Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Life As the Curriculum

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for my teleclass, Joyful Days with Toddlers!  The Sunday class is completely full, but there are still two slots in the Tuesday class if you're interested.  It starts this Tuesday, March 1st 2011, and calls are from 6:30-7:45pm Mountain Time.  Please email me if you'd like one of those two spots at faithrainbow@yahoo.com
 People often think they have to have a “curriculum” to be teaching the children things, or they feel guilty because they don't have a formal curriculum. Curriculum subjects I've seen have ranged from numbers, colors and letters, to subjects such as germs or pirates.  However, it seems to me that 'teaching' things like colors is silly, because they'll learn it anyhow, and subjects like germs and pirates don't relate to their lives at all.
What I am here to suggest is that young children really learn all they “should” be learning through their own play and through watching and participating in the daily tasks that go into running a household. Gross motor skills come from putting things on a shelf or rolling dough with a rolling pin; fine motor skills come from decorating bread with raisins or folding a washcloth. Sorting skills are developed unloading the silverware from the dishwasher, or sorting laundry. Vocabulary skills, taking directions, and working cooperatively are all developed listening to you as you help them master these skills.
However, I would even go a step further and suggest that using our daily tasks as the curriculum is MORE effective for teaching skills and ideas than designing a bunch of activities and games around a theme. There are several reasons for this.

Why Daily Tasks are Fulfilling to Children
I very firmly believe that everyone in this world wants to feel connected, to feel that they are competent, that they are contributing. When I think about my own life, all of the parts that feel the best revolve around me feeling connected, or feeling competent, or feeling like I'm contributing. In fact, that's why I love working in early childhood, because I get to do all three of those things simultaneously.
Think about your own life for a moment: what have been the highlights? What times have you felt the most alive, the most vibrant? And think about it through this lens I've given you. Were you feeling connected, competent, or like you were contributing, during those times? If not those things, what were you feeling that made them especially great?
Now think about the young children in your life. We all know how important it is for children to be connected: lots of research has been done on the importance of attachment. And children spend enormous amounts of time practicing being competent. As they learn to walk, they fall over and get up again and again and again. As soon as they learn to talk, the phrase “me do dat” is often the most common to come out of their mouths. We often don't let them try things for themselves as long as they'd wish, because we're in a hurry, or we can see that they won't be successful, but most of us understand and value their striving for competence. But how about the desire to contribute? That is not something that most of us think about in relation to young children, even though we can see how their faces light up when they are able to do so. Read this article from the science section of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html?_r=1 ). Studies are showing that children may be born with an innate desire to help.
As parents and caretakers in our culture, it's easy for us to recognize the desire for connection, and we work very hard to develop it. In fact, we often work so hard at developing the connection piece of things that we sometimes unconsciously cut off our children's abilities to be competent and to contribute: we love them so much that we want to do everything for them. Our own desires to be competent and to contribute to them leave no room for them to be able to contribute in a meaningful way.
By consciously setting Life as the platform for children children to learn skills and ideas, we are giving them the chance to develop true competence, as we do these tasks day after day after day. As their skills develop, they know that they are really contributing to the household. And your gratitude for their help (especially as they get better at it!) helps you connect.

My article goes on to look at how we can do this effectively, with practical tips and suggestions.  During the conference call I will show video footage of children helping me with laundry, washing dishes, brushing hair, and baking bread.

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Value of Saying "No"


         One thing that dramatically affects how much we enjoy the company of a child is how they react when they ask for something and are told “no.” Being able to handle disappointment gracefully is a very advanced skill, and one that doesn't necessarily come easily or naturally. Nevertheless, having that skill is something that will really serve these little people as they go through life, and will make our enjoyment of them that much richer. So what can we do as parents and caregivers to help children develop this skill?

