Saturday, May 30, 2015

Judy - The Dreaded Potty Training #17

The toddler years are also the time when the dreaded toilet training takes place. But fear not, there is a great little book with the rhapsodic title Toilet Training in Less Than a Day.  It has specific, helpful instructions, but don’t be fooled. I’ve never known anyone who actually did the whole thing in one day. I used all the ideas, but my kids usually took at least a week, with accidents happening occasionally long afterwards. I set aside several days for the actual teaching because it took intense and constant effort. By the time my later kids came along, I was tired of the whole process and thought I would just wait till they went to kindergarten and saw how the other kids did it. As I look back, I’m pretty sure my two oldest girls trained our two youngest.

The most important thing to remember is do this when the child is ready and not before! Each child will be ready at different ages, and girls are primed sooner than boys are. If they’re not ready, all the effort in the world will make no difference and will only leave them frustrated and you exhausted from cleaning up messes. Children give you clues about their readiness in several ways, including just telling you. It’s hard to describe but if you are tuned into your child, you will probably sense when he is physically equipped to control his body to this extent.

But I have to tell you about a horrible example of what not to do. I knew a woman who once told me she trained her kids as soon as they turned a year old. I was amazed and asked how that was possible. She said, “I take off their diapers and every time they make a mess, I spank them. They learn pretty quick.” I was appalled and it was all I could do not to report her. So don’t do that.

Here are some elements of the training according to the book:

  1. Buy a child’s small toilet and let him get used to sitting on it in the bathroom for several days in advance. Some children get nervous when they see this seat and won’t have anything to do with it. Just be patient, don’t push it, and eventually they’ll get used to the idea. I don’t recommend using a seat that goes over the big toilet, although it works for some people. I found, however, that it was too scary what with the height and the void underneath and the loud flushing sound to be helpful.
  2. Get a baby doll that wets and show the child how it wets over the toilet. Then praise and hug the doll.
  3. On the day when you’re seriously ready to start, give the child lots of liquids--things that they’re not usually allowed to drink, like sodas.
  4. Either put the child in pull-ups or leave him bare-bottomed. Plan to spend the day together in the bathroom, reading, playing and drinking. When you can tell something is coming, quickly put him on his toilet just before, or sometimes during the process.
  5. Every time he goes in the toilet, even partially, make a big production out of it with clapping and hugging. One of my little boys used to say, “I went hallelujiah!”
  6. Along with all the clapping and hugging, give him M&Ms each time. It’s called positive reinforcement.
On subsequent days, you won’t have to spend the whole time in the bathroom, but keep up the celebrations and M&ms whenever he’s successful. Involve the whole family in the jubilee by giving all the kids M&Ms. Then you get the added support of the peer group, which is considerable.

This success may be sporadic at first, but it will get better. Be prepared that it may take all your time and energy for a while. As little boys get older, it may help to watch Dad in the bathroom, but don’t encourage them to use the big toilet until they can reach over the edge. When they are big enough to do that, it helps to put a cheerio on the bowl and let them aim for it. Otherwise they don’t watch what they’re doing and I don’t have to tell you the result.

Frankly, the whole operation is pretty gross and will probably go on longer than you’d like, but having spent days mucking out the house, not much else in life will get you down. I believe this is one of the reasons women are so down to earth and practical; they’ve been up to their elbows in offal.

For example, one mother took her young son to the park halfway through the training process. He was wearing pull-ups but he was so involved in playing that he didn’t tell her he had to go. The next thing she knew, there was poop all over the playground equipment, and she had to clean it up with a box of wipes in the car. There was no one else there, thankfully, but she says it was still one of the worst experiences of her life. I’m sure every mother has her own similar story, which is why mothers are so unflappable at work. What’s an office crisis or two compared to a playground full of poop?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Judy - Mealtimes #16

One area of child-raising that seems to give parents a lot of grief is meal time. The big worry seems to be first getting them to eat and then to eat the right things. In fact, studies have shown that the two hardest areas for new parents to navigate are sleeping and eating. Personally, with as many kids as I had, I never had any trouble persuading them to finish their meal. In fact, my problem was the opposite--how to feed them enough. One of my sons was a legendary eater, even at the tender age of three years old. One night at dinner he passed me his plate and said, “Can I have sevenths?”

Someone once said there are no fat kids in a large family. Once a brave couple invited our whole family over for dinner. The wife wanted to make something that would feed a crowd so she roasted a turkey. When our kids went in the door and smelled the delicious aroma, they cried out in one voice, “Yay, meat!” How embarrassing.

