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potty training

‘Encouraging Safe Negative Emotional Expression (i.e. Stopping the Peeing, Spitting & Kicking)’ by Guggie Daly – Friends of L.R.Knost Rock the Guest Posts while She Battles Cancer

A common stage that can start around age 2 but typically peaks by age 4 is the passive aggressive communication of negative feelings. This stage occurs on its own as a normal milestone because the child needs to develop verbal skills and emotional intelligence. But, for some children, the stage can be especially difficult due to various factors.

First, if the child has been emotionally invalidated frequently by other caregivers or cherished peers, this behavior might become a way to passively share emotions or cry out for help, or even attempt to take back some semblance of control. Watch out for common invalidating comments. Take steps to remind the adult that your child is learning and respect is required. Briefly but firmly reassure the child when invalidation occurs. Some examples of emotional invalidation:

Oh, you’re ok! Stop crying about it.
Hey! There’s no reason to be angry about that, quit it.
Oh, you’re being a scaredy cat. That’s not scary at all.
Why are you crying over such a silly thing? Don’t be a baby.
I don’t care if that makes you angry. That doesn’t matter.
I can’t stand when you cry like that. Knock it off already.
Your brother isn’t scared of the dark. Why don’t you be like him?

Besides directly hurting the child, invalidating situations deprive the child of an opportunity to practice emotional processing and emotional regulation. It’s a loss of skill development. Try whenever possible to defend your child from invalidation.

Second, if the child is experiencing any language difficulties or delays, or other circumstances and conditions that interfere with easy verbal communication such as hearing difficulties, autism, hyperactivity, etc, then this stage can persist because it is simply easier to communicate physically. Or it might be impossible from the child’s perspective to communicate in ways society deems appropriate. In these cases, removing the obstacle when possible and working on coping skills can help create a bridge from the physical outbursts to safer expression.

When your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence

Many parents report that their children do not act out at school, daycare, the other parent’s home, in front of peers, etc. But, seemingly the moment they get home, suddenly the children are throwing things, screaming, spitting, wetting their pants…why the sudden change?

If your child only expresses negative emotions in your presence, or in specific areas such as only at home, this is a sign that she feels safest with you. It’s not a bad sign. It doesn’t mean she’s taking advantage of you or that you’re too soft on her. On the contrary, it means she has big emotions boiling up inside her and she only trusts you to see them.

Think about it. If you’re really stressed out about something you feel is perhaps slightly embarrassing (read: invalidating or shamed by others) you probably keep it hidden. You don’t cry your eyes out at work. You don’t curse and go on about someone who hurt you at the playground. You wait until you’re home and with a safe person to finally let go of your feelings. Children do this, too. And if your child is doing this frequently, it could be a sign that he feels shamed, judged, or invalidated. Remember this when you are facing frustrating behavior, so that you can respond in a way that builds the trust while developing the communication skills.

When your child begins to use emotional outbursts to exert control

Children who feel stifled emotionally can feel powerless. This can cause intense feelings of resentment and anxiety. The child is stuck experiencing what feels like a very large crisis, but the adults around him ignore it or punish him if he lets them know about it. He’s new to the world and has very few skills for handling it, so he’s lost in himself and lost to others.

As he begins to act out, he comes to find that certain ways of expressing his emotion not only feel good, letting off steam and relieving that anxiety inside him, but might also cause a reaction in others. If it feels good and gets him what he wants, it must be a good idea to keep using it!

Suddenly, you have a child who spits on you when she’s angry or pees her pants when she’s rejected. Who throws toys at children at the park when she feels left out or pretends to choke on food she doesn’t like.

Emotions don’t just melt away. They will find their way out, and in children who haven’t developed healthy emotional skills, they will come out in ways we dislike. Ways that might hurt others or cause negative reactions. Ways that tempt us to rain down punishment and consequences.

If your child is falling back on crude emotional expression to get your attention, it’s a sign that she needs your help, not punishment at this time. No, I’m not saying to condone the behavior or to go all wishy-washy. I’m warning against hyper focusing on the negative behavior to the point that skill-building is squeezed out. Even if the child is punished enough to be convinced to stop the emotional outburst, she still needs to learn healthy ways to process and express her emotions. The need is still there. Start processing with her.

Great. So how is this done? 

Let’s use a real life example of a 3 year old who is fully potty trained and does not wet her pants at preschool or with her father. But, she frequently wets her pants when with her mother. Not only does this warn us that she feels safe in her mother’s presence and that she has some big emotions building up inside her, but the child has also begun to use the emotional outbursts to cause reactions in others.

