About a month ago, my husband and I worked with our younger son, Tucker, on using the toilet. If you’ve followed our blog for the past couple of years, you’ll know that our older son offered us a hefty challenge when it came to this (one that still isn’t totally complete), so we felt a great deal of hesitation in trying to do this for a second time. With young children, there’s a milestone or timeline for practically everything, and that makes it challenging to follow and trust your child. Even though Jack and I didn’t feel totally ready, we believed that Tucker was. He showed a lot of the classic signs of readiness, and he was deeply interested in the bathroom. Some of my favorite content creators on Instagram, @biglittlefeelings, just launched a potty learning course, so we decided we’d try it since we felt less than good about our prior experience. In reflecting on their course as a teacher, there are two things I want to highlight that I think @biglittlefeelings gets right, and not just for young children, but for all of us who know or work with kids.
1) Preparing yourself: A major component of helping a child learn any new skill requires you preparing yourself for what the learning may look like (knowing that even with lots of careful thought and planning, surprises may crop up). Still, you need to consider what they’ll need, the stages they’ll likely go through, how they may need support, and what might be difficult or triggering for you during the process. It seems common that parents and teachers think about the first three items on that list and neglect the fourth. We fell into that when we were helping our older son learn these skills. I appreciated the explicit reminder to make sure that we were ready for what this hands-on learning would be like, so that we could remind ourselves that learning is messy and can feel chaotic. There are many times in the classroom that I remember feeling that the learning was messy (meant in both the literal and metaphorical senses), and those were harder moments for me. So here’s my reminder for any teacher or parent out there: learning is supposed to be messy and loud and wild some of the time. If that’s happening in your world right now, don’t stop it, especially if it feels uncomfortable for you.
2) Playing it cool: This course used what they called the Three C’s, and the third was “play it cool.” This reminded me a lot of the unanxious expectations that we tried to cultivate as teachers when I worked as a teacher at F.W. Parker Charter Essential School in Massachusetts. No learning is helped by pressure to get it right by a certain time. Usually, this pressure just gets in the way and the learner focuses on the pressure and the expectation rather than the actual learning. We also know that emotions are contagious and keeping ourselves regulated allows our children to be regulated. By playing it cool, regardless of how much time it takes or what reactions pop up, you give the message that it’s the learning that’s important and not the emotional response of the person who has already mastered the skill. While kids should see emotional reactions from adults, we need to be aware that sometimes our adult emotions make it much harder for the kids to learn and process what they’re working on. The more we can allow them to focus on their learning, the smoother the process will be.
In classrooms, students are often up against milestones that may or may not have anything to do with their actual developmental stage, starting with leveling kids by chronological age and quickly proceeding to expectations for fine and gross motor control, reading readiness, the ability to sit still for long periods, and on and on through all the years of schooling. Reminding ourselves, as teachers, that some of these milestones are, in fact, a bit arbitrary can help us back off the expectations and pressure that many kids are demoralized by. We still have to plan for what we hope the learning will look like, but when things don’t go exactly to plan, it’s usually neither the fault of the teacher nor the student. Having that mindset (and playing it cool) can help us regroup and approach a learning task from another angle entirely.
Back on the home front, we’re a little over a week into this process of toilet training, and I find myself constantly reminding myself that it needs to be messy, and I need to stay centered. Both of my kids will learn when they’re ready, and until then, I’ll keep these two pieces of learning in mind.