Panelists: Dr. Stacey Hinderliter (Pediatrician, Mama), Catherine De La Hunt (LLL Leader, Mama), Josie Olsen (Counselor & Play Therapist, Mama), Lauren Coleman (Mama), and our moderator Erica Wolfe.
While we could devote an entire cafe to this topic, we're going to try to sum it up quickly. Dr. Hinderliter advises that to be ready for potty training your child should be: sometimes dry when you go to change them, communicative with you (either verbally or with signs), able to stand on their own and get their clothes off quickly. Children are not usually ready before 18 months, and it is helpful if the child is around other potty trained kids.
Elimination Communication (EC) is a different form of "potty training". It involves having the child on the potty sometimes and gradually moving away from diapers. Some people start this as early as a few days after birth, and others wait until closer to a year. The process starts by observing and noticing patterns in your children. Once you are aware of the signs, you can get your children on the potty and start teaching them what it is for. It can lessen the trauma involved with "traditional" potty training, because the potty is not a new or foreign concept. Catherine feels that EC is a gentler form of teaching babies or toddlers to use the potty. There are several books on the subject, as well as a very helpful EC Yahoo! Group.
Lauren has tried four different methods with her children. She learned the hard way that being too hard or expecting too much from a child will backfire. She feels that cloth diapers help kids feel wet more than disposable diapers, which aids potty training. Leaving her children naked also allows easier access for kids to the potty.
Josie started by having the potty available to explore and get familiar with. She tried to make it fun and enjoyable, and didn't rush the process. Her daughter was trained by two. One audience member used the three-day method of intensive potty training. She did away with diapers and used underwear or let her child go naked and was successful. Others have been potty training for a year and still use diapers at night. There are so many techniques and the best method depends on your child. Educate yourself about the different approaches and decide what is best for your kids.
Josie says that modeling and demystifying the process can help alleviate pressure and help avoid fear of the potty. You can try putting away the potty for a while if you are not having success, and try again later with a new positive attitude. Stress on parents can transfer to children, so remember to relax because your child WILL eventually be potty trained! Lauren points out that pressure from grandparents should be taken with a grain of salt, since circumstances were different back then (cloth diapers that were not as advanced as today's diapers, etc.).
Potty fears: Erica learned in her house that a child with a fear of pooping on the potty can be helped with play dough. She found that squeezing play dough and explaining how the poop is like play dough helped her child understand. Lauren mentions that a painful poop can scare a child, so be sure to up the fiber and water while potty training.
Dr. Hinderliter says that sleep is an individual thing, and that it is related to a child's awake time. A happy, easy child who doesn't sleep much is doing just fine. An unhappy, moody child, on the other hand, may not be getting enough rest. Lack of sleep can impact a child's behavior and ability to learn. Some labels, like ADHD, could be avoided by more sleep. TV can be detrimental to a child's rest and lead to attention and behavior problems.
Some children gradually outgrow naps naturally, while others will need some coaching. Even if a child won't nap, some quiet rest time during the day can be beneficial.
Catherine found success with sleep by staying near to her children. She found that being available and giving them attention all day and then being present but unavailable at bed time worked for her kids. She let her children choose to lay on the floor nearby or to go get into bed. Her children slept in her bed until around 3 years of age. When they did transitioned to their own room she made a big deal of redecorating the room and making it a fun experience.
Lauren tried various sleep methods. Her first was in a crib, her second in a bassinet, and the second two bed-shared. She now shares a room with all of her children in an attempt to get closer to her older children. She moved their beds into her room for the summer. Josie co-slept and then moved her kids to a toddler bed at the foot of her bed. She gradually moved them to their own rooms, and now at 7 and 10 they have the option to sleep together. Erica's girls share a room and she highly recommends it. It is comforting for them to be together and they bond nicely. Her oldest daughter moved to a toddler bed at twenty months; she stayed in the same room, and was familiar with the bed by the time she made the transition. She was careful not to connect the transition with the arrival of the new baby (who would be using the crib, eventually). Catherine recommends a "14 year test"; ask yourself if this issue will matter 14 years from now to put your worries at ease.
Dr. Hinderliter reminds us to make bedtime a happy, peaceful time. It should not be punishment. She recommends reading (or another favorite quiet activity) before bed, and allowing your child to have a security object. With her own child she was flexible through two tent phases, keeping the lights on, and eventually removing photos from the walls in her room.
Temper tantrums are a well-known issue with toddlers. Lauren advises staying ahead of the tantrums; being aware of hunger, over-tiredness, over-stimulation, etc. can help to avoid tantrums. Avoidance and attention are two reasons that tantrums happen. Catherine calmly picks up a screaming child and removes them from the situation. Josie says not to label the child. Acknowledge their feelings, set a limit, and give them an alternative (Example conversation: I see that you are really angry about this. It is not okay to hit Mommy, though. If you'd like to sit quietly or hug this doll until you feel better, you can.) Catherine finds that getting down on the child's level and giving them the attention they need on a regular basis can help prevent tantrums. Dr. Hinderliter set limits and enforced them, even if they were inconvenient for her schedule (ex. leaving a store because of a tantrum). Talking through a tantrum can help with some kids, and staying calm yourself is important. At the end, a hug can do wonders for reassuring a child and moving on.
There are lots of things you can do to prepare a child for a younger sibling. Catherine's children were raised knowing that babies are important and a priority, in an exciting way. Letting little kids help and be involved with the baby will help older siblings feel important and included. She found that the hardest transition was when the babies were older and started to crawl and get into their siblings' things. Lauren prepared her children with dolls and pretend play, and threw a big birthday party for the new baby to make it fun for the older kids.
Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. Dr. Hinderliter says not to worry too much about it. Make sure your children are hungry at meal times (limit snacks), and don't make a big deal if they don't eat. Drawing attention to it can make the situation worse. Give them the healthy food you want them to eat and let them choose what they eat (from that selection). Often they will eat well one meal, and not well at the next. Drinks can also fill kids up. Catherine did not make a big deal over food with her own kids, but her grandchildren struggle with mealtime. Her tactic is to remove any tantrum throwers from the room and continue the meal without them, until they are calm and ready to return. She also held a bedtime snack as collateral for eating their dinner.
Our panelists' favorite parts about raising kids in the 2-5 year age group: pretend play, making it through toddlerhood, their curiosity and questioning, letting them learn to do things themselves, and seeing their personalities develop.