Avoiding "No"
          Children under two (or even 2 ½) have very little control over their emotions. So the best thing you can do is to avoid establishing negative patterns of tantrums, whining, etc. that will be hard to break when they're older. Ironically, one of the best ways to do this is to avoid saying “no” as much as possible. One of your biggest tools in this area will be to have a strong daily rhythm. When kids know exactly how things will go, they are much less likely to resist what's going on or want something different.
          Even with a strong rhythm in place, however, kids at this age want things all the time that they can't have. So how can you say “no” without saying “no”? At this age, the answer is re-direction. Something more easily said than done, right? Well, here's a re-direction technique that I use all the time. It takes some work, but it's worth it. The thing to do is to say “yes” in imagination, and then take them on an imaginary journey that ends somewhere else. Here's one example I used with a mom just the other day:
Your little boy wants a toy airplane that his older brother is playing with. He winds up to start throwing a fit. You say to him, “You really want that airplane. You want it RIGHT NOW! You LOVE airplanes, and you hate waiting!” Say it really emphatically, so that he knows you 'get it.' You might have to say it a few times. When he's paying attention to you, you can say, “If I had another airplane, I'd give it to you right now.” (you're saying yes in your imagination.) “If you had an airplane RIGHT NOW, what would you do with it?” He looks at you quizzically. You go on, “If you had that airplane RIGHT NOW, I bet you'd fly it all around the house. What room would you fly it into?” Pause for a moment to let him think about it, then go on, “I bet you'd fly it into the livingroom. Vrrroooommmm! You'd go around the coffee table, the around the couch. Then you'd fly it past the diningroom table! Vrrooommm!” Continue in this vein, taking him on an imaginary journey until you can tell he's really into it. Then change the direction slightly. “Then you'd fly it past the cat! Do you think she'd like that?” Pause and watch him, then answer: “No! Kitty doesn't like airplanes at all! If she saw you going by, she might run away and hide!” Then, “In fact, where is kitty? Do you think she's hiding in the livingroom right now? Let's go find her!”
Like I said, this technique takes some work, but the more you practice it, the better you get. If you can use this type of distraction and re-direction, you can limit how often you say “no” to your child. And by the way, with a little finesse, this technique can work with older kids as well. It's time to leave a play-date at the park and your four-year-old doesn't want to. “You want to stay here forever? OK!” (saying yes in imagination). “That would be funny! What would you eat for dinner? You could ask the squirrels if they would share their nuts with you! And where would you sleep?” Look around. “I know! You could sleep underneath the tire-swing. You could make a big pile of wood chips and burrow into it, just like a little mouse.” You get the picture.

Saying "No"
          By the time kids are approaching three, they've usually figured out what works to get you to change your mind when you say “no.” Maybe throwing tantrums has worked well for them. Maybe if they whine long enough you get tired and give in. Or, they'll explain and explain why you should change your mind, wearing you down until you do change your mind, or they end up in tears.  So how to establish good habits around reacting to being told "no"?
          I know I go against popular culture here, but I believe that children do not benefit from lengthy discussions of why they can't have what they want. A simple explanation is fine, but after that it simply draws out the bad feelings of being told “no,” and keeps them from moving on. And in practical terms, it greatly increases the amount of time the two of you spend disagreeing with one another. Helping your child to accept “no” gracefully, and move on, will benefit you both. So how do you do that? Well, if your child is used to lengthy explanations, it will take some time and effort to change that pattern.  Be patient and don't give up.
          Use Humor. When a child asks for something that they know they can't have, don't give them a long explanation about how they know they can't have cookies before dinner. Don't even be disapproving. From their perspective, it was worth a try, right? So simply laugh while you say no. “No.....Silly girl!” And give her a smooch.  You don't even have to remind her that she can have one cookie after dinner, just like always. She knows.
          Be Matter-of-Fact. Kids often take their emotional cues from us, so watch your tone.  When a child asks for a sugar cereal in the grocery store, a cheerful "Nope!" or “Not today,” is surprisingly effective, especially if you follow it up with a comment leading them in a different direction. You don't need to explain about how sugar cereals are bad for you, how they'll rot your teeth or give you a tummy ache. The less discussion you give it, the faster they can move on. Note: if you have traditionally changed your mind after pleading or nagging in the past, your child will take awhile to change his response. But if you practice, and are consistent that once you've said “not today” you don't change your mind, your child will learn to accept this without question unless it feels really important to him. I say “not today” at Rainbow Bridge all the time, and the children simply accept it and move on. It is part of our culture there.
          Be Empathetic. Sometimes I'll say “not today,” and a child will burst into tears. I will immediately stop what I'm doing and take them into my arms. “Wow, you really wanted to do that, huh?” I'll say. “You thought I'd say yes, but then I said no instead.” They'll nod tearfully. Now, at this point there's a huge urge to either 1) explain why they can't get what they want, 2) bargain with them/bribe them with replacement items, or 3) give in. Put all of those urges on hold, and simply give them some love, instead. “I love you sooo much.” Give a kiss on the top of the head, and start humming a song as you rock back and forth. Stay with them as long as they need, simply pouring in the love without trying to solve anything. They are learning to handle disappointment, and that's a big task! In a minute or two, they'll calm down. “Would you like to help me unload the dishwasher?” you might ask.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One Week till Teleclass Starts

