Potty Training!

Are you currently in the throes of potty training your toddler or preschool child? Or are you wondering if it might be the right time to start potty training? 

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Potty training (or Toilet Learning, as some refer to it as) can be one of the hardest stages of development for both the caregiver and child.

At times it can feel like navigating a mine-field; and trying to research and gather info on it can be just plan overwhelming! It seems everyone has a "theory" - their own personal "secret to success". Yet, you read the next person's "secret to success" - and it is the polar opposite to the first! So what's the secret?!? Which will support you and your child through this process?

Well, at the end of the day parents need to decide upon a strategy and plan that best suits their family.

What I can say is - based on my 17 years working with toddlers and preschoolers I have had the PLEASURE of assisting hundreds of children through their potty training education; and it has shown me some tried and true things that really do work - as well as things that do NOT work!

So, I will do my best to share my many experiences with Potty Training, to hopefully assist anyone going through the potty training journey - Instagram Follower @montessori.mumma asked for info via a recent IG post asking if any of our followers had questions about the preschool years! 

How To Know When To Start:

Parents need to understand, and ACCEPT, that there is no universal golden age that a child is ready to potty train. Each child is different, and their bodies grow and develop at their own pace. This means some children will be physiologically ready at age 18 months (super rare!!). Others, around 24 months (still rare!). Most, between 2.5 years through 3.5 years. And some children can be later still - I have worked with preschoolers who truly were not ready until 4 years old. 

So with this much age range - how can you assess when your child is ready? 

There are signs you can watch for, including:

  1. Can they go two+ hours in their diaper without peeing? 
  2. Are they showing interest in washroom routines (talking about it, noticing when others use the washroom, etc) 
  3. Are they verbalizing (telling you) right after they have peed or had a BM? Are they letting you know they need a diaper change? 
  4. And though this is less common - are they telling you that they need to pee? 

If you have said "yes" to any of the above, your child may be ready for potty training!  

If you said "no" to all of the above, but you just have a feeling that your child may be ready, then I recommend also starting - but while carefully observing for any signs that it is not what their body is currently ready for as the first two weeks go.  BUT - if your child is showing signs that they aren't ready in the first two weeks - STOP!! Forcing potty training before a child is physically ready can cause severe delays in achieving potty training - and add MONTHS if not more to how long it takes your child to become potty trained!! (See below for signs your child is not ready for potty training). 

Starting Potty Training:

When you make the decision to give potty training a try, make your Plan of Action - and make sure all of the adults in your child's life (partners/spouses, child care centre, grandparents, babysitters, etc) know what the Plan is. It is CRUCIAL that EVERYONE follows the same Plan, so there is CONSISTENCY for your child! Nothing can derail potty training faster than inconsistency for a preschool child!!

How To Make Your Plan: 

You need to decide the following key pieces: 

  • Will you use a diaper, a disposable potty training diaper (like pull-ups), or potty training underwear, or regular underwear?
  • How will you adapt the toilet for your child? Will you use a potty seat on the toilet? Will you get a travel potty? Will you get a sturdy step stool for your child to climb up onto the toilet seat? 
  • What language will you use with your child, as "cue words" for them to say when they need to go? 
  • How often will bathroom trips be? Every hour? Two hours? Ten minutes?  
  • How will you explain potty training to your child? What language are you comfortable with using, to refer to body parts? 
  • Are you going to use any type of tracking system, or reward system, along with your child's potty training journey? 

Every family will answer the above questions, based upon their own core beliefs, values, child rearing philosophies, and opinions. And that is each family's right - it is their child, their choice. 

But I can share what I believe, based on my years of potty training experience with all types of children: 

1. I recommend using the special potty training underwear (see picture) that have extra padding to "soak up" accidents (which helps with clean up). The reason I prefer these to diapers or pull-ups-type disposable trainers are: the sensory experience of "having an accident" is one of the BEST learning tools for a preschool child, to be able to learn the cause and effect of urination. As accidents occur, the child begins to link the sensory feeling of urinating, with the physical sensations PRIOR to urinating - the fullness of bladder and need to empty. When diapers or pull-ups are used, they inhibit this sensory experience, which means it takes longer for children to make this "connection" in their minds - the need to pee.  And with the extra padding of these underwear, it makes clean up so much easier!!

These two options of potty training underwear can be found in most children's stores, are reusable, and can come in fun graphics that preschool kids enjoy!! 

These two options of potty training underwear can be found in most children's stores, are reusable, and can come in fun graphics that preschool kids enjoy!! 

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2. I recommend using a potty seat - that can be either installed with the regular toilet seat (picture A), or one that can be placed on and off the toilet (picture B). The reason is - many children do have a fear from the lack of stability they feel while sitting on the toilet - as it is so large for their body - and of "falling in"; the smaller seat makes them feel more safe. Some even come with two hand holds on the sides, which increases the child's feeling of stability even more! And, you can take them with you when you're not at home!! Which means consistency for your child, no matter where you are!! Note: most children will only need these smaller seats during the beginning of potty training - after getting comfortable with using a toilet, and achieving "full potty training" (no more accidents) you will most often be able to forgo the small seats, and just use the regular toilet. 

