Showing posts with label Toddler Books. Show all posts

Potty Training in an Apartment with One Bathroom

If there was a top five list of parenting tasks that I wish I could outsource, potty training would probably take up 3 of the items on that list. (The other 2 places on there would be devoted to cleaning up other bodily fluids in the middle of the night and dealing with children during daylight savings time mayhem).

The conventional wisdom in the US (potty training is a developmental milestone highly influenced by culture) is that most children potty train some time between 2 and 3 years old.  I took that recommendation as a directive to spend the entire year panicking about... were we starting too late? to early? did we miss a window? how about now? does a window exist? do we have enough cleaning supplies? is there really NO way to outsource this? pretty please with a cherry on top?

When one considers this complete panic and barrage of confusing information, it was a super convenient excuse that our second child didn't sleep at all as a baby.  "We're too tired to deal with this" we told ourselves every time the topic came up for discussion.  Then finally, the baby started to sleep and we were ready to face my daughter's upcoming 3rd birthday.  We decided to our big parent pants on and just do it.  We signed up for a class at a local parenting center (The Loved Child, for the local crew), we bought some gear, and we got down to business.

Now because things on the internet are forever, I'm not actually going to discuss the details of potty training.  I will say however, that it went far more smoothly than I would have guessed.  I will tell you about gear you may need before you start, especially if you live in a house with only one bathroom and/or don't want to be trapped in your house for a month.

Potty seat for families with only one bathroom

When choosing a potty accommodation for your little one, there are many options, but all of them basically solve 2 problems - the kid is too short to climb on the toilet by herself without assistance and the kid's backside is too small to sit comfortably on an adult ring without falling through.  So here are the options we considered and what we ended up with:

  1. 1. Standalone kids' potty (for example). 
    1. Pro - it's easy for the child to get on and off by themselves and it adds a 'second' bathroom for those times, especially in the beginning, when the child is having to go constantly.

    2. Con - you have to clean it and god forbid it gets knocked over.

  2. 2. Separate child's seat for toilet and a step stool (screw on version, removable version, folding step stool).
    1. Pro - I think the screw on option is awesome if you have a dedicated bathroom for your kid and the folding step stool is easily operated by the child.

    2. Con - If you only have one bathroom, as we do, having an extra ring on the seat seems like a pain as does having 2 removable parts.

  3. 3. Ring and step stool combination (Mommy's Helper is the one we have)
    1. Pro - It's one piece of equipment that's foldable and easily operated by the child. It can be stored folded when not in use, thus not interfering with adult bathroom use.

    2. Con - It's a larger item to store than a ring and stool. Also the kid can and will figure out how to bang the stool legs on the floor while sitting on the potty. 

    3. That said, this is the set up we've been using for months and we've been quite happy with it.
You may also need other equipment for your bathroom - such as a separate step stool for your sink (if you go with the seat/stool combination or stand alone potty) and/or a faucet extender.

And finally, as with all child related things, you may have found the perfect piece of equipment for you only to find it rejected by the child.  Thus, the best potty set up is the one your kid is willing to use.

Teaching your child the potty ritual (aka "for the love of god wash your hands!")

There's a lot to learn when becoming a person. Things that are obvious to you - why you shouldn't dip your hair into the toilet - are not obvious to a child. It's helpful to have a couple books on hand when climbing this mountain.  Personally we've enjoyed The Potty Book for Girls (there's a boy's version too). Also the Daniel Tiger episode about going to the potty is particularly instructive (Season 2, Episode 10 - available on Amazon Prime Video).

Potty seats for families on the go

So that's all great but what do you do if you ever want to leave the house? I really recommend getting a portable, folding potty seat. (Note: Amazon has a bunch of identical seats like this one - down to the singing teddy - by purportedly "different" manufactures. It seems fishy to me and I'm guessing my link will be broken shortly. Regardless, the seat is good)  This seat folds and thus easily fits in your diaper bag or purse for convenient transport.  And it makes the child comfortable and confident in unfamiliar settings. It's also hard plastic and thus easily wiped down.

And with that - may the spirits of good hygiene and compliant behavior be with you!