I spent the day today working on the course content for my teleclass Joyful Days with Toddlers, and I'm really excited!  It's going to be a great course, perfect for anyone who spends their days with children ages 1-5.  It will be a combination of online discussions and weekly conference calls, along with video footage from my own home daycare Rainbow Bridge (see an example to the right).  The first class is next week, and the first week's topic will be Life as the Curriculum.  The video footage is simply priceless.  Have you ever thought about baking with toddlers, but felt a overwhelmed by the logistics of it all?  You can see me doing it live.  Have you wondered what 18-month-olds are really capable of, or whether a five-year-old boy would be excited to have his hair brushed while sitting on your lap?  Those will be there too.

In addition to the practical aspects of how to make it happen, we'll examine the ideas behind it.  Why does helping with household chores feel fulfilling to young children?  How does it help with brain development?  Why do we as adults tend to have resistance to it?  We'll look at all of these and more, with a different topic each week: social skills, transitions, mealtimes, space, and being your best self.  We have a great group of women signed up, and I'm excited to see them connect with one another as we explore these issues.

There are still a few spots in both the Sunday section (with calls 2pm-3:15pm Mountain Time) and the Tuesday section (calls 6:30pm-7:45pm Mountain Time), so if you're interested sign up right away!  I'm offering it at the special introductory rate of $150 for the six-week course.  I'll be offering the course again in June, but prices will go up.  For more information, click on the tab above titled Classes With Miss Faith.  To hold your spot, email me at faithrainbow@yahoo.com.  I hope to hear from you soon.

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why I Don't Use "Sorry"


I don't have children use the word “Sorry” at Rainbow Bridge. The reason for this is that what we want from the word sorry is very complex: something along the lines of “I feel bad about what I did, I hope you're not hurt too badly, and I'll try my best not to do it again.” All of that in one word? The kids who come to my house using the word Sorry rarely seem to be saying any of that when they use the word; it's simply what you're supposed to say when you hurt someone. It usually comes out quickly and with little emotion behind it.

Young children live primarily in the will, so instead of words, I have them go straight to action when they hurt someone. After comforting the child who's hurt, I help the aggressor think of what they can do to help the other child feel better. If they push a child who falls down and bumps their head, they can run and get an ice-pack for the other child (or we'll all go to get it together, but I'll hand it to them to give to the hurt child). If a child is hurt less badly, I'll suggest that they help rub the other child's back. Sometimes, especially if they hit or bit the other child, the hurt child doesn't want the perpetrator to touch them yet. In that case I'll suggest that they find a toy that the hurt child might like. Once the child who's crying has calmed down some, then I might move to words, depending on how verbal the aggressor is (usually around age 2 ½ or older). I'll say, “It looks like she's feeling a little bit better. Why don't you ask her, 'Will you be OK?'” Usually the child responds with a yes or a nod. Then, especially if I can tell they feel bad, I'll suggest that they say, “I didn't mean to hurt you.” This seems much more specific and relevant than the word “sorry” to me. And, regardless of the circumstances, I think children usually do not mean to hurt one another. Yes, they may have hit the other child, but it seems like it almost always comes as a surprise when the other child bursts into tears as a result. Children at this age are just following their impulses, and they have to learn through repeated experience what the effects of those impulses are, before they can learn to control them.