 

Option A - installs with the real toilet seat

Option A - installs with the real toilet seat

Option B - removable seat with hand holds

Option B - removable seat with hand holds

When it comes to the "travel potties" (see picture below), I am not a huge fan. I do believe they have merit in SOME situations (such as road trips where bathrooms are far between), or camping (when there are no toilets available). But for everyday life, I am not a fan of these potties. I am a firm believer that in order for a child have healthy developmental grown, they need to have access to real materials from everyday life. And for families that use these portable potties in random parts of their home (living room, dining room, bedroom, etc) - please stop!! This is so unnecessary, and actually detrimental to your child developing functioning body control. Our goal as educators to children (whether we are parents, caregivers, or child care/teachers) is to assist them in gaining REAL LIFE SKILLS. Real life does not include bathrooms in the middle of the dining room. If your child has an accident while rushing from the living room to bathroom - so be it! It's all part of potty training. Part of this process is their body learning to control its physical functions (like bladder control) - this will happen in time. 

When used properly, it can be useful in the potty training journey!  

When used properly, it can be useful in the potty training journey!  

3. When it comes to language, this is so specific to each family - and rightfully so. No matter whether you use nicknames for bodily functions, say "peepee" or "pee" or "tinkle" - or the actual names ("urinate") as long as your child knows the words, you are fine! I know many ECE's advocate for the use of anatomically-correct use of words with children - but to me, I'm not that concerned with it. As long as the wording is consistent, respectful, child-appropriate, and known by all - go for it! 

One thing I do advocate for during potty training is - continual conversations with your child to help them feel "cues" - for example, when I'm speaking with children, I will often say "do you want to go to the bathroom and try peeing? Do you 'feel' like your body has pee that needs to come out?", or in the washroom while a child is sitting on a toilet "think about your body - push the pee out". These types of conversations get the child to be more aware of their body's functions and cues.  

4. At the start of potty training - be ready to take bathroom trips every 15 minutes with your child!! This may seem extreme, but it really does help with their understanding of their bodies!! After the first week, lengthen the trips by 5-10 minutes, depending on how potty training is going. This will help build your child's bladder control. And watch for timing of accidents (if you have time for it, jot them down in a notebook, so you can check at night for patterns from the day/week) - if you notice accidents 20 minutes after every meal - plan bathroom trips 15 minutes after every meal!  

Make bathroom trips fun! Have a basket of books by the toilet for your child, and encourage them to look at a book for five minutes, while "trying"! The key here is "encourage" - never force. You can also sing songs, talk, and just enjoy your time together! Please note: "sitting and trying" should never be longer than 5 minutes at a time. Longer is not healthy for your child, and can be counterproductive to potty training.  

5. Last is the most controversial of all potty training strategies - and also happens to be the one I advocate MOST against - reward systems. I am a FIRM believer that children navigate their life stages naturally, and that there should never be any sort of positive or negative external system of rewards/punishments tied to the learning of life skills. Children learn to use a toilet because it is a BODY FUNCTION. It is not a trick, ability, skill, or performance - it is part of being a functioning living being. I am fully against all types of sticker charts, candies, treats, or rewards for peeing/pooping. It is an intrinsic life skill, a basic body function, and when we start imposing rewards (or worse, punishments) on a child's bodily functions, we are doing severe harm to their self-image, self-perceptions, and self-esteem. Can you imagine the feelings of sadness a two year old would feel if they "fail" at a body function? Even if they can't/don't express it, they feel it. And on the other end of the spectrum - it can teach children that they DESERVE rewards for performing basic skills of life - and when that ideology is imprinted into a preschoolers brain - it can cause a whole HOST of problems down the road, where they are making choices based on EXTERNAL motivators instead of INTERNAL motivators. In my opinion, reward and punishment systems for potty training is used for the adult's ease, not the child's. Just my opinion. 

Now that you've made your Plan of Action, it's time to start potty training!! Here are some Tips and Suggestions that I have found useful over the years: 

