As I travel the country speaking to parents – and childcare providers – I’m often asked about potty training, which I prefer to call toilet teaching. We don't “train” kids like they're seals balancing a ball on their nose. Anyhow, that's just a personal peeve of mine. But they do learn, and boy, are kids fast learners!
If you feel your tot is ready to learn, you may ask “Why not now, Brenda?” Well, first, young children are extremely perceptive. They sense your angst, stress, busyness and crowded schedule. They know when you're uptight and frazzled. With immature skills to express feelings verbally, they act out their awareness of stress. Acting out takes the form of regressive behaviors like sucking the thumb, whining, or infantile behaviors or they become more aggressive through increased tantrums or defiance. If your holidays are crazed like most of us, this isn’t the time to ask your tot to learn a new, complicated skill. Plus it’ll pile more frustration on your plate if you have to take time out to clean up poopy clothes and accidents, or stand in the bathroom waiting on your child to "do something."
Second, children learn to use the potty better when their life – and schedule – is comfortably predictable. Choose a time when your family is most relaxed or you're back to "normal" routine. Some parents skip over Christmas and begin toilet teaching in January or February, thereby avoiding the seasonal excitement.
Your little one must exhibit the signs of readiness so don't jump in too soon. In The Birth to Five Book, p. 94, I reveal some of the signs that your tyke is ready for toilet learning. Space prohibits me from going into detail here. In the book I share, “Somewhere between two and three years of age, most children add toilet learning to their list of achievements. About 82 percent have mastered it by age three. But it is not solely a calendar issue; it is a readiness-to-learn issue.” Remember, that birth order, temperament, gender, parenting style, and even the season all play a role in your child's readiness.
When Sandra asked me to guest blog about toilet teaching, she asked me to share, “What NOT to do.” My number one recommendation – once you've determined your child is ready and you're committed to teaching – is NEVER ask, “You want to go potty?” Dah! Most self-respecting toddlers would rather not interrupt their agenda to sit on that new contraption. You'll most likely hear, “No.” Simply make the statement, “It's time to sit on the potty.”
For toilet teaching success, I encourage you to keep your expectations realistic. For example, expect your tot to sit on the pot, jump up, and say, “I’m done” without producing. At least he/she tried to cooperate. It's better that he/she gets familiar with it by frequent usage. Your goal – besides getting ‘em out of diapers – is to help your child feel safe and comfortable using the potty. Also, expect accidents for a while. As smart as your child is, it takes a while to adjust to the new behavior and routine. And finally, expect daytime success before nighttime achievement. Most tots can understand and cooperate with your teaching during the day but, when they're in deep slumber overnight and their little internal muscles are relaxed, they'll probably eliminate. It's not a will power issue but, a biologic one.
When my children were toddlers I was eager to end the wet and smelly messes, clothing changes, and cost. But I reminded myself that from their point of view, I was communicating a foreign set of behaviors. I tried to be positive and patient once I committed to the task. Likewise, I encourage you to keep in mind your role as “teacher.” Be instructive, understanding, patient, and persistent. Eventually, your child will be out of diapers – probably by next Christmas – and you'll have stories to tell others.
As the former Kansas City FOX TV4 parenting expert, Brenda Nixon (www.BrendaNixon.com) is the author of the award-winning The Birth to Five Book available at Amazon and bookstores. Recently quoted in Parenting and Good Housekeeping magazines, she is a frequent media guest expert and speaker to parents and childcare professionals. From schools to synagogues, businesses to bookstores, conferences to churches, audiences rave that Brenda "engages, educates, and encourages!" Brenda is also co-author on A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, and a freelance writer for family publications. In September, Brenda was named "Mom of the Week" by Lifetime Entertainment. She lives in Ohio with her husband and near her two young adult daughters and son. Brenda's internet radio program, The Parent's Plate, debuts January 2010 on toginet.com/shows.
Brenda Nixon, M.A., Building stronger families through parent empowerment