Ownership in Potty Training

Dear Dr. Rene,

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old decided she wanted underwear 11 days ago. So, we are 11 days into potty training. She goes to daycare, and is now fully potty trained at
daycare (at least barring any regression that could happen.) At home, I still
have to take her to the potty every hour, or she’ll have an accident. She rarely
initiates on her own, and often tells me she doesn’t want to go on the potty. We
had her choose her brand new potty seat, and we offer her “potty treats” after
she goes. We tell her she is a big girl, and we’re proud of her. Any other tips
to help my very head strong little girl with potty training at home? Or is this
just normal for a young girl, and I just need to be patient? (FYI – my older
daughter did the three day method when she was close to three years old, so this is all
new to me.)

Sincerely, June (mom of two)

First, I would ask for what they typically do and say at daycare. If this is going smoothly there, maybe replicate what they are doing. Also, take her to the potty there yourself at drop-off and pick-up. It may be helpful for you to be associated with that success. If available, maybe purchase a similar potty seat or ring for home.

At home, I would do all the small things to encourage interest including reading potty training picture books, watching the potty videos, letting her observe while others potty and playing potty with doll babies or a dollhouse set.

Bigger things to encourage her to more fully participate include offering her choices, descriptive praise and language of ownership. Choices include, “would you like to use the upstairs or the downstairs potty?” or, “do you want to sit on the little potty or the big potty?” Here is a link to a previous post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/.

Descriptive praise is being behavior specific when you catch good behaviors. This sounds like, “you knew you had to go. You got to the potty quick!” or, “you were taking care of your body. You put all your poop in the potty!”  Here is a link to a youtube video on descriptive praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LH6Y-qPnAo&feature=relmfu and the differences between descriptive and evaluative praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

The language of ownership is saying something along the line of, “do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to pee? I don’t really know that from out here. That’s your job.” or, “you are in charge of when you go potty. When you feel that pressure on your bottom that you need to poop, it’s your job to go potty.” The idea is to encourage them to take ownership without adding pressure. Use this langauge maybe every other day and not around the time of an accident, it shouldn’t sound like discipline.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Teaching Children Thankfulness

There are so many great ways to teach children thankfulness.

  • Say “Thank you” as often as you can – Model manners. If you expect them to say “please” and “thank you” often, you’ll need to model it yourself. It can be helpful to include a bit about why you are saying “thank you.” Meaning say, “thank you for holding the door,” or, “thank you for speaking nicely to your sister.”
  • Discuss things you appreciate and are thankful for each day – This is more general, but it is voicing appreciation. This may be, “I really enjoy the orange and red leaves in our neighborhood in the fall,” or ,”I appreciate how much you helped your brother picking up his room this morning.”
  • Encourage children to voice one good thing that happened each day – Maybe at the dinner table or during tuck-in, encourage children to find one good thing that happened each day. Occasionally, I will throw in a one bad, crazy or surprising thing, but most days it’s good.
  • Plan a weekly thankfulness conversation at dinner – Many of us save this conversation for the Thanksgiving dinner. The idea is to have this conversation weekly. Encourage each person at the table to state one thing they are thankful for.
  • Give opportunity for children to do nice and helpful things for others – This may be helping a neighbor sweep their sidewalk or sharing a toy with a child who is playing alone at the playground. Discuss with your child after how good it can feel to think of others and how they would be thankful if someone helped them that way.
  • Encourage generosity – Encourage your children to help sort through their clothes and toys to donate. Talk about how this helps other people who may be in need. Discuss how you are thankful for the things you have and thankful you are able to share.
  • Write and help them to write Thank You notes – While this may seem a lost art, it is helpful for children to regularly write thank you notes. For sure after birthdays and holidays, but also other times as it seems fit. Maybe they write a thank you note to their teacher at the end of the school year.