  • Start healthy sanitization habits off RIGHT from the start - show your child how to wipe properly, how much toilet paper to use, how to flush, wash their hands with soap - and for the young gentlemen who stand and pee - to put the seat back down for the ladies of the house!! Grace and Courtesy!!
  • Learning to urinate vs. bowel movements are almost ALWAYS on different timelines for preschool kids; don't be surprised if your child has gone weeks or longer without a pee accident - but still poops in their underwear regularly. There's many reasons for this - too many to list. But be patient - it will happen eventually! 
  • Have MULTIPLE changes of clothing (socks, underwear, pants, shirts) with you EVERYWHERE YOU GO!!!! Accidents will happen frequently at the start! And please - make sure you send lots to preschool too!!!  
  • Do not give up! It can be super frustrating, going through accident after accident - but keep at it! When parents "quit" or "take a break" from potting training out of their frustration - and go back to diapers - it really disrupts the entire process for the child. And can extend the time frame of achieving potty training by MONTHS!!! This is so true - so please, if your child is still showing signs of readiness, stick with it! Don't give up!! 
  • Network with other parents going through the potty training journey!! Be each other's strength, shoulder to cry (or scream!) on, share tips and ideas - there is so much positive strength given from having this kind of support system!! Look for other parents via your child care centre, online local parenting groups on social media, church, community centres!  
  • Talk to your child's child care centre - your program's staff can be the best resource to families! Believe me - we have seen and heard it all, and there is NO need for embarrassment!! And don't forget - many of us are parents too! So we understand where you're coming from!! 
  • Purchase some easy-clean shoes (something like Jelly Shoes, rubber sandals, or Crocs) that can be quickly washed and then worn! Save the "special shoes" until potty training is done - or be prepared to wash a LOT of shoes in your washer/dryer! 
  • Nightime: this is the one area that I DO recommend using diapers or pull-ups; as the physical ability to wake up due to needing the washroom does NOT usually happen during potty training - this is usually mastered around ages 4-7. If you do want to try underwear at night - I recommend getting a plastic fitted-sheet (sold in children's sections for potty training) to protect your mattress - accidents WILL happen, and happen often! 
  • SUPER IMPORTANT - be positive!!! Potty training can be the most frustrating stage for adults, it is absolutely true - but your child is doing the best they can. Acknowledge their hard work and progress, and avoid showing them your own negative feelings - this can cause real anxiety and stress for some children - and for others, can open the door to them learning they have POWER via potty training - and not the good kind! The kind that turns into behavioural issues and power struggles!! We will talk about this down further. 
  • Celebrate the successes!! Be your child's cheerleader!! When they pee on the toilet - SING! DANCE! HUG!! Show them how big their success is!!! Show them your pride in their accomplishment!! 
  • Accept that accidents will happen - and make your child be part of the clean up process (in a positive way - NEVER as a punishment). Have them take off their soiled clothes, put them in the laundry bin (or bag if you're not at home), have them clean their body (don't forget legs and feet!), put on their new clothes, wash their hands, etc. By participating in the process of cleaning up, it helps the child feel in control, feel empowered, and is a great opportunity for some "encouragement pep talks" to your child - remind them of how well they are doing overall, reassure them that you are not upset, and that accidents happen sometimes!! Children can feel very real and visceral emotions of failure, guilt, and disappointment when they have accidents - so be there to help ease their fears of failure. Remember - just because a preschooler can't express it, doesn't mean they don't feel it! And for the situations where accidents are Behavior-Based - the clean up is part of the logical consequence. Again, we will get into this further soon! 
  • AVOID going back and forth between underwear and diapers for adult convenience - throwing on a diaper because you are going out to dinner, or taking a vacation, is very detrimental to your child's potty training! It can undue WEEKS of success, through the mixed-messages and confusion it causes your child! Once you decide to potty train, you need to COMMIT to it!! No matter where, no matter the situation. Be prepared - bring lots of changes of clothes if accidents happen, scope out all bathrooms for quick trips, and have cleaning supplies like wipes in your bag.  
  • A handful of children I have met over the years have found sitting backwards on the toilet (and hugging the toilet tank) much more comforting - and took a lot of fear and anxiety out of sitting on the toilet! 
  • When teaching boys how to stand and pee: toss a few Cheerios into the water before they pee, and get him to aim for them! This is a really fun way to help your little guy learn aiming!!  And if they "miss" - help teach them to clean it up!! You want your little guy to grow up into the man who cleans up his "misses"; and this is when that routine starts!!
  • Get a STURDY step stool for in front of the toilet (not the tipsy plastic kind - something strong that can handle your child's weight) - this makes them feel safer climbing up onto the seat, and allows them to rest their feet when sitting! 
  • CLOTHING CHOICES!!!! So important during potty training!! Yes, there is undeniably the cutest outfits out there for preschool boys and girls - but select carefully during potty training. This is the time for easy on, easy off pants, skirts, and shirts - when your child is rushing to get to the potty in time the LAST thing they need to struggle with is buckles, buttons, zippers, jumpsuits, rompers, or long/fluffy dresses. Once potty training is finished - bring back all the cute outfits you want!! But for now - think utility and speed - can my child get this off in under a second flat? If not - put it back in the dresser until later!!
No buttons and zippers!  

No buttons and zippers!  

No Overalls!!! Too many steps to take off! 

No Overalls!!! Too many steps to take off! 

Tights AND skirts? Nope! Not realistic for potty training!! Think SPEED!! 

Tights AND skirts? Nope! Not realistic for potty training!! Think SPEED!! 

Rompers that need to be pulled down? No!! 

Rompers that need to be pulled down? No!! 

And the absolute WORST - no belts!!! 

And the absolute WORST - no belts!!! 

Long dress with puffy layers? That's going to fall straight into the toilet!! 

Long dress with puffy layers? That's going to fall straight into the toilet!! 