For example, when the mother walked away from the 3 year old to care for the baby, the 3 year old wet her pants.

At this point, a lot of different approaches could be taken ranging from shaming and punishment to completely ignoring it and remaining emotionless while cleaning up the mess. These are merely superficial responses, however, and do nothing to encourage her to develop emotional skills.

Let’s say the mother has just come back from caring for the baby and the 3 year old is sitting on the floor with wet pants and with an angry and slightly rejected expression on her face. What does the mom do for her?

She gets down on one knee, moving close to her, making eye contact and making physical contact such as by touching her arm gently. While keeping physical and eye contact, she begins assessing the situation.

Hey. I see that you peed in your pants. You must be feeling pretty embarrassed right now. Can you use your words to tell me why you peed your pants? Pause for response. You were feeling angry because I left you to help the baby, huh. It made your heart hurt? Pause for response.

You know, it’s okay to feel angry. That’s a strong feeling, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. Everyone feels angry sometimes. When I feel angry, it makes my stomach squeeze. What does it feel like for you? Pause for response.

Next time when you feel angry, I want you to use your words to tell me. Say, “I’m angry!” Let’s try it right now. Ready? Tell me! Pause for response. Remember, instead of peeing your pants, it’s okay to tell me that you’re angry. I’ll always listen to you.

And if you begin to recognize individual triggers, briefly remind her before they happen:

I’m going to focus on caring for your sister right now. Remember, if you feel alone, come grab my hand and tell me instead of peeing your pants.

I’m going to leave the room to make dinner. If you feel scared inside, come and get me, ok? Remember to keep your pants dry.

Tonight, we’re going to be very busy with the baby at the park. If you start to feel angry, be sure to tell me with your big girl words! I will listen.

Remember to keep it as simple or long as needed, pausing when needed and following cues to go where the conversation leads you. As children begin to realize how much connection they can make with words, lots of thoughts might tumble out in little situations like this. Try to listen intently and to provide a safe place for those emotions to come out.

Realistically in the beginning it might take several incidents before you see your child come out of his shell and begin to share with you. And especially if he has been mocked or shamed in any way, it might take a long, dedicated effort to show him that it’s safe to share. So don’t give up too soon!

Guggie Daly, taking a break from her studies in neuroscience to care for her four young children, hopes to share relevant, up to date information with other parents so that they can take advantage of foresight and not live with hindsight.  You can find more information on her blog at Guggie Daly: Empowering Information and on Facebook at The Guggie Daily.

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


Sandbox Soapbox: Toddler Insights

[Excerpt from The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of ChildhoodTwo Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

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 quote toddler talkAs we step into the toddler zone, let’s start where we should always start…with observing and understanding so that we can not only grow happy, well-rounded children, but also grow as parents and as humans ourselves. So to begin to implement the Three C’s of gentle discipline – Connection, Communication, and Cooperation – let’s take a peek inside the mind of the toddler by listening in on a sandbox conversation at the park:

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: You look a little frazzled, Dude. Hard day?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Hard doesn’t even begin to describe my day!  I love my mommy to pieces, but seriously, she does NOT know how to share. I took one little thing out of her purse, and she freaked! Snatching and saying, “Mine!” and everything. And right in the middle of the store, too! So embarrassing. Everybody was looking at me, rolling their eyes. I felt like a total failure.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: I hear you! I have the same problem. And mine has been getting into EVERYTHING, too! Like, I stashed my cracker under the couch so I could have a little snack later, and she totally threw it in the trash! Who does that?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: You think that’s bad? Check this. I’m minding my own business, just chillin’ with my toys, and she just snatches me up and carts me off and straps me in the highchair, no warning at all. And I’m not even hungry! Then she gets all upset when I do a little physics with my food. Btw, so cool how sometimes it falls straight down and sometimes it splats against the wall. I think it has something to do with the consistency of the food and the angle of my trajectory. Just a working theory atm, though.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Cool! Let me know what you figure out. How about this. I can’t get anything done! No joke! I spent all morning building this stellar block tower. Dude, you should have seen this thing. It was epic! So, I walk away for like one second, and she dumps the whole thing in the toy box! An entire morning’s work, gone. I don’t know why I bother sometimes.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Same! And what’s with this new ‘time-out’ thing mine’s into all of a sudden? I get the slightest bit upset about something, and, just when I need a cuddle, she sticks me in this chair and won’t let me get up! Like a chair is a good hugger? Really?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: That is just wrong. Hey, how about this whole potty training dealio? She wants me to do my business in a little plastic bowl. We eat out of those things! Seriously, you gotta wonder what goes on in their brains sometimes.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: You’re lucky. Mine keeps propping me up on that big white contraption with water in it. I could drown! And you should see what happens when she pushes down that handle in the back. Can you say vortex of DOOM?!?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Not cool, Dude, not cool at all!  Are you dealing with tantrums yet? Mine has got a temper like you wouldn’t believe! Anytime she doesn’t get her way, watch out for the fireworks! She yells and flaps her arms and stomps around, and, I hate to say it, but she’s starting to hit. Like that’s going to solve anything. I have no idea how to handle these aggression issues! Why can’t they just be reasonable like us?