Child Says Caregiver Hit Him

Dear Dr. Rene,
My son, who is almost three and is quite verbal, just told us that his daycare provider hit him. It sounds as though she hit him during nap time when he was “moving around too much.” He said it hurt him, and he didn’t like her. The comment was unprovoked, and came as we were playing at home today (Saturday) – no discussion of daycare, no discussion or recent episodes of him hitting anyone and needing to be disciplined. In other words, I believe him (we have seen him make stories up about what other people have done a couple times, but it’s always been in the moment and for a direct gain, like getting a toy from another kid).
He’s been going to the same in-home provider since he was six months old, and he has always seemed very, very happy there. My husband and I think the world of her and are quite pleased with her and with the loving environment she provides the children. That said, we never had a conversation with her about discipline (since he started with her as a baby), and she comes from a fairly traditional background.
I suspect that she spanked him to discipline him with no intention of harming him, but we do not want him to be spanked. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach her about this? Or for how to talk about this with our son, or look for signs that things maybe aren’t as great as we thought they were? As further background, my son will be leaving her care soon to go to pre-school, but we now have our seven-month-old with her as well.
Sincerely, Karen
mom of two
Dear Karen,
I am sorry for this. It means the world to trust our children’s caregivers and feel confident as we drop them off. I want to start by saying, I believe him too. Part of the difficulty here is your child is shy of three years old, and children under six years old tend to be poor reporters, so, while I do think he was hit, getting any meaningful details beyond that is difficult at best. It may have been a light tap that startled him, or a real spank out of frustration. Asking more questions also easily leads his answers.
I think my best response would be to have a direct conversation with the caregiver. Start by letting her know what was said, ask about her discipline for small and big behaviors and let her know your guidelines. Be clear and firm in your limits of not spanking or otherwise using physical discipline. If you feel comfortable with her response and decide to stay, plan to be a good, open listener moving forward.
Honestly, I wouldn’t stay. Whatever her response, my concern is that the spanking seemed to happen over moving too much at naptime which in the big scheme of things is a relatively small behavior. My concern would be for her handling bigger behaviors such as pushing or biting. This is such a personal decision and difficult because you have a long history and otherwise high regards for her level of care. I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, Rene

Vacation Pool Safety

Dear Dr. Rene,

We are going to the beach this Friday with two other families. 11 kids, ranging in age from 14 to two-and-a-half. Megan, my youngest is two-and-a-half years old. The next youngest is six, and all of the older kids can already swim well. The house has a pool, and I’m scared to death about it. Megan is a bit fearless, and my fear is that she will wonder down there, and no one will notice. We obviously plan to watch her closely, but I know that my eyes can’t be on her 24-7. I know of two people that lost kids right around this age to drowning. How do I talk to her and emphasize that she is never to go near the pool without one of the adults without scaring her? I want to scare her a little, but not too much.

Sincerely, Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Part of the difficulty here is at two-and-a-half years old you can teach them about safety, talk, warn them and review, but you can’t rely on them to be good at it at all. I would find a few key phrases, stated in the positive and start saying them now with lots of repetition. My sentence might be along the lines of, “you go to the pool with mommy,” “mommy must go to the pool with you,” and, “you must have mommy at the pool.”  When you get to the beach house, go down to the pool together and talk about how she has to have mommy to go to the pool. You might ask, “do you go alone?” “no” (in a light tone). “Do you go to the pool with a friend?” “no.” “Who do you go to the pool with?” “Mommy! You only go to the pool with mommy.” I would review this with her, in a light tone throughout the vacation time. This does put pressure on you to be available for the pool often, but better to narrow it to you rather than say an adult in general which relies more on her for safety. She may think if there are adults or the 14 year old around the pool that’s enough.

The next thing I would do is lock the gates and doors in and out to the pool. If a door leads straight from the house into the pool area, I might block it with a dresser. I would also let all the children know, Megan is ONLY allowed to be at or in the pool with you. If any of them see her at or in the pool, they should lead her out and come get you. If you still feel worried, you might ask if they provide or provide your own pool alarm. Gate alarms starts at $30, pool-wave alarms at $70. All that said, watch her like a hawk.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Calm Parenting – Shift Your Responsibility

Staying calm when your child is misbehaving can be a difficult thing to do. I think part of the answer lies in where you place your focus. Often parents feel responsible for their child’s behavior. The misbehavior feels like a direct reflection on you. If you think other’s are judging your parenting based on the child’s behaviors, it is easy to lose your cool. To calm, shift your focus. Think of being responsible to them rather than for them.

