Understanding babies’ Buddha nature as a key to conscious parenting

Image by Jean-François Chénier via Flickr

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Babies are little Buddhas. This is my thesis, based on observing my (now two year-old) little girl and many of her friends. Let’s examine the evidence:

  1. Toddlers live in the Now. When they say they want something they mean right now, not in a bit, not tomorrow. They are talking from their feelings in the moment. Conversely, when they say they don’t want something, often (especially when it is something they otherwise love) they mean ‘not right now – ask me again in two minutes!’

  2. Kids this age are present, Here. They can, increasingly hold little conversations including about things that happened in the past and they can remember people and places that are out of sight; their sense of imagination, too, is a wonder and still, somehow they bring it all with them into the Present. They are incredibly alert to what is happening here and they are mesmerised by the unfolding of life before them: an ant on the side-walk, a cloud in the sky, a cigarette butt in a bin – it is all fascinating and so real and earthy.

  3. They are very much in the body. Though their minds are developing at a galloping pace, they are not ‘mini-adults’. The use of complex (or even simple) logic is not their prefered modus operandi for getting to know the world – even if they stand still and appear to listen and take-in a whole long lecture. Yes, they can understand a lot but learning through the body, through movement and play is what they are primed for and is still the most appropriate for this age group, in my view. Indeed, Rudolf Steiner, renowned educator, writer and philosopher, maintained that until around the age of seven, children mostly learn through imitation of the actions and rhythms they see around them. It is how they learn best and it keeps them from becoming too grown up, too intellectual and rational, too soon. Most of us want to nurture rounded individuals, people who can think, yes, but who can also imagine, feel, do… this is the age to practice and focus on creativity, imagination and play. Now is the best window of opportunity to foster great vision, creativity and even (arguably) the start of emotional and social intelligence. Yes, children are in the body and we gain a lot by remembering this and communicating with them with this in mind.

  4. Young children are in tune with their emotions and express them fully. I used to believe that enlightened people did not feel emotions. That they had somehow risen above them and lived with a permanent smile on their face, in an unbroken state of bliss. I have now had the good fortune of meeting several living enlightened masters (and even briefly living close to one) and I observe that they do, very much, have feelings. What is ‘different’ (if anything at all) is that they don’t judge their feelings or stop themselves from expressing them, they don’t get stuck in them, or act upon them, blindly, either. The feeling comes like a wave, it does its crazy-wavey thing and then it passes. The sea carries on, in deep peace, despite the waves. It does not say ‘that wave is too big, too frothy, too violent’… The Self (or deep sea) remains still, unaffected by the waves, no matter how dramatic it got on the surface. So it is with the self-realised individual (one who knows their true Self), feelings – like thoughts – arise and pass, leaving little mark on the person (like writing on water). Most are expressed in the moment, without judgement. If the feeling carries a call to action one which the Heart supports, the action is taken, without drama. The inner-guru or true Self witnesses it all, almost from afar, untouched. I am not saying young toddlers are actually ‘enlightend’ in the sense of realising the true nature of their Selves, mind you… but much of their behaviour points to a simpler, more natural way of being, much less tainted by thought, ego and judgement than most adults. Maybe we have something to learn from kids who are able to say ‘I hate you!’ in one second and come hug you shortly after, when that momentary (and very truthful) feeling has been completely expressed and released. Adults often lose touch with their feelings completely. They either repress them so deeply they forget they have any, and live a kind of cold, sterile, intellectual existence where they neither allow themselves to feel great fear or anger nor to enjoy deep happiness or love… or they act from a kind of reservoir of stored feelings almost continuously, out of compulsion, so that their feelings get the better of them and they end up doing all kinds of things they regret (where as the repressed ones probably regret more what they haven’t done). So, many of us carry around all these feelings that are either not fully expressed or not fully released (meaning that even if we expressed them – often loudly – we have still not ‘let them go’, we have not forgiven, learnt and moved on, leaving the feelings behind). It takes courage to express our feelings. It also takes great courage to forgive and move away from anger or other familiar, ‘safe’ feelings. So, in the end most of us are guided by poorly processed emotions and (unconscious) fears, resentments, guilt, etc. But kids don’t have this baggage, yet – which means we have an opportunity to help them not accumulate any!

  5. Children are love. In fact, I would argue we all are. At our root, mystics have long said (and quantum physics now confirms), we are pure energy. We are being of light and love. We may deviate. We may forget our light or have it, temporariy, obscured but we feel best, achieve the most, influence and touch the most lives when we live from our highest state, our highest place of love. Children, too, may act naughtily… but if we see into their core and remember to speak to the highest in them, they will respond (eventually).