If the aggressor is old enough (usually starting at age 3 ½ or so), I'll follow the whole experience up with a brief conversation where I'll ask them what happened leading up to the incident, and we'll brainstorm together on what alternatives they might have used. If they wanted a toy that another child had, they could ask if they could use it when they're done, or they could offer something else as a trade. If the other child was trying to take their toy, they could say 'you can use it when I'm done,' or give another toy to that child. If a child wouldn't get out of their way, they could say 'excuse me' or move around the child. If a child was throwing sand on them, they could say, 'please stop throwing sand.'

And always, I strive to remember that children are doing the best they can with the tools they have. Learning to interact with words is a very complex skill, one that takes several years (or, for some of us, a lifetime!) to learn. We caretakers are here to help teach them these skills, and then help them practice again and again and again.
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day


Today is Valentine's Day, and, even if you don't read this post until tomorrow or even many months from now, let me suggest that you let today, the day that you read this, be all about love. About love, and about cherishing the relationships that you have in your life.

With young kids in the house, it can be easy to feel frazzled and like you never quite 'have it together.' Your hair remains unbrushed, and the house is never as tidy as you wish. So the first stop in this journey of Love is yourself. Tell your toddler that today is a very, very special day, and you're going to spend all day getting ready. If it's too late to do it for Valentine's Day today, do this tomorrow. If you work, do it this Saturday. If you're married, your spouse will be surprised and extra-pleased to have this come on a day when it's not expected. Here's what to do:

Getting the House Ready
Mid-day, spend some serious time making the house special with your toddler. The two of you can tidy up the livingroom and diningroom, can wash the kitchen floors together, and clean up in some way that's above and beyond what you normally do, clearing off the table in the entryway, or the sideboard, or polishing the table. As you're doing it, talk with your child about how much Daddy's going to love to see this when he gets home. If dad doesn't live with you, simply talk about how much you and your child are going to love this space when you're done, about how you're making it special. And then make it extra special by putting a tablecloth on the table, put candles all around the room, and put some flowers or something else that's beautiful in the center of the table.

Getting Yourself Ready
While your child is taking his afternoon nap, instead of using it as time to catch up on things, use this time to take a bubble bath. Wash your hair, shave your legs (if you shave them!), and when you get out, put on special lotion that you love the scent of, cut your toenails, and do whatever you can do to pamper your body and feel beautiful. At each step, take a moment to appreciate this body of yours. We often forget our bodies, or even try not to pay attention to them, but today, on this day of love, give some love to your very own body.

Getting Your Child Ready
When your little one wakes up from naptime, take a little extra time with him or with her, today. Light a candle to make the space special, and sit on the couch and snuggle together. Brush their hair while he's sleepily sitting on your lap. Rub his feet with lotion. Tell him how much you love him and how glad you are that he was born into your life. Tell him about how before he was born, you hoped and prayed that you would have a little boy, and you and daddy got ready for him together, and now that he's here you love him so much. Or, if he was unplanned, tell him about how you were living your life and you didn't even know that you needed a little boy, but he knew that you needed him. And when he came he was the best surprise you had ever had. Make the story real, so it fits the situation, but also make it a little bit magical, a fairytale.

After he wakes up from nap and has a snack, you can spend the afternoon making Valentines for each person that you love. Decorate them together, and write on each one what you appreciate about that person. Dig deep and go broad, and let your child contribute. These are special letters to let the people in your life know how much you appreciate them.
“Dear Mom, Cedar and I are sitting here together and thinking about how much we love you. We love having you come to visit, and we wish you could visit more often! I love how I know I can call you whenever I need to, and I especially appreciate the support you gave me when things were hard this fall. Cedar loves (ask Cedar what he loves about Grandma and write it down) your big hugs. I want to tell you how much I loved the time you spent here after Cedar was born. Cedar says he loves your dog Brandy. I love how you always tell me what a good mother I am. It means a lot to me. Thank you. Happy Valentine's Day.”
Getting Ready for Dad
If dad lives with you, then the moment he gets home will be something special. You can warn him that you and your child have been preparing something special for him, or not. When he is on the way home, get ready for him. Dim the lights, light the candles, put on some soft music. When he comes in, greet him with a smile and a kiss. You and your child can give him the Valentines that you made for him that afternoon. Then eat dinner together, and make it as special as possible. Even if the food you're having is not special, you can make the meal special by eating by candlelight. By keeping soft music on if you don't usually listen to music during dinner, or by turning the music off if you usually do. If you have special plates or glasses, use them. Have something special to drink, wine if you like that, or sparkling water with a splash of cranberry juice. If dad doesn't live with you, you can do all of these special things with your child.