For example, you and your three-year-old are having lunch together at a restaurant. They are busy eating their mac & cheese when all of a sudden, they fling a forkful and hit a person at the next table. You are not responsible for them throwing food. You didn’t arm and aim them. You are responsible to model, teach apologies, to address and curb the behavior. You are responsible to teach them how to behave in restaurants moving forward.

Another example, your eight-year-old decides to skip spelling homework and studying for a week and gets a poor grade. You are not responsible for the grade. It is not your homework. You are responsible to help them understand the importance of homework and studying moving forward. You are responsible to check their homework completion in the next few weeks while they get back on track. You are responsible to sort out whether this was truely a dip in effort or a bigger learning difficulty.

Overall, this means to focus your efforts on what you can control. If you are so narrowly focused on changing their beahavior, you are likely to feel frustrated. Focus on the piece you can control. Rather than focus on changing their behavior, focus on changing your reaction to their behavior. Focus on building skills to better address, manage and teach about behavior.

Helping Kids Speak Up for Themselves

This post is for parents whose children lack an assertive voice. When Alicen was a toddler, if someone took a toy or did something she didn’t like, she would just stand there or cry. When she was a preschooler, she would sadly walk away or come bury her face against my leg. She didn’t have an assertive voice. She didn’t readily stand up for herself.

There is a series of steps to teaching children an assertive voice. Again, this is not a quick fix. We started this process with Alicen six years ago, and we continue to work on it in small ways. Clearly she has made great progress, but we are still addressing the issues. If you have a child who lacks assertive voice, you’ll have to make a decision about which steps are necessary depending on age and comfort level.

The first thing I ask any child, whether they are at the first step or the last, whether they are two or seven years old, is, “did you like that?” It gets kids turned around. They stop thinking, “oh, poor me. I am so sad,” and they start thinking, “no. I didn’t like that.” They start to think about standing up for themselves.

For the remainder of this example, let’s assume another child took a toy your child was playing with. After you ask, “did you like that?” the entry step is to then go with the child and do the talking for them. Take their hand, walk with them to the other child and say calmly, “they weren’t done with that. they’d like to finish their turn.” You are modeling the language that you hope the child will some day take as their own. Eventually, you want them to say, “I wasn’t done with that. I’d like to finish my turn.”

Once they are comfortable with that, you can move to the next step. After asking whether they liked that, go with them and provide an example of what to say on the way. You might take your child’s hand and say, “when we get there, say, ‘I’m not done,’ or, ‘I want that back.’” Hopefully, you arrive at the other child, and your child will try out the language you suggested. This step may take several attempts. It took many exchanges before Alicen actually spoke up for herself. For quite a while, I would give examples, we would arrive at the other child, and Alicen would just look up at me blankly. If this happens, continue to model the language.

Once they are comfortable speaking up when you provide examples, think about stepping out a bit more. First, you can give examples, and then, stay back while they go over alone. After you ask if they liked that, you can say, “ok, I’m going to stay here; when you go over, you can say, ‘I want to finish my turn.’” Or, you can go with them and prompt them to come up with the language on their own. You can say, “I’ll go with you. What are you going to say to them?”

Whichever path you take, the next step is to have them come up with the language and go over on their own. This is the last step, and this is where Alicen continues to be today. She’ll run up to me at the playground and say, “she took that from me!” I’ll ask, “did you like that?” She’ll reply, “no, I didn’t!” I’ll ask, “what are you going to say?” She’ll reply, “I’m going to tell her that I want to finish my turn.” I’ll say, “okay, go try that,” and off she’ll go. I’m not really doing much. She is just rebounding off me. I am there providing support. I assume that when she is away from me, she is handling much of this on her own.

What if your child uses their assertive voice, and it doesn’t work? You coach them, and they bravely walk over and say, “I wasn’t done with that. I’d like it back please.” The other child rolls their eyes and says, “so what? I’m playing with it now.” As a parent you have choices. I think any of them are fine, just think about it ahead of time. Be prepared.  You might mention it to their parents and hope for support. You might go over and reiterate for your child. Another child might be more willing to listen to you than to your child. You might let your child know that they did the right thing. They used the right language, but sometimes things don’t work out as we plan. This is true in life. As adults, we might ask another in a restaurant, “could you light that in a few minutes? We’re about to leave.” The other patron rolls their eyes and say, “So what? I’m smoking it now.” Sometimes things don’t work out as we plan.