  6. Young children live in a non-attached state, by and large. Okay, this could get confusing. I am not talking here of the child forming a ‘secure attachment’ to their primary carer(s) which psychologists like Bowlby have shown are so important for the health and mental wellbeing of all children (and later adults), of  this bond us ‘Attachment Parents’ work so hard to create and maintain with our kids. Here, I am using the term attachment in the Buddhist sense of the word. [I should share that I am not a Buddhist… but the vocab of Buddhism is very common in our society and many if not all of you will know what I mean when I use these words.] So, in this case I am saying that little children are, by and large, free from attachment to outcome. They do what they do not because they are trying to achieve something by this but because it is what they want to do, right now, it feels good to them – and then they watch and see what happens. Very Zen, actually.

  7. Toddlers see what is. This is the pinacle of many spiritual paths. The aim of most Eastern and modern New Age spiritual paths is to simply ‘see what is’ clearly, in the now, without judgement or condemnation, without hiding or fighting what is arising in our outer reality or in our inner experience. To be at peace with what is, to accept it efforlessly and to let it go when it passes; to act when the urge to act presents itself without attachment to outcome or second-guessing the deed is to flow naturally with life, open to what God gives you (to mix my religions a tad!). And I see whisps of this approach to life in toddlers. If a dog has three legs it has three legs. If we are poor and live in a slum, it is just the way things are, it does not get judged, questioned or measured against others, it just is what it is (at this age, at least).


Yes, to me the evidence is clear, toddlers are naturally more in tune with their ‘Buddha nature’ (contained in each living human being) than the rest of us are.

Now, how does this knowledge help us as parents? Let us consider each of these points again from the perspective of learning how best to respond to their needs, feelings and behaviours, as part of our investment  in learning the art of effective ‘gentle discipline’:

  1. Toddlers live in the Now: we should bare this in mind when talking to them. The example I gave above is classic, if they say they want something, like a snack, remember they mean now and (even if you cannot provide the exact one they requested) see if you can meet the underlying need (in this case, hunger) now rather than asking them to hold on until, say, you have been to the supermarket. They are not developed enough to be able to ‘delay gratification’ yet, on the one hand and, on the other hand, if they are upset they are no longer cognitively able to understand logical explanations of why they should hang on a little bit longer – when their feelings take over command of their brain they hoist out the logical brain. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t introduce the idea of ‘waiting’ and talk to them about how much better a snack they could have at the supermarket, or whatever… I just wouldn’t expect a very high return on that, at this age. Go easy on them. Conversely, if you ask a two-year old if they want to do something and they say ‘no’… wait a few minutes (until they have finished what they were so intently focussed on) and ask again. You might find that that ‘no’ actually meant ‘not now!’ In fact, make it a practice to mentally always add the word ‘now’ on the end of each of their sentences: ‘I hate you’ (right, now); ‘I want an apple’ (right now); ‘I need a hug’ (right now)!

  2. Kids this age are present, Here: step into the moment with them. One of the best tools in your gentle/positive parenting kit is ‘play time’ and one of the most important attitudes is to think of ‘discipline’ as something that happens by prevention or, as we say, ‘through connection’. If you can keep the connection between you and your child(ren) strong, real, light and fun you will really help prevent many issues from even arising. Whenever they can feel the love (inside them) they are also more likely to want to listen and co-operate with you. In fact, that stands to reason, we are all more likely to co-operate when we feel in tune with someone (rather than when we are at loggerheads and just want to resist and drag our feet), right? Kids are no different… So, how do we create connection? There are many ways and people have literally written books about this but the first step is always to become present and see what is here, now. Slow down. We connect by seeing our children, by really getting down to their level and seeing them, engaging in affectionate eye-contact and/or just watching them and noticing what brings them joy, what is holding their attention in that moment. And then, when invited, step into their world and speak their language: play. Plus, come back into the present and synch into where we are right now, we’ll be able to meet our children in this space, giving ourselves an extra beat, an extra breath to find the peace in which a creative, joyful solution can emerge for us, if one is needed. Let this be the basis of your discipline approach: connection and play. And let the ‘corrections’ be gentle, effective, playful… and as seldom as possible while maintaining a respectful, lighthearted, connected relationship.

