Two and potty trained: a real world review of how the ‘3-day’ method worked for us

My child is two and is potty trained. Actually I would say she was potty trained at 22 months, but it is all in how you look at it, really.

I have been fielding a few questions about this recently – people asking me how she is doing now (following my 3-day potty training series), so I wanted to come back and write a kind of wrap-up post with a review of our progress. First, for those who haven’t been following along…

Our ‘stats’

  • we did the three-day potty training starting when little’un was just shy of 20 months old. We did not wait for the traditional ‘signs of readiness’ as we learned from our EC friends that a child’s instinct to stay clean and dry comes from birth, the rest is all habit and ‘learning’
  • day one of the process, we had our first ‘walk-to’ poop, meaning she felt the urge and walked over to do a poo in the potty, completely spontaneously and unprompted. She got it – what this whole potty learning thing is about. But we were still having lots of ‘pee-misplacement incidents’
  • day two we were getting more and more pees in the potty and three out of three poops had gone in the potty. Hazah!
  • day three she night-trained herself. That was completely unexpected. I checked her diaper when she woke up after the second night and it was dry. That has remained the case with only a couple of exceptions to prove the rule (both exceptions happened not during her sleep but when she was restless, worked up and fighting sleep)
  • … but we continued to have mixed success with pees – most went in the potty (either partially or fully) but one or two a day were still full-on misses
  • at the end of the first month, we had our first full day with NO accidents. Hooray! We had had lots and lots of nearly-nearly days (where she made it all though the day without incident and then when we got home she would pee just before making it to the potty, often). Finally after four weeks she had her first ‘all in the potty’ day!
  • … but there were still days with some accidents. We had very few poo accidents at all, in the whole process (and the ones that did happen were like on my friend’s patio – sorry again – or our hardwood floored hallway, thankfully) but we continued to have some pee accidents on some days. Then every few days we would have a full day with all the pee in the potty.
  • after two months, when she had just turned 22 months, the ratio shifted and suddenly most days were ‘dry’ (underpants, trousers and legs stayed DRY) and days with any accidents became fewer and fewer.
  • and from there on what started to happen for us was a new cycle. She would go for about two weeks with no accidents, then she’d have one mishap – usually on daddy’s watch (sorry to point this out… but really it is just the result of the fact that he has  less ‘training’ and is therefore less attuned to her non-verbal signals and she is less receptive to his prompting to go, too). Then after one accident it would be like a floodgate opened (no pun intended) and there would follow lots of other ones. I also noticed that invariably what had happened was that I had started the ‘dry’ cycle super vigilant and treating it like a dance for two, more like EC where I have to tune into her and sense her need and offer the potty at opportune times, lest she forget. After a couple weeks of success, I would get complacent and just wait for her to either go on her own (at home) or tell me she has to go, which worked most of the time… until she got distracted or absorbed by something (say playing with daddy) and forgot to go or overrode her body’s signals, which is normally where I would come in and offer – but daddy’s timing wasn’t always as finely honed so… accident one would give way to accident two and so on for a day or two till we got back to the rhythm.
  • now, at 26 months old, it has been about a couple of months since Pipoca’s last full-on accident. What does happen now is she’ll often have a kind of pre-leak, where a little escapes before she acknowledges she has to go. So we still get through a lot of underwear but… when she needs to go, (the vast majority of) it goes in the potty.
  • we are now transitioning to the big potty (aka the toilet). She was most comfortable on a little potty for a long while but the last few weeks we have mainly been using public toilets and only use the potty in the car. She seems to be really into this new phase, too, of doing it on the big potty like big girls and grown ups.

Our approach

We did all this with NO punishments, shaming, bribes or rewards. I really wanted her to want to go in the potty for its own sake, not as a way to get a raisin or a big family celebration or anything else. Yes, the timing largely came from us, adults, but it was very much from observing her interest in the potty (much as one introduces food when the kid follows our every spoonful – we don’t wait for them to ask for food to know they are ‘ready’ to eat). This was her process to lead, the speed at which we advanced was hers. We never pushed her or forced her to go, we always said, ‘okay, when you are ready’… even when we could really see she needed to go. The message was always: “This is your body and you know best when you need to go and how long you can hold it. We trust you.” This is what we wanted her to see, not that she would please mommy and daddy by going or that she’d get a reward – what we wanted her to come out of this with was a confidence that we trust her, we are here to support her learning. Plus, of course, she needed to gain a new awareness of her body and all the sensations that mean you need to go, etc. We also hoped we could have fun along the way… and we did.
So, it wasn’t the picture-perfect ‘three day’ process I was promised in the ‘brochures‘ (hah!). It took longer than that for us and we had a lot of accidents along the way (including in Ikea, Toys R Us, at the park)… But, actually, when I stopped thinking about it as ‘potty learning’ for her and instead started thinking of it as kind of dance, pair-work, something we do together, much more like late-start Elimination Communication than like traditional potty training, I adjusted my expectations and found that I really enjoyed the process – and it was much more successful this way, too. What I mean by this is I stopped putting all the onus on her to go on her own or tell me when she needed to go (which she did do most of the time) and remembered that even though she has ‘potty learned’ I still have a role in this, I still need to stay vigilant, offer the potty before we go out (whether she takes it or not, the offer is made); offer to go with her if I feel she needs the incentive, remind her it is time to go when she is starting to leak (small wet patch!?) or doing the potty dance, etc!… even as I always respect the fact that ultimately it is her choice (and pushing her would only make her push back harder, anyway).
Maybe this sounds obvious to many of you, but because she was doing it so well and so independently 90% of the time, it was easy to assume she’d got it and I could rest on my laurels the other 10%… until I learned over and over that (with her at least) I still had to be on the ball.
Reflecting on this process, this is the shocker: I think potty training my child has been one of the best things I have done on this parenting journey. It is actually one of the things I would say that has most helped me connect and get even closer to my beautiful baby girl. It was VERY hard at times, exasperating, even… but overall this brought me to a new level of attunement to my daughter, so that it became that (after a couple of weeks), most of the time I could ‘sense’ when she needed to go – without her actually communicating, in words or actions, anything at all.