Adult Time
Put your child to bed a little early tonight, fifteen minutes or half an hour. Chances are good that he will still sleep to his normal time tomorrow morning. Use the evening to let your partner know how special he or she is to you, and how your life is better for having them in it. If your partner is not present, use the evening to call the important people in your life, your parents, close friends. If they are out celebrating Valentine's Day themselves, think of how happy they'll be to come home and hear that message from you. And if you didn't get the chance for that bubble bath during the afternoon, now's the time!

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Potty at Daycare


If you work taking care of other people's toddlers, then you are an integral part of the potty-learning process. Having several toddlers together gives you some advantages over parents, but it also presents some unique challenges.

The main advantage you have is that young children learn through imitation. At Rainbow Bridge I'll usually take two or three children who are potty-learning to the bathroom at once, and it's quite a social experience. We have a kiddie-potty on the floor, facing the full-sized toilet that has a wide foot-stool in front of it and an extra kid-sized seat that's attached to the toilet and opens and closes (see an example here). If I had room in the bathroom I'd put another kiddie-potty, but the bathroom is too small. Still, two children can go to the potty at once, while a third kid stands next to me or sits on my lap (I sit on the stool in front of the sink).

At first, I'll help the children through every process: pulling down their pants, taking off their diaper, sitting on the potty, getting toilet paper, getting a new diaper, pulling up pants, washing and drying hands. As they get more and more experienced, I'll let them do as much as they can on their own, until I get to the point where I say, “I bet you can do this all on your own now! This time, I won't even go into the bathroom with you. I'll just watch from here.” And I'll stand in the hallway outside the bathroom door, saying “Are you really going to do this all by yourself today? I can hardly believe it! But look at that! You pulled your pants down by yourself. Maybe you WILL be able to do it all on your own.” If they need some help, I encourage them to ask for it (“you can say, 'help please!'), but usually they can get it on their own, and I'm super proud of them. After a few times of doing that, when it's time for them to go potty I'll send them to the bathroom on their own, then I'll wait a few minutes before I go and see how they're doing.

In a group care setting, I'll also sometimes ask a bigger kid who's completely diaper-free to take a younger child who's just learning and show them how they go potty. I go with them and supervise the whole thing, but I try to stay in the background a bit and only step in as needed. This can be a very sweet process: the bigger kid feels so competent, and the littler kid feels so special.

However, there are also some significant disadvantages to potty-learning in groups. The most significant is that if you are working on your own, you have many children to supervise and can't spend all of your time in the bathroom, especially if it is far away from your livingroom/play space. If that's the case, you might consider making a “potty corner” with play-stands or two dressers in a corner of your play-room, or you can just tell parents that their child will have to wait until they're diaper-free to go potty at your house. You have to do what works for you in your house.

Another serious disadvantage is that children tend to have more accidents at daycare because they're having so much fun playing with their friends that they don't want to leave, or they don't realize they need to go until it's too late because things are so exciting. I've had parents who claim that their children are completely diaper-free at home, but they have accidents all the time at my house. In those cases I work with the parents as I can, but if it gets to be too much the child can arrive at my house diaper-free, but once they have an accident or if they can't pee in the potty when I take them, they'll need to wear a diaper for the rest of the day at my house. When their parent comes to pick them up, they can take the diaper off before they leave. As long as the child puts the diaper on and takes it off again while still at my house, they rarely back-slide at home.

And thirdly, children are often having so much fun playing that they refuse to go potty when it's time. For those children, I'll either try to take them when there's a transition going on anyhow, like right after a meal or right when we come inside (so they're not immersed in play yet), or I'll say, “Jack, it's time to go potty soon. Do you want to go now, or will you go after Anna?” He usually chooses to go after Anna, so I'll tell Anna, “Anna, run to the potty and when you get back, tell Jack that's it's his turn.” I'll remind Jack once while she's gone that as soon as Anna's back it will be his turn, and when she tells him, then off we go together, no discussion. This method is usually quite successful. I really like this method of having one child tell the other when they're done for fully diaper-free kids as well, as it helps the kids learn to listen to each other.

