Connect for Children

Heidi Emberling, MA, Parenting Educator and Early Childhood Specialist

Potty Learning Power Struggles August 20, 2012

Filed under: Potty Learning — Heidi Emberling @ 8:04 pm

Learning to use the potty can be a frustrating experience for both child and parent.  The child may want to succeed, but the process can be delayed by a variety of developmental and environmental factors.

One of the best ways to support your child as they learn to master this developmental step is to be a good coach.  Potty learning is a new skill.  Parents have to remember what it’s like to learn something new: an instrument, a second language, a new sport.  New skills develop over time, with the encouragement and support of a great teacher.

Let’s look at the process of learning a new skill using the example of Golf.

-Day one: no skill and basic instruction.  Here’s the golf club, here’s your ball, way down there is the hole.  Go.  You take a big swing and—thwack!—nothing but grass.  Try, try again.

-Day three: no skill, sore arm, slightly less patient instruction.  Hold the club this way, swing this way, try to hit the ball this time.  You take a big swing and—thwack!—the ball moves a few inches.  Heavy sigh from coach.

-Day five: no skill, sore body, instructor looks eager with a brand new motivational idea.  Hey!  There’s a brand new Lexus out front.  If you hit the ball into the hole, you can have it for FREE.  The pressure is high.  Unfortunately, still very little skill.  Ball flies into a neighborhood tree.

-Day eight: better positioning, but no real skill yet.  Coach looks tired.  Asks if you’re really trying as hard as possible?  Dejection sets in.  Time to switch sports.

Now, let’s look at the process of learning a new skill with a good coach.

-Day one: no skill and basic instruction.  Here’s the golf club, here’s your ball, way down there is the hole.  Go.  You take a big swing and—thwack!—nothing but grass.  Coach says she sees some “natural talent.”  With practice, she thinks you’re going to be great at this sport.

-Day three: no skill, sore arm.  Hold the club this way, swing this way, try to hit the ball this time.  You take a big swing and—thwack!—the ball moves a few inches.  Coach reminds you that it’s hard to learn a new skill.  Be patient with yourself.  She feels confident that you will become very good at this sport.

-Day five: no skill, sore body, instructor looks eager with a brand new motivational idea.  Hey!  Let’s talk to expert golfer over there.  Golfer relates story after story of hitting early balls into trees, telephone poles, and two golf carts.  Took a while to get good, but stick with it, because your efforts are worthwhile.

-Day eight: better positioning, but no real skill yet.  Coach looks refreshed and ready to support you.  She focuses on the positive accomplishments.  She projects confidence and belief that, with practice and effort, you will learn the basics and actually enjoy the sport!

As parents, we can’t pee or poop for our children, but we can be a good coach as they learn this new potty skill.  Avoid power struggles, reject short-term rewards, and remind your child every day that he or she is a strong and capable kid.  With support and guidance, your child will master this developmental step.

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