Well, I say it is a ‘shocker’ but any EC mamas and papas will be laughing about how long it took me to find this out. All EC parents I know enthuse about how much the process helped them bond with their kids. To those of us that didn’t EC our kids from the get-go this notion seems, well, absurd. “How does helping your kid pee and poo help you bond??? ergh – gross!” But there you have it. It is true, for me, too, now I realise.

The emotional shift

I have already shared most of my top tips for potty learning here. But there is one, the importance of which has really become more obvious to me in the last few weeks, which I want to share: Cushion the way for the emotional and psychological side of this transition, as much as possible.

I am sorry to say I didn’t give this side of the process much thought, before embarking on it. I mean, I talked to her lots about where big kids and grown ups ‘go’. We watched the Elmo and other (free) potty training videos on YouTube and read books about going to the potty. We played with dolls who went on the loo but what I didn’t think to address was the loss of diapers and the diaper-changing ritual.

Now, it is clear to me that this ‘loss’ really is a big change for a little baby and I could have handled it much better. The babycentre write-up I let guide me into this process, recommended you show your child the pile of diapers you are going to use up before you do the 3-day process and explain that when those are used up, baby won’t be using diapers anymore. I literally forgot to do that step. Ooops. I focussed instead on the potty and what it was for and figured she didn’t really get what happened with the diapers, anyway. Why would she be attached to them?… and I know I was partially right, as I remain convinced she was oblivious to her bodily functions up until this process began but now I realise how important that whole ritual of changing a diaper was in her toddler life. Okay, she resisted being changed a lot (which might give you the false impression she’d be happy to be rid of it, right?)  but it was still a fulcral, familiar process in her every day that was done with mommy (or daddy). But here’s the thing, from the moment we went diaper free (and only from then) she became obsessed with role playing diaper changing – both on her bear and on herself. And that remained one of her favourite games for the last few months up until recently. Well, I remember that when kids get stuck in play, it is usually a sign they are not able to fully process what is going on. I was prepared to step in and help her with that, in play… and then it seemed she moved on from that game – just when she seems to have really gotten into the swing of potty use and she has taken to announcing that she is ‘a big girl that doesn’t wear diapers but wears knickers instead’! So, yeah, this transition IS a big deal and helping them cope with it emotionally is an important part of making it as easy and enjoyable for them, as possible. And I have learnt that it is not only about introducing a potty but about taking away diapers.

Advantages of ‘early’ potty training

  1. free sexual exploration – naked time means they get to look and touch and feel what is going on, down there. They are going to do this sooner or later. It is theirs afterall. So, I reckon the sooner they get some quality naked time with themselves, the better. I’d rather this be happening at 18 months than at 4 years old, myself. Kids should feel free and at ease with their naked bodies. Hooray for diaper-free time.
  2. fostering independence – I don’t believe they need to ‘ask for it’ to be ready – in some kind of crazy reversal of the extended breastfeeding put down (“if they can ask for it they are too old”); it seems many parents go with a kind of “if they can’t ask for it, they are not ready” policy on potty training. I (mostly) disagree. I think you watch your baby and (much as you did for introducing food) you can follow the signs as to whether they are ready to go independently – and ECers will tell you they can communicate to you when they need to go, from birth or soon after. Anyway, if you let the process be baby-led (once you have followed the unspoken timing) children find their way to mastering a new aspect of their physical embodiment. This brings pride, joy and a sense of confidence and independence, as it all begins to click. It is empowering – or can be (on a good day)
  3. deepening the parent-child bond – I mentioned this earlier. Doing this kind of (late) EC-ish method meant I was pushed to become super attuned to my daughter’s needs. And I found myself developing what NinjaDad and I jokingly called my ‘spider senses’ whereby I often just ‘knew’ when she needed to go. I guess it was my unconscious making clever calculations based on how much she drank, how long it has been since her last pee and taking in subtle cues from changes in her body language… anyway, I was not consciously aware of how I knew, I just did. And then, of course, there were the occasional ‘ghost pees’, another phenomenon apparently well known among ECers whereby sometimes you have a vivid and very realistic sense that you are being peed on or indeed that you yourself need to pee – when in fact this is kind of like a premonition of your child’s need to go. Weird but fascinating. See what I mean? A new level of closeness and inter-connectedness developed.
  4. lessening the impact on the environment – less diapers to land fill or cloth diapers to wash and fewer wipes, so many fewer wipes! It is amazing how much cleaner using a potty is compared to diapers. Gone are 10-wipe-blow-outs. Most poos I just need to use one wipe, nowadays. Amazing, really!

