Emotionally Intelligent Potty Training

C’mon parents! Are you buying that Batman or Barbie underwear for your kids or for that aching need in your own heart to purge the Pamper? Admit it! You are over the diaper! But, “gasp”, what if your tinkling toddler isn’t?The internet contains countless pleas from fraught parents wanting to potty train their toddlers. Timelines vary from a single day to a more leisurely schedule counting up to the first day of preschool. Aaarrgh! Can’t those preschools change a diaper? Why must kids be potty trained to enter? Don’t parents have enough pressure?! I like to reach out to these parent predicaments with an emotional intelligence perspective that promotes peace and practical policy to the potty. Whoa, lots of p’s in that sentence. Now let’s get some “pee” out of your kid! Here is what I recently shared with a parent who asked on the internet for help. But first my disclaimer! How any parent pursues potty training their child is their own choice. You have the right to accomplish it in a day (as some books promise) and to cover your child from head to toe with stickers. With respect for my readers, my purpose is not to tell you what to do, but to share ideas that you can pick and choose from. Most importantly, I am an advocate for emotional intelligence skills in children. Potty training is a huge milestone with an array of emotions, and I believe it can, and should, be accomplished with a child’s self esteem intact if not outwardly enhanced. For reasons you’ll understand in # 3, I’ll use “he” for the remainder of this blog! No offense to the girls! 1. Many parents view potty training solely as a physical task and innocently forget their child’s deep feelings or emotions on the subject. The first step for your child to be emotionally intelligent is for him to be aware of his feelings. Parents are the perfect people to promote this awareness, and also promote the self management of those feelings (which is the second step). Allow for expression of feelings and be cautious about forcing or bribing your child to use the potty before he is emotionally or physically ready (more on this later). According to experts (including pediatrician T. Berry Brazleton), there are other strategies to try first. 2. Buy him a potty seat of his own. Take him to the store with you and let him pick out one he likes. If you need to stay within a budget, give him a choice of two or three and let him choose from those. This will help to get his emotional buy in and build his own excitement. A child of any age is more likely to work toward a goal if it he is involved in all its aspects as opposed to being instructed what to do. And while you’re shopping, let him choose his big boy underwear too. Let him know his opinion matters. With these steps you are also exposing your child to basic decision making skills and promoting this aspect of his independence. 3. Invite him in to the bathroom whenever you or your spouse use it. Take his potty in with you and ask him if he would like to try too. Whenever possible, allow him to make the choice instead of making him follow your command. This gives him ownership of his decisions, and potentially a sense of pride. Let him observe you and take his time to process those observations. Be prepared for a question about “size” if he notices that dad is bigger than him. This is normal and parents can simply point out that all of daddy’s body parts are bigger! 4. Many children have the emotion of fear when flushing because of the loud sound, but mostly because they are afraid of losing a part of themselves, especially when they see a formed “poop” exit their body! Some kids are so scared that they hold poops for days and spur on constipation. Of course common sense tells us to soothe our child’s fears. Remember however that it’s not what you say but how you say it. Soothe him and comfort his emotional health by soliciting his questions and lovingly alleviating his fears or other negative emotions. Sometimes it helps to point out that animals (including your own pets) also “poop” and that this is normal for all living creatures. A great book to read together is called “Everyone Poops”. 5. Encourage your child when he TRIES as well as when he succeeds. If he is successful in using the potty, congratulate him but be careful not to overdo the praise. And please do not scold! If for some reason his body is not able to cooperate with his efforts, you don’t want him to feel bad about it, or make him feel that he is disappointing mom, dad, or himself. A child’s confidence and self esteem must be built at this age, not dented by disappointments or indirect demoralization because he cannot pee or poop on command. Your child wants to be a “big kid” and is trying hard. Do not mistake any inability as a child’s defiance or a challenge to your parental authority. A toddler cannot necessarily articulate his emotions of frustration with himself or with external situations / people, so he will need your help. Ask him about his feelings, help him with labeling his feelings with words, and give him the necessary support. This is a fundamental approach that parents can use to build emotional intelligence in their kids. 6. As far as using stickers or other incentives, I’m wary because of what I mentioned above. A child has to be ready to perform a big task like bladder /bowel control. This readiness has to be both on a physical level and an emotional level. Not being able to “earn” a sticker because this readiness hasn’t developed, or because he regressed, just doesn’t seem fair. Loving encouragement, heartfelt congratulations, nurturing hugs, and patience are the best gifts a parent can give a child who is working hard to gain physical control and emotional independence.

If you are planning to or are currently potty training consider giving yourselves plenty of time before preschool deadlines and be ready for accidents or even full regression. This can be triggered by a new baby, preschool trauma, major household changes, or by something as simple as a strenuous day, fatigue, or deep sleep. Solicit your child’s emotions, and assure and comfort him if this happens. Realize that some kids will accommodate teachers at school but not parents at home. Rest assured that your child will not be in diapers when they are 20 and that this moment in time shall pass. No pun intended!

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