How to Handle Potty Talk In Small Children

I have had several moms ask me lately how to handle potty talk and/or repeated belching  that sometimes accompanies rough playing or just takes over any creative playing. This post is specifically addressed for both a child under 7 and a child over 7.  So, without further ado, here are a few thoughts in no particular order.  Please take what resonates with you and your family.  These thoughts come from a Waldorf perspective, but would also fit in well with parents who are practicing gentle discipline.

1. Penis talk and potty talk belongs in the bathroom, so when it starts just calmly take the children by the hand and walk them to the bathroom and tell them this is the room where those words belong and to come out when they are done.  The same really goes for the repeated belching that some children think is funny.

2.   When penis and potty talk abounds, another tactic might be to just  the change the scene – start singing a song, get out a book and start reading aloud, start building a block tower and they will run to join you.  Then at bedtime, address this with your child who is over seven year that those actions belong in the bathroom and he is a model for his younger sibling.  Don’t over-talk it, over-explain it, guilt your child.  You can just say, “I know your mouth forgot what it was doing, but those words belong in the bathroom.”  

3. If the belching and penis talk is just because the children are ramped up and running around with all kinds of energy, bring them their shoes and coats and tell them to go outside or take them from a walk.  Also, I think it is easy to stay in more now that the weather is a bit colder and we forget these are the same children that are running around or swimming for five hours a day in the summer.  That physical energy is still there!  A mini-trampoline for inside can be a lifesaver as can building forts out of cushions and pillows.

4. Keep surrounding them with peaceful energy, but do address the behavior calmly and guide it.

5. The other thought is how does your husband feel this should be addressed?  Does he address it if the children do it when he is around?  It may mean more coming from him, an adult male,  as well to talk about this and manners in front of other people, especially Mommies that we need to show respect for.  Everyone in the family should be treated with respect and dignity.

I also would look to things and activities that would involve a strong, nice male authority if you can find that in your community.

6.  This is kind of a technique from my pediatric physical therapy days, but sometimes just walking up to them in the  height of this kind of talk or play and placing your hand on their shoulder seems to ground them and shift the energy.

8. Sometimes you can just say, “You  may find something else to do.”   Take the little one with you into the kitchen to peel something and before you know it, the energy has shifted and off they go to some kind of meaningful play.

9. My last thought was maybe they need you to go through their toys and re-arrange or rotate out toys and put ones out they have not seen in awhile.  Sometimes that alone is enough to get them out of a rut where they do not know what to play and end up with penis talk, belching, etc.

10. If this is occurring around the holidays and you feel they are just really over-stimulated and having a hard time figuring out what to do without escalating out of control, really try to stick to some kind of rhythm and really involve them in your work while they recover.

11. Consider warmth – warming foods, candle light, soups and stews and teas with honey, warm baths, foot baths….warmth is so calming when you feel like spiraling out of control.

Part of living in a family means setting loving boundaries that everyone can live with and feel comfortable with.

Four and six years old can definitely be a height of bathroom humor, etc.  If you have a younger child, is the younger child  typically the one starting it?  I guess if this was being started  by the younger child, I would have some kind of rhythmical activity at the ready.  “I need your help to card all this wool.” (Wind this ball of yarn, grate this carrot, sift this flour, knead this bread, whatever). 

With repeated belching, imitation is also important so perhaps the first time the child  belched I might say, “Oh, excuse you.” And if he did it repeatedly  then I would just take him by the hand to the bathroom or I would get him involved in something right next to me.   The good thing about a four year old is hopefully the child  is distractible with fantasy and movement so even just saying to the child, “Wow, that was a big burp horsie” and involving him in  a big story/play about being a horse from that point may move the child onto other things. 

If this sort of play or talk  is happening during the time the children are supposed to be free  playing, I would take it as a sign they need help and guidance in finding something to do, and would either set up a play scene before they are to play,  or work on setting one up the night before so they can find it when they wake up, or seriously go toward taking them outside.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Why Should I Consider Time-In Instead?

