And Just Like That Our Little Lady Was Potty Trained

Potty training is one of the biggest events in early childhood and everyone appears to have an opinion. There are countless books written on the topic and the Internet is flooded with tips. Although I found the advice useful, every child is different and my daughter’s potty training journey didn’t replicate any of the plans I read online. Her journey from diapers to underwear was individualized and unique, just like her!

Now I have to confess something…our potty training adventure wasn’t exactly as quick as the title of this article implies. In fact, as I browse through old pictures I realize I have been doing things to prepare for this day for an entire year!

Although my parents never mentioned it I could tell they were wondering if I was ever going to potty train my daughter. After all I was potty trained before the age of three and in a little over a month my daughter will be three and a half! I began to feel like I was a bad mommy since all of my daughter’s friends were fully potty trained; many for almost a year now! With some, the parents were forced to speed up the process because of daycare. Some of her friends showed signs of readiness and potty trained at an early age while others had baby siblings on the way and potty training their oldest before a baby was added to the family just made sense.

Since I spend most of the time at home with my daughter and she won’t start preschool for another four months, we had plenty of time to spend on potty training. I carefully observed her for readiness signs and created a potty friendly environment for her to learn in. I believe in child centered learning but there are a lot of things that need to be in place for success. My daughter wouldn’t be potty trained without purposeful intent by me, her teacher. Below I describe the steps I took on our “tear free” potty training journey.

Modeling- When my daughter was very young I took her into the bathroom with me. Through watching me she learned the steps: sitting on the potty, wiping with toilet paper, flushing and washing hands. Although at eighteen months she wasn’t ready to abandon her diapers just yet, she often mimicked me by grabbing a fist full of toilet paper and pretending to wipe herself while she was fully clothed! As Lillian got older, many of her friends were toilet training and during play dates she saw her friends go potty. Through modeling, especially by her peers, Lillian showed more interest in going potty.

Picture Book- We began reading books about going potty shortly after my daughter turned two years of age. A friend gave us the book, “A Potty for Me!” by Karen Katz and it became an instant favorite. Around this time my daughter went through a Daniel Tiger phase and she fell in love with the “Daniel Goes to the Potty” book that comes with a button that makes a flushing sound. The reader is encouraged to press the flush button each time Daniel Tiger uses the potty. The book follows the same storyline and includes the catchy “potty song” that appears in the Daniel Tiger episode “Daniel Goes to the Potty.” “Everyone Poops” is a classic by Taro Gomi and we enjoyed learning about different kinds of animals and the various ways they go to the bathroom.

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A few of our favorite potty themed picture books.

Selecting a Potty- Lillian helped pick out a little Minnie Mouse potty at the store and both sets of grandparents bought matching ones for their homes. This consistency proved to be helpful because Lillian didn’t regress when she spent the day or night with her grandparents. At first she sat on her potty but after awhile she occasionally went on the potty. She role played by having her stuffed animals use her potty. Her little potty is located in our master bathroom and that is where it has stayed throughout the entire process. Even though Lillian had her own little potty she sat on the big potty sometimes. In fact she loved trying out potties in public places and at family and friends homes. We never had a problem using bathrooms in public places because Lillian learned early on that there are potties everywhere!

Lillian’s Minnie Mouse potty.

Motivation Chart and Rewards- A few months after Lillian turned three I introduced a sticker chart for extra motivation. I waited until the holidays were over and we were back to a “normal” schedule with no out of town trips planned or any other unusual distractions. But the chart I selected simply wasn’t working. The goals on the chart were too ambitious for her and she wasn’t earning any stickers. I looked online and found a Paw Patrol Potty Chart! Click on this link to download the chart. paw-patrol-potty-training

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The Paw Patrol chart that was a huge success!

Lillian is really into Paw Patrol and the tasks on the chart were attainable for a beginner. (Told an adult I needed to go, Pulled down my pants, Sat on the potty, Went in the potty, Washed my hands) After she filled an entire chart with stickers she got a small Paw Patrol toy. The chart followed her to her grandparents house and we made sure to add stickers if she went potty while we were away from home. When she began to show success and filled up the chart at a faster pace I changed the categories on the chart to include two columns for “Went on the potty” and then added a column for “Went poop on the potty” and “Staying dry all day.” This gradual release of increased expectation proved to be very successful.

