All by Themselves
5/30/2008 | by By Teri Brown
Potty training your child consists of more than just teaching your child how to use the potty. There is a whole host of potty etiquette that your child also needs to learn. Part of potty training your child includes helping them be more independent by learning how to wipe themselves, wash their own hands and flush the toilet.
Catherine Vaughan from Redondo Beach, Calif., is working with her son to teach him independent skills. “We still have some issues with this, but it hasnt been too bad,” says Vaughan. “Weve talked to our son about germs and why washing your hands is important. Our problem now is that he takes about a half hour to wash his hands every time he goes to the bathroom. He likes singing to himself in the mirror!”
Take it Slow
Dr. Marcy Axness, an early development specialist, professor at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and parent counselor in the Los Angeles area, says it’s very important that we realize this sort of independence develops slowly and we shouldnt rush it.
“As with all development, its a gradual process,” she says. “The rule of thumb with all goals toward independence is this: If you fulfill a child’s appropriate needs for dependence, then true independence will blossom as a result. It’s when we attempt to promote premature independence in children … that our attempts tend to backfire and problems arise.”
One Step at a Time
Dr. Karen Carter, assistant professor of pediatrics and a developmental pediatrician at The Medical College of Georgia’s Children’s Center, agrees that independence with using the potty is a slow process.
“Independence is hard in most skills,” says Dr. Carter. “Once the child can undress, use the toilet and dress, start fading the hints from Mom and Dad. I suggest making sure the child can do the whole process, including undressing, toileting, redressing, flushing and washing hands. Then, begin to leave the bathroom and decrease the [amount of] supervision.”
For instance, Dad supervises everything until drying the hands. Then he leaves the bathroom at the beginning of the drying hands part. The child finishes that last step independently. When your child is able to successfully do this step, leave the bathroom at the rubbing hands together step. When he’s successful at that, leave the child at the soap on the hands step.
“Keep leaving the child and expecting independence at different steps in the process,” says Dr. Carter.
Remember, however, that wiping is something parents must be realistic about in their expectations. A little girl may be able to successfully wipe herself after urinating early on, but the young child’s coordination and ability to even mentally conceptualize what he or she is aiming for has far to go before they’ll be able to be effective at wiping after a bowel movement.
Parents can develop a ritual that suits them and their children, along the lines of letting Mommy have the first wipe and then having the child do it. And remember that you may be doing this step long after the other stages of independence are achieved.
Fun Tips for Independence
There are many ways parents can make learning potty independence fun. The following tips will help parents increase their child’s independence while obtaining the ultimate goal of successful potty training:
- To help boys practice aiming better, play “sink the cereal.” Float three or four pieces of circular cereal in the toilet. Then have them sink the cereal with their urine. It’s fun and helps with aiming.
- Put blue food coloring in the toilet. After the child urinates, the water is green!
- Keep a basket of a few special books next to the potty chair or toilet that are just for looking at when your child is on the potty.
- Try finding a soft, cute finger puppet with which to "dress" the flush handle, making it friendlier and more appealing.
- Buy some special, yummy-smelling or fun-looking soap that is just for the potty training child (everyone else, hands off!).
- Get a special towel that is also just for him/her (or even hang a roll of fun paper towels for your child to use).
- To help children develop a solid post-potty hand-washing habit, try this game: Using a roll of paper towels decorated with a fun, child-friendly design, wrap up individual pieces of an age-appropriate (10-piece wooden) jigsaw puzzle in sections of toweling, and put them all into an attractive basket on the bathroom counter. After each hand-washing session, the child uses one piece of towel to dry his or her hands, thus unveiling a piece of the puzzle that the child puts in place in the puzzle. Keep the puzzle itself in a special place where it will not be moved or disturbed as it becomes filled in. When the child places the final piece, completing the puzzle, it is cause for congratulations!