Okay, I have to be very honest with you all and admit I really cannot stand time-out for children under the age of 7.  The rationale that many parents use for time-out is that “my children need to think about what they have done.”  This, to me, contradicts the view of a small child under the age of 7 from a Waldorf educator’s point of view.  From a Waldorf perspective, we do not expect small children to be able to reflect on what they have done in a HEAD manner – we would, however, expect them to help the situation by using their BODIES and their HANDS.  That is a big difference.

The other rationale that parents use for time-out is for when children behaving badly and out of control.  The Waldorf perspective would point to the fact that small children under the age of 7 need their parents’ physical presence, gentle words and gentle hands to help them come back to their bodies.  Sometimes the best place for that is to provide something rhythmical to do, or to provide our bodies in a rocking chair for the rhythmical activity.

From an attachment parenting standpoint, there are attached families who do consider the use of time-out consistent with their philosophy. However, I ask you to respectfully consider the following:

“Sometimes parents are advised to use a time-out instead of spanking their kids – as though these were the only two options available. The reality, as we’ve seen, is that both of these tactics are punitive. They differ only with respect to whether children will be made to suffer by physical or emotional means. If we were forced to choose one over the other, then, sure time-outs are preferable to spankings. For that matter, spanking kids is preferable to shooting them, but that’s not much of an argument for spanking.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 65-66.

Alfie Kohn discusses the history of time-out: “Time-out is actually an abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement. The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals….When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, your love. You may not have thought of it that way.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 26-27.

So how about some tools to try instead:

Humor!

Environmental Control – child-proof your house so you do not have to keep saying “no” to everything and policing everything

Going outside and having

Having a stronger rhythm to your day of interesting things to do

Listening to your child

Empathy – now with WORDS for the under 7 crowd, but with smiles, hugs, and warmth

Time-In with you, holding

If you cannot hold your child, have the child near you while you are doing something rhythmical and start to tell a small story.  Many times this is enough to shift the mood in the space.  Then you can later go back to the situation and try to make it better.

If YOU need to gain control and take a small break outside that is different than sending a small under 7 child away!

Also, there is nothing wrong with giving the child an option to go to her room or another place when she is upset – as long as it is an option and the child controls the leaving, where to go in the house, what to do, when to come back).

You may agree or disagree with me, but these are just a few of my thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Top 10 Must Have Tools for Gentle Discipline

So, we arrive at the point where we must think about the gentle discipline tools we have in our toolbox to replace physical punishment, yelling, nagging.  This post is especially applicable to those families with small children under the age of 7, although many of these techniques will work with school-aged children as well.   A brief note before we get to our Top 10, though.

Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley say in their book, “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – Nurturing Our Children from Birth to Seven” this:

“In The Kingdom of Childhood, Rudolf Steiner says that the child in the first seven years is really an eye. If someone has fits of temper and becomes furiously angry either with the child or in the presence of the child, the child will have the picture of this outburst throughout his entire being.   ….Everything we do in the presence of the child goes in deeply.  Scolding, threats, and yelling do not help in disciplining young children.  This approach may actually weaken their ability to deal with situations later in life.”

So the first thing to remember is that we always guide the under-7 child with the principle of imitation.

Imitation Rahima Baldwin Dancy says this in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher”:  “If you want to teach a certain behavior to your child, one of the best ways is to actually do it in front of (or with) him.  This demands that we as adults get up and actually do something, rather than giving the child orders or directions.”

This idea of imitation is so important, it doesn’t even get a number!  It is the basis for so many things in life with a small child.  A small child will imitate in their play the exact way you do things down to how you throw a cleaning rag in the sink, how you roll your eyes when you are upset, and everything and anything else.  So, when you see a behavior, look first to yourself

So, without much further ado, let’s look at some other tools you can pull out in the moment:

1. Humor – Lots of parents take parenting very seriously.  But please don’t take every word that comes out of your small child ‘s mouth so seriously and feel whatever they say is in deep need of serious explanation and weight. 

Here is an example of a “loaded statement” a child may make.  I had a friend recently ask me about her three-year-old saying “I hate you!” when the child was upset.  Fun?  No, but I would give it about as much weight as a three-year-old telling me they can ride their tricycle over hills in the Land of the Giants.  A three-year-old simply does not understand the depth and weight of that statement, and to imply that the child does is not in accordance with their developmental stage or maturity level.  They are mad; but don’t digress from the original situation and get sidetracked!

