Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Big "T" Word

I was talking to the mother of a 4 year old a few months ago about her daughter’s absolute refusal to use the toilet.  Mom was really looking for a solution as a new baby was due in a couple months.  The thought of 2 children in diapers was depressing enough, but she also worried that if they didn’t clear this hurdle before the birth, it would be months before they would be up to the task.
Mom had talked to a lot of people about how to motivate and teach her daughter to use the bathroom.  From “fill her up with liquids” to “she’ll train when she is ready” to “tell her she can’t go to school until she is trained”, good meaning people had good meaning ideas.  But they all missed one key fact – the child was completely aware of the bathroom, what it was for and how to go about it.  She simply CHOSE to not be bothered with all that – for whatever reason, of which I have no clue.
Now I am certainly not discussing a younger child of a more traditional toilet training age.  I am talking about a healthy, lively, intelligent 4 year old who has been staying dry for long stretches and during naps for a year and a half, who has successfully used the toilet on a couple occasions and who can dress and undress herself.  When such a child is not toilet trained, she is choosing not to be.
We often don’t know why children make the choices they do.  But in today’s society, we often believe we need to know.  If we don’t know, we make up reasons that usually have to do with the child’s hurt feelings or poor psychological health or low self-esteem.  Then we go about trying to solve the made up reason.  And generally we get little or no change to the choice the child is making.  But we get ourselves really worried!
A far better approach is to simply become the parental leader who clearly states the expected behavior and clearly follows up with consequences when the expected behavior does not occur.  CALM, matter of fact consequences.
So what did I advise this mom?  Starting on a morning when you can be mostly home for several days, tell your daughter that she is to use the toilet from now on.  Spend some time (about 10 minutes) with her to rehearse the skills needed – going into the bathroom, removing her clothes, sitting on the toilet, wiping herself, adjusting her clothes, washing her hands, etc.  Be calm, gentle and matter of fact – absolutely no threats, no bribes, no promises.  Then tell her that if she has an accident, she will be responsible for going into the bathroom to change her clothes, clean herself up and rinse out her soiled clothes. (Make sure that all the necessary supplies are in place for her).  Tell her this calmly and matter of factly – no yelling, no screaming, no threats.  Then take off her diaper, put her in big girl underwear and a loose shirt.  You also might consider confining her to some limited portion of the house that might include the bathroom and kitchen.  From here on, she is on her own.  Mom and Dad do not remind her or ask her if she needs to use the potty.  When she is successful, a calm word of encouragement is all that is needed – no great big treats or excited, over the top praise – those can be self defeating.  When she has an accident (and she will), no great big negative reactions – just point her in the direction of the bathroom to clean up.   The most important thing is to not over react and to not back down.  If Mom and Dad are calm and consistent, she should choose to take over this new responsibility within a couple weeks.
Mom did indeed look at me like I was nuts.  But she pondered the ideas for a few weeks and then realized how completely inconsistent they had been in communicating to their daughter that she was to use the toilet from now on.  So although she tweaked some of my suggestions, she did announce that a new day had dawned and diapers would be no more.  And indeed this beautiful little girl is now completely toilet trained and getting ready to welcome the new baby as the big sister she is really becoming!

Monday, December 19, 2011

When Morning Brings Chaos!

I was talking to a family about their wild, crazy mornings – they have 4 children and getting 6 people out the door is no easy task.   Amid all the chaos, it would be easy to conclude that the children are willfully misbehaving.  However, as is often the case with young children, the only family members who actually care about being on time are Mom and Dad. 
Let’s join this family for a minute.  There is Mom and Dad, their 9 year old daughter, their 7 year old daughter, their 3 year old daughter and their 1 year old son.  It is 7AM on Monday morning and the 9 year old keeps changing her mind about what to wear so she is late.  Mom just asked the 7 year old to help the 1 year old find his coat; she ignored Mom which she often does, so Dad got angry and started yelling.  The 3 year old is going to preschool which she likes, but right this very second, she is intent on playing with her cereal and making a great big, gooey mess in the bottom of the bowl.  The 1 year old is running back and forth to his room to bring his stuffed animals to the breakfast table so they can eat too!  Mom and Dad are rushing from one child to the next; goading, reminding, directing, pleading, ordering and yelling.  By 7:30, they are exhausted and grumpy.
The problem here is that the parents care very much about getting out the door and the kids are perfectly content to let them.  The kids are focused on their own agenda and as long as their parents own the “time clock”, they don’t have to.  Notice their behavior isn’t necessarily bad; they are just caught up in their own thoughts and haven’t been given any responsibility to do anything differently.  So what is it that influences children to choose to follow their parent’s directions rather than their own preferences?
It begins with calm, clear, authoritative, loving leadership.  If I were the parents in our example, I would no longer chase, remind, plead, yell or any other non-productive behavior.  I would act like I expect to be obeyed.  And in time, the kids will get the message that these leaders need to be followed.
And what happens in the time between today’s chaos and whenever the kids magically choose to follow the message? 
Quite simply, in one word - consequences.
For example, when the family arrives home tonight, the parents might calmly announce that everyone’s bed time is an hour early because of the chaotic morning.  They then, just as calmly, could announce that they are no longer going to chase, remind, plead and yell in the morning.  However, they might add, any time the family is late because of the 3 girls not getting ready, there will be “consequences”.  Note that the 1 year old is not old enough to understand morning responsibilities or consequences so he is not included in the parental expectations.  They will be helping him, but how much easier it will be with only 1 child to assist!  Also note that the 3 year old IS old enough to understand both ideas.
In a fairly short time, if the consequences are significant enough so that the children really dislike them and if the parents consistently and calmly impose them, I predict the children will choose to get ready each morning with a minimal amount of disruption.  In short they will accept responsibility for themselves because they learn that life is better for them when they do.  How about that – children who CHOOSE to follow the leader – mornings may never be the same!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Easy Does It

On Halloween, I had the fun of going Tricks or Treating with our granddaughter down south.  It was quite a different experience – no worries about getting costumes that were big enough to fit over winter coats and mittens!  Two families planned to go out together and the 3 kids were dressing up around a theme.  The 4 year old was Little Red Riding Hood, the 9 year old was the Grannie and the 11 year old was the Woodcutter – his plastic axe made the costume.
As we were getting ready to leave the house, the plastic axe broke and was irreparable.  The creative 11 year old was undaunted and headed towards the garage.  When Mom asked him what he had in mind, he happily replied that he was getting the real axe!  Mom immediately and calmly said “no”.  He argued that no one would even know what his costume was supposed to be without an axe (and in truth, many people did not).  But Mom didn’t even give one reason, she just calmly repeated “no” and said let’s get going.  Well he continued to give reasons and arguments and make a general fuss.  She just calmly said “no” again and invited everyone who was going, to head out.  She didn’t actually tell him he could stay home but it was obvious that she would have allowed him to make that choice.
Well we all trouped out and he was quite grumpy and muttering under his breath – for about 3 houses.  Then the freedom of being out after dark, the company of all the other kids on the street and the fun of spooky tricks and endless candy took over.  He was a delight the rest of the evening and took every opportunity to tell people he was “the woodcutter without the axe”.  So indeed he solved his own problem.
Mom impressed me because it was clear this is how she parents.  While I am pretty sure she gives reasons on occasion and has lots of in depth conversations with her kids on important issues, she also does not waste time or energy on issues when she is the leader.  Those times she just leads; with love, authority and an absolute expectation that she expects to get what she wants.  And her children follow her lead – pretty simple, pretty powerful, yes?