A certain little man in my life is very fond of purple. A few weeks back, he called Grandma to ask her to make him purple boxer shorts. Grandma, being very fond of a certain little man, obliged.
For two weeks now, he has not worn diapers during the day. This is not an unusual leap for a toddler. Most will decide, somewhere between 18 months and 4 years that they will be done wearing diapers. The difficult part, sometimes, is for the parents to reign in their desire for the child to stop or to continue wearing diapers. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of bribery, coercion, shame, and even punishment at potty learning time. But what can a child have more ownership of than his or her own bodily processes? Bribery, coercion, shame or punishment only hurts and frustrates those involved. Nothing that a parent does can take the control away from the child. Bribing only teaches that the child can get something more for his or her efforts and will often result in lapses of ability once there are lapses in prizes. Also, most items used as bribes are less than healthy for a child’s body. Coercion teaches a child to doubt his or her ability to make a sound decision. Shame and punishment simply tear a child down for not being able to control some part of their body, which is never healthy for a child. Adults aren’t punished for bad hair days and children should not be punished for similar involuntary processes. A child will easily learn about the potty when he or she is ready, with a minimal amount of help.
There are some signs that tell that a child is ready to learn.
* The child is capable of letting an adult know that he or she needs to go. If this is not met, it is not time.
* The child may be able to put clothing on or off.
* The child is able to hold their urine for a while and urinate a lot at once instead of “dribbling” all of the time.
* The child is able to recognize that he or she is going to go. This is very different from knowing that it has happened already.
* The child has a desire to use the toilet.
* The child is able to understand directions.
Some signs that this might not be the best time to start, just for balance.
*The child is in the middle of some major changes such as getting a new sibling, moving to a new house, divorce, parent starting a different work schedule or spending more time away from home, friend or close relative moving far away, or death of a loved one.
* The child does not want to use the potty.
* The child is in a negative phase where he or she usually responds to any request with “no!”
* The child does not have the physical capacity to accomplish the goal of using the toilet consistently.
My non-coercion method of potty learning:
1. Give your child as much freedom as possible in daily life. Let them make choices about the things that affect them. Let them do as much as possible for themselves, as long as they want to do it.
2. Let your child go to the potty. Do not take your child to the potty.
3. Model, model, model. Do it without shame. Let your child come to the potty with you and talk about it as much as he or she wants to. Talk about the clothing you wear and that the child will one day wear similar clothing.
4. When the child asks, consent and aid. If the child wants to go to the potty, help him or her. Don’t be too busy and push it off. On the other hand, don’t coax the child on to the potty either. This is entirely the child’s decision.
5. Don’t assume your child is ready to ditch the diapers because he or she has asked and used the potty a few times intermittently. The child is ready to ditch the diapers at about the time that you are tired of taking the diaper off so many times today so that the child can use the toilet.
6. Stay plugged in to your child. Listen, watch, follow closely. Your child will let you know when he or she is at the prime point for leaving the diapers behind.
7. When it is time, don’t switch back and forth from diapers to underpants during the course of the day or week. This confuses the child and makes it harder for him or her to remember what the proper course of action is before the function is performed. When it is time to ditch the diaper, ditch it. Take it off for the entirety of the time that the child is awake. Some kids may be ready to take it off permanently while some may need them at night for a bit longer.
8. Let the child decide what to wear when it is time for the diaper to go. The Bug hated trainers. Wouldn’t wear them for a minute. He loves his boxer shorts, though, even though it meant that Mama and Grandma had to make them for him. He is happy to wear them. If yours isn’t happy with one option, it may not mean that the child isn’t ready, it may just mean that a different style is in order. Also, if you can be open to “naked tush” it can be a very good option. The Bug prefers to have naked tush at home because that truly allows him to go to the potty by himself since he hasn’t quite got the hang of working his shorts yet.
9. Have some rags, spot cleaner, and patience ready. The child will not get it perfect from the get go. In fact, it will likely be several years before a child can keep dry all of the time. Relapses will occur. Sometimes, the child will simply forget. Sometimes it takes a bit to figure out the amount of time it takes between sensation and production. But ultimately, the parents’ job isn’t to instruct, but to aid. This is truly the child’s journey – not anyone else’s.