I think for children of all ages, a better tact to try sometimes, particularly with children under the age of 12, is humor.  I have a wonderful friend whose parenting I really admire, and humor is her number one tool.  I so enjoy watching it at work.  One day her daughter was in the backseat of their car with some other children,  just playing,  when suddenly she looked  like she lost her balance and sort of fell into the corner of a book.  She was holding her eye and getting upset.  There was no blood, no visible bruising, the eye was not teary or red…….

Daughter:  “Mom, someone hit my eye with their foot!”

Mom:  “I thought it looked like you fell a little into that book.”

Daughter:  “No, no, it was a foot!  It was someone’s foot!” (wailing, gnashing of teeth)

Mom:”Hmmm…..Oh well, in that case – Was it a stinky foot?  Does your eye smell?”

(Little brother is now giggling).  Daughter, still teary:  “I don’t know if it was stinky or not. I didn’t get a chance to smell it.”  (Little brother and adults now laughing).

Mom, grabbing daughter for a hug:  “A stinky foot might cause a stinky eye, let’s see!  Um, yup, definitely stinky!”

This could have gone another way – complete escalation as all the adults were certain it was a book corner in the eye, the daughter was sure it was a foot in the eye (like it matters, still hurts!),  it could have deteriorated into reasoning (well, it couldn’t have been a foot as no one was near you at the time), or just being overly serious and pulling out ice packs and lots of concern (remember, there was no blood, or redness) or it could have turned into a small Treatise On The Danger Of Playing in Close Quarters with Others.

Think about humor, think about not taking it all quite so seriously.  There are many situations where humor can save the day.  Humor helps de-escalate things and also models for your child a positive way to look at the sunny side of things and a way to deal with a stressful or frustrating situation.

Many parents say, Save your big reactions for the big things in life! I agree, but in order to do this, you must know what is BIG in your family and to you.  Think about the developmental stages and what fits where and decide what is BIG….Go back and re-read the post on “Big Tools for the Big Picture of Positive Discipline.”

2.  Distraction – this is a viable tool for all children under 7, and even children that are 7 or 8  can still be fairly distractible.  However, this takes creativity in the heat of the moment to think of an appropriate distraction.  Distraction is not a bribe; it is a way to change to scene to your advantage.

Distraction can also show itself by changing the environment.  Some children just need to be outside when they are upset!

3.  Hugs and kisses and being held – solves lots of things without a lot of words. Sometimes you do not need to say much of anything to your child; just holding them lets them know you are there for them.

4. Pictorial imagery -  This is a Waldorf tool that is very useful with small children.  Instead of pulling children into their heads and into a thought-decision kind of process, try using phrases that paint a picture instead.  This can be anything from “Turn that siren down!” for a noisy little one or “Hop like a bunny over here for some food.”  You are re-directing behavior into something more positive through the images that arise from these types of phrases.  For those interested in more about pictorial imagery, please do see Donna Simmons’ bookstore and look under her audio downloads for her CD entitled, “Talking Pictorially” at www.christopherushomeschool.org. 

5. Use of the word “may”  – as in, “Little Johnny, you may bring your plate to the counter for me.  Thank you!”  Be sincere, and this word works well as you set the tone for your own home.

6. Limited choices, less words or no words at all – Sometimes just a look suffices more than a hundred words.  Try just helping your child get into their coat while you sing a song that you usually sing when you go outside.  Try just handing your child their toothbrush after their bath instead of a whole book about the necessity of dental hygiene.  This idea leads to…

7.  Time-in.  According to Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting,

“Sometimes parents are advised to use a time-out instead of spanking their kids – as though these were the only two options available. The reality, as we’ve seen, is that both of these tactics are punitive. They differ only with respect to whether children will be made to suffer by physical or emotional means. If we were forced to choose one over the other, then, sure time-outs are preferable to spankings. For that matter, spanking kids is preferable to shooting them, but that’s not much of an argument for spanking.”  -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 65-66.