I never had time to notice if one particular child was eating enough or not, but none of them were malnourished. I’ve had mothers say, “But they’ll starve if I don’t make sure they eat!” I don’t think so. If food is in front of them, they will eventually take what they want and need UNLESS you make a big power struggle out of it. Then meals become another manipulative orgy and great fun for the kids. In that case they actually might not eat enough just to prolong the game and their sense of power.

What you can do is always put good, nutritious food in front of them and then stay out of it. If they only take a little bit (and remember how small their stomachs are--the size of their two fists together) make sure it’s the best stuff. I know kids who drink bottles of juice, often full of sugar or corn syrup, all day long and then never eat a decent meal. Big surprise.

When little ones start on what is euphemistically called “solid” food, they may actually find finger foods more interesting because they can feed themselves. Maybe it’s a matter of control again. And remember, the way they eat today may not be the way they eat tomorrow. I’ve seen many babies who were great eaters slow down and seem to lose interest around age one. Then they might go through a growth spurt and take up the habit again later. I knew one little boy who only ate every other meal. When his mother realized this pattern, she relaxed and didn’t worry about it.

I had a friend, Carla, who had the right idea, even with her first baby when most of us take everything way too seriously. One lunchtime, after her toddler, Jeremy, fought and fussed at being fed, I saw her dump a bowl of applesauce upside down on his head. We watched, grateful for the silence, while he licked it off as it ran down the side of his face. “He always eats better that way,” she confided. For example, Jeremy liked peanut butter sandwiches, but he didn’t like to hold them in his hands. So Carla spread peanut butter on a piece of bread then stuck it to the front of his face. Without ever using his hands, Jeremy first ate a little hole in the middle over his mouth, then gradually ate the whole thing. It was the funniest thing to watch and it kept him occupied and entertained for a long time.

I once heard something that made a lot of sense to me: children are actually grazers rather than feasters. In other words, they do better “grazing” with several small meals throughout the day rather than “feasting” on only three main ones. Maybe you could have nutritious snacks, like raisins, cereal, cheese sticks, pieces of bananas or oranges, etc, out and available all the time. Then at meals give them only tiny, tiny amounts, like two peas and a teaspoon of casserole. Let them know they can always have more, but to be sociable, if for no other reason, they need to eat with the rest of the family.

Even If your children are bird-like eaters when little, they will probably make up for it later. You have no idea the amount of food teenage boys can consume. My son once said, “I’m just hungry all the time.” When one of them left home for college, our milk consumption went from ten gallons a week to just five gallons. So my advice is to calm down, avoid power struggles over food, and whatever phase they’re in, keep your cool and don’t let it bother you.  

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Judy - Temper Tantrums #15

The otherwise adorable toddler stage is when temper tantrums are most likely to begin. The best way to handle one, although it may be the hardest thing to do, is ignore it. (The same holds true for husbands.) There were many times when I sat, pretending to read a book, hands clamped white-knuckled and teeth clenched, to show the screaming mass I was unimpressed with such fireworks. With older children I put them in their rooms until they were “able to be around people again.”

One of reasons they throw tantrums is to get attention, or to manipulate their parents. If they see it’s not working, eventually they stop. Now this “eventually” may take several months or even years, but it will happen.  Of course the worst is when they try this stunt in public where they know it will be most effective. Children are great little blackmailers, knowing you probably won’t destroy them (or even ignore them) in front of all those other people.

On one occasion I took the screaming child out to the car, leaving a half-filled grocery cart. I strapped her into her seat and pretended to read, completely unimpressed, until she screamed herself out. When we returned to the store, she was so exhausted she fell asleep with her head on the cart handle, which I had cushioned with a package of hamburger buns. If an explosion does occur in public, it’s best to leave the area.  If possible go somewhere private, like the car, and let them wear themselves out where the whole world won’t witness what a terrible mother you are. I have to say from personal experience that yelling at them and spanking them, which is your natural reaction, does not help and will probably make things worse.

Tantrums often occur when children are tired or hungry, so be aware what triggers that behavior and try to head it off beforehand. For example, it’s not a good idea to go shopping during nap times or before lunch or dinner.

I used to think that one of my strong-willed daughters wanted things more intensely than I didn’t want her to have them, and sometimes she just wore me down. To this day my grown-up daughter says, “I remember standing at the door and screaming at you because you wouldn’t take me with you. I felt so frustrated I could have died because obviously you just didn’t understand that I had to go.” What they cannot grasp is that you understood perfectly, but were saying NO!