Instead, pick clothing that is easy on, easy off, and that your child can handle without adult assistance!!

These are all great potty training pants - easy on and easy off, without needing adult's help! 

These are all great potty training pants - easy on and easy off, without needing adult's help! 

What If Accidents Are Intentional?

So, your child has been potty training with success for a while now, and the end is near! Then all of a sudden, they begin having accidents again - and you need to figure out: why? Are they regressing? Did something traumatic happen? Or is it behavioural - meaning they are having accidents on purpose.

Regresssing: many children will regress (meaning go back to an earlier developmental state) out of stress or anxiety. This is very common - rest assured.

Some common triggers can be: moving, a new baby joining the family, the loss of a loved one, a loved one going on an extended absence, a loved one having a serious illness, or starting a new preschool. Many things can cause anxiety for a preschool child - and the key factor is they feel a loss of control in their world. If your child is suddenly having accidents, and you can note a source of stress (like the ones listed) in their life - the best way to support your child is to be there with love, compassion, and comfort. Don't worry about the accidents - they are a by-product of the bigger issue - the trigger causing anxiety. Help your child through the trigger, and the accidents will slowly disappear. The time it takes for them to disappear will be proportional to the severity of the anxiety and trigger. 

Behavioural: to figure out if the accidents are behavioural, you need to look at the "whole picture". Is your child displaying power-struggles in other areas of their life? Are they fighting you on what clothes they want to wear, getting ready for dinner, cleaning up their toys? Brushing their teeth? If so, then most likely the accidents are just another version of a power-struggle; your child is using any means they can to try and exert control. To support your child in this situation, first you need to look for the "root cause" - why are they feeling a lack of control in their life, and why are they seeking negative attention? This is a WHOLE other blog post in itself; but if you believe your child is having accidents as a form of power struggle/control, I recommend using the same behaviour management strategies you use in all other situations. Think - Logical Consequences. If your child pees his pants, don't show a negative reaction. Remain calm, ask what happened, then guide your child to cleaning himself up and changing. Remember - in these situations, it is your REACTION your child is wanting - so stay calm, and it will show him/her that it did not work. They will eventually realize that purposely peeing their pants will not give them the attention (negative or positive) that they are seeking, and they will stop using accidents as a form of engagement.

But make sure while this is happening, you are investigating what the root cause is - otherwise your child will switch out accidents for another attention-seeking behaviour, like hitting, biting, taking toys, etc. 

SIGNS YOUR CHILD IS NOT READY FOR POTTY TRAINING: 

It is SO IMPORTANT to potty train when your child is physically and emotionally ready - forcing it before can really hinder your child's development, and prolong their potty training length.

If you have begun potty training, and are seeing the following signs: 

  1. Your child is consistently not peeing in the toilet, while continually having accidents (and does not show awareness cognitively of the difference between the two); 
  2. Your child is visibly fearful of sitting on the toilet or even going to the bathroom (crying, screaming, angry) ;
  3. Your child is showing strong anxiety or stress when accidents happen (crying, becoming withdrawn) ;

Then they are just not ready right now for potty training.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace - and potty training requires real physical, cognitive, and emotional readiness.

So if your child is showing you they aren't ready, then take a break. Give them more time. Make sure they understand they haven't done anything wrong, you are not upset with them, and that it is OK if it's just not time yet. Go back to diapers, and when you start to see signs of readiness in the future (could be weeks, or even months) then start back at the beginning.  

If you ever have concerns about your child's potty training readiness, or concerns that you aren't seeing them (especially if your child is 4+ years old) then go speak with your pediatrician; they are the best person to look for any other medical barriers that may be happening for your child. 

Potty training is exhausting, time consuming, and at times frustrating - but keep telling yourself - "my child only goes through this amazing milestone once in their life, and when I look back years from now - this will be a warm memory of when my little one learned to use the big kid potty!!"  

And if all else fails, call in a grandma, a babysitter, your support system - then put in some ear buds, take a long bubble bath, have a glass of wine, and just breath!!

 

The Dreaded "PPE"... The Preschool Picky Eater!

Is your Preschooler suddenly refusing to eat foods they have LOVED in the past? Are they absolutely REFUSING to try new foods, and insist on eating only a select few items every day? Are mealtimes becoming power-struggles? Or, even more frustrating, have you encountered the "my child eats CAULIFLOWER at school?!? She won't TOUCH it at home??".

You are not alone - this happens to more parents of preschoolers than you may realize!

 You have entered into the PPE Zone; the Preschool Picky Eater!

 You have entered into the PPE Zone; the Preschool Picky Eater!

The Preschool Years, from ages 2.5 through 5, are an amazing and mind-boggling period of life - this is the window where human beings go through the fastest and most complex developmental growth.

This can create many challenging periods for caregivers, as they try and keep up with their child's ever-changing evolution. 

Throughout my 17 years working with families in this amazing early learning field, there are two main concerns that crop up regarding their child's eating:  

  1. their child being a "picky eater" 
  2. and their child going through phases where they barely eat

These are two separate areas of child development, so let's tackle them one at a time. 

