Setting The Scene
A couple of months ago me and my wife, Nicole, decided it was time to get our two-year-old, Mila out of diapers. Nicole had heard about this magical 3-day potty training method from a family member and thought this held the key for us and Mila. We had been wanting to get her out of diapers before the arrival of our baby boy, Thiago in March but never quite got round to doing so and to be honest we didn’t really knew how to go about it either.
I had, at this point, become a believer of the ‘when-she’s-ready’ method and continued to tell Nic that if it was going to happen it was going to happen naturally. I used arguments like, “I am sure my parents didn’t lock themselves in the house for three days just so I would learn to use the toilet.” I insisted we dropped it and let Mila figure this one out on her own but Nic had other ideas. She pressed on, declined invitations from our friends, took a day off work and went ahead and bought the underwear. After kicking my feet for a couple of days I decided to jump on board and give this thing a try.
Let me start by saying that this was by no means an easy task but it was in many ways truly worth it.
The whole idea behind this method is that you take your child from wearing a diaper 24/7 to fully potty trained and wearing undies in three days. To some of us this seems completely impossible. If that isn’t off-putting enough let me take you through the process. On day one you are supposed to wake up your child and give them a little speech about how they are now a big boy or a big girl and that from this day forward they will no longer use baby diapers but that they will now be upgraded to grownup underwear. Together, all three of you, are now supposed to find all the diapers you have around the house and throw them away. Now we move onto watching-like-a-hawk phase. You tell your child that now that they wear undies they are supposed to let you know when they need to go number one or number two so you can rush them to the potty. Obviously it will take a while before they fully understand this, they will be distracted and forget and so you are supposed to watch your child’s every move from now on so you can start catching the body language that tells you, he/she is about to pee. At this moment it is very important that you do not jump the gun and force him or her to the potty or ask them if they want to go. When you see them start to get jittery you are supposed to remind them that if they must go they need to let you know. Now that you have an idea of how this works, let me talk to you about the things I learned though the process.
About two years ago I read a book by renown author Ken Blanchard called Whale Done,The Power of Positive Relationships which talks about how killer whales are trained. I am by no means comparing Mila to a killer whale although we could argue that some similarities do exist (those who have had or have two year olds will understand). This book states that there are normally four consequences to an action: no response, negative response, redirection and positive response. As I have mentioned before, this potty training method was very clear about one thing, do not use negative responses to undesired actions at any moment. Like the potty training handbook, Ken Blanchard states that negative responses often lead to more of the undesirable result. Knowing this the question then is, how do you handle poor performance or negative behavior? Both book and potty training method agreed, the best way to handle it is through redirection. In the case of the whale, trainers responded by redirecting the killer whale’s attention and energy back to what they were supposed to do or something else. In Mila’s case we were supposed to rush her to the toilet when we caught her having an accident so that she would focus on the potty and remind her that this was the correct place to pee. We would make no mention of the mess that now sat on the kitchen floor. The premise behind this theory is that when we focus our attention on the poor performance, rather than on the good, we reinforce the very behavior we don’t want. Its tied to that famous quote, “where focus goes, energy flows,” well we needed her energy, as well as her pee, to flow into the toilet and not the kitchen floor.
Most of us are used to teaching through the “gotcha” method; a method in which we just sit back and catch people doing something wrong and call them out on it. Many people in leadership positions (which includes parents) believe this is what the job entails and consider it to be not only the best but the only way to teach someone what they are supposed to be doing. After going through this process I realized the gotcha is used the most because it is the passive, lazy method of teaching, leading or whatever you want to call it. It takes a lot of patience, which contrary to popular belief is all but passive, to utilize the Whale Done method efficiently.
Being forced to use this method made us realize how much we reprimand based on frustration on a normal basis and convince ourselves that its part of disciplining our children. The real problem lies in the fact that most of the time these adult tantrums end up getting the immediate desired result on the surface.
That second night when Mila finally made it to the potty and was able to release at will we threw a little dance party for her (she happy danced after going potty for a few months after this) but we also offered her praise when she told us she needed to go and was unable to release or made it halfway to the bathroom. We praised every forward step she took and overlooked the numerous accidents she had in the process. The praise allowed her to easily understand which was the right direction. Rather than trying to teach her by showing her what no to do, we were focusing her brain on the things we wanted her to do.
This method, the Whale Done potty method, creates an environment in which Mila is positively influenced to understand how the whole toilet thing works and provides enough time and space for her to figure it out on her own rather than short circuit the process. It requires sacrifice, patience and a lot of emotional intelligence on the parent side for it to work. It is by no means the easy way of teaching but in my opinion it is not only the most efficient but also the most rewarding.
How many processes do we make longer by trying to short circuit them through negative pressure? How many learning opportunities do we ruin for our kids because we are in a rush? How many times have we lost our cool and said and done things to get what we want? How many times have we reprimanded our kids for doing the same? Put yourself in their shoes, you’ve probably been there before so it shouldn’t be that hard. Think about all the things you grow up doing because not doing them would lead to immediate negative consequences. Now as an adult think about all the things you say you’re going to do but never do because there is no real immediate negative feedback.
This process made us a little more aware of our intentions when dealing with our kids. Discipline is a must, I agree 100% and I will not be one to tell you what methods are right or wrong. I think it is more about what emotions are guiding your actions. Always remember, punishments come from anger, are based on the past and are focused on penalty while discipline comes from love, is based on the future and is focused on correction.