Big Girl Underwear- I bought Lillian Minnie Mouse underwear when she was two years old. She showed no interest in wearing them. One day she spied some Paw Patrol underwear at Target and she got so excited I bought them. But she still refused to wear underwear. I thought starting her in pull ups before underwear would be successful but she showed little interest in wearing pull ups (even though they are very similar to diapers.)  So to my surprise we potty trained in a diaper. She would pull down her pants, rip off her diaper and pee in the potty, so I simply went with it. At first it required suggestions from me but soon after she was running to the bathroom and going independently. On Easter Monday I asked her if she wanted to wear big girl underwear and she said yes! She stayed dry all day and after that she never wore diapers again!

My daughter’s potty training story reminds me that sometimes all it takes is time, motivation and a little bit of encouragement for something to happen. Forcing someone to do something before they are truly ready causes tears and frustration for everyone involved. Learning is a process and everyone learns at his/her own pace, following a timeframe that often doesn’t match our own expectations.

“Parents as Teachers” (A Powerful Partnership)

I first heard about Parents as Teachers in the summer of 1997. I was taking a graduate course in family involvement at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and Parents as Teachers was mentioned in my textbook. I was thrilled to read how the program was founded in 1984 in Missouri and that my school district, Ferguson Florissant School District, piloted the program. (I had just completed my first year teaching kindergarten in the district) Little did I know the connection I would later have with the Francis Howell School District (the other Missouri School District to pilot Parents as Teachers) and the positive influence Parents as Teachers would have on me and my miracle baby twenty years later!

Parents as Teachers is an international nonprofit organization that promotes early development, learning and health of young children. Through home visits, the parent educators equip parents with knowledge and resources to prepare their children (prenatal through kindergarten) with a stronger start in life, which leads to greater success in school and beyond.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian meet for the first time.

A few months before Lillian was born I called our local school district and enrolled in the Parents as Teachers program. Deanna Robbins, our knowledgeable home educator, made her first visit to our home when Lillian was one month old. She made her last visit a few days before Lillian’s third birthday. In most school districts, children age out of Parents as Teachers when they turn three years of age, reserving resources for the most crucial stage of child development (prenatal to age 3) and for older children identified with developmental delays or IEPs (individual educational plans.) Throughout the years, Ms. Deanna became more than a teacher; she became a friend and confidant. I looked forward to her visits where I eagerly reported Lillian’s latest milestones and I enjoyed updates about her growing family. Ms. Deanna asked me to serve on Francis Howell’s Parents as Teachers Advisory Board and I gladly accepted. We all shed a few tears in November when she presented Lillian with a program completion certificate, signaling our last visit.

Ms. Deanna and Lillian during our last PAT visit.

Ms. Deanna visited us six times a year, always bringing activities for Lillian to engage in and leaving behind handouts with valuable developmental information and inexpensive suggestions for learning opportunities in the home. Participants in the program were invited to parent meetings on a variety of topics from potty training to nutrition. Lillian and I both enjoyed many of the parent/child events including a messy play day and a storybook walk. Twice a year Ms. Deanna conducted a developmental screening. After, she discussed the results and assured me that Lillian was mastering her developmental targets while offering suggestions on things I could do to challenge Lillian and assist her in reaching her fullest potential.

I have a Masters degree in early childhood education so a lot of the information shared during our visits was familiar. But even with my extensive prior knowledge in child development, I learned some new strategies from Ms. Deanna and Lillian loved the extra attention and benefited from the learning experiences. The visits offered the opportunity for another professional to observe my daughter. It is easy for a parent to overlook a need in their own child even when they are an expert in identifying needs in other children. About a year ago, during one of the screenings, Ms. Deanna casually questioned if Lillian was articulating the ends of her words. As a novice speaker with a robust vocabulary (well beyond her years), I initially brushed off the idea that Lillian had any articulation errors. She was a newly turned two year old after all! If she had any speech issues they were surely developmental in nature. But Ms. Deanna’s observation stuck with me and I began to question, “Does Lillian have articulation errors?” I understand her just fine but I spend most of my days as a stay at home mommy so we are together non-stop. Lillian could grunt and use gestures and I would know exactly what she was communicating!