Picky Eaters: 

When it comes to eating habits of the preschool child, the most common frustration from caregivers is "picky eaters"; that dreaded phase where children begin to establish their independence in what they eat, when they eat, how much they eat - and what they DON'T eat!  

@who.needs.a.username_ posed this question to us on Instagram:

"how can I get my toddler to eat better?"

I am a firm believer that when it comes to solving ANY behavioural concerns for the preschool child, we first must determine the root cause; every behaviour the preschool child exhibits will be the result of an underlying reason. And once we determine the reason we have the knowledge and understanding to come up with a solution to meet their needs. 

Almost all young preschoolers (and for this, I mean children between the ages of 18 months - 3 years) will enter into a phase where their eating habits change.

This happens for two physiological reasons:

First: because their tastebuds are evolving (which leads to more sensitivity to tastes), and;

Second: because their emotional development is moving towards independence, and their awareness that they have the ability to affect change in their environment. 

Some children will move through these phases quickly, and it doesn't lead to much change to their eating habits.

However, many will take longer in this phase; and depending on a variety of factors (including internal and external) that occur during this window, it can create long-lasting effects to the child. 

The first step to understanding WHY your child is a picky eater is to look at the "Whole Picture".

It is my belief that there are 4 Main Reasons for the Preschool Child to become a picky eater - and as the caregiver, consider each of the four categories and evaluate them for your child: 

  1. Sensory: all preschool children are aware of differences in texture, temperature, and how things feel - and while many children enjoy a wide variety of sensory experiences (both food related and non-food related) for others it can cause feelings of dislike, and at times even anxiety. Does your child seem hesitant to play with gooey materials (wet mud, cornstarch magic, etc)? Do they dislike the feeling of wet clothes? These could be signs that they are not comfortable with forms of sensory experiences. Watch your child when they eat foods of varying textures: does "wet" foods (think cut grapes, cottage cheese, jello) cause discomfort? Do they gag, or immediately spit it out? Does their facial expression change? Does "dry" foods (think crackers, pretzels) cause them to chew for extremely long periods of time? Do they have trouble swallowing denser foods (think raw carrot sticks, meat)? If so, they could be hesitant to try foods due to a dislike of the sensory experience they create. Or, worried that a new food will be like a remembered sensory experience from a past food. There are tips at the end of this blog post for ways to support children with Sensory concerns when eating.  
  1. Medical: there are some medical conditions (common to preschool children) that can lead to changes in eating habits. Some main ones are: acid reflux, gluten sensitivities, lactose intolerance, and constipation. If you notice signs that your child may be having medical concerns (inability to have regular bowel movements, frequent cases of loose stools/diarrhea, nausea after eating, stomach cramps after eating, gas pains) then I suggest starting a Food Journal. For three straight weeks, chart everything your child eats and drinks (including how much, specific foods) - as well as charting any physical symptoms they experience (including start and end times, severity of symptoms, and if anything alleviated it) then take it to your child's pediatrician for their review. Make sure to include your child's preschool program - so that they can also keep a food journal which you can include in the final document to the pediatrician. Ex: March 28, 3:00 pm, snack: two whole grain triscuit crackers, one ounce marble 2% cheese, four mini carrot sticks (raw), 4 ounces water. March 28, 3:24 pm, moderate stomach cramps, nausea, stopped at 3:38 pm).  
  2. Behavioral: this is actually more rare than you might think (as the preschool child often experiments with control of their environment by their choices in behaviours, when it comes to picky eating if there is a behavioural component it is usually a byproduct of other environmental issues (these will be explained further down). One of the best ways to determine if Picky Eating is Behavioral - look at your child's overall development. Are you experiencing power struggles in the morning when deciding what clothes your child will wear? Is bedtime a struggle, with power struggles on getting to sleep? Is clean up time becoming a power struggle, to get your child to participate in cleaning? If you can see other areas of your child's day where they are demonstrating exerting control over situations, then the picky eating may simply be an extension of this stage of development. If you believe this is the case, then try out some of the Tips at the end of this Blog; specifically the ones involving your child in the meal time routines - if they are looking for ways to experiment positively with control, being able to participate in meal planning, shopping, and food preparation may be the ideal support system for overcoming the picky eating!
  3. Environment: This is perhaps the hardest for us as adults to evaluate, as the environment is a product of our own personal beliefs, parenting styles, our own upbringing, our core values, and our lifestyles. But if you have examined the first 3 Reasons, and they don't really reflect your child, then that leaves the environment. The Environment is EVERYTHING that surrounds your child; our daily routines, where we eat, how we eat, what we eat, our expectations for how and what our child eats, our language/interactions with our child at mealtimes, our choices of involving our child in food-related pieces of daily life....... Basically EVERYTHING in your child's environment - the people, interactions, verbal and nonverbal expectations, furniture, surroundings, and external distractions. The best way to evaluate the Environment is to look at the following Tips and Strategies; see if any apply to your environment (both as possible elements of success and barriers to success) and then decide if any changes could be beneficial to your family!!

