Potty Learning: It's a Groovy Kind of Love
Who loves potty learning? I do, I do! And I'm not ashamed to admit it. I love potty learning with young children just as much as I love reading stories or taking a walk in the park on a beautiful sunshiny day. What's to love? Well, what's not to love? A cute little tushy, a rosy-cheeked, beaming babe, and a time set aside regularly for intimacy. It's a perfect setup for a joyful learning experience most often shared entirely between parent and child.
I once knew a little two year old girl who used to run out onto the playground with a huge grin on her face and eyes sparkling with mischief. Every day she would grab her friend's hand and loudly exclaim, "Let's go play poo poo! I have to poo poo. Do you? Let's go pooooooooop!" Off they'd run to pretend, just like it was another ordinary playground game like playing house or tag. At the time, my children were not yet "potty trained", and I was amazed at the joy - the lack of self-consciousness, the freedom to be excited about something so simple and ordinary as poop.
It was in this moment that I knew that to a child, poop was anything but ordinary. Clearly, there was some magical property to the potty training process that most of us adults are missing out on.
During the years that I taught toddlers in the Montessori classroom, helping children learn how to sit on the toilet and use it became one of my very favorite parts of the job. The giggles and hugs that came with potty times were mood lifters. It's hard to stay stressed or worried about something in your personal life when looking at a toddler who is filled with the pride of accomplishment.
It was also humbling. As adults, we take the ability to control our body functions for granted. We forget that there was a time when we ourselves had to concentrate to learn how. Being with a child during this period of time reminds me to feel grateful for my own independence and happy for the beautiful child who is gaining a gift that will alter his or her life forever.
In Montessori, we have another term for the time when a child learns how to use the toilet instead of a diaper: "toilet learning". Do semantics matter? We think so. You see, we want to emphasize that there is no actual "training" being done by the adult. This process is seen instead as the young child's work.
Being able to recognize when it is time to go and where it is socially appropriate to relieve oneself does not typically happen overnight, although all children approach this work a bit differently from each other. The sensitive period for concentrating on this task is typically sometime during toddlerhood.
When we as adults remove our own frustrations and anxieties, we can see this great accomplishment through the eyes of the child, full of wonder and fascination. We can relax and know that with a supportive environment, children will be motivated on their own to learn how to use the toilet, and this motivation need not be tampered with by stickers or candy! Natural curiosity and pride will be quite fine on its own, thank you very much. If you are skeptical, look through the eyes of a child. The human body possesses the amazing ability to control both how and when nourishment is taken in and also how and when waste is excreted.
This process can be just as exciting as it is scary. The child who senses that his parent is worried or angry is much less likely to be able to listen to his or her body, so it is actually very important that we stay on the child's side and not let our own fears and goals get in the way. If you yourself are grossed out by poop, remember that long ago, someone taught you that poop was distasteful. Put on a happy face for your little one. There is a golden opportunity for celebrating this new phase that only comes once in the life of a child, and all children need to feel loved and cared for - especially when they are showing you the bravery to take another step toward adulthood.
When my own little one was ready to take the leap into underwear, we celebrated the milestone by tie-dyeing some white training pants. They were soft and brightly colored, held just enough moisture if he had an accident on his way to the potty, and we both loved them. We probably made about 15 of them since they were cheap, and they were worn like regular underwear for at least a year.
And in case you're wondering...I learned about tie-dyeing toddler underwear from a stellar Montessori trained teacher and crafty mama. Let the groovy toilet learning days of love be officially passed on!