or button-down shirt is a great way for your student to comfortably dress up the day. Better yet? Style doesn't have to come at the expense of comfort with so many made-to-move tops designed just for kids.

$14.99

A shirt ready to go whatever the day holds

H&M boys shirt

With "going to school" meaning anything from showing up in the classroom to doing a virtual session, it's important to have clothes that are perfect for anything the day holds. A classic, cotton shirt with a fashion-forward design is a great way to keep your student feeling ready to start the year with an A+ attitude.

$9.99

This article was sponsored by H&M. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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