“Time-out is actually an abbreviation for time out from positive reinforcement. The practice was developed almost half a century ago as a way of training laboratory animals….When you send a child away, what’s really being switched off or withdrawn is your presence, your attention, your love. You may not have thought of it that way.” -Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting, page 26-27.

So, consider the value of time-in instead.  Some families have a place where adults and children can sit together until they all calm down, some mothers just have their child sit near them while they do some sort of rhythmical work.

8.  Ignoring –yup, you heard me right.  The Gesell Institute books routinely recommend turning a blind eye to some of your child’s behaviors if it is not hurting others or themselves (or just driving you plain crazy!).  There are times to draw a line in the sand, but if you nit-pick every behavior, you are on the verge of demanding, and not commanding as an Authentic Leader.

9.  Physical follow-through – If you say something to a small child, you should expect to have to physically  help them follow through.  You should expect to have to physically hold an upset child if they need it.  The physicality of life with a small child is always there – hugs, kisses, a lap to sit on and help to do things as needed.  The child’s respect and dignity always needs to be respected, so you need to be calm when you are following through, but please remember a young child under 7 is probably not going to function well on verbal directives alone.

Rahima Baldwin Dancy states in her book, “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher”:  “It isn’t until elementary-school age that a child is ready to respond consistently to authority that is expressed only through the spoken word without being accompanied by actions. With the preschool age child, you need to correct and demonstrate again and again, but you can’t expect children to remember it.  Their memories simply aren’t that mature yet.”

10.  FREEZE!  One of the best tools in parenting is learning to take that quick pause in your mind’s eye and ask yourself if what you are about to do is going to help your child be the adult they were meant to be; is it going to escalate or de-escalate the situation, is it going to teach your child something or is it just a moment of anger for you that will pass?

This series of posts about being an Authentic Leader has been great fun for me to write.  I would love to hear from all of you what situations you could use help with in being an Authentic Leader in your own home; please leave it in the comment section and I would love to address it in a future blog posting!

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.

Big Tools for the Big Picture of Gentle Discipline

In the past few posts, we have looked at providing discipline to our children within the context of being an Authentic Leader.  Part of being the leader of your home is that you have a vision in mind for the future and also that you have a vision in mind for what is happening right here, today, within your own home.

Here are some ways to invoke the big picture of guiding your children’s behavior within your home:

First and foremost, you must start with yourself.  There was recently an article in my local newspaper regarding Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups for alcoholics.  A mother wrote in and said that she had been sober and attending AA meetings for 22 years.  She started attending Al-non as well and stated, “I was dating a crack addict.  It was the most insane things I could do.  I knew I loved alcoholics; that’s the gist of it.  They’re fabulous people, exciting.  In Al-non, you learn to focus on yourself because your part is the only thing you have control over……I have the freedom to do anything I want to do, to be anything I want to be…….”

Most of us have not had this extreme of an epiphany, but I am asking you today, right now, to consider what kind of parent would you like to be to your child and what is holding you back? 

Vimala McClure, in  her book “The Path of Parenting” writes,”We all have  the power to change the scripts we have been given, to alter them so they accurately reflect our values and the timeless principles we decide to  consciously embrace.”

In order to do this, we have to make conscious choices about what we believe and how we live.  Many mothers do this through some form of inner work.  How you do your own inner work is up to you….Some mothers work through prayer, meditation, drumming, reading books of a spiritual or self-help nature, walking meditation, study circles, tai chi, yoga, journaling or the use of exercises created by Rudolf Steiner and laid out in his book,

If you don’t know where to begin, start thinking about some of the very necessary qualities for parenting. This might include working on patience, gentleness, self-discipline, compassion, your flexibility in situations, your ability to stay in the present with your children. 

Work on framing things in a positive way.  I see mothers every day who say they love mothering, love being home, but yet complain quite a bit.  When you were out in the work day, was every day a fabulous day?  Every day may  not be a fabulous day at home unless you frame it that way.  When you are a mother of small children, you start out measuring the days of your toddler and preschooler by how THEY acted that day; start measuring your day by how YOU acted that day.  If you kept your cool no matter what your child was doing, then it was a great day!  Start with you!

