Toilet Learning

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

This week’s RIE Win has been percolating for a couple of weeks within me, but it all came together with not one, but two, stories about potty learning (yes, I call it potty learning)!

I completely understand parents’ worries around toilet learning…when I got my first opportunity to be a Lead Teacher, it was for a group of 24 toddlers who were 2 turning 3. I’m not going to lie…I almost turned the job down because I was so afraid of toilet learning! How could I teach that?! The good news is, as Janet Lansbury says…you don’t have to. Children WANT to be part of our world, and part of that world is using the toilet! It happens.

But I also get that it feels very intimidating, so you need some guidance! There are a ton of books out there, some better than others, but you need to know two things before you start: are you ready? And is your child? A super helpful place to start is with this short piece by Janet Lansbury. Or this one. Need more? Do you know Dr. Becky? She offers a video series with a handbook (you can just get the handbook: it’s pretty awesome). There is a book that’s making the rounds these days (at least in my circle of parents)…it’s one that I’ve been told one either loves or hates. And, yeah…I kind of hate it. I hate (ha) to say that because it does have some gems in it (hello…why don’t we say that we PUSH down our pants?! And yes, yes, YES, to easy on and off pants when children are first learning). The book was also super matter-of-fact in reminding parents that learning is a process that takes time, and parental mindset is vital. But I don’t really think the author and I share a vision of who children are. She talked about “revenge pee” and has a chapter on ‘behavior’…which, as you know…I view behavior as a symptom of a problem, not a problem. All that said, if you read this book and are on this mailing list, I trust that you are pulling out the valuable bits and ditching her advice on consequences!

On to our wins! Let’s start with the story of a parent who has assessed her daughter (DN in this story) for signs of emotional, physical, and cognitive readiness and was preparing to start soon…

I’m going to take diapers off completely tomorrow, but I put the potty out a couple days ago and I said, there’s a little potty for you! You can go pee pee and poo poo in it. If you want to try, I can help you, just let me know. And right away she wanted to sit on it and try.

Today, I did the Dr Becky modeling the thoughts/process method and I said, “I think I have to go pee pee. Let me see. You know what? I’m just gonna sit on the potty and see what happens.” I waited a second and said “wait, do I have to go? I’m not sure. Hmmm. Let me just sit here for a minute and see.” And then I peed and said “I did have to go pee pee. I knew I had that feeling. Oh, that feels much better!” And then my daughter said “DN potty! Pants off! Diaper off!”

So I helped her take them off and she sat. She said “pee pee potty.” But nothing came out. So after a bit, I said, “it’s ok, you can try again later if you want, and I can help you.”  She got up and I said “let’s go put your diaper back on.” She said, “DN pee pee again!” And sat on the potty. She peed! I didn’t even realize she peed, but she looked up at me and said “good job” 

Then I let her dump it into the big potty and flush and say “bye bye pee pee.” She was SO proud. She said “I did it!” And now she wants to keep doing it. She was so excited she said “again! Again potty!”

I said to her, “you can sit on the potty whenever you want, but you’ll have to wait for some more pee pee to be ready, because you just did it.”

Feeling really good about tomorrow and just amazed by my child right now. This is so cool. She’s so proud!

I put her diaper back on after that and I said “I’m going to put your diaper back on because you’re still learning. But tomorrow we will leave the diaper off so it’s easier to practice.”

I love this story because it walks you through some modeling and slowing down, and allowing for practice…and I love it because this little girl was her own cheerleader! Her MOM didn’t say “good job” SHE did! Nothing more RIE than that! I can’t wait to hear how their journey goes.

The other story I want to share with you is short and so so sweet. She sent me this on their 2nd or 3rd day of learning:

Today was TOUGH. I was alone all day. …[but] We snuggled a lot today. So much. And it was so sweet. And I cried a couple of times just from being moved. Just how wonderful to have this uninterrupted time with her. It’s been so long since I just totally focused on her. Was WITH her fully. And she was so sweet. 

I love this so much. Not only because she found the sweetness in the struggle. Not only because she is moved by her daughter’s burgeoning competence in this next phase of her development. But mostly because it speaks so much to why RIE places so much emphasis on caregiving. When you slow down, put away distractions, let go of your to-do lists and agendas, and can just be with your child, supporting them while you help them meet a physical need…when you can be fully present with them…it fills you both up.