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - How to Combat Picky Eating

As I've mentioned a couple of times on this blog already, I have a bit of a food obsession.  I love cook, to go restaurants, to talk about food, to think about what I'm going to eat, and pretty much every other activity surrounding food. And like all parents who have a kind of intense hobby, I wanted to groom my children to be into it too from the time they were born.

I had read the studies about babies learning to like the flavor of the food mom ate because it was reflected in the amniotic fluid.  I knew that data showed that babies were most receptive to the taste of new foods between 4 and 8 months, and that items introduced at this time would feel like culinary home to them for the rest of their lives.  I had seen the papers describing the fact that children who grew up in homes where adults consumed a varied diet would be far more
likely to grow into adults who did the same. I had done my reading and I was ready to raise little gourmands.  

I ate a healthy, varied diet full of fruits and vegetables while pregnant and breastfeeding, I made all my own baby food, and we fearlessly fed our first born from our plates once she developed the pincer grip.  When my daughter was a year old, she ate everything. I remember bragging about this to my boss at the time and him saying 
"Oh yeah, my daughter ate everything too until the day she didn't."
"Obviously" I thought to myself, "this will not be MY precious snowflake of a child.  I have read the studies and perfectly executed the plan.  My child will continue to be an amazing eater forever!"
Have I done enough foreshadowing here? Do you see where this is going? I think you do... At roughly 15 months of age, my daughter started dropping foods she previously ate with gusto.  First it was a refusal to eat blueberries, then beans, then eggs, and so on.  Foods previously eaten with joy were taken off the list of acceptable foods one by one until she was only willing to eat a handful of foods.

Eating what's for dinner - quinoa and tofu!
This was a dark time filled with much gnashing of teeth and soul searching in my house. I mourned the loss of my voracious eater. I wondered what I did wrong.  Then, after I had decided that I had wallowed in self pity long enough, I started to look for a book with answers. That is how I came across Ellyn Satter.  All across the internet, grateful parents whispered her name. I got one of her books - How to Get Your Kids to Eat: But Not Too Much and I started reading.

Ms. Satter is a nutritionist and a compassionate writer. She talks at length about the separation of duties between parents and children.  Parents have a responsibility to present their children with appealing nutritious food.  Children have the responsibility to eat how ever much they would like to eat.  This is exceptionally wise advice but very difficult for parents to internalize.  It's hard to sit at the table, having rushed home from work and prioritized cooking above everything else, only to have your child whine at the mere sight of what you've produced.  It's almost impossible not to feel like a monster when the toddler eats nothing at dinner.  Though, of course, Ms. Satter is right that no child has ever starved in a house with a full refrigerator.

It took awhile for our family to go "full Satter."  Once we did, it took about a month for our child to accept that the food on the table was all that was on offer.  However, in the last month we've had a real breakthrough. My daughter is trying (AND EATING!!!) new foods right and left - mangoes! green beans! horseradish cheddar! quinoa! This is a child who refused white rice a year ago. This method has not only been incredibly successful in getting our daughter to eat, but it has also reduced much of the stress around food in our house.  I plan and cook meals without obsessing about whether they'll be eaten.  After all, that's not my job. If you're struggling with this, I very much recommend her books.  She is a kind-hearted lady that saved this Mom's sanity at dinner.


Working Through your Toddler (and Older Baby) Behavior Issues - Discipline

As our daughter turned about 15 months old, we realized we needed some idea about what we'd do for discipline. We really had no specific plan besides the obvious points of no hitting, always let her know we love her, and, um... she should do the things we want her to do. This obviously wasn't enough. We'd heard good things about the book 1-2-3 Magic from other parents, and I had some expiring United Airline miles that could be cashed in for eBooks, so we figured it was at least worth a read. (Note: 1-2-3 Magic really suggests a minimum age of 2, so we just ad hoc'ed our own variant that worked until her 2nd birthday.)