Tips and Strategies for Supporting Picky Eaters:

ROUTINE: 

  • Like ALL aspects of the preschool child's life, having predictable and reliable routines is CRUCIAL. This provides stability to their lives, allows their bodies to become regulated for when to eat, when to sleep, and is a proven method to having a healthy life. 
  • Make Meal Times a set routine, every day. Whenever possible, avoid eating on the run (especially sitting in back seats of vehicles), drastic changes in time (if you eat dinner at 6:00 pm daily, do your best to eat at that time every day). I know this can be extremely tough in our busy day and age of extracurricular activities, sports, dance, swim lessons - but do your best. 
  • Make the act of meal time it's own routine - get your child involved in setting the table, serving and passing food items, and clearing the dishes when finished!

HAVE FAMILY MEALS EVERY DAY:

  • Many families are faced with barriers, such as shift work, extracurricular activities, etc - but EVERYONE who is home, should eat together. The WORST thing a family can do is have "seperate meal times" for kids vs. adults - children miss out on great opportunities for bonding, role modelling, and fun when they aren't eating with their parents!  
  • Make Meal Time it's OWN EVENT!! This means eating at the table - no toys, no video games, no tv's - just fun, family time to talk, laugh, share about your days, and bond!!  

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS:

  • Try out the "One Bite Rule"; allow your child the freedom to try new foods, but the safety if they do not like it - let them know they can spit it out if they do not like it, or if they do swallow if, respect their choice to not have more! I have used this system for YEARS with preschool children, and it works!! It is by FAR my most-recommended Tip for families of Picky Eaters!!! When children are given the freedom to explore WITH the respect that it is ok to not like all foods - they are way more adventurous to try new foods! And often, end up liking the new foods!! And let's be honest - as adults, if someone asked us to try a new food and we did not like it - would you want to be respected for knowing your own likes/dislikes? Or would you want them to force you to keep eating it? I know for myself - if I was forced to eat cottage cheese - you would quickly be seeing what I ate for breakfast!!! It would NOT be a pleasant experience for you or me!! The "One Bite System" really does meet the child's needs of respect, while also encourages them to try new foods - win win!!
  • Please - do NOT make your child finish all the food on their plate. And PLEASE don't force them to eat out of guilt (guilt that if they don't it disrespects the person who made it, or guilt that food is being "wasted"). The preschool child NEEDS to be able to learn their body's signs for fullness and satiety - and be encouraged to FOLLOW THESE SIGNS. If they don't, this leads to childhood obesity (a HUGE issue amongst both Canadian and American children), and eating disorders. Support your child in learning their cues for fullness, and provide POSITIVE feedback for listening to their bodies!! 

INTRODUCING NEW FOODS:

  • Remember earlier, when we talked about Sensory issues with foods? There are some great ways to support your child with eating new foods, while supporting their sensory concerns. If you want your child to try eating broccoli - but the first attempt of giving it raw didn't go well, try it again - but cooked differently. Try the broccoli another day steamed, then again another day stir fried - the key is to try presenting the same foods multiple times, in multiple ways - to see if there is a change in your child liking them!
  • Serve new foods more than once!! If you want your child to try hummus (which is a HUGELY POPULAR snack food in our program!) make sure you try it a few times, over a few weeks - just because your child wasn't interested one day, doesn't mean they won't be down the road!! With preschool kids, there are SO MANY factors that affect their everyday lives - how well they slept night before, if they just had an upsetting social interaction with a sibling, if they are coming down with a cold, if there a full moon (yes, that ones true!!), the list goes on and on! Don't give up - keep trying it, and you may find they like it!! Side note: this is also one of the key reasons children eat foods in a group-care (preschool/nursery school) setting that they refuse to eat at home - it is the change in the environment - seeing their peers eat a food is a powerful motivator for a preschool child, and helps them feel empowered to try something new!! 
  • Introduce new foods in a meal along with some favorites - if your child loves pasta, try adding some steamed cauliflower to the sauce, and see what happens! Or, instead of French Fries with their favourite hamburger, try sliced papaya! As long as there are some "favorites" with the meal, they will have foods to fill their tummy if they don't like the new items! 
  • ROLE MODEL!!! Make sure your child sees you eating the new foods!! Imagine, if your child is being asked to eat his lima beans, but Mom never eats them? You'd be amazed how much witnessing seeing a loved one eat a new food will affect your child! Make it a game - "let's take a bite of brocolli at the same time - one, two, THREE... BITE!!" Trust me - it works!! 
  • Be imaginative!!! The preschool child LOVES imaginative play; so why can't meal times be included? Want to get your three year old to try some green and red pepper slices - pretend to be turtles swimming in the ocean, and SNAP a bite off!! Again - it works!!! 
  • Involve your child! Get their input in meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking! When the preschool child is involved, they feel ownership and pride in their accomplishments - and are heading into meal time excited for the product of their hard work!! 
  • If all else fails, and you just can't seem to get your preschoolers to eat enough of a food group - let's say vegetables for example - get creative in your meal prep! Use a food processor to mince up steamed veggies, and add them to your spaghetti sauce!! Add some minced zucchini to your child's favourite banana bread muffins!! This will help ensure your child is getting the vitamins and nutrients they need, during this short (yes, it won't last forever!!) windows of Picky Eating! 