Second, you must begin to look at the spiritual reasons behind being a wife, a mother and a homemaker.  Many mothers never look at this and wonder why they do not feel fulfilled within the home environment.  I highly suggest the book, “The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker” by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant in order to stimulate some questions for you to ponder and meditate on.  This is available through the Rudolf Steiner College Bookstore or through Bob and Nancy’s Bookshop, www.waldorfbooks.comIf you come to the belief that you were called to the role of being a wife and mother, that creating peace in your home is the best and most wonderful way you can make this world a better place, then you will see the things you need to do to care for your home and your children in a different light.

Be committed to making your home a peaceful place – this may involve being the calm one when your spouse or your kids are not feeling calm, it may involve compromise.  It can be hard work, be committed to it!

Third, create a peaceful atmosphere within your home by creating a physical environment of  beauty. People new to Waldorf in particular worry about their lack of wooden toys and play silks for their children, but that is not really what Waldorf is all about.  Waldorf is about creating a place of beauty within your home in simplicity.  This may involve seriously less stuff than what you have now.  It may also involve organizing things and implementing a daily and weekly cleaning regime.  There are many resources to assist with this, my personal favorite is www.flylady.net.  There are also many books on the market detailing weekly, monthly, seasonal and yearly cleaning agendas.

Fourth, you must develop a rhythm.  A yearly, weekly and daily rhythm. Schmidt-Brabant writes in “The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker”, “Rhythm is strength.  And strength arises where time and life are formed  rhythmically….Life is tension.  Tension arises through contrasting elements. If we succeed in moving rhythmically within this tension, then strength will arise.”

A rhythm is meant to give you stability so you and your child know what is coming next.  Future posts will look more carefully at the way to craft a rhythm and make it work for you and your family.

Fifth, you must learn to understand childhood development.  Many folks like the Gesell Institute Series Your One Year Old, Your Two Year Old, etc.  These titles are slightly outdated in many of its references as it was written in the 1960’s but the portions regarding childhood development are spot on and helpful.  From a more anthroposophical point of view, you may want to try some of these books: You Are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy, Beyond the Rainbow Bridge by Barbara Patterson, or Lifeways: Working With Family Questions by Gudrun Davy and Bons Voors.  Other excellent places to look when you are ready include Rudolf Steiner’s The Kingdom of Childhood, The Education of the Child, and the wonderful Soul Economy (my personal favorite).   These books look at the overall picture of the small child and the role of the homemaker. 

Being with a small child all day requires an integration of developing inner fortitude, a rhythm to help carry you and your child, an understanding of child development and being able to shape and guide your child’s behavior through gentle tools. For a small child under the age of 7 or 8, these tools would include the ability to make the environment one the child can be in without so many “no’s”, the ability to have a good sense of humor and creativity in response to typical childhood situations; these tools do not involve reasoning with a small child or physical punishment.  More about these tools in the next post!

The five concepts mentioned about are for the big picture to help you be an Authentic Leader within your own home.  The next post will take a peek at what to do when you feel close to losing it with your child and some techniques you can pull out at the drop of a hat to make life more beautiful for everyone in the house.

Thoughts on Challenging Developmental Stages

Dr. William Sears frequently discusses “the high-needs child” in his library of books – he even has an entire book devoted to this very subject. This is a post listing suggestions and options to consider when your child, high-needs or not, is going through a more challenging phase of development. Pick and choose what resonates with you and your family.

For any particular situation or challenging time-

1. Always check what developmental phase child is in – is it a typical time of separation anxiety? Teething? Rule out anything else possible going on – beginnings of getting sick?   Throw in some teething, feeling puny, hungry, tired and there you go.  More cling than Saran-Wrap!  But at least you know where your child is developmentally, (hopefully!) you know your child’s temperament, you know what is normal for this age and can better figure out how to meet your child’s needs where he or she is……

Now, knowing the cause or that this phase may pass does NOT mean to just let the behavior go necessarily…The behavior still needs to be addressed, but you can still do it with a loving firmness, a loving kindness in your calm way. There will be more posts in the future about the subject of Authentic Leadership for your child.