On balance

Each to their own, I say. I have spoken to LOTS of mums about this, now, both in person and online. My conclusion is that there isn’t only one way to potty learn gently, in a child-centered manner.
This is a confusing subject, I find… I mean, I resonate and understand arguments from both sides of the potty learning debate. I agree with ECers and early potty trainers that since babies are born with a sensitivity and even a kind of instinct to be clean, it may well be the most respectful, empathic and responsive thing to get them used to the potty as soon as possible. After all, what would you want? Who wants to sit in pee or poop all day?
On the other hand, the ‘wait until they are ready’ and ‘follow the child’s lead’ arguments also make a lot of sense to me and is totally how I am in almost every other aspect of my child’s life. We dance, play and learn together, finding what works for BOTH of us in a timing that reflects her development, her ever unfolding curiosity and her needs.
Clearly the EC/early potty training logic won out on me, this time. Plus, I had seen some pretty adversarial examples of ‘late potty training’ that put me off that approach entirely while, at the same time, I kept meeting ECers who raved about the process and really seemed to get a kick out of it. So the examples in my life were guiding me this approach, somehow.
But since then, I have met gentle, responsive parents who chose to EC convinced that is the most child-centered way to go AND other equally connection-oriented parents who waited till their kids were ‘ready’, some of whose kids, in fact, never had a single accident, when they traded in their diapers for undies. And I have met AP or gentle parents who have chosen nearly any path in between – all of them coming from a place of love, compassion and trust.
Truly, I think there are many ways to go about this that can be empowering for both parent and child, bringing the two together. This was the method that worked for us, this time (so far, at least). For us it was the perfect compromise: as early as we could do it so that she could walk to the potty and manage the process herself, independently. Any earlier (we started around 20 months) and she might have needed more help and as is she could manage the whole process (walking to the potty, etc) herself… and I didn’t want to go any longer than I had to, on account of the number of (chlorine-free) disposable diapers we were getting through. She responded well and quickly took to it, in our view (though, as we say, it was not a perfectly smooth journey).
Having said all that, would I do it this way, again – start early (from say 18 months) and go diaper-free from day one? I am not sure. I will say, I have no regrets. This was the way that felt right for us with this, our first child… but I do have ‘no accident’ envy, from the parents who told me that was the result for them… Then again, honestly I have heard ‘no accident’ stories coming from all methods, including the three day method (no accidents after day two or three) AND I have heard lots of ‘many accident’ stories from all methods, too. So, really, my conclusion is that has more to do with the child and, dare I say it, their ‘readiness’ (though not necessarily in the T. Brazelton sense) and with how much they are driving and embracing the process than necessarily with the method or the parent’s approach. So, do it your way… or better yet, do it your child’s way, at a time that works for the child and the whole family (like probably not just before a new sibling comes or when they are stressed… but a time when you can all give this your caring attention for a little while).
So, would I do it this way, again? Depends on the baby… Did I enjoy and learn a lot out of it this time: heck YES!


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Mommy-brain or not… I still have a brain!

“So, what do you do?” She says in a break between talking about her world travels and her fulfilling job working with refugees.

“I am a full-time mom”

“Good for you. How old is your child?”

“She is nearly two years old”

“Oh. That is a long time. How important that is…” Her eyes drift as she looks for somebody else in the crowd… anybody to talk to.

— — —

Am I alone in this? I have been noticing since I gave birth – and especially since I decided to ‘stay home’ and care for my little one myself – that it seems as if people think my IQ has dropped several dozen points, that I have now no interest in world affairs and that even if I do, what I have to say about them is of no consequence, because, you know, I am only a mom.

Arrgh. That irks me. I don’t write ‘irk’ posts very often, I don’t think, but this got to me and I felt the need to share, to vent.

I am still the same person, guys! My memory might be slightly addled by hormones and yes my first love and interest is my child, but I am still me. I still love photography, spirituality, nature, travel, world politics (with a very small ‘p’). I am still me. I’d like to think I am still as fascinating, engaging and funny as ever (the dellusion may be in thinking I was ever any of those things – lol) and that my thoughts are as as insightful, thought-provoking and challenging (in a good way) as they were a couple of years ago. But it seems some people phase out before they have a chance to find out. Even some people (uh… men) very close to me seem to talk to me slightly differently, slightly more slowly, now. It would appear, the consensus is that the onus in now on me to prove I can keep up.

Somehow, it reminds me of when I went travelling around Central America with my (then) very blond boyfriend who did not speak a word of Spanish. Invariably, people would address themselves to him. I would speak to them in near-fluent Spanish and, for example, ask for some information about some local curiosity. They would respond by looking him straight in the eye and giving him their full answer. I’d have to kind of wave at them while thinking, “Hello, over here! Can you talk to the one that can talk back and, you know, understand you?”

My breasts are tiny… but I imagine that is the issue big-breasted women face: “Hello… I am up here!”  Now it seems the distraction, that keeps people from talking to me, is not my breasts or the fact that there is a man, nearby (who must be more competent and capable than me at receiving information). Now, the distraction that makes people’s eyes wander and assume I cannot possibly contribute to this exchange is my job or lack thereof.

I know I am preaching to the converted, here. Most of my readers are women. Most of you are moms, some of you stay-at-home (and go out a lot) moms. But I just want to remind everyone that if you have a degree, a Masters or a PhD it does not expire when you give birth. If you held a powerful job in a big organisation (or a meaningful job in a non-profit or what have you), you did not lose those skills over-night by chosing to care for a child. If you were able to string conversations and interesting thoughts together, before you got pregnant, you probably still can now.

We could be having a different conversation here, about the equal value of different roles in society. We could point out that in a post-feminist world, we have CHOICE and that intelligent women can and do chose to stay home; and that the world needs all these roles to be filled – and with passion… And that, in fact, the world may even be a better place for women being able to chose to stay home and educate their children themselves, rather than leave them in the care of well meaning but over-stretched, underpaid care workers who divide their attention between your and a host of other children and whose main agenda is likely to be to minimise crying, rather than light the fire of imagination, discovery and self-‘discipline’. Some of the most interesting people out there, were not the products of mass education but were lovingly home-schooled. Here’re some CNN chose to highlight. Here are some more. And here is a big old list that includes Einstein, Mozart, Monet, Alexander Graham Bell, FDR, Washington among many others. Was the world enriched because their mothers (and sometimes fathers) guided them rather than handing over their education? Were the men and women who raised their kids at home less because they were not also working a job?