Things to Avoid:

  • Limit snacks in the hour leading up to meal times - if their tummy is full, they're not coming to meal time ready to eat a balanced diet. 
  • Be aware of how much liquid is being drank during meals - preschoolers have small stomachs, and if it fills up with milk, juice, or water - it limits the amount of food they can eat! 
  • Avoid bribes - preschool children need to learn and be instrinsically-motivated to eat healthy, balanced diets to ensure a healthy life; not in order to receive a treat (like a candy or cookie for eating their vegetables).  This creates an unhealthy image for children of food habits and lifestyles, which can have life-long affects. It is absolutely fine to finish a meal with dessert - just make sure that dessert is NOT a reward for accomplishing a task. 
  • Same as avoiding bribes - avoid punishments. Children need to view eating habits as a healthy part of life; and by enforcing punishments (ex. If you don't eat your vegetables you can't play iPad tonight), you are undermining the real goal - to have your child learn about and begin using healthy eating habits. It is proven that reward and punishment systems for normal pieces of a child's life (eating, sleeping, potty training, etc) actually are detrimental to their long term healthy development.  
  • This last one can at times be the hardest for caregivers - do NOT prepare alternate meals for your child, if they do not want to eat what is being offered. Chances are, there is at least ONE thing at the meal they like, and even if that's all they choose to eat for that meal - they are walking away fed. Their nutrition will balance out with the next meal(s), and if they truly are hungry - THEY WILL EAT! So by allowing them to refuse the meal altogether and preparing them a completely new meal - they are learning that they have control over the situation; which can lead to MANY behavioural issues down the road (remember when we discussed the 4 Reasons for picky eaters above? This is one of the causes for Behavior Picky Eaters - it becomes less about the actual food, and more about exerting control in a situation).  

All in all, once you figure out WHY your child has become a picky eater, you can start trying out some of the tips and strategies.  

If you have tried changing the environment, and still see no positive changes in your child's eating habits, and it is lasting past three months - then I recommend speaking to your child's pediatrician, to rule out any other possible causes. 

     

Barely Eating Phases:

This is another common concern from families: their child, who normally is a healthy eater, suddenly is barely eating! Help! Is there something wrong with him/her? Are they in danger? 

When this happens, it can be very scary for parents, especially when they ask their child why they aren't eating - and the response is "I'm not hungry".

Try not to panic. Many preschool kids will go through phases where they either eat less than normal per meal, or are outright not hungry at meals. This can also at times be linked to picky eating, though this is rare.

These phases come and go, and can be linked to lots of things - common illnesses, growth spurts, etc. Your child will eat when they're hungry! If you are really concerned, you can give them a children's vitamin drink such as Pediasure (like Boost for adults) to make sure they are still getting the nutrients they need, along with a children's multivitamin.

But rest assured, their appetite WILL return, and they WILL eat when they are hungry! 

If the phase lasts more than a few weeks, or you see other signs of illness (lethargy, sleep changes, etc) check in with your pediatrician, who can do other tests to rule out underlying causes.  

I hope this Blog Post has provided some form of support or help for parents of the dreaded PPE Zone! If nothing else, at least you know you are not alone!

If you have any tips or suggestions that may help fellow caregivers, feel free to post them in a comment! 

 And remember - one day, when your child is grown and has babies of their own - and they come to you for help with their own Picky Eaters... You will have a WEALTH of stories and anecdotes to share with them!! 

Cooperative and Constructive Play

From the Sensorial Learning Area

From the Sensorial Learning Area

 Here are the three students, engaging in Constructive Play as they complete the Colour Tablets Box 3!

SJMS merges the Montessori Method with the DAP's (Developmentally Appropriate Practices) for the Preschool Whole Child. This means, in addition to teaching the Montessori Curriculum using the Montessori teaching style, we also include ECE Practices to support each child Physically, Cognitively, Socially and Emotionally.

Our students will use Materials like the one pictured both in two ways, if choose to:

First, as Independent Lessons presented using the Montessori Method. This is to ensure they are receiving the full educational understanding of the Material. 

The second way is during small group work. This happens after they have Mastered the Material independently. By encouraging, and more importantly ALLOWING small group work in our classroom (which not all Montessori's do, and some that do allow it limit which materials can be used for this purpose) we are providing our students ample opportunities to enhance their Cooperative and Constructive Play Skills.

This is crucial to a preschool child's healthy development, as this is where Socio-Emotional Skills like Problem Solving, Conflict Resolution, Entering Play, Delaying Gratification, Turn Taking, and Expressing Views and Opinions to Peers are learned, refined, and enhanced!