Broadly, 1-2-3 Magic is parenting information you have encountered or heard before. The parent counts when a child misbehaves.  If and when 3 is reached without the undesirable behavior ceasing, the parent gives a time-out or similar punishment (something akin to removing an item being banged or otherwise abused). What the book does provide you with is specific answers to questions such as 
"What do I do if we're at the grocery store?"
"What if they say no to the timeout?"
"What if they claim they don't know what they did wrong?" 
Having these answers helps you train yourself so that the system becomes a reflex. Importantly, because it establishes clear, consistent ground rules, the kids learn it by reflex too. This reduces the frequency of ever even getting to 3. Similarly, it helps you focus on the your goals for having discipline in the first place, which can be hard when your child is annoying the crap out of you. Example: What if my child starts playing with a toy during time out and wants to keep doing it after it's over? Answer: Be happy that they are no longer doing whatever annoying thing caused you to count them in the first place.

Explaining and working through the various iterations of count and do a time-out takes up about a third of the book. The next segment is devoted to helping find alternative punishments when timeouts won't do and/or that are more appropriate for tweens and teens. The final third focus is on promoting good behavior (getting ready in the morning, bathtime, etc.). Since she was pretty young when we started, we used those sections less, but it all seems reasonable and we reference it as needed (sticker charts and timers feature heavily). In fact, we have since purchased a Time Timer (to be featured in another post, surely) and that fixed some bedtime problems we had when she got to be about 2 years old

All around it worked pretty well, accounting for the adjustments we made since we started before she was 2.  (Main tweak: extra warnings that we were going to count, which the book cautions against for older kids because that's what the "one" is for.) It took a few weeks for her to get the hang of it, but she mostly stopped the behaviors that got her counted and usually at least paused them for a while when counting got to 2. Now that she is two and a half, just hearing a "That's one" from us usually elicits a "no time-out" exclamation from her as she stops the behavior.

Our two criticisms are relatively small, but worth pointing out:

  1. 1. You can easily skip any set of paragraphs where the book begins to get too self-congratulatory. The authors definitely recognized that they will make their cash by selling a "system" and so there's lots of asides about how many people's lives it fixed or how you can supplement it with other 1-2-3 Magic products (1-2-3 Magic for Teachers, 1-2-3 Magic for Kids, 1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents, 1-2-3 Magic Guacamole, etc.) and the first chapter or two are pretty heavy on this stuff. The book was good, but telling me in advance how amazing it is feels a bit like an infomercial and makes me want to continue reading it less. 

  2.  2. The book is pretty critical of treating your child as a "little adult." As both my wife and I were children who very much wanted to be treated as little adults, I bristle at this line of reasoning. That said, they are certainly correct about avoiding verbose explanations in the midst of undesirable behavior. We try to engage in "little adult" conversations once we have some distance on the event when things are calm and the children are able to think and communicate. During a wrap-up of the day (at bedtime or dinner) is good for this. 
These critiques are relatively minor and we are happy to recommend 1-2-3 Magic as a good first-line for developing your discipline strategy with kids of any age. It certainly has provided us the bonus of practically eliminating the need or desire to yell when in the throws of particularly intense frustration at toddler antics. Obviously once you need specialized information (be it by age, or by personality) there are plenty of other books that can help you build your full repertoire of strategies.

Note: This review is for an earlier edition of the book, though given the systematic nature of the book, I do not expect the major themes to have changed much. 

Note 2: Depending on what type of eBook person you are, this may be a good one to have virtual, rather than on paper, so you can quickly search/reference when needed.

Photo credit: Kid Daniel under Creative Commons License.

Working Through your Toddler Behavior Issues - Tantrums

Despite the fact that I am a firm believer in the idea that toddlers are easier than babies, I would be lying if I said that everything was smooth sailing once the kiddo hit 12 months.  Obviously, toddlers just go through their own phases and weird behavior issues.  We have faced our fair share and have the reading list to prove it.  So this installment will focus on how we got through some truly spectacular tantrums.

How to deal with toddler tantrums

When my daughter was 21 months old I would have told you that I knew what a tantrum was.  We had a summer of many tantrums when she was right around 1 because her desires outstripped her non-existent language skills by a mile.  Usually, the outbursts peaked right before we hit a language breakthrough (ex. said her first word, learned some verbs, started stringing together simple sentences, etc.).  Once the skill had been mastered, she would go back to being a relatively predictable little girl who thrived on routine.