We continued the rest of the two year old visits and the articulation issue was never mentioned again. As the last visit approached, I had nearly convinced myself that Lillian needed speech therapy. I don’t know if Lillian really had a speech issue or if Ms. Deanna and I secretly hoped she did so our visits could continue! The day had come for our last home visit. Ms. Deanna gave Lillian her last developmental screening and Lillian was mastering every task. Then we got to the speech articulation part. Ms. Deanna asked Lillian to repeat a word and that’s when our hypothesis was confirmed. Lillian consistently left the ends off of almost every word she was asked to repeat. Still unsure if Lillian would qualify for speech therapy, Ms. Deanna recommended a full speech evaluation through the Francis Howell School District. Wanting what is best for my child, we did the additional screening and the results indicated Lillian was eligible for speech therapy. Lillian is inconsistent in her production of /m/, /p/ and /b/, which according to the norms should be present at three years of age. She also leaves off the endings of a lot of words, substitutes some medial sounds and consonant blends. Her language skills are off the charts but as her sentences become longer and her words more complex, I have observed her speech becoming increasingly unintelligible and have seen her become frustrated when others can’t understand what she is saying.

I honestly would never have picked up on Lillian’s articulation errors without Ms. Deanna’s keen observations. I easily would have dismissed them as developmental and Lillian would have gone undiagnosed. I will forever be grateful to Ms. Deanna and the Parents as Teachers program for identifying Lillian’s needs and getting her the assistance to be successful. And as an extra bonus, Ms. Deanna will continue visiting us!

Parents as Teachers is an amazing partnership and I encourage everyone with young children to sign up for the program! Parents will always be their child’s first and most important teacher but in this busy, often stressful world of parenthood, this Mommy is happy to have Parents as Teachers and parent educators like Ms. Deanna to help me navigate the early years.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 

My daughter is obsessed with everything Daniel Tiger! “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is an animated children’s television series targeted at preschool-aged children. The program is based on the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe” from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the long-running family-oriented television series created and hosted by Fred Rogers. Little Lillian loves watching the show and reading Daniel Tiger books. She has a red toy trolley complete with the “ding ding” sound effect and a miniature Daniel Tiger (dressed in Fred Roger’s iconic red sweater) that fits perfectly inside. The steps in our home have been transformed into a trolley and Lillian asks family and friends to take an imaginary ride to the library, grocery store or doctor’s office on a daily basis. Lillian enjoys acting out the show’s familiar opening scene by sitting in her little chair and singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” while carefully putting her shoes on. Our little girl is filled with great imagination!

While watching Daniel Tiger and his friends I am transported back to my childhood where I enjoyed watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and became enchanted with Daniel Striped Tiger, Henrietta Pussycat, King Friday, Mr. McFeely and others in “The Land of Make Believe.” Many of these characters (or their offspring) appear in “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” When I watch the show with my daughter its like seeing old friends from forty years ago! This new show carries on Fred Roger’s legacy by supporting whole child development and is based upon Fred Rogers’ six principles of learning readiness. I am reminded of the the importance of childhood play, discovery, creativity and imagination. ​​Another show highlight are the catchy strategy songs that introduce the preschool set to social/emotional themes: feelings, confidence, new experiences, self control, responsibility and kindness. We enjoy listening to the songs in the car and at home while we play.  Sometimes I find myself humming the songs throughout the day and I have spent several sleepless nights with the songs playing over and over in my head!

Meeting Daniel Tiger
Last week I felt like I was living in a real life musical. Not a bad place to be since I absolutely adore Broadway theater! It all began while I was preparing breakfast. My mini me peered up at me and sang, “When you wait, you can sing, play or imagine anything.” A song she learned from watching Daniel Tiger! I was impressed that she was singing the song at the appropriate time and she didn’t miss a single lyric. Since it was Saturday, Daddy was home and he joined his girls in building a huge castle out of blocks. That’s when we heard her sweet voice sing, “I like to be with my family. Family time is special.” When she tried to use the potty she belted out, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.” And when it was time to clean up before bed she sang, “Clean up, pick up, put away, clean up everyday!” Although she did a better job singing than picking up any of her toys, it was clear she was learning a lot from watching Daniel Tiger and his friends. 

Our neighborhood trolley!
In late August the Saint Charles County Library System sponsored a special story time and trolley ride with Daniel Tiger. Lillian was thrilled to meet Daniel Tiger and I was pleased to see my daughter enjoy something I adored as a child. It was an exciting day in our neighborhood and we made a special memory this neighbor will never forget!