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: I think it’s a communication issue, myself. I mean, they’re just barely starting to understand us when we talk to them, so I try to cut mine a little slack when she starts getting frustrated. I just stay close, maybe pat her arm or offer her a toy. Sometimes she settles down a bit and starts smiling again, but sometimes she just needs a little time to calm down. I stay present, though, so she knows I’m always there for her.

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: I think you’re messing up there, Dude. You need to walk away, just walk away and let her deal. If you comfort her, she’ll expect you to help her process her emotions, and that’ll lead to dependency issues, mark my words! When she freaks, you’ve got to force her to control herself! When she’s ready to be reasonable and listen, then you can be friends again.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: I don’t know. Mine flat out won’t listen. I can’t tell you how many times I have to ask her to play with me before she finally looks up from her toy. What is it with parents and electronics, anyway? And then all she does is say, “Just a minute, hon.” What exactly is a minute, btw?

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: ‘Just a minute’ means ‘This is more important than you,’ Dude. Come on, get with the program. You have to make them pay attention! Yell. Throw something. Bite the cat. Whatever it takes! Don’t let them get away with disrespecting you like that or they’ll never pay attention.

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Word. Talk about getting with the program, how do you handle the sleep issues? I just cannot take another sleepless night! She keeps me up for hours every. single. night. It starts out great, bath-time, a book and cuddles, but then she just clocks out like I’m some kind of a toy she can switch off when it gets dark! And, man, is it dark. I don’t know what’s living in my closet, but it is ginormous!

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Sleep training, Dude! It’s the only way. They turn that light out and shut the door, you follow them! Every. Time. Or, if you’re too scared (totally get that, btw) then just start hollering and don’t stop. If you can’t sleep, make sure they can’t, either! And don’t give in. Not even once. You let them get away with that stuff one time, and you’ll never get any sleep, ever! They have to learn that it’s their job to take care of you day and night, even if all you need is a hug!

 

 

toddler boy parkToddler 2: Got it. Oh, man, here she comes. Seriously, do you have this problem, too? We’re at the park. Everybody’s having a good time. And she just up and decides to leave. I think she’s got some anti-social tendencies. I’m thinking of having her tested.

 

 

 

toddler girl in sandboxToddler 1: Same here! But I’m working on it. They’ve got to learn it’s not all about them, and it’s our job to teach them. Look, here comes mine, too. Watch and learn, Dude. I’m using the arched-back, flail and wail today. Deep breath and, “No! No! Noooooo…”

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing our own actions from another perspective is uncomfortable, no doubt, but the understanding we can achieve is well worth the discomfort if we can learn and grow from it as parents. As Maya Angelou, American author, poet, and self-described Renaissance Woman, wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Related posts:

Toddlers, Tantrums, and Time-in’s, Oh my!

The Gift of a Strong-Willed Child

Backtalk is Communication…LISTEN

When Children Act Out ~ Reflecting Our Emotions

The Problem with Punishment

Bridge Over Troubled Waters~Parenting a ‘Problem’ Child

The Taming of the Tantrum: A Toddler’s Perspective

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

The ‘NO’ Zone

When Things Get Physical: Hitting, Throwing, Kicking, and Biting

You’re Not the Boss of Me!

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


3 Simple Steps from Diapers to Potty

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[Reprinted from Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages by L.R.Knost. Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also now available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

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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:

    1. Let the child determine the time-table. There is a huge range of ‘normal’ when it comes to timing of developmental milestones, including pottying.
    2. 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.
    3. 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:

$3.99 Ikea spice rack as a bathroom bookshelf!

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.

Related posts:

Toddler fighting sleep? Here’s help!

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

The Problem with Punishment

12 Steps to Gentle Parenting

200 Ways to Bless Your Children with a Happy Childhood

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


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