  3. They are very much in the body: As I mentioned, Steiner holds that children are in the realm of doing and experiencing until they reach age seven. This is very important in terms of discipline (from the Greek ‘to teach’) because it means that while kids can respond to verbal commands, they do better and are much more able to respond to suggestions that are physical in nature. What I mean by this is that they are more likely to clean up a room if they see you cleaning up and they join in – by immitation. Or, if instead of screaming from across the room to not play with a particular object, parents get up and move to the child and physically (gently and with consent or at least fair warning) remove the object from the child – rather than expecting them to understand and obey a verbal command at this age and then punishing them if they do not comply. I am not saying they can’t understand. I am just saying the way their brain is wired at this age, they do much better with being shown by example (on their own or somebody else’s body) than being told. The same goes if they are, for example, hitting other children – stop them physically from doing it (don’t just tell them it is wrong and get upset if they don’t immediately stop and listen to you – they are in the middle of doing and it takes some doing on your part to change that). Modelling also works well on another front: if you want them to be calm, emotionally still and centered, the best way to begin to bring about this change is for you to slow down, get down to their level, look into their eyes and engage with them, even as you calm and center yourself. Children are sponges absorbing the energies, moods and tensions of the environment around them, if you want a calm child make sure their environment is simple and calming in its nature (turn off the stereo or TV or put on calming music) and see if you can surround them with people who are serene – at least in that moment, in which you need to help them re- find their center.

  4. Young children are in tune with their emotions: given an opportunity they will express and discard them, right there and then, in the moment and return to balance. They are not, like many adults, ruled by suppressed emotions they don’t even realise are there or that they dare not express… most kids before the age of three are still very open and expressive of their feelings. Our job, again, is just to get out of the way of them doing what comes naturally to them and ex-pressing their feelings as and when they arise. The worse we can do as parents, in my opinion, is to start to give them the message that some feelings are better than others or that some emotions are plain wrong – like anger/raging for girls or sadness/crying for boys. Then the (life-long) work of suppression begins! We inadvertently give them these messages when we try and distract them from or stop the natural flow of emotional expression. Some parents do this very openly using shame or blame (“stop that crying”; “get over it”; “suck it up”; “control yourself”; etc). Others do it subtly, even lovingly, filled with good intentions (“oh, you are sad, here have a cracker” or “there, there, don’t cry”. I have written about this recently and I am still very much a beginner at this ’emotional freedom’ approach for kids but I got to tell you it makes sense to me. Our job is to enable our children to continue to sense, accept and release their feelings, as easily as they do now. We can give them the vocabulary to openly discuss with others what is going on; we can provide a safe environment for them to ‘feel the feelings out’ and we can continue to model and message the fact that all feelings are ‘normal’, acceptable, natural – and that we are responsible for how we act upon these feelings… but what we don’t need to do is teach them how to feel or express themselves. There may be times when we help them channel those feelings more appropriately (“show me how mad you are by hitting this drum” or “show me how you felt when your sister said that, in a drawing”) but otherwise, our job is to step out of the way and let them do what they do so well: express themselves till their heart’s content.

  5. Children are love. In some ways, this is the most important of all of these points: children are love. If you started your journey to conscious, gentle parenting with only one ‘new’ belief and this was the one, I believe you would not go far wrong. For many it is not enough to know that children are love, they want to know how to put it into practice and so positive discipline books are written which get into they ‘how to’s… but if you start only with this, in your Heart to hold always that ALL children are love; if you respect them as a whole individual, an equal (if smaller) human being, with rights; if you can see past the behaviours, the words, the feelings and needs of the little one – important as those all are – and you can see the eternal in them, you will automatically raise your own energy in remembering too, who you are. And acting from that space, you will be talking Heart to Heart, pure consciousness to pure consciousness, unfettered (for a moment at least) by the bodies and the human entanglements you may have gotten into. Let the light in you recognise and speak to the light in them.

  6. Young children live in a non-attached state. They do not always understand consequences. They are experimenting to see ‘what happens when I do this?!’ Sure kids can be filled with guile and ‘intention’ and still so much of what they do is guided by this wanting (in the Now) to experiment with what is. They throw to find out what sound a thing makes, which way it will fall, how somebody will react if they are hit, how much they can get away with… They don’t do it ‘to annoy you’, as such, the intention is not hurt and they don’t yet have the capacity for empathy or to think in the third person (knowing that person feels something different from what I do) – until at least three. Sure, you can and should talk to them about all these themes but it is not helpful to expect them to get stuff they are just not equipped to fully understand, yet. So, don’t blame them or assign negative intent if they are just experimenting with gravity, for example. Try and put yourself in their shoes and think what they are trying to learn when they do this and see if you can re-direct them to more appropriate ways of doing that – ‘you can throw this soft ball, instead’ or ‘you can bang and make all the noise you want with this spoon on this pan’ or even’ you can hit my hand as hard as you like but you may not hit my head’ – hahah. Stay loose, have fun, find alternatives but try not to judge or to take it personally. At this age (pre-three) it really isn’t.

