Peaceful Potty Learning 101

Potty learning is a significant milestone in a toddler’s life, marking a step towards independence, and for many parents, it’s loaded with varying emotions. Some parents are anxious to have their toddlers out of diapers, maybe out of fear of overwhelm with a new baby on the way, or due to pressure from a preschool or daycare. Other parents dread potty training, concerned about having to navigate accidents or maybe they’re frustrated at how difficult their toddler is to motivate. 

What if potty learning could be virtually stress-free for both the toddler and the parent? That certainly is the dream for most parents, but how do you make it a reality? 
How to potty train toddlers peacefully

Help! How to help my toddler buckle into a car seat?

Toddlers really know how to put on the brakes when they don't want to get in a car seat! How can you help them buckle in safely without resorting to threats, punishments, and force? Here are a few ideas.

Dear Amanda,
I need your advice on how to get my toddler to cooperate when I need to buckle him into the car seat. It’s always been a bit of a struggle, but lately my newly three-year-old is making it so hard to get going–he finds every reason to not buckle himself, not let me buckle him, says he needs all these crazy things before we can leave, and on and on. I seriously dread getting in the car these days! How can I make this less difficult for him (and me)?



Help! How do I handle toddler tantrums peacefully?

Dear Dr. David + Amanda,
I'm reaching out because I'm having such a hard time dealing with my toddler's tantrums. It's like the "terrible twos" hit us like a tidal wave, and I'm left feeling lost every time my little one goes into meltdown mode. I've tried to do everything I can to avoid triggering him, but once he gets going, I just don’t know how to stop it. I don’t want to spank him or threaten her, but I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I try to be reassuring and he yells even more! Help a struggling mama out? -Alex

Hi Alex, 
We can tell from your message that you care so much about your daughter, and truly want to help her, and we understand (from our own experience!) how chaotic those tantrums and meltdowns can be - for parent and child! 

Shifting your mindset about consequences

Brooke, one of the moms in The Mentorship, shared this story with us recently that perfectly illustrates the Peacemaker Parenting approach to consequences:

"That last time we were at my mom's house, Eli (4) started playing with a ball inside. He wasn't being particularly naughty or disruptive with it, so we adults just sort of kept talking and didn't pay that much attention. Before I knew it, Eli had thrown the ball at just the right angle and knocked a picture off the credenza, breaking the glass. In the past I would have been very stern with him, scolded him for being naught, put him in time-out, and put the ball away. This time I tried to focus on future-facing consequences. Because there was glass involved I didn't make him help me clean it up. But we did talk to his Grandma and together we decided that Eli and I would go to the craft store and replace the glass in the frame. We also defined new expectations that balls are only for the back patio or back yard at Grandma's house. My mom is going to get an all-weather basket or tote to keep outside toys in for the future."

First, let us make this disclaimer perfectly clear, because sometimes it is misunderstood or misconstrued: Peacemaker Parenting does not avoid all consequences, and we personally don't believe consequences should never be used. 

That being said, when a parent's mindset is heavily weighted towards consequences, they are more likely to fail at helping children learn the skills and tools, and gain the maturity needed to do better next time. Focusing on consequences is a backward-facing approach. Focusing on empowering is a forward-facing approach. This is why, in Peacemaker Parenting, we do not rely on consequences to hold boundaries and limits or to manage and control behavior.

Nearly every choice and behavior has a natural consequence or outcome, and those natural consequences can sometimes be the best teachers. When we settle into a consequence-heavy mindset, it is easy to unintentionally hurt our children with the consequence (which breaks trust and connection and inhibits their ability to learn to do better), rather than helping them know what or how to do differently  next time. Rather than looking forward to what can be done differently next time, our child focuses on the imposed consequence (which can very easily just be a "punishment" delivered more gently).

Max Bledsoe, father of Drew Bledsoe and author of Parenting with Dignity explains why this can be counter productive:

"When a parent resorts to punishment, parent and child pay attention to the punishment, its fairness, and whether it has been enforced or followed. The child stops thinking about the decision process in his mind that brought about the negative consequences—and doesn’t think at all about what he might do differently."

It isn't that there is never a need for logical consequences - there certainly are! But removing a child from a harmful situation or taking away something to keep it safe merely fixes the problem in the moment. Our children need to be patiently coached, guided, taught, and empowered with how to handle the same situation next time. Empowering them with emotional regulation tools, scripts for respectful conflict, and what or how to do better next time equips them for the future rather than punishing them for the past.

