Thursday, July 25, 2019

Diapers to Undies: How We Think About Potty Training

When children begin at the Preschool House, whether they are transitioning into care with us from the Infant House or are new to the Tumbleweed community, one of the first questions we often hear from parents is about potty training.  When will it happen?  What will it look like?  What should parents be doing?

The first thing we like to remind parents of when we discuss potty training is that we must let the child be the leader.  There are few things in their lives over which preschoolers get control, but they do have absolute control over what goes into their bodies and what comes out (and where).  So, rather than setting up a power struggle that we are sure to lose (as we can't force a child to pee or poop when we want them to), we want to follow each child, with as little pressure as possible, trusting that they know what is best for themselves - and knowing that it is physically more safe and healthy to do so.  

This is an area in which parents often feel the pressure of deadlines and comparisons.  As much as possible, we encourage parents to let this go.  We want to follow each child's timeline and agenda rather than our own.  We know that all children will learn to eliminate on the toilet without being "trained" or following a program.  Adding our own agenda, or pressuring children based on what we think they should do, will only make the bathroom a scene for testing and resistance, and likely make the whole process take longer than it otherwise would!

Every teacher at Tumbleweed has had the experience of a child who absolutely refuses the toilet every time we are in the bathroom, and then one day the child sits on the toilet and pees, and from that point on pees on the toilet every time their diaper is changed.  Children's timelines in this area can be opaque to the adults in their lives, but eventually each child will have a good relationship with sitting on the toilet as an accomplishment they achieved all on their own, while also furthering their relationship with the adults in their lives when we showed them the trust and respect to make the decision themselves.

So, what we won't do: pressure, adhere to external timelines, have our own agenda for your child's toilet learning schedule.  Then, what can we do to encourage your child to be ready when they do decide it's time to sit on the toilet?

-Involve children in diaper changes.  Encourage them to be focused and engaged, not distracted, at changing time.  Talk about what you're doing ("I'm opening up your diaper using the snaps.  Here they go:  One, two, three!") and have then do every part of the change they can: putting pants on and off, choosing a diaper, getting up and down from the toilet.  Have them get their own wipe, wipe themselves after peeing, throw the wipe away - encourage them to take over every part of the process they can!  At Tumbleweed, this starts when children are infants.  We talk every child through every diaper change, and invite them to participate as much as they can.  We have children stand up for all diaper changes, which allows the most active participation.

-Talk about urination and bowel movements with accurate language (we use the words poop and pee at school).  We use these words without negative connotation or disgust - we want to encourage the kids to have a happy and healthy relationship with their bodies and what they produce.

-Offer the toilet at every diaper change.  Sometimes a child will say "NO."  Sometimes they will spend weeks saying "NO."  We trust them and move on, and continue to make the toilet available.  We do diaper changes in the bathroom, which helps this become routine.

-We encourage each child's awareness and ownership of their body. We use phrases like "You climbed onto the toilet by yourself.  That looked really tricky!" or "Did you hear that sound?  That's your pee!"  These things help us directly connect the child's awareness to the power and control they have over using the toilet.

-Slow down, never rush.  This is on their time and speed, never ours.  The only little pushes we may give are statements like "Next time when you get that feeling, when you need to pee, you could do it on the potty!  Wouldn't that be great?"

Our main message is that each child in our care is right where they need to be.  We choose to trust them and follow them and have potty training be an exciting journey toward greater independence.  We are there to support their learning and celebrate each step of the journey with them!