Monday, November 28, 2011

Potty Training : What do I need to get started?

I have always said it, and I know it sounds funny, but I look forward to this potty training time.  It's a moment we have been building on from the first diaper I changed.  I think it has to do with a passage from a more passive infant, who has the minimal ability to interact, even during those pauses and invitations that I give, to a highly interactive toddler who tells me, "Me do it!  That toilet!  Pee!"  I also find myself full of joy as I sit on the floor of the bathroom in our rhythm of undressing-changing diapers-sitting on the toilet-washing hands-singing-telling stories.  I find I spend quite a bit of my time in the bathroom now, whether it's at school while one of the children struggles with finding how each leg fits into each individual leg of their pants or reading the 5th book to my son as I hope his poop goes into the toilet today.  I look forward to these moments and luxuriate in taking my time, building that trust and showing the children I interact with that I am present and aware of who they are and what they need.  It's the core of my goals as I am with children: building a lasting relationship built on trust in everything we do.

Potty training is in the forefront of my mind on a moment to moment basis both at home with my 3 year old and at TIH with my 16 to 22 month olds.  I find my view of what is necessary and what works has been greatly fluctuating over the past year as I have been given the gift of a child who is too busy and not interested in sitting on the toilet.  This is also the first time I am potty training a child of my own, which is a completely different relationship than I have with the children I care for at school.  I keep asking myself...."Why is having 4 boys in the bathroom easier than 1?"  I'm still not quite sure of that, but I think I'm close to discovering it.

As I think about potty time, both at home and at school, I thought it might be helpful to simply  make a list of things that are important for supporting a positive and smooth experience in the bathroom.  It's important to note that independence and following each child's individual cues is key to me in cultivating a positive potty training experience.  These things are what I think are important, but I wonder what has worked for you!

1. The Pants - Elastic waist, easy to pull up, no need for closures, stretchy fabric....These are all things I value in a toddler's clothing.  More often than not we are pants free while we are inside at TIH, so leg warmers are also very helpful for chilly legs and of course hip toddler style.

2. The Underpants - I wait until I see the appropriate cues to begin a child in true underwear.  In the beginning we talk about how to get in and out of a diaper: snaps or velcro.  We talk about how it feels before it is removed: "Hmm... I wonder how your diaper feels.  It's poop?  Let's see.  Hey, it's dry!  I betcha that means you need to pee!"  I am motivated to encourage a child to begin wearing underwear once they begin being dry at most changes.  Some people believe in waiting until they are also dry through naps, but I still feel like a child won't be too confused if diapers are used for sleep periods.  Making underwear exciting is important once they're ready and having a few with a thicker gusset can be helpful to stop full on soak throughs during the first few weeks.  I really love Imse Vimse for a thicker, more absorbent underwear, but really anything works like these by Gerber.

3. The Potty - It must be comfortable.  I always encourage the use of a full sized, adult potty to start.  Whether a child is shown how to hold on to the seat between his spread thighs or helped to balance there until they figure it out, I have found that if they are given the adult toilet first they are able to master it and then can, when they're ready, use any toilet anywhere!  Some children are very nervous about this at first, but I have found that lots of practice and talking through the entire process eases their fears and gives you yet another chance to really connect with your child.

4. The Time  - So when I came up with the idea for this blog post, I told myself that I would limit my writings to simply the physical needs and practicalities of potty training, but I find that I can't do it with out emphasizing this point and the next.  Potty training takes time.  There are many books out there that promise to train your child in a day, and all I can think is why?  There are children who potty train themselves or who need very little help, but I feel that when we put a time limit or expectation on when a child needs to be potty trained then we set up unrealistic expectations, especially for a child.  By being in a hurry we put our needs before that of our children adding pressure and unreal expectations.  Perhaps this step means a lot to me, because of the amount of time I have been spending in the bathroom over the last 6 months, but I believe that it is an important bonding time and it allows the child to move at their own pace.  Some encouragement might be needed or expectations set up ("It's time to pee before we go outside.  I'll wait until you're done.").  But when a child knows that they have the time they need, then the entire process will go smoothly because they will feel that they have the power.  Because let's face it, they do!

5. The Ritual - Toddlers love to know what comes next.  They find a sense of security in it and once they feel safe and secure then they are able to blossom in other important arenas such as creativity, imagination and focus.  I support their need for order by building in rituals around our everyday tasks and it is the same in the bathroom.  For my son our ritual begins with me saying, "It's time to go potty.  Shall we go now or in 2 minutes?"  And the process begins.  He always knows what comes next as soon as I begin it: walk to the bathroom, turn on the light, talk about what book to read, pull down pants, get a big hug, climb or get lifted on to the toilet, look into my eyes and smile, etc.  Having a ritual around this time can help in the creation of a positive space in the bathroom.

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