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  Parenting Advice Column
  Subject: potty training/nighttime needs

QUESTION:

I would like to know the best way that I can get my child potty-trained and to get my child to enjoy potty-training. I also have another question on how to get my child off the bottle at night time. My child does not take the bottle through the day she drinks out of a cup, but when I send her to bed at night, she will cry if I do not give it to her.

Please help!

Name withheld


JAN'S REPLY:

You sound like a caring and concerned parent. Thank you for sending your questions.

I have one question myself. Why is it that you see the night-time bottle as a problem to be solved? What difficulty does it cause for you or for her, as you see it? If you're worried that she will never give up this bottle, you can relax, because children do grow up, all on their own, at their own personal rate of growth.

Have you read my article "Ten Reasons to Sleep Next to Your Child at Night"? Please take a look at this, because if your child is sleeping alone, the bottle is very probably a security object which helps her to cope with loneliness or night-time fears. Security objects act as a substitute for the parent's presence and reassurance. If she can sleep next to you at night, her need for a substitute object will very probably disappear quickly. A general rule of thumb is that each and every "troublesome" behavior will remain until the child's underlying, legitimate need is met. The parent's task, then, is not to force the child to move toward more mature behavior, but to enable the child to do this, by seeing that her genuine needs (especially the need for love and reassurance) are met as they arise.

If she is already sleeping with you, I would recommend patience until she is ready to give it up. Forcing a child to let go of a source of security before he or she is ready really doesn't accomplish anything. The need will still be there, and will simply be transferred to something else that may be more of a problem for you. We can't force a child to grow up any faster than they are already doing, nor should we feel any need to do so. As I discuss in my article on learning disabilities, we can't speed up a child's rate of growth any more than we can force a rose to bloom faster.

Re the potty problem, same advice. When she's ready, she's ready. If you are being pressured by relatives or friends asking you about this matter (which is not really their business), try to ignore this well-meant but unnecessary interference. All you need to do is have a potty seat available for her and - in a respectful and gentle way - explain what it is for. When she's ready, she'll use it. Even after that point, remember that stressful situations may "set her back". If she asks for a diaper though she has already used the potty for some time, honor that request. Trust her to know what she is ready to take on during any given day. Who knows more than the child what she is capable of doing?

Remember that each child has a built-in rate of development, and what is "normal" for one may not be "normal" for another; in fact, there are wide variations for potty-training, giving up bottles, and every other milestone. Any comparison to other children is unhelpful and can cause unnecessary worry for the parent. As Epictetus wrote almost two centuries ago, "There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will."

The educator John Holt had an interesting analogy: he cautioned parents that "children are not trains". What he meant was that a train must reach each station on time, otherwise, it will arrive late at the final destination. A child, however, can arrive "late" at any or all of the "stations" or milestones of development, but can quickly catch up later. For example, a child I know about didn't learn to read until he was twelve, but later graduated with honors from Harvard (fortunately, he had been homeschooled, so he was never hindered by a "learning disability" label!)

Believe me, "this too shall pass", and faster than you imagine. My "baby" just turned sixteen. All the "problems" we thought would last forever just vanished one by one as he grew older. Your little girl will grow up - and looking back on this later, you'll be amazed that you thought you had to help her do this! All she needs from you is the joy you feel as you watch her grow and mature.

Jan

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