The main thing if you are a childcare provider is to do what feels good to you. I love potty-learning because it's a great time for me to get some one-on-one or one-on-two time with the kids, and it's great to watch them as they gain the skills and become more and more competent. But I also always have at least one or even two other adults with me! So if taking children to the potty seems like just one more thing than you can handle, I think it's perfectly alright to have other ways to bond with the children.

Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Changing out of Diapers


Great news! I found out where my great article on potty training came from: Julie Fellom, founder of Diaper Free Toddlers and the Waldorf-inspired preschool Neighborhood Playgarden. Julie has helped potty train more than 1,400 toddlers, all under the age of 27 months The bad news is, her website doesn't seem to be up and running anymore, and I can't find the entire article. However, you can find the gist of it from a mom who took her class here, and another very interesting blog post about the cultural shift in potty training happening at 18 months of age in the 1950s to 39 months of age today is here

Julie Felloms suggests that potty training is best achieved before a child is 28 months, because that's the age where, in her opinion, it goes from simply being another physical skill that a young toddler is happy to achieve, to something that they can think about whether they 'want' to do it or don't want to do it. And we all know that two-and-a-half-year-olds often don't want to do what we want them to do!

So, how to make the switch from diapers to diaper-free? I've seen it happen successfully several different ways, but here's what I recommend. Once your child is able to pee on the potty fairly regularly when you take her, start taking her more frequently (every two hours and then every hour). When she starts keeping her diaper dry between pottying most of the time, she's ready. I've had some children who never keep a diaper dry, and were still ready to move out of diapers, but most will keep it dry.

Once your child is ready, make sure you're ready! You need to be ready for a big push to get out of diapers, then ready to take your child to the potty religiously every hour for several months (taking them regularly while they're still in diapers will prepare you for this!). Make the switch out of diapers on a long weekend when you can dedicate yourself to the task. Fellom suggests getting three or four little potties and putting them all around your house, so that your child will be able to get to one whenever she needs to go. Then, have your child go bare bottom. If it's cold, have her wear loose pants with nothing underneath. Now, I've read lots of articles that have suggested getting twenty pairs of 'big boy underwear' or 'big girl panties,' and using the lure of big kid underwear to help the process go forward. But my observation is that what kids want most of all is love and positive attention from their parents, and it seems to me that they only get excited about big kid underwear because their parents are excited about big kid underwear. I feel the same about giving kids food rewards or stickers for going potty: if you put the same excitement into a proud smile and a kiss on the head, you get the same result and your child will be better off for it.

So, once you're home with your bare-bottomed child and your many small potties, get a good supply of salty snacks (to keep them thirsty) and a good supply of water or watered-down juice. Watch them carefully and whenever you see them about to go or start to go, pick them up and put them on the potty, and say, “Pee goes in the potty,” or “Poop goes in the potty.” If they have an accident, just say to them sadly, “Pee goes in the potty,” and clean it up.

And that's it. Some kids get it as quickly as one day, most kids take three days. After that they're ready to be diaper-free. Fellom suggests not putting kids in underpants for about three months, and I agree. I think underpants feel a lot like diapers, and they're hard to get up and down. Baggy pants with nothing underneath is much easier, and the feeling of pee running down their leg is uncomfortable for most kids, helping to avoid accidents.

You will still need to take your child to the bathroom on a very regular basis; my observation is that most children don't realize that they need to go potty until it's right upon them, until they're three years old or so. I don't even start to ask a child if he needs to go potty until he's been out of diapers for several months. Even then, they'll usually say “no” if they're playing or having fun. So I'll ask them if they need to go once or twice during the day, but the rest of the time I'll just tell them that it's time to go potty: before going outside, before nap, and more frequently for children who are newly diaper-free.

