Month 28: Question — Potty Refusals (Helping Toddlers to Help Themselves)

Toddler Sized: Opportunities to Discover

Question:   I don’t know what is up with my two-year old, he only occasionally tells us when he needs to go, and usually always says “no!!” when we ask if he needs to, or offer to take him. Most recently he’s been waiting till it’s already too late and asking us to change his pants. He is very verbal and smart, I don’t see why he can’t just tell us sooner.   We’ve been ECing since 3.5 wks, and yes there have been ups and downs but this is getting discouraging.  It’s cold here and he can’t undress himself.  – K.J.

Answer:   Most people would say this is the “terrible twos”, I say it is a milestone called “autonomy”  aka.  “I do it myself.”      It is important to set up toddlers to be able to do things for themselves.   A two year old should be able to pull down a simple pair of training pants or elastic trousers/pants even if they can’t pull them up yet.    If a young toddler has never been encouraged or given the chance to pull down their own pants to potty, they don’t know how else to exert autonomy when they no longer want your help to do everything, except to pee in their pants and then ask for assistance.

It’s not that the toddler can’t ask sooner, it is that it is not what they are trying to ask.     The request is for more independence and less hovering.   Looking from their perspective, even though they soil themselves and it is very unpleasant, it is more important to them that they are initiating the how and the when.     In a diapering culture a toddler can’t put on their own diaper and may be put into clothing styles preventing diaper removal and thus any elimination autonomy.  What do they do instead?  They put up a big fight for every diaper change or they wait until the diaper is off to let loose.     This habit of doing things “to” a toddler rather than “with” them is not what you want especially with an EC’d baby.  It causes unnecessary power struggles.

Don’t worry about the cold.    Unless you are living outdoors in the middle of a snowy winter, even a chilly indoor temperature of 55 degrees F isn’t going to do a toddler harm.   Most toddlers are streakers (including my own) and are unaffected or simply convey that they are cold.   Even if you are concerned about a chill keeping the core and extremities warm is fine, don’t concern yourself with the buttocks (bare bottom at times has its merits too even in the winter).    Long socks and shirt with training pants should be fine.   Or easy elastic pants with no underwear is more than sufficient.       Avoid unfriendly sets like overalls, onesies, zippers, snaps, and double layers of underwear and pants.      Show your potty learner  how to take off the trainers or single layer easy pants.   He or she may need help putting them on but at two is more than old enough to be able to pull a simple pair down.    Set them up to take over for themselves.   It is perfectly acceptable for a toddler to go into the bathroom with pants and come out without them.   In time they will learn valuable lessons such as they should be at the potty before pulling down their pants to the ankles and walking to it.     These stages are adorable and not something to be missed.    It is endearing when they go in dressed and come out proudly half (or all)-naked.   Then one day they come out with their pants pulled up literally half-assed.  Soon they get the hang of both underwear with pants and rarely need help.

If the toddler is brand new at this skill because they’ve never done it at all, you can certainly aide a toddler who is having particular difficulty pulling their pants down by doing it part way for them after they’ve had a go at it, and then instructing them to pull them up most of the way.   If they’ve never done this before they’ll find it exciting.      Listen to their requests for help, but don’t do it all — do just enough.     Listen when they say “I do it myself” either with words, sounds, or body language.     Give them words and ways to ask for help and show them that you trust them.

It’s amazing how fast they become proficient when the opportunities are presented.

If you have a younger baby, perhaps one that has just learned to stand strong give THEM the opportunity to pull at their trainers.  Don’t forget to talk to them about what you are doing, and encourage them to pull up their trainers (easier for beginner standers), and then encourage pulling down.   Even if all they manage to do is to yank and not make much progress, the point is that they are given the means to try in stages.     Don’t wait until you think a child is capable because that inevitably means that you will do too much for too long because you’ve underestimated them.  Let them show you their abilities by offering the chance.    For example, Itty Bitty just this week has discovered that she can put on her socks on all by herself even though she has tried before and not succeeded.    She has had the opportunity to do so since before she was two by my encouraging the pre-walker to remove her own socks,  my talking her through what I was doing as I put them on, encouraging her to pull up on the tops to “fix” them,  having her help take off  Mommy and Daddy’s socks and “help” put them on, and finally purchasing one size larger than her size to make it easier.   It isn’t something we did out of the blue, but worked on gradually as a matter of daily routine and she gradually did more and more as she practiced and developed at her own pace (See Blog Entries Month 16 to Month 25).

Tots are very capable.    Let them surprise and awe.  Enjoy!



What are some of the things you do everyday to encourage autonomy?


About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43...44, married with two children, two cats, and a dog. Writing is my hobby, and learning and teaching my passions. Books! It used to be that I could devour several books a week when I had the time. I am usually too tired to stray awake these days with two kids. Currently my brain and energy levels have steered me to casual games, writing contests, and some inconsistent blogging.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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