Then, I think of Claire and other children who fall at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Even as a toddler, she told people what she thought when she thought it. I have seen other children who speak out a bit too loudly when they are assertive. As long as no one is getting hurt, I want children to keep their assertive voices. Rather than disciplining a child for being too loud at this, parents should coach and model other ways for children to better express themselves.

Contribution – Getting Kids to Help

Contribution is getting children involved in the process of daily living. It is giving them jobs, so they can be productively engaged. When children are participating in family function, there is less need for discipline. This is very much in line with the Montessori philosophy. In a Montessori classroom, children are preparing snack, serving snack and cleaning up the snack area, even at two years old. There is little misbehavior around snacktime because it is their job, they take pride in it. The are fully engaged in positive behavior, so there is less time for the negative.

Starting at two years old, I think children should be contributing at home throughout the day. If you are folding laundry, they can be matching socks. If you are preparing a meal, they can be matching cups to lids or taking drink orders. Older children, who are buttering rolls or serving green beans, bypass the time for arguing, video games and to complain about what’s for dinner. You avoid the need for discipline by making them part of the process.

In the classroom, if my teachers are getting art supplies ready for the next day, there should be children helping them. They might be helping pour paint or matching papers. Yes, this takes longer and can be more of a mess, but the next day those helper children are a little more excited to be there.

Go wide with how they help. Setting the table every night for dinner sounds like more of a chore (I like chores and chores for allowance, but this is something different). Contribution includes drawing placemats, writing menus, folding napkins and serving food. Shake it up by suggesting different ways to contribute each day.

When they do contribute, take the help however it comes. Resist the urge to correct their helpfulness. Let’s say you have been working for a week with your six-year-old on how to make their bed. One morning they come to you excitedly and say, “mommy, I made my bed without you!” When you go to see it, find something nice to say about that bed. Even if it’s not what you’d hoped for, say something like, “this corner is so straight!” and leave the bed. If you take this moment to correct, or you wait til they go to school to remake the bed, you are squashing their contribution. It’s better to wait until the next morning and catch them before they make it to reteach.

Contribution teaches life skills, builds intrinsic motivation, and creates a sense of belonging and community.

For more on chores and allowance please read: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/chores-by-age/ and https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/chores-for-earning-allowance/.

Calm Parenting – Take Care of Yourself First

I speak with so many moms in our workshops, and lately a common complaint is they are “running on empty.” Moms comment they aren’t getting enough sleep, aren’t eating well and feel increasingly stressed. Basically, they just aren’t taking care of themselves. Some cite the time crunch, others the effort after taking care of everyone else in the family. Whatever the cause, feeling empty is such a difficult way to come at parenting.

  • Sleep – It’s suggested that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. The National Sleep Foundation provides this article on sleep needs: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.
  • Nutrition – I’ve never been one to count calories or limit foods, but, as I am getting older, I can feel food choices impacting my mood and energy levels. HelpGuide.org provides this interesting article on nutrition guidelines for women: http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_eating_women_nutrition.htm.
  • Stress – When you can directly manage the stressor, all the better. It’s best if you can cut back on work hours or better design your schedule, and relieve stress at the source. If not, here is an article with so many great suggestions for managing stress: http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/parenting/stress.shtml.
  • Exercise – When I can fit in exercise, I feel great. It is so hard to find the time and energy. I am inspired by one of our preschool teacher/moms who fits exercise in in small ways throughout the day. She lunges to take out the trash and stretches before she sits for each meal. Apparently, a little at a time adds up in beneficial ways. For lots of great tips about exercising read: http://exercise.about.com/od/fittinginexercise/tp/stayathomeexercise.htm, and visit a great blog at  http://www.exercisingmom.com/.
  • Relax – Do whatever it is that helps you relax. Read, run, sing, dance, wine with friends, walks in the park or nature hikes. The more you can refresh and recharge before you take on parenting, the better!