And I am not even a ‘homeschooling mom’. My child is, as I said, not even two yet! But in any case that is not my main point, here. My point is only this: don’t talk down to stay-at-home mums, you don’t know if they indulge in astrophysics as a hobby.

And, to be clear, my hat is off and tilted in the direction of working moms, too, both those who do it because they have to for economic reasons and those that ‘have to’ for themselves because it is their right place, to be back in the millieu, contributing to the world in that way. I am in favour of free choice (if only we all could have that). I am for honouring everybody who follows their passion, their dream, their Heart and knowing that we each contribute, when we are true to ourselves in this way, we do truly help to make the world a better place.

So come on, talk to me like an equal, like you used to, like I matter, like caring for a child doesn’t mean I can’t do anything with my brain in a ‘real’ job, in ‘challenging’ situations with high level decision making that affects many. Know that I (and many) chose this path because we feel it is our higher calling, not because we can’t do anything else or because it is in some way ‘easier’, softer, less… In fact, having talked to lots of working moms, I think many would agree a day at the office, as stressful as it can be, is often a blessed relief from the non-stop, draining intensity of caring for a baby. Plus, relinquishing a job and a second income often means many sacrifices for the whole family. I know that in our case, chosing to stay at home, meant downsizing, living in a flat, rather than a house, going out less, having less holidays and less ‘nice things’. But it is okay, this was our loving, happy choice. We think we are helping to change the world, one child at a time. People… society seems to think we are dropping out, being boring and have nothing of value to share.

And with this, let us for a moment celebrate our differences, the incredible gift of choice (for those of us that truly have it) and the enlightened age we live in that is able to recognise the vital role that ‘full time’ moms play – and that when we make that choice, the hospital doesn’t say “oh, you are chosing to be a stay-at-home mum, shall we excise a part of your brain then, while you are here?”

Emotional release feels good – to kids, too.

The other day I was driving and the memory of a dear friend of ours who passed away some years ago, just before our wedding in fact, popped into my head. Perhaps I never grieved his passing properly as I had so much going on at the time. I really wanted to cry, to get the emotion all out and ‘get over it’ once and for all, but I could not because I was driving.

— — —

Once, when I was a waitress at a casino (long story), I dropped a tray full of glasses and they broke. This was before the casino was open and my colleagues rushed around me to help tidy up. I burst into tears. My friend said ‘but they are only glasses’. The tears gushed forward. It was NOT about the glasses. That was just the last straw. All that stress and pent-up emotion I had been carrying around the last few days, was finally bursting out. I picked up the glasses but let the crying flow on. It seemed to be what I needed at the time.

— — —

Very often I have had the experience that I feel so much better after sharing. Having someone you can just let it all out with and really vent about what is going on in your life, knowing they create a safe listening space, don’t judge and don’t take things personally (or try and make it about them or whatever). Sometimes you just need to tell someone how you feel for it to shift. 

— — —

Crying childToday, I listened to my child cry for over twenty minutes. I was there, right up close to her, holding her at times, touching her at other times, engaging in eye contact whenever that felt right to her. She cried until she cried herself to sleep in my arms.

I would not have done this some time ago. I would have done what most parents do and tried hard to distract her (“look at the doggy”; “do you want a cookie?”) or tried to fix it (“is it because you are scared of the noise?”) or plain placate her (“there, there, you can have that toy and that one, too, if you want” – okay that is too far, but you get the picture). This time, I just stayed firm and weathered the storm with her, peacefully, lovingly.

This is NOT an easy option. It is hard emotional work for her and for me, as her ‘listening partner’. I am doing it because I have come to a place of understanding that for children (as well as for adults) the road to emotional health and wellbeing comes through full expression of our feelings. Whenever we do not allow ourselves to fully accept, express and release whatever emotions come up for us, they stay within us, lingering, festering, clogging us up.

Sometimes the difficulty lies in admitting we could have these feelings in the first place. ‘I shouldn’t be upset about something so little’ or ‘only a petty person would still be angry about that!’  – we judge ourselves and think we should be above these base feelings. But we are human. Feelings come whether we want them or not. Then our only choice is how to deal with them. Many of us (consciously or more often unconsciously) distract ourselves with other thoughts or by staying busy and/or we stuff the emotions down with food, alcohol or narcotics. Anything to stop us from admitting we feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ or don’t want to feel.

These emotions, packed down like this, continue to affect us and come out in strange ways, everything from passive-aggressive comments, defensiveness, a chip on our shoulder and the like to actual physical ailments said to be caused by ‘stress’; not to mention a difficulty in attracting and maintaining happy, stable, mutually supportive relationships, on all levels. Whenever we move to honestly look at and ex-press (literally: ‘push out’) our feelings we feel lighter, happier within ourselves, stronger and more capable of moving forward.

I have known this for myself for years. It is only slowly dawning on me that this could be the case for the little ones in our lives, too.

We are often so afraid of children’s emotions that we move Heaven and Earth to stop them coming up, but who is this helping? And are we doing this because it serves them or because these strong, passionate, free-flowing shows of emotion make us feel uncomfortable? Or even because they make us feel inadequate as parents – ‘if they are crying it must be because I did or failed to do something’, ‘there is an un-met need I did not attend to… what is it?!’, ‘I am just not good enough’…? Or perhaps we just fear judgement and what others will think of us if they see our child crying or raging in a public place. And these are all understandable fears but should we let them guide our behaviour toward these innocent beings we love so much?