And good luck! It's usually not as scary as it seems.
Miss Faith

Joyful Toddlers has moved!  Check out our new location: http://joyfultoddlers.com/

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Going Potty


So, how to approach the dreaded subject of potty training? Well, I've helped more than 35 toddlers go through this process, so let me tell you some of my thoughts. I recently heard the term “potty learning” instead of potty training, and I like it, since I think it more accurately represents what's going on. My best source for potty learning is an article that was given to me quite a few years ago, which I've since lost. I've looked for it online, but I don't see it floating around out there. If find it I'll pass the info on, because everything that author says seems to be right-on.

Develop Interest
There are several distinct phases in a child going from diapers to underpants. The first piece is that the child has be interested in it. This usually happens sometime between 18 and 28 months of age, and when you notice it happening, jump on it! If you miss the cues, or want to give the interest level a little nudge, start talking about going potty. Be excited when you've gone potty, be excited when your husband goes potty, be excited when house-guests go potty. This can be really funny and fun for you and your spouse, and it often gets the interest level up pretty quickly.

And, since kids learn through imitation, expose your child to as many people going potty as you can. Invite him to come with you when you go, have dad invite him when he goes, and invite families with slightly older children, who are going potty but need adult assistance still, and let your child be part of the activity. Daycares and play-programs are great for exposing kids to other kids learning to go potty. My first few years of teaching the potty-area was in the classroom with a short wall around it (you can see it in the photo above), and all of the children stood on a bench and watched each other learn the ropes.  I've never had an easier time potty training! They cheered each other on, and they inspired each other. I'm not kidding: one little boy saw another boy poop in the potty, and he looked at me and said, “I want to do that.” He sat down on that potty for literally (I counted) twenty minutes. And finally, he did it! He was quietly proud of himself.

Peeing on the Potty
After a child develops some interest, she starts sitting on the potty, and usually not much happens. Then one day pee goes in the potty (by accident? Who know?) and you're so excited! Soon enough your child figures out how to 'push' the pee out, and you're halfway to having your kid in underpants. The next few months are spent with your child refining the skills of peeing on demand, and developing the skills of pulling their pants down, pulling them up, flushing the toilet, washing hands, etc. This long-ish time can turn into a mire where your child loses interest in going potty, and you get stuck, so watch out.

The trick to having this time be successful and keep moving forward is to have going potty be a special time with you that kids look forward to. Here's what I do: I have a stool in the bathroom so I can sit facing a child while she's sitting on the potty. I sit down and have her pull down her own pants and take off her own diaper, helping her just as little as she needs, and giving lots of smiles, encouragement and eye contact. Then when she sits down on the potty I might sing a little song or nursery rhyme with her, again with joyful eye contact. Then I say, "Do you think some pee will go into the potty? Let's listen for it," and I turn my head to the side and cup my ear, listening intently (without eye contact, so she can concentrate on her body). I'll wait for awhile, perhaps repeating, "Do you think it will come?" If it does come, I smile as I listen, and when the flow is done I turn to her wonderingly and say in a quiet, happy voice, "I heard it!" Don't get too excited while it's happening, or she'll clench up and stop the flow. If no pee comes, I'll say, "No pee this time! Maybe next time it'll come." Either way we wash hands together, and I give her a kiss, and we go back to our day.

Some kids enjoy the process so much that they never want to get up off the potty if no pee is coming. If that happens, I hold up my hand in a fist and say, "When my fingers are all up, then it will be time to get off the potty." Then I silently watch my hand as I very slowly raise my thumb and each finger in a steady, inexorable, slow-motion stream. When the pinky reaches the upright position, suddenly a 'bell' goes off, and I sing out, "Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!" and I swoop them off the potty, laughing and giving them a kiss. “Would you like to get your own new diaper?” I'll ask. This method usually stops the 'discussion' you're having about whether they should get off the potty or stay on, and you can move on with your day.

Moving Beyond Diapers
As your child gets better at peeing on demand, start taking him more and more often, and soon you'll probably get to a point that your child is keeping his diaper dry between pottying. Then it's time to move out of diapers. I've found that there's a window of time when it's the natural progression to move on, and if you don't make the switch during this window, children will often decide that they either aren't interested in going potty anymore, and/or they don't want to move out of diapers.  Now you've got a power-struggle on your hands.  I'll leave you with this cliff-hanger, and I'll write about making the switch from diapers to underpants in another post!

Miss Faith

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