But I’m soooo tired of carrying this diaper bag….

Potty learning is a tough issue to be patient about. I remember asking myself how many more diapers I could change in my life with out going crazy. Thank goodness I never found out. I’m crazy all right, but not from changing diapers! I promise that your child will figure out the whole potty routine, and long before he/she goes to kindergarten—though if you’re struggling with a high level of disinterest I’m sure you’re wondering if they’ll figure it out before high school! So, here’s my take on dealing with the persistent dream of a diaper free household. One thing is for certain, only a child can decide when the time for toilet training has come. Any pressure parents may feel from grandparents, helpful friends or their own fatigue with changing diapers had better be disregarded. It’s got to be the child’s achievement, not yours. Children are in absolute control of two things- what goes in their mouths and what comes out the other end. I’m afraid that any pressure for the child to comply in either of these areas will land you in a battle of the wills that’s un-winnable and ultimately unhealthy. I promise that your child will use the potty just like everyone else ultimately manages. If you’re going to avoid the pitfalls surrounding this hot topic you have to let your child determine the course of this transition. Let me be clear about this, learning to use the toilet is a milestone in development just like a first step, a first word, alternating feet when going up stairs… You wouldn’t dream of handing out M&M’s to encourage these developments any more than you would dream of punishing a child or taking away a privilege if they didn’t learn these things when you wanted them to. We seem to know intuitively that children want to learn these things and will learn to do them as soon as they are able. Why then do we feel such a strong urge to push them to succeed at the equally difficult task of learning to use the potty before they are ready? Yes, yes I know, diapers are expensive, changing diapers is smelly dirty work, getting your pre-schooler to lie still while you change the diaper is a feat in multi-handedness… but these inconveniences are equal to the ones you faced when your child couldn’t walk, (You carried them everywhere and oh boy those eight month olds in car seats are a quite a load), and couldn’t talk. (What do they want? Why are they crying?) We seem to have a much harder time conjuring respect for the struggle of learning to use the toilet than we had for these other developmental milestones. We seem to think that a child is choosing to stay in a diaper, not that they aren’t ready to use the toilet. I can’t beat this drum loud enough—learning to use the toilet is equally as difficult as learning to walk and requires that the body and mind of the child be developmentally able to do many varied tasks before the milestone can be managed with ease. Your child wants to learn to use the toilet… I promise they do… and they will use the potty as soon as they are really able AND as long as your desire for them to do it before they are ready doesn’t turn this milestone into a power struggle. Check out the complex skills that are needed to move from diaper to bathroom: 1. I have to understand what my bladder/bowels feel like when they are full… and be able to translate that feeling into an action. 2. I have to understand when the message my bladder is sending me is urgent enough to walk away from the fun I’m having, and to realize it before it’s so urgent that it’s already too late to get to the potty in time. 3. I have to be able to be able to unbutton, unzip and pull down my pants. (And quickly if I’ve misjudged #2!) 4. I have to be able to climb on the toilet by myself, reach the toilet paper and have the coordination to pull it out, tear it off and fold it or bunch it in such a way as to wipe myself. Let’s see, we’ve got gross motor, fine motor and cognitive skills listed there and lots of them. I hope this shows clearly that learning to use the toilet independently involves many areas of growth and development that the child has no volitional control over. I want to make it clear here that learning to use the toilet is not a matter of choice. I swear to all of you that your child wants to learn to use the toilet, it’s just as powerful an urge as learning to hold their own fork and cup… how many times do you hear them say, “I want to do it myself!” in a week?. So now that I’ve told you to cool your heels and wait, what if anything can you do? Here are some good places to start: 1. I always suggest watching for signs of interest. Do they ask about the potty? Do they want to know what you’re doing in there? Do they talk about their friends potty behaviors? When they ask questions like these, answer with enthusiasm and support. Try to be encouraging, but not invested. Remind them that you know they’ll use the potty just like you and their friends do, as soon as they are ready. 2. Watch for signs of discomfort with a loaded diaper. Chat about how that must not feel so great, and boy won’t it feel better when they decide to use the potty just like mom and dad do, and how great that will be– as soon as they are ready. 3. On a practical note I found it useful to have a potty chair with steps that allows easier access to the toilet. An example of the kind I think works best is here: http://tinyurl.com/22qugm4. A step stool can do nearly the same job and you probably have one handy. You can put it in the bathroom and tell your child that the stool is there for them so that they can get to the toilet comfortably—as soon as they are ready. I do not recommend a separate potty chair. It’s yucky to clean and then you have to transition them from that to the toilet- it just adds an additional step. I think that a big motivation for kids and the potty is the consistent urge that kids have to be just like mom and dad, using the same toilet that you do, can help support this transition. 4. Remind yourself that MOST children are not using the toilet independently until at least three plus a little bit,and often not until closer to age four. Read that again–MOST. “Independently” is the operative word in that sentence. This means they go to the bathroom, with out prompting and can complete the challenging tasks necessary on their own. It’s normal for our young preschoolers not to have any interest… in fact developmentally we would expect this. So, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone and that your child will indeed some day have great interest in using the toilet and that, if left to his/her own timeline, will most likely go from no potty interest to full skill set in less than a week! Whew! I’ll stop here and say that I know this is difficult. You want them to be potty trained; life would be so much easier. But hang in there! The time will come, sooner than you think, when your child will be going to the bathroom independently. It’s hard to trust in the natural urge toward self sufficiency that is in each child. But I promise you, if you can have patience, if you can treat this as an opportunity to support the natural development of your child on their own time line, then potty learning can be just another amazing part of watching them grow. Think back to the joy you took in witnessing first steps and first words. And then remember the encouraging words that flowed so easily from you at those times. If you can manage to transfer even a small amount of that same good will and joy to this process, than I promise your well of patience will be replenished

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