I am lucky. As a mama-blogger and living among this powerful community of natural mammas in Northern California I have learned so much. Through many different channels, I keep coming across this idea that there is another way to approach and support a crying, distressed child. Time outs are not for me. I have read too much Alfie Kohn (or should I say ‘enough’) to  know that if I respond to my heart’s desire of hugging my child at her hour of need (rather than outcasting her) this is actually the best and most effective thing I could do, as shown by research. [I don’t mean being soft or permissive. I am actually quite assertive on many levels with her. My ‘no’ means ‘no’ but when she is sad or mad about it, I don’t punish her for it. That is a whole other huge topic though and much has been blogged about it, so let me stay on track here.]

Anyway, one of the main ‘authorities’ I kept being pointed to in this field is called Patty Wipfler and she is the leading light at an organisation called Hand in Hand Parenting, here in Palo Alto, CA. Here is the thing though. I kept hearing about her. Lawrence Cohen who wrote Playful Parenting (a book I LOVE) recommends this organisation. This is an internationally famous book, what are the odds that he would recommend a center just down the road from me?! And that is not all, my online blogger-friend and inspiration Genevieve  co-founder of the Peaceful Parent Institute also talked of the amazing teaching from this school called Hand in Hand Parenting. She is based in New Zealand. That was that, I thought: ‘I have to go check these people out’. So I signed up for one of their courses.

Given the international exposure this place has obviously got, I expected the workshop to be in a shining, modern room filled with eager parents. Nope. There were three of us on this course, in a dingy room in a local church. Hey, I am not complaining, it was very cosy and family-like, rather than big and corporate (which is what I expected). It was run by Todd Erickson who has trained with Patty.

crying

Image by World of Oddy via Flickr

The mini-course was called ‘Tantrum Training’ and though I joked a lot about the fact that they were going to teach me how to shout ‘noooo!’ at the top of my lungs and stamp my feet with aplomb, it was actually freakin’ fabulous!

Their work is all about what I was talking about, above. It is about meeting and honouring the child’s emotions, rather than trying to repress, suppress or otherwise distract from what is going on, inside them. As one participant said, allowing her kid to work on and release his emotions, now, was helping him not accumulate baggage to carry around with him, later – hahaha. Loved that one.

Hand in Hand’s approach, in a way, brings together many practices I have been gathering from many sources over the years (some way before being a parent). NinjaDad said theirs was like the SmartPhone of parenting philosophies. Old phones just made calls. New phones unite phone, camera, games console, video recorder, computer, etc… lots of things you love all in one place. Hand in Hand Parenting did that for me: it brought together lots of disparate ideas and practices and organised them neatly into one system AND added in some new components that made the whole run better. Perhaps it is apt that they are just down the road from Apple :)

A quick summary of their teaching (as I understand it) goes like this: set aside some ‘Special Time’ to connect through play with your child each day and build a strong bond with them – that is the ‘prevention side’ (and they have specific advice, tips and guidelines for doing that); if/when a strong emotion arises for your kid, don’t move to distract or otherwise suppress the emotion coming up. Let the feeling come and be expressed fully. Know that the tears, the raging, the trembling are just the way to ex-press (push out) the feeling that is trapped and welling inside them. The crying, the tantrum is not the ‘problem’ but your child’s way of solving the problem and letting the hurt and frustration out!

This is genius stuff and so different from what we are taught and see modelled in the world most of the time. And the most important thing is: it works!

Yes, it is hard to see your child cry and ‘do’ nothing but actually you are doing a lot. The advice we are given by Hand in Hand, when the child starts to tantrum, cry or rage, is to move in closer, touch them in some way that feels natural and comfortable to you both (i.e. don’t force it) and engage in eye contact (or at least provide opportunity for them to see the love you have for them pouring from your eyes, when/if they are ready to look at you) and stay with them as they feel it all out. You can literally say to them ‘I am staying with you, I am not going anywhere’ along with other short (non-intrusive) support statements like ‘I know you are feeling sad’ or ‘you are very mad that you can’t play with your trucks anymore because it is raining’ (or whatever). But mostly you just stay with them, holding the space for them to express anything that they feel.

If you go back to my initial examples from my life, you’ll know there are times I wish I could have done that for myself and times I am grateful others were there holding a non-judgemental space for me when I cried or just talked about how big my feelings were getting about whatever little thing sparked it that day.

And here is the thing, with this new approach to my child’s upsets came huge relief for me. You might think this is ‘harder’ than distracting and in a way, it is (as I said). It is deeper work. It involves pure, unconditional listening, empathy, caring and emotional availability. But in other ways, once I got past some of the objections in my mind (like: ‘isn’t this just like ‘cry it out re-packaged for more sensitive hippies?’ or ‘will all this crying damage my child?’ or even ‘will letting her tantrum openly this much make her spoilt and soft?’), once I got past those though, this felt lighter to me. This act of stepping toward rather than away from my child’s pain felt empowering to me, too, as a mother. Before, each time she cried I felt a stab of helplessness followed by a flurry of activity to try and stop that noise. Now, the invitation is to stay calm and centered as I invite her into my certainty that all is well, even as the tears, the feelings are flowing. And with this she can follow her own instinctive pull to express her feelings in the most natural ways that come to her, until all of them are spent.

