Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
5/30/2008 | by By Lisa A. Goldstein
You would think that using the bathroom should be a guaranteed way to get a few minutes to yourself. But now that you have a child who’s in the process of mastering potty training, should you give up that privacy to help him learn? Is it OK to let your child watch you or a sibling use the toilet?
“In my experience, this is one of the most commonly used tools for teaching a child to use the potty,” says Dr. Bryan Burke, associate professor at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. “The parent sets the example far more commonly than another sibling does. Children learn well when they have a concrete example to follow.”
Why It Works
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children are often interested in their family’s bathroom activities. In its “Toilet Training Readiness” article, the AAP recommends: “It is sometimes helpful to let children watch parents when they go to the bathroom. Seeing grown-ups use the toilet makes children want to do the same. If possible, mothers should show the correct skills to their daughters and fathers to their sons. Children can also learn these skills from older brothers and sisters, friends and relatives.”
While parents can show children of different genders, it’s probably more helpful to have dads show the boys while moms show the girls, says Laurie Rogers, a children’s advocate at Spokane, Wash.-based Safer Child, Inc. After all, our bodies, the way we eliminate waste and the way we wipe are all different.
Children are biologically motivated to imitate their parents, says Rogers. In her view, having your child watch you use the toilet is helpful in normalizing the entire process. “It’s just a body function,” she says. “Everyone has to do it. There isn’t anything to be upset about if you see Mom and Dad do it and everything turns out OK. No one’s getting flushed down the toilet. It’s all OK and calm.”
While Amy Caruso of Cincinnati, Ohio, hasn’t actively started working on potty training with her 18-month-old daughter yet, she lets her watch as she uses the toilet. While she watches, Caruso explains what she’s doing. “I let her flush the toilet afterwards to be able to view what’s happening and say ‘Bye bye pee pee and poo poo,’ while the water goes down, put down the seat and then wash our hands together,” says Caruso. “I think it’s helped her to recognize what the words ‘pee pee’ and ‘poo poo’ mean and even helped her to understand the whole process in action, including proper hygiene.”
For some parents, going to the bathroom in front of a child can be embarrassing. Even Caruso admits that it’s uncomfortable at first, especially if you have no other children and are used to going in peace.
It’s a vulnerable position to be in, and some of us were taught that bathroom habits are absolutely private and never to be discussed, says Rogers. For that reason, no one should feel forced to use this technique if it truly makes them uncomfortable.
“I would never force this technique on anyone,” she says. “The goal is to teach the child that everything is OK, safe and normal, and if the parent is upset or doing this technique against his or her will, the message will be compromised or lost.” Additionally, says Rogers, sometimes a parent might just need that time alone, for whatever reason. It’s OK to say “no” and close the door.
Of course the door may open to other things – literally – when it comes to letting your child watch you use the toilet. Caruso now has to close the bathroom doors after she’s finished because her daughter likes to flush the toilet repeatedly and unroll the toilet paper, leaving a mess for her to clean up!
Ultimately, as Rogers’ Safer Child Web site recommends, it can be helpful to show your child what to do. “Are you squeamish about letting your child see you in the bathroom?” she asks. “Try to get over this for now. Your child will benefit from watching you and your spouse or partner. It’s easier and more effective to show … than it is to explain.”