2.  Next, always check where you are – what are your needs?  I think behind any feelings there is a need.  You are feeling (anxious, irritated, fill in the blank ??) because you have a need for ________ (solitude? peace? to be unhurried and unrushed?) You are feeling tired from work, from parenting?  Self -empathy can be very powerful!  I have a list of quick things that put me in a better frame of mind – self-empathy, certain music, hidden chocolate stash, just deep breathing, calling a friend..

Inner work is the hallmark of parenting. Some parents chose to work on inner development through something like meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, visualization or prayer.  I am a Christian, so I work on my personal development through my religious life.   If you don’t feel you have any time to devote to this, try just setting a timer for five minutes at the beginning and end of the day to just breathe and go from there.

3. Once you know where your child is, and where you are, you can formulate a plan.  Like so many things in life, it can be your reaction – meaning this:

Example 1 – My kids are playing well together whipping up a pretend gourmet feast.  I am cleaning, and I feel thrilled they are playing well together!  I am getting so much done!

Example 2 – My kids are playing well together whipping up a pretend gourmet feast.  We have to leave the house in 10 minutes!  I feel anxious and upset.  We are going to be late!

See what I mean?

Sooo, if you check in with your child (not by asking them directly!! – just watching them and thinking!) and if you check in with yourself and it is not meshing well, formulate a plan.  Rhythm is such a powerful help at these times (at all times, but especially in these times!). Hopefully you have established awake times, meal times, nap times and bed times, along with getting outside every day and special things you do each day of the week…Rhythms of the day, the week and the year can be a huge help in carrying your little ones over the rough spots. Other things that provide much help includes spending lots of time outside in nature and not scheduling many days out of the house. Small children thrive on being at home!

4.  One thing I found very helpful was to cultivate as much as possible, a “peaceful, matter-of-fact mother hen kind of energy”, as Donna Simmons (www.christopherushomeschool.org) describes in some of her work. I have another wise cyber-friend from Donna Simmons’ Internet Waldorf Discussion Forum who calls this being “ho-hum”………. Just because your child’s small planet is spinning out of control for the moment, you can just HOLD THE SPACE.  If you meet intensity with intensity, then we are all swimming in intensity.  Hold the space!  Being matter of fact with as few words as possible does really help – sing songs for your transitions – have songs for tooth brushing and a song for getting shoes on. Use your sense of humor and playfulness, but demonstrate what to do and use less words!

Also, it bears note that gentle parenting does not require you to play cruise director all day long. If you have a good rhythm established, your home child be a peaceful place where your child is included and loved, but you are doing much of your own work – washing, cleaning, gardening, baking, and your child can choose to participate with you or to play by you. It is not up to you to be a playmate all day long. You can always start setting something up, such as a play scene or pretend cooking while you are baking and many times your child will pick it up and go with the play you have provided.

5.  FOR THE “HIGH-NEEDS CHILD” — It bears repeating that a truly higher-needs infant, toddler or child really do want a rhythm to his or her day that she can count on and hang his or her hat on.  Getting up at the same time every day. diaper changing/bathroom for me. breakfast. outside. diaper changing/bathroom, snack. story time and fingerplays…

To me, one of the hallmarks of the high-needs child is IRREGULARITY. These are the children that find it difficult to eat at the same time and have a nap or go to sleep. I frequently joke when my oldest was little that she would be great in a career where it required one to stay up at night – all night disc jockey? ER physician?

I also think it is important for you to model for your child times of rest – not times when you are on the computer, but truly a time of rest when you close your eyes and just be. It is important for the “high-needs” child to hear and see that it is okay to relax and rest.

6. Finally, the whole balance thing: something for you alone is important,  A girl movie cued up and ready to go the moment your child is asleep.  The phone buddy support person.  Many of us are searching to create a community we can count on, one in accordance with our needs to treat our children with respect and dignity.  Support from your spouse or significant other is also important. Alone is hard, but a community is a lifesaver!

Many blessings,

Carrie