  7. Toddlers see what is. Kids are able to approach new situations without judgement, truly open-minded because these situations are geneuinely new to them and they have not yet accumulated the load of positive and negative associations which most of us carry. In the same way that they can be awe struck by a line of ants filing past a log they can be intrigued by a pile of rubbish or a dead seagull. It is all neutral to them. Stepping away from a ‘praise culture’ allows us to not impose our value judgements on our kids. We learn to refrain from saying ‘that is a good drawing’ or ‘you look pretty, today’ and instead asking kids what they think of their drawing or of how they look. This builds self-reference and trust in their own judgements… but I don’t think it is only in praising that we are heaping our views and judgements of the world on our children. All the time whether it is the taste of spinach or the view from a helicopter we can refrain from telling our kids how they should feel about something. ‘Yummy spinach!’ will just sound hollow to them if they are thinking it stinks… and thus erode some of their trust in your over-enthusiastic descriptions of the food on their plate. Why not take a moment to find out, instead, what they actually feel about this new food? If they don’t like it, you telling them how great it is when that is clearly dissonant to their own experience will not help them like it. Sure, watch yourself, don’t project negativity about stuff either, they may become reluctant to try something daddy doesn’t like… but no need to go too far the other way and try and brain-wash them into liking it, either. It won’t work. So, here, I see our job not to teach them what to like or not like, but instead to guide them to learn to identify and express their own feelings about what they encounter in the world. We want them to be clear about their own preferences and aversions (rather than being led by others or to need others’ approval). We want to help them to enter each situation anew, afresh, much as they do now – and be able to turn inwards for their own instant, spontaneous assessment of what is and what action if any needs to be taken. They should not be (consciously or unconsciously) worried about what we or others think of them or their actions. They should also, ideally, not be encumbered by past thoughts and judgements about similar people, objects or situations. We want them, I believe, to have awareness of the judgements that come up, which they have either inherited from others or remembered from isolated incidents are are now generalising. We want them to see these and know they are not truth, they are ‘prejudice’ – and to know to look beyond these, to what is there in front of them, now.  Yes, children see what is and that is a blessing. The trick, the question is whether we can help them remain as non-judgemental as possible as they grow. If we can prevent ourselves from passing down all our judgements (not just the obvious ones like around race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc) but many of the other judgements little and small so that they can make up their own mind… Toddlers see what is, without judgement. We can learn from them.

Toddlers are not actually self-realised, I get that. It is not my observation that my little one knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is pure spirit (in physical form), that she is not the body, she is not the personality or the mind, she is not the feelings or the memories, not even her name or the labels others or she herself puts on her. She does not abide in the unshaken realisation of who she is. She is on the human plane on a ‘journey’ to discover who she really is, like the rest of us… but who knows if supporting kids to hold onto some of the above characteristics will help remind them of their true Buddha nature?

In practical terms, you can focus on the negatives and tell me how ‘terrible’ toddlers can be or you can slow down, tune in and find all the ways in which they are so in synch with life, feelings and the ‘here and now’ that perhaps it is us who need to learn (be ‘disciplined’?) by them.

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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!


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?”

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 :)

— — —

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.

— — —

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

 

Potty learning outtakes: five funniest moments

Happy Poo

Image by Wen Rou via Flickr

We are in week four of our bare-bottom potty learning project. It has had its ups and downs. There have been many unexpected blessings that came from it (more of those on a separate, future post) and there have been a bunch of near misses, good tries and flat out fails – some of which I just had to share.

So here is the countdown of our funniest potty learning mishaps:

5. The first time she accidentally peed on the ‘big girl potty’ (i.e. the toilet) when she was just sitting there for fun, weeks before officially starting ‘potty training’, she heard the sound of it tinkling and looked so startled, her face was a treat!

4. The time she pooed on my friend’s patio. What great guests we make, right? Hey at least it wasn’t indoors… on their priceless persian rug!

3. The time she peed in my shoes. The time she peed in my mom’s shoes.

2. The time she felt the urge, walked over to her potty and did a poo on it – with its lid still closed (that was on day one – we counted it as a ‘win’ that she knew where she needed to go – the rest are details).

1. The time she opened the trap door to her airplane-push-car and peed inside it.

So, there you is, folks. I hope that doesn’t put you off early/bare-bottom potty training… Overall, I really like this approach and find it is working well for us. I hope instead that, like us, it helps you loosen up, take it in your stride and find the funny side (‘cos that is what gets you through).

