[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
I have an adorable little diaper-bottomed 26 month old who will never be potty-trained. She will, however, in her own time, move from diapers to potty as easily as she went from rolling to scooting, from scooting to crawling, from crawling to walking. As a mama of six from 25 years down to 26 months old, I’ve supported my little people through the transition to pottying plenty of times, and I’ve learned to go with the flow. (Sorry. I have mentioned that I like wordplay, right?)
So, what does ‘going with the flow’ mean in the diapers-to-potty stage?
It means no charts, no stickers, no rewards, no punishment, no pressure, no ‘training’ of any kind.
It means I don’t drive myself nuts looking for signs of ‘readiness’ or getting frustrated by accidents or worrying about what anyone else thinks.
It means my children and I are on the same team, period. I don’t set my little ones up for a power-struggle, don’t shift our relationship from connected to contentious, don’t push them to develop according to some arbitrary schedule.
It means letting my little ones learn about what their bodies can do simply and naturally on their own time-table.
And it means not ascribing ulterior motives to normal behavior.
Humans have a God-given, in-built instinct to seek privacy when emptying their bowels, a vital protection against the spread of disease in ancient times. Modern parents, though, often believe a child who seeks a little alone-time to poop is “hiding because they know they’re doing something wrong.”
That attitude from parents gives children the message that normal bowel functions are somehow shameful and disgusting. That often not only pushes children to seek even more seclusion while pooping, but can also lead to ‘holding’ behaviors with their resultant medical issues and can actually delay the transition to pottying, the exact opposite effect the parents are trying to achieve!
Also, when asked if they are pooping, small children will frequently deny it and even run away. Parents tend to interpret that as lying and often will punish the child, creating an even more challenging environment for little ones to try to navigate their way from diapers to potty. Again, it is a normal human instinct to regard bowel habits as a private issue, and children are in the unfortunate position of not having the ability to articulate their need for privacy with anyting more than a “No!” and a quick getaway.
Parents who recognize that the diapers-to-potty transition is a normal progression of early childhood just like learning to crawl and walk and talk will take the same approach they did with those milestones:
- Let the child determine the time-table. There is a huge range of ‘normal’ when it comes to timing of developmental milestones, including pottying.
- Encourage, don’t push. Just as with rolling, crawling, etc. offering lots of praise and applause without being insistent allows the child to develop at their own pace in a stress-free, supportive environment.
- Model the desired behavior and offer the opportunity to experiment. Sharing our own experiences with our children is our most powerful teaching tool, and experimentation is the foundation of true learning.
Remember, the connection we maintain throughout these transitions in our children’s lives builds the trust and communication so vital to a healthy parent/child relationship.
Here’s what the transition from diapers to potty looks like at our house:
From the time my babies can walk (sometimes even earlier) they regularly join me when I go to the bathroom. They sit on a little potty that’s always available or they walk around, familiarizing themselves with this new play-space, and we read books or chat or sing or just hang out.
I occasionally ask if they want to take off their diaper and sit on the little potty, and sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.
Eventually, the day comes that they pee-pee (we call it ‘peep’ ) in the potty.
Then, of course, we sing the pee-pee song, “Pee-pee in the po-tay! Pee-pee in the po-tay!” and dance through the house and everybody else joins in and it’s a great time.
Sometimes, that one event is kind of an ‘ah-ha’ moment for my little ones, and the potty games are on! They start asking to go more and more and are usually out of diapers, accident free, within a couple of weeks. No pressure, no stress, and very little mess.
Sometimes, though, it’s a one-off and my little one happily continues in diapers, visiting the bathroom with me off and on, sometimes hanging out on the potty, sometimes not. Then, when they’re ready, they let me know and their own potty game is on!
The thing is, barring developmental issues, children always, always eventually make the transition to using the potty and end the diaper-bottomed season of their life. In our home they just do it in their own time. It’s as natural and joyous of a developmental milestone as crawling, walking, or talking and, for us, just as celebrated!
Note: There is a rather intense debate in the parenting community over the use/misuse of praising children. While throwing a “Good job” or “Awesome” at a child just to brush them off is…well, a brush off, honestly sharing your excitement and pride in your children is never a bad thing. In our family, we celebrate all ‘firsts’ with our children, praise their efforts and offer encouragement and help when they’re struggling, and admire their accomplishments when they succeed. You can read more about praise here.