Without opportunities to engage in meaningful Cooperative and Constructive Play with small groups, the preschool child does not have the necessary required time to work on these Developmental Milestones - which are crucial in the healthy development of the Whole Child!

This can be why some Montessori students have trouble adjusting when they begin traditional elementary years following a Montessori preschool; they have missed the crucial windows of development where these social skills are grown, and it can be very overwhelming for them entering into these new environments where peers are demonstrating skills which they have not yet learned or gained proficiency in. They are at times faced with social situations where they have not have the experience in learning and refining how to interact and participate with their peers in constructive play. This can cause they at times to feel isolated, and even lead to behavioural situations (as often children show frustrations via behaviours).

Our goal at SJMS is to provide each student with the highest quality of early years education, through BOTH the Montessori Method (which is an OUTSTANDING educational teaching method), and DAP's (which supports each child in the developmental growth not incorporated into traditional Montessori practices).

This way, we are not only meeting their entire early years educational needs, we are also preparing the foundations for what they will need in the next stage of their educational journey - elementary school! Maria Montessori advocated for this herself, when she stated that (and I am paraphrasing here) we as educators need to look at the child's ENTIRE educational journey - from nursery to university - when determining our curricula in the early years.

Merging the Montessori Method with DAP's may seem overwhelming for educators when first considering it; but it really does flow seemlessly when it is done with thoughtful intent based on a strong understanding of the development of the preschool child!  

Following in Montessori's Footsteps...

The following is one of my all-time favourite quotes from Dr. Maria Montessori, because I feel like it really helps explain our Montessori Program's evolution to where we are today. 

Quote from Maria Montessori's book, "From Childhood to Adolescence "

Quote from Maria Montessori's book, "From Childhood to Adolescence "

Five years ago, our program began a major shift in how we offer the Montessori Method, including our decision to merge it with the Developmentally Appropriate Practices for the Preschool Child.

When I joined SJMS, I was constantly being amazed by the beautiful symmetry between the Montessori Method and DAP's, and began thinking about how I could merge them, to increase the quality of education offered to each student. This began the transition to merging the two methodologies, and was the rebirth of SJMS.

As new Educators joined our new team, including Haley and Tuesday, we built a core educational team that not only saw the vision, but together - built it into reality.

At the time, we received a lot of negative feedback about this decision, mostly from fellow Montessorians, which revolved around the idea that we are no longer offering a "traditional" or "authentic" Montessori classroom. And it is a comment we still receive to this day.

Hearing this always makes me pause, as from my own exploration of Maria Montessori - her background, her first experiences teaching a class, and what she learned through that journey - I believe our program is more in line with EXACTLY what Maria spoke about than many others, who advertise "authentic" Montessori programs.

She was first and foremost a scientist, a doctor, and an observer; she spoke passionately about the NEED to continue evolving and adapting as educators, and that the Montessori Method is NOT a "curriculum" to be followed by future educators; it is a set of observations and learning materials, that must be used with purpose and intent, based on when each child was ready.

It was never intended to be a "checklist" of Lessons, that the educators would Present, then "tick off" a list. She provided the education world with ideas, suggestions, and materials that she observed worked for children, and noted that children learned best when they were engaging all of their sense.

She then urged others to use, adapt, and most importantly - to EVOLVE their teaching methods to meet the needs of each student in their care.

I truly believe that Maria would approve of our program merging Montessori with DAP's, as she was an avid proponent for the continued search for new understandings of a child's development. I believe she would embrace the proven child development domains that Early Childhood Educators know to be valid; that the Preschool Child requires stimulation and opportunities for growth in all Four Domains: Physical, Cognitive, Social, and Emotional. I believe that Maria, like us, would see the beautiful symmetry between the Montessori Method and DAP's.

One of the biggest concerns from Montessori parents who need to enroll their child in traditional elementary and secondary schools after Montessori programs is the difficult transition their child encounters, as they leave one environment, and enter into another. But through the act of merging these two styles, we have been able to support each student in this transition, through the dedication to teaching Kindergarten Readiness Skills.

As Maria said in the above quote, it is our role, our RESPONSABILITY, as educators to look at a child's entire educational journey; from preschool through University. This means we MUST be open to including the skills each student will need during their upcoming educational transitions and settings, while also building the foundations of intrinsic self-motivated learning with our Montessori lessons and environment.

This doesn't mean you incorporate random methodologies into your program; as the quote says, we cannot seek new methods for the arid transmission of knowledge. But there ARE many methodologies that science has proven best meet the needs of the Whole Child (such as DAP's), and the responsability is on us as educators to research, research, research - and if, after careful reflection, we see merit to the methods - find ways to use them in your program, and enhance your students experiences in your care.

In my honest opinion, Montessorians need to be willing to set their egos aside, and allow themselves to consider that alternative teaching methods can hold educational merit for their students. And be willing to incorporate those meaningful methods into their classrooms.

Maybe this will make others call you "nontraditional", or "not authentic Montessori". But at the end of the day, you will be TRULY meeting your students' needs.

And I'm pretty sure Maria would approve.