Get Them Ready for Potty Training

There are several things you can do in the months leading up to potty training to encourage a child’s interest and increase their readiness.

  • Read About It – There are so many good children’s book on the market including Once Upon a Potty by Frankel, The Potty Book for Boys/Girls by Capucilli, What to Expect When You Use the Potty by Murkoff and Diapers Are Not Forever by Verdick among many others. The idea is to mix these in with your other read-alouds. There is a fuller list of potty related children’s books on my blog at https://parentingbydrrene.com/childrensbooks/#pottytraining.
  • Watch the Videos – There are also many helpful children’s videos including Potty Power, Once Upon a Potty, The Potty Movie and It’s Potty Time.
  • Play Potty – For introducing potty training through play you can purchase an inexpensive plastic baby doll, poke a small hole in the bottom and fill the body with water. Then you teach the doll baby to potty, and have your child teach the doll baby to potty. You can also buy just the bathroom set and doll from any dollhouse set, and let them play the potty process that way.
  • Let Them Observe – Young children learn best through observation and modeling. If you are at all comfortable, it can be helpful to take children in the bathroom with you and let them observe the process. It can be helpful for them to observe older siblings or others in the potty training process as well.
  • Talk them Through Your Process – If they are observing, it can be additionally helpful to talk them through your process of pulling down pants, sitting and waiting and wiping. I understand this is a lot of detail and can feel uncomfortable, but you are teaching them the language and the details of the process.
  • Change all Diapers in the Bathroom – This is helping them associate the sensation with being in a bathroom. If your bathroom is small, change on a mat just outside. Talk about how when people pee or poop, they need to be in a bathroom.

My full Potty Training audio class is available online at http://www.parentingbydrrene.com.

The Steps of Positive Discipline

The steps of Positive Discipline are not something I’ve created, these steps have been around for years. Originally written in 1965, Dr. Haim Ginott introduced a version of these steps in Between Parent and Child. Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, or STEP classes, desiged by Dinkmeyer and McKay have been in session since 1976. These steps are covered in some variation in most all Positive Discipline parenting books. We cover the steps of positive discipline in my one-day and eight hour evening series workshops. My full audio workshops are also available at www.askdrrene.com. Here are the basics to get you started:

  • I messages – This is labeling your own or others emotions and blaming the behavior not the child. When labeling your own emotions, it sounds like, “I am frustrated, no one is listening,” or, “I am upset, this is a huge mess.” Labeling others’ emotions sounds like, “she is upset, she wasn’t finished with her turn,” or, “she is angry, that hurt her.” This shares emotions and avoids You messages which blame the child such as, “I am frustrated, you never listen,” or, “she is angry, you hurt her.”
  • Empathy – This is validating the child’s emotions as you enter into a discipline exchange, even when you disagree with the emotion at hand. It is saying, “wow, you are mad, you didn’t like that game,” or, “I see you are sad, it’s hard to be left out.”  It’s remembering to validate emotions and help find a calm before you address the situation or discipline.
  • Positive Intent – This refers to how we view the child’s behavior. What we think and assume about their behavior, shapes our tone and our reply. This is thinking of those you love as tired or overwhelmed rather than lazy. For the child having trouble waiting for a turn, it is seeing them as excited, young and needing to learn patience rather than annoying or rude.
  • Choices – The idea is to offer the child two positive choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. If you are wanting them to get homework done, this might be, “do you want to start with reading or math,” or, “do you want to work before or after snack,” or, “do you want to work at the kitchen table or your bedroom desk?” These often work because they give the child some power.
  • Natural Consequences – This is what just might happen in life if the child continues the behavior. These warn and encourage the child to think about the possible outcomes. This sounds like, “if you don’t wear a coat, you might be cold,” and, “if you do that, she might not want to play with you.” These consequences start to make sense around three-and-a-half years old.
  • Logical Negative Consequences – This is, if the bad behavior; then the bad related outcome. “If you keep yelling, you will have to play in separate rooms,” or, “if you grab a toy, you may not play with it for 5 minutes.”
  • Logical Positive Consequences – This is, if the good behavior; then the good related outcome. “If you can speak nicely, you can stay together,” or, “if you can share the coloring books, I’ll get out the other markers.”
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