And, as I said, the beautiful gift is that it works. Anya woke up from the nap she fell into, between tears, and despite my fear that she might be withdrawn, brooding or angry at me, her mood was happy, trusting, playful. And in general, since starting this work on a more systematic basis, she has been calmer, more at ease and more confident. Even her dad commented on it. I am new at this, but she really seems MUCH less anxious about separating from me, too, which is huge and I am (despite continuing to find my own individual path through this teaching) seeing more and more ways this is bringing us closer together and helping her release a back-log of fears, anxieties and upsets. Bless this system and others like it, for helping us parents find new ways to dance to rhythm of our own hearts.

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Sources of further information:

  1. The Right Use of Will – this is an… uh… unusual book I read a while back. But I have got to tell you it changed me and it introduced me to what I still think is the best method for identifying and releasing pent up feelings. If you can embrace the hippy in you, suspend your disbelief and read this with an open mind, it might really speak to you. It did to me.
  2. Hand in Hand Parenting – online courses (for those of you not based in the Bay Area)
  3. Hand in Hand Parenting Blog – full of fabulous real life stories of how connecting through ‘Special Time’ and deep listening (what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’) are benefitting the families using these powerful tools for whole-family-emotional-intelligence
  4. Aletha Solter and the Aware Parenting Institute – Aletha Solter is a world-renowned author and teacher in the area of effective, gentle parenting. Her website (linked her) has a wealth of articles and resources to help us learning parents
  5. Playful Parenting– information on Lawrence Cohen, PhD’s brilliant books and lecture series
  6. BabyCalmer – a facebook community of like-minded parents
  7. The Way of the Peaceful Parent – the facebook page of an inspiring gentle parenting instructor, full of wisdom and practical advice

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Do you do this for your child – practice what Patty Wipfler calls ‘StayListening’ or what, Aletha Solter calls ‘crying in arms’? How does it work for your family? Are you seeing the ‘results’ – a happier, more connected child that expresses their feelings easily, often, fully?

A compostable potty – why did nobody tell me about this?

So, did you know that you can buy a potty that is both made from eco-friendly materials and completely biodegradable? Nope, I didn’t either. But I stumbled across the Becopotty on Amazon (okay, hardly hidden, right?) and now I just don’t understand why more people aren’t buzzing about it.

It is made from rice husks and bamboo waste and is super-durable and yet, if you plant it in your garden it will immediately begin to decompose. Magic.

It is a little on the small size (even for my 22 mo kid who is ‘young’ by many people’s potty training standards) but it is fully functional and it has become our travel potty – the one I carry everywhere I go. I love that it is compact and one-piece which is much easier to deal with when we are out and about. I also like that it looks like a potty – it doesn’t have bells, sing a tune or have Disney characters plastered all over it. It is just a potty – which gets Penguin* used to the fact that potties are for peeing and pooping in. That is it. They are not toys and we expect nothing from them but relief :)

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Disclaimers? There are none! I don’t normally blog about products, at all. I don’t get any endorsements and I am sure BecoThings who make this potty have never heard of me. Translation: this is a completely independent review.

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* Ummm… yeah, still experimenting with online nicknames for my little one. Perhaps this one will stick?? Hahaha!

 

How I became the crazy Baby-Signs-woman (and how you could, too!)

When I was pregnant I heard about this quirky little thing called Baby Sign Language. Apparently – I was told – babies can learn how to use sign language before they can speak. Baby Sign Language is mostly advertised as being good to reduce toddler frustration (at not being able to tell you what they really, really want right now!). I googled it and found this super-cute (if a bit manic) video:

The whole thing sounded interesting and after all if monkeys can sign, I figured my little one could, too!… But watching the video I thought “This baby can do 30 signs! That is crazy. If I do it I’ll just teach my kid about 5 or 10 signs, the really important things she needs to communicate to me – sleep, toilet, food, water… that kind of thing. Surely the woman in the video is some kind of pushy-super-uber-mom with too much time on her hands. I’ll just keep it simple and help my kid express the key things that will keep her from wigging out.” Good plan. God laughed.

At 19 months my kid had over 200 signs. How the ‘eck did that happen?!

Gzzzzzzzzzzzz – rewind a bit, again.

This is how it went down. After hearing about it, still not entirely convinced, I got out the book Baby Signs by Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn (albeit in its first edition – which is kind of sweet in its dated-ness). The book got me and I got really, really into this idea of teaching my kid to sign. I have since realised that I have a keen interest in language and watching and supporting my kid acquire hers, in general… but I didn’t know that then, this was just the start of the journey.

Through my research, I discovered sign language has a few (inter-related) advantages and I liked them all:

  1. It helps your baby communicate with you – telling you what is important to them and what they want you to focus on, with them
  2. It helps you know what is going on for them, opening a (super-interesting) window on your child’s mind and helping you get even closer to them
  3. It reduces the frustration, for your child, of knowing what they want but not being able to tell you
  4. It acts as a bridge to language, priming their brain to learn the to-and-fro of communication more easily and earlier
  5. It improves cognitive function and IQ – and research indicates the results are lasting
  6. It is good fun [honestly that is probably the main reason we went so far with it: because I was loving it, too]
  7. It is a great language to share as a family. You and your partner can have fun signing across a crowded room or over your kid’s head when they are not looking :p  And older siblings often love showing signs to their new little sibs :)

This book taught me many of my first signs. At this stage, though, I became convinced it would really help if both parents were on board, so I thought the easiest and most fun way to involve NinjaDad would be to go to a class – so he/we could learn in a social setting. As luck would have it, a friend decided to host a class at her house – so we joined that one. The instructor would come in and teach us, on a weekend – perfect! And so it was that NinjaDad started to get really excited by it, too.