Do you have any funny anecdotes from your family (that are not too gross or embarrassing to share)? Please share. Who doesn’t like a good bit of potty humour?

Yes, I defend my child’s right to say ‘no’

If  I only had one word, if I was laid up in bed or something, couldn’t talk, couldn’t sign and for some reason my brain could only put together one word and if I could chose that word, now, I would chose the word ‘No’. It is a very powerful word. If I were (God forbid) unable to communicate or move I am expecting other people would be making a lot of choices for me. They would probably be doing things unto me, over me, around me… making decisions that I wouldn’t make for myself. The word ‘no’ might be the only word I need. Whenever they are doing things that I can live with, things that are loving and aligned with who I am and what I want, I could comfortably continue saying nothing and letting them do what they do. But if a line were crossed into something I really didn’t want to have done to me, then I could use my word to confidently assert that !

If I had just one other expression, I would chose ‘Thank you’ so I could express gratitude for all the work and care these grace-filled helpers were putting into maintaining my wellbeing.

Now I wonder if being a toddler is not a little like this. So much happening to them, decisions being made for them, they are physically picked up and moved and taken (sometimes expressly against their will) to places they don’t want to go before they were ready to leave. No wonder one of their first words is ‘NO’!! No wonder it is my child and so many children’s favourite word. That word is power.

I have said already my kid is not even 18 months old yet, but what I see in her is that word is freedom. It puts her for a second on an equal pegging – ‘I get a say, too. I am not just something to be moved and plopped somewhere else. I am a person and I deserve respect and choice!’ and most often when she uses the power of this word it is not to tell me ‘no, never’ it usually just means ‘not just yet, mom’ or ‘let me think about it for a moment while I finish what I am doing, mom’ but she is not quite articulate enough to say all that yet, so I fill in the words for her by looking in her eyes, feeling into her energy as it shifts through the day, as we do our dance.

Every ‘no’ I hear, I try to listen into it. Honestly sometimes I laugh. It is still fresh enough that it is cute. In fact my daughter doesn’t actually say ‘no’ yet, she signs it. I modified the sign from ASL to be easier for her, I gave her a proper, cool finger waggle and I love when she gets that finger out. ‘No, mommy’ (waggle, waggle). ‘I don’t want to put my PJs on yet. Thank you.’ And I remember, I probably wouldn’t want to be told what to do, when to do it and how to do it all the time, either. I might still have a lot to learn about this (the ‘terrible twos’ lay still ahead of me laughing… or is that screaming and banging their fists on the floor at me?!) but for now, I let her have some ‘nos’. I let her have as many as possible.

 

Ekhart Tolle wrote a children’s book?

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

Image by Tim Pierce

Did you know Ekhart Tolle had written (co-written, to be exact) a children’s book? I stumbled across it today at the bookstore. I read it cover to cover (well, it is a children’s book!). I didn’t buy it. First because it is really for kids who are much older than Anya, so I can always come back for it later if I feel the urge. Secondly, though I loved the message I did not particularly like how it was presented. The story is not very well written – it does not flow or have poetry at its core as so many good children’s books do (and I don’t just mean the rhyming kind). The story line itself – about a kid who gets bullied and is scared to go to school for fear of being picked on again – is kind of weak and flies off on odd-fitting tangents about cats getting mauled by nasty neighbourhood dogs (a parallel which allows Milton, the protagonist to compare how easily the cat bounces back because it lives in the Now) and a dream sequence about feeling the inner light, the energy flow in the body. As I say, I really like the message: don’t get drawn into suffering because of what happened in your past or what you fear will happen in the future, stay in the ‘Now’ by paying attention to what is here in the present and connecting with the feeling in your body. That is all stuff I want Anya to learn, of course. But above all I hope to show her, to model how to do that (yep, still working on it – but surely that is the best way to impart this stuff). Plus the ridiculous thing is that, at this age (16 months) Anya pretty much does live in the Now, naturally. The last thing I want to do is create a problem when there is none. If there comes a time where she is struggling with this kind of stuff (mind stuff) then I hope to remember this book. In the meantime, in the Now, this is not a book we need in our library just yet… although I will say I did feel warm and glowy reading it and though this book wasn’t perfect (I wasn’t even a fan of the art, to be honest) I am soooo glad people are writing books with spiritual messages for children. That makes my heart smile.

The book is called “Milton’s Secret: An Adventure of Discovery through Then, When, and the Power of Now”. For Amazon’s reviews, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Miltons-Secret-Adventure-Discovery-through/dp/1571745777/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1303703079&sr=1-1