Then, not to go all cliche on you, and I do think it was largely coincidence... but... we hit her second birthday.  It turns out what I thought had been tempestuous behavior flares were mere match strikes compared to the volcano eruptions she was apparently capable of.  Our 20 minute bedtime routine that had remained unchanged since she was 6 months old suddenly turned into a hour and a half knock down, drag out fight.  We spent an hour one morning trying to convince, bribe, cajole, threaten and anything else we could think of to do in order to get her to put on a pair of pants.  There was screaming and crying on everyone's parts.  And don't even get me started on bathtime. We were completely shocked and lost for what to do.

Cue a lot of frantic Googling and soul searching about whether it was too late to get out of this parenting gig.... and we found our way to the book The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. I will confess that I approached this book with a very high degree of skepticism.  The recommendation for how to talk to your child in simple exaggerated sentences seemed idiotic and frankly disrespectful to the child. Then again, we were completely at our wits' end and a lot of people seemed to recommend the book.

Upon reading the book cover to cover (it's quite short and easy to get through), I started to implement the suggestions at the next tantrum. Once I expressed my daughter's feelings to her in a way she could understand, her screaming instantly stopped.  I was so shocked and unprepared for that to happen that I forgot what the next step was supposed to be. This method helped us get through the month long tantrum phase (and as all things, it really was a phase) with all of our collective sanities intact.

Though a bit gimmicky, I recommend this book very enthusiastically to any parent out there struggling to communicate with their pint-sized terror.  I also found Dr. Karp's chapter on the "personality" types of toddlers incredibly reassuring.  He allowed me to re-frame my previously somewhat negative view of my daughter's willful character traits and see them as potential positives. There is a lovely discussion in the book around how giving children what they want often results in even worse behavior - a fact I have found to be true.  This has allowed me to strengthen my resolve around enforcing boundaries for my toddler even when, in the moment, this occasionally results in more screaming.  

His writing is so kind and wise that I often find myself referencing his ideas, far beyond the suggested communication method, in discussions with other parents. And when everything is said and done, Dr. Karp is quite forgiving of the occasional bribery tactic and has given me ammunition when trying to convince my husband that at least occasionally he should let my daughter win. We have no lack of willfulness in this house!


Some stuff science says about parenting

Perfect fairy child I was going to have.
I think one of the most shocking things that occurs to you as a first time parent is that your baby has a personality from the day they're born.  If you are like me and haven't spent much time around babies before your own, the shock of this is even more extreme.  Before I had kids I had all these "ideas" about what kind of mother I was going to be and how I was going to "mold" my perfect little children. (I know.... I know... but here is a great blog post about this written by someone else, so I know I am at least not alone in my naivete).

Actual spirited, goofy, wonderful child I have.
Eventually my daughter was born and parenting hit me like a car crash.  Suddenly I was sure of exactly one thing - I had no control over anything.  Then, about 5 months later, I was at a cocktail party hosted by my college alumni association.  While mingling with some slightly older alumni, the conversation turned to children.  I joked about how it happened that my daughter came out ready made and I was just along the ride.  One very nice, more experienced mother looked at me and said

"You can't change much, but you can certainly course correct some things if you go about them the right way.  There's a great book called NurtureShock about the science of the things you can instill in your kids."

I will admit to being highly skeptical about this assertion. However, this lady had been an engineering major and was now a successful VP.  I figured the book was at least worth considering and I have to say I am quite glad I did.

The book was written by science journalists who are themselves parents.  They look at what science actually has to say about the things we can affect.  The authors describe the studies that led scientists to their current best thinking on how children learn various types of things (persistence, problem solving, appreciation for diversity) and present parents with some heuristics for how to replicate these.  In many cases, it turns out, science dictates that the path to the desired outcomes is pretty different from what my natural inclination would have been.

In the spirit of full disclosure, my daughter is still quite young and so we haven't had the opportunity to try out many of the things recommended in this book as they apply to older children.  However, reading it helped center some of my thinking as to my role in her life.  Well written, complete with references, and full of seemingly excellent suggestions - I really recommend this book.