We taught our kid her first sign when she was six months old. That sign was food and I repeated it every time she had a meal. She signed her first word when she was nine months old. That means there was a three month gap in which I was signing frantically to her and I was getting nothing back. I almost gave up. Her first sign was ‘fan’ – as in ceiling fan. Her next two signs were ‘duck’ and ‘light’. She didn’t sign ‘food’ until she was over a year old (and had well over 50 signs under her belt). That taught me my first lesson: she is going to be most enthusiastic and motivated to sign about the things that she finds interesting not about the things I think are important. Hahahah! I guess I should be flattered, as a mom, that she never felt she had an urgent need to ask for food…
Then we just kept going. I was forever wondering when we’d stop. Oh, I’ll only teach her 50 or so. But then we’d get to 50 and her thirst for knowing more and more would egg me on. She would point at things and look at me expectantly. So I bought a book, initially a simple ASL visual dictionary, so I could look up the signs she wanted to learn from me. Eventually that book stopped fulfilling all our needs (as it was not geared to kids, I guess) and I caughtened on to the fact that the easiest way to look up signs is online. And we were off. Her signed vocab kept growing and growing. And, alongside, her first words were coming in, too.
Then, at around 18 months there was a shift, and her interest in spoken words became much more acute than her interest in signs. At 19 months, as I said, she had just over 200 signs and coincidentally she had 200 spoken words, too (yes I kept lists). And that is where it stopped. She just started acquiring so many new spoken words and at such a speed that she seemed to have no need for signs any more. She was off.
And here is that other thing they say about signers: they sometimes use spoken words a little later, but they catch up quickly and often overtake the ‘average’ non-signing kid. Signing kids tend to have an aptitude for language, acquiring new words and moving on to complex sentences earlier than otherwise expected.
Honestly it is hard to tell for me. Most of my AP friends’ babies have stupidly large vocabs for their ages. And, of course, Anya (giving up on nicknames!!) is billingual, too, so goodness knows what that does to all this but I can say (with frank admiration) that at 21 months she speaks in five and six word sentences, with aplomb.
Yes, some of it is ‘nature’. Some kids are more interested in language than others, of course. But I am also convinced (and studies show) that there is more to it, too. There are things that help your kid develop language (and subsequently boost their IQ), such as:
  • speaking with them, describing the world and what you are doing, ‘narrating’ your day
  • developing ‘shared focus’ – speaking about what they are  looking at or interacting with in that moment, following their natural interest
  • getting down at eye level and letting them read your lips, literally (giving them valuable information about how to form their mouths around the words)
  • reading books, singing songs together, having fun with language and sounds
  • being supportive, positive and responsive when children attempt to communicate, in any form

and

  • teaching kids sign-language
So, if your baby is between say 4 and 14 months old and you want to teach them sign language, here are some tips for starting:
  1. get a book on baby sign language (from the library?) to get you into it and/or
  2. go online and read more about the history and benefits of it
  3. go to a local Baby Signs or baby ASL class or
  4. just jump right in: go straight to a sign language site and learn a few signs to teach your baby and then follow their lead on which to learn next
  5. involve your partner and other family members
  6. be consistent – keep repeating the sign every time the object or action appears in your shared field of view
  7. make sure you sign about what they are interested in or looking at at the time (try not to direct them to look at things, so much – it is more effective to ‘sports-cast’ the world from their eye’s view than to try to get them to look at what we think they should/would be interested in, all the time)
  8. be patient – depending on your kid’s age and how consistent you are with it, it could take many months before they produce their first sign back to you. The younger the child, the longer it takes
  9. check-out the Baby Sign books for kids for another cute way to show your kid some signs – and let them think they can ‘read’
  10. have fun with it, include lots of silly, playful signs. Does your child play with your kitty a lot? Learn the sign for cat. Does your kid love balloons? That is a super-sweet sign.

And remember ASL is a real language (sorry if that is too obvious to bear!) which means that your kid will be (at least) billingual if you teach them ASL. If you keep it up with them, which some families chose to do, it opens a world of opportunity up to them: ASL can be taken for credit in College, it can lead to a career or vocation in interpreting or teaching sign language (for the kids or the hearing impaired) and, perhaps most importantly, it can help communicate with a group of people, a community which otherwise can be so separate from this hearing community of ours. This could even be a small step in bringing these two worlds closer. But let’s keep it basic for now. After all, I am the ‘crazy baby signs woman’, my kid knows 200 signs which means I know considerably more than that and I still can’t really communicate with a true signer. I can’t keep up. But this is a step, a fun step in the right direction and a great leap for your kid’s language skills. Do it. I promise you’ll (eventually) have lots of fun with it!

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Did you teach your kid(s) signing? How was it for you? Did they take to it? Did you find you became the crazy-sign-language-parent, too?

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P.S. this post is littered with links – check ’em out for more tips, research and resources.

Could there be a bright side to childhood illnesses?

Soap bubbles

Image via Wikipedia

Nobody likes to be sick. Most mums hate their kid being sick even more! It can be so scary to see our little ones looking so vulnerable, even minor symptoms can get turned into major meltdowns in our minds…

Yet I come from a natural health background. I have a slightly different take on disease than many other people I know, so much so that I see many illnesses as good and helpful (even as my mind, too, can go into overdrive – I need to work to keep it in check, sometimes). And amidst it all, I always remember that Rudolf Steiner believed that childhood illnesses – if completely expressed (not repressed) – actually have a cleansing effect on the body which in turn liberates the mind. What he observed was that following a bout of illness, especially one which includes a fever, a child often experiences a developmental leap.