This is where future-facing consequences can be so life-giving. 

Future-focused discipline allows us to evaluate our children as whole beings, taking into account their physical, emotional, and sensory needs, their personalities, and their development. That enables us as parents to create a robust and wholistic approach to empowering them for the future. This can take many forms, from practicing impulse control through classic childhood games like Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light, (which, admittedly may not feel very "discipline-y", but it is important to build and strengthen a child's impulse control "muscle" before placing an expectation on them that is rooted in controlling impulses and urges) to brainstorming a code word or private prompt for you to use when they need a gentle reminder to speak with respect and honor. 

The summer our boys were 7 and 8 they struggled with sibling conflict more than what we thought was typical. It felt like every little thing turned into an explosive argument. By that time we'd spent a few years teaching them healthy conflict resolution, but all of it seemed to have gone out the window. 

We could have punished them for fighting, or used a reward system to motivate them to focus on being kind to each other. Instead, we invited them to write and illustrate their own P.E.A.C.E. Plan. They spent a couple of hours one afternoon creating a conflict resolution guide customized to their personalities and needs, that they were then able to use any time they had disagreements or problems that needed intentional peace infused into the situation. This is a future-facing consequence - it empowers them with a tangible tool to help them in the future, rather than using negative consequences to try to deter their fighting. 

Want to learn more? Our upcoming workshop, Peacemaker Parenting: Consequences is all about natural, logical, imposed, and future-facing consequences! Learn more, and register here.

Peacemaker Parenting Tool: Time-In instead of a Time-Out

A time-in is an alternative approach to misbehavior, meltdowns, tantrums, and impulsive outbursts that involves guiding your child to a safe space where you can use co-regulation strategies and emotion coaching to help them calm their bodies and process their emotions. This helps children develop emotional intelligence and gives them tools to deal with strong emotions in a healthy and safe way. It also allows them to remain supported while feeling the full range of emotions.

While a time-in can happen anywhere, at any time (because its foundation is a connected and supporting parent-child relationship), creating a Grace Space (or calm down space) at home that is designated for time-ins will help establish rhythm and familiarity for a young child who is learning to regulate emotions. Check out this article on how to create a Grace Space

Many peaceful and respectful parenting voices use the term Time-In instead of time out, but we want to give you a helpful analogy that you can use without having to change up your language. 

In traditional parenting, time-outs are more like a penalty box in hockey -  a penalty or punishment, that leaves a child alone to "think about it". Because parenting as a peacemaker means that we do not withhold our affection, connection, or protection, a time out is more like a time out in football - when the team takes a break to regroup, rest, regulate, and problem-solve. This will look different from family to family (and sometimes even within families moment by moment!). The key is that the parent or caregiver is regulated and able to meet the emotional, physical, and sensory needs of the child so they can learn to regulate as well. 

Sending a child to their room or a timeout isolates them for being dysregulated, which is largely outside their control. Their central nervous system learns how to calm down by being in the presence of a calm adult nervous system, a process called coregulation. They may come out of timeout no longer screaming or crying, but their nervous system likely will not have truly calmed down, which keeps them in a cycle of big feelings > bad behavior > time out.

Isolating a child for their behavior or immature expressions of feelings punishes them for what they did wrong, but it doesn't teach them how to do better. Discipline requires us to teach (disciple) them and guide them towards maturity. A time-in is essentially a collaborative time-out, and it provides an opportunity to teach a child through difficult situations.

Time-out in the form of isolation teaches the child to focus on themselves and their behavior. Approaching timeout as a team-building opportunity (like in football) teaches a child to be aware of the family as a whole, and allows children and caregivers to learn from each other and problem-solve together.

Time-Ins are especially helpful for toddlers and preschoolers due to their under-developed skills of self-regulation. As children enter middle childhood, they will begin to grow their ability and capacity for self-regulation, meaning they will not need the help of a parent or caregiver quite as often. However, neurodiverse children, as well as kids who are still learning how to calm their nervous systems, may need a supportive adult to guide them.

REMEMBER - THE KEY TO AN EFFECTIVE TIME-IN ISN'T A PRETTY SPACE OR HAVING LOTS OF TOOLS, IT IS YOU! So when it's really rough - taking a parent time out is totally okay! You can't help a child learn to regulate if you are dysregulated!

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