Sometimes tantrums may be a serious bid for attention. One of my daughters started having significant ones at twenty months, when her brother was born. I had the feeling she found having a younger sibling really traumatic. Again, tantrums could be a wake-up call telling us to pay more attention to the poor kid. However you handle these outbursts of temper, it’s important to show an increase of love afterwards because both parent and child need to reaffirm their affection for each other.

Children usually get over the inclination for these demonstrations by age five and often long before. Some mellow kids never have them at all. Of our nine children, only three were tantrum-prone. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky mothers who won’t ever experience one.

On the other side of tantrums, whining drove me crazy. Maybe it doesn’t bother anyone else as much as it bothered me, but I couldn’t stand it! I’d almost rather have a screaming child than a whining one. Recently I commented how grateful I was that my kids didn’t whine, when my oldest daughter said, “Mom, it’s not that we didn’t try. I remember whining about something and you sat down, picked up your book and said, ‘I can’t hear people who whine. When you talk to me in a regular voice, I’ll listen.’” She said she remembers trying very hard to make her voice sound “regular,” and when it did I gave her what she asked for.

Next time: Lighten up and Enjoy Them

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Judy - Need for limits--Like it or not #14

It is absolutely vital that children have limits in their lives, along with structure--as long as you don’t overdo it and give them twitches. And the toddler years are when we start to set those limits. I’ve seen families where the parents don’t set any boundaries, and it’s not a pretty sight for either children or adults. 

One woman with two children bragged that she never tried to curtail her kids in any way. And nobody liked those children. It was scary to be around them, because you never knew what they would do next. They kept pushing, acting worse and worse, trying to discover where the edges were. I was with them once, and they just ran around screaming, knocking things over, hitting adults, and breaking things. It was awful and it must have been frightening for them to realize there were no barriers and no one was in charge. They would have felt much safer knowing that some behavior was unacceptable.

As I said, no one likes kids like these, not grownups nor other children; they have no friends, no one wants to be around them, and they are very unhappy individuals.

The little stinkers always seem to sense when we are least able to enforce our limits and take full advantage of it, like in the grocery store. When they do test the limits, the one thing you want to avoid is a power struggle because you’ll lose every time. Usually you can see it coming; and before your child becomes completely unreasonable and out of control, try talking to her in a calm, soothing voice. Emphasize that you are sorry she feels sad, which gives her feelings legitimacy, and you wish it could be different. Then suggest alternatives. Where possible, the most helpful tactic is to direct her attention elsewhere.

Toddlers especially feel more secure with limits because they seem to know instinctively that then their parents will keep them safe. At the same time, be warned they will fight against those limits with all the strength of spirit they possess, which is considerable. They do this to test just how secure those boundaries are.

My sister-in-law, Rayleen, tells about the time when her son, Scott, was three years old, and she had foot surgery. One day after she came home from the hospital but before she could get around, Scott came into the house and slammed the door. Rayleen said, “Scott, please don’t slam the door so hard.” Scott looked at her a minute, then went back and slammed it again, even harder. Rayleen said, “What are you doing? I asked you not to slam the door.” Scott went back and slammed it again. By this time Rayleen was struggling to get hold of her crutches and stand up, but Scott just sort of danced around her, giggling. She tried to grab him, but he could easily keep out of her reach and every so often he’d go back and slam the door again.

Finally, Rayleen, who was almost hysterical, called her husband at work, incoherent with rage. Somehow he knew the situation was desperate, so he arrived home in ten minutes. He says, “I knew I had to get home to save my son’s life!”

Structure and routines are related to limits. By developing a routine, again you are doing your children a favor. I’ve known families where mealtimes were whenever anyone fixed themselves something to eat, and bedtime was whenever and wherever anyone dropped from exhaustion.

For example, one mother with three small ones didn’t like putting them to bed. So they wandered around in the evening getting crankier and crankier until one by one they draped themselves over the sofa or flat out on the rug and fell asleep. When I asked the mother why she didn’t help them into bed earlier, she shrugged and said, “It’s easier this way.” I thought that was unfair. I’m sure the parents didn’t wait around every night until they dropped from exhaustion. This was a case where, unpleasant as it is, a parent has to be the grown-up.

My last toddler fought going to bed with all the ferocity of his fierce little soul. Still, we had a regular bedtime routine, and I insisted on his going to bed at about the same time every night. I managed to keep my cool, because after eight other children I knew that stage would not last forever. And it didn't.

Keep telling yourself, “The maturation process takes care of all kinds of problems.”

Next time: Temper Tantrums

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