Now, the theory that illnesses can actually be good for us – that they are an outward sign of the body’s activation of an ’emergency cleaning protocol’, when the congestion/pollution get to overwhelming levels – is not exclusive to Steiner by any means. All naturopaths and homeopaths hold some version of this vision of health and disease. This school of thought holds that the body is always acting in our highest interest and doing its utmost to return to balance using the means it has at its disposal (including excretion through skin, lungs or colon and through fever). In this way of looking at health, it is our responsibility as stewards of our own bodies to nourish, trust and support our body in its every effort to keep us healthy – including through acute illnesses, such as those commonly experienced in childhood like measles, chickenpox and the like. Steiner’s take is interesting because he adds this childhood-developmental-leap twist. Could it be that diseases, when ex-pressed fully (that is, when all the morbidity, toxicity and waste of the body are expelled through the skin as rashes, through the bowels, through mucous, etc. with none of the symptoms being suppressed) are helping to keep not only the body but also the mind tip-top, ‘clean’ and functioning to its highest potential?

Let’s be careful here, I am not saying ‘don’t treat illness’ or anything of the sort but we can treat it in different ways. If we chose to approach imbalance by supporting the body to mobilise its defenses and handle it itself, the body responds in a different way. You can, for example, chose to build the body’s defenses, help clear elimination pathways and eat only simple, natural foods and herbs that help the healing process – as opposed to just suppressing (admitedly scary) symptoms without concern for the impact on the rest of the body in the short and long term. What I realise is that when you help the body do its work it, in turn, repays you…

The question is, now that you have heard this about illness and fevers clearing the way for developmental leaps, will you see it? I heard this theory of Steiner’s years ago and have been looking out to see if it did or did not hold true with the children I know. So far, I have got to say, I so often see a child bounding back from an illness (one that has been completely resolved, that is) with renewed energy and even with mastery over new skills – as if they had just had a month’s rest followed by a breakthrough :)  With an open mind, I ask: could it be?

And now I have the chance to witness it it with my own child. This week we have all been sick. I got the stomach bug first, followed by Nica, then NinjaDad. We all got different manifestations of it. It was not fun. But yesterday, as the fever passed, along with the other symptoms, Nica was talking up a storm, with crazy-long sentences, and even her imaginative play seemed to kick-up to a whole new level with a visit to the ‘store’ followed by a ‘picnic’ in our living room. My curiosity remains peeked. What about yours?

What has been your experience? All fear aside, once the disease (the emotional bit for us mums) is resolved naturally, without use of antibiotics or other suppressive medicines, did you see a cognitive or developmental leap occur with your child? This is purely anecdotal, of course, but stay tuned and come share your experiences…

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Disclaimer: the above represents my personal views and should not replace the advice of a qualified medical practioner. If your child is or becomes ill please take care and consult with their pediatrician, immediately. 

Take Good Care of Your Body – Louise L. Hay – Heal Your Life.

How we (playfully) put an end to nipple biting

Ouch! My daughter recently started biting me at the end of a feed. It wasn’t very aggressive, as such, it was more one of those ‘I am bored and there is no more milk and I want to get a reaction out of you’ kind of bites. She would come off the breast, bite me and then when I said ‘ow’ she would smile like it was the cutest, cleverest thing she ever did – which as you may imagine didn’t endear me to her, in that moment. I am usually very patient (it is one of my rare virtues) but this was pushing my commitment to gentle parenting.

I didn’t want to fight her on this – I knew that. I mean, sometime back, when she went through a little biting phase (which retrospectively I realised was actually due to a funky latch caused by teething) I tried a more conventional ‘no biting – we treat mama’s breasts with love, respect and gratitude’ along with taking her off the breast. She did stop, but the feeling was always more adversarial than co-operative. Surely all my new-found knowledge about parenting through connection could help me find a better, more resonant way.

So, I got to thinking about her needs. What she clearly wanted here was to engage me and get a reaction out of me. So, I started wondering how we could both get what we needed. I remembered this game from Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting

The original game is about dealing with ‘naughty’ words. It is very simple. If a kid says a potty word, for example, trying to get a reaction out of you, you simply respond by saying, in a clearly lighthearted way: “you can say ‘sh*t’ as much as you like as long as you don’t say…” and insert a funny-sounding, long word like ‘schmoopotilupo’. Invariably what happens is that they will immediately say this new, forbidden word. Then you give them a huge reaction. “Oh, no, now you are going to get it” and run after them and tickle them, for example, or maybe pile onto them in a mock wrestling move or whatever works for you. Everybody wins. They get to play with being wayward and they get the reaction, connection and attention they clearly needed at that moment. You get to have fun AND ensure your kid is keeping their language clean. It really works. Try it!

Well, I thought, since the scenario was kind of similar (the need was to get a rise out of me) I could try something similar to help with the biting. If she bit me and looked up at me with mischievous eyes, I said: “you can bite there as much as you like as long as you don’t touch my belly button”. Like clockwork she puts her finger right in my bellybutton and I give her the biggest, loudest, silliest reaction ever. I yelp and giggle, tickle her and pat her bum, all while being really noisy and over the top.

Now it is effortless, if Nica wants to engage me and get a big energetic burst of a reaction out of me, she just pushes my belly button. I call it the ‘Push Here for a Reaction’ game. And it is great, we transformed what was an angsty situation into a playful game. She still gets a rise out of me but now it is a wholly fun and positive reaction whereas before it was anger-fuelled. Plus she has a new and very easy way of signalling when she is feeling disconnected from me without having to act-up. She gets to be the initiator and can choose a positive interaction over a… less positive one. And the biting has stopped.

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Have you tried similar playful ways to tackle situations you were previously being reactive to? I’d love to hear some of the playful parenting successes from your life? Or if you go away and try a version of these two games the ‘forbidden words’ or ‘push here for a reaction’, do come back and let us know how they work for you. Cheers,

Gauri