This one is simple to explain, but not so easy to achieve with some kids. Children whose interactional pattern is defiance or whining are going to be much harder to train, regardless of whether or not they have significant issues with low muscle tone. In fact, I would rather coach a very physically unstable but cooperative child than a toddler with mildly low tone but a firm commitment to resist any adult request. If both parties aren’t able to work together, things may not go well. At all.
Toddlers and preschoolers are known for their tendency to love the word “no”. Did you know that, developmentally, the high-water mark for hysteria and the reflexive “no” is between 18 and 24 months? Yup, that’s when language skills haven’t emerged to support expressing feelings and comprehending adult reasons. It is when emotional fuses are neurologically short, as in that forebrain is still sooo immature. They really can’t handle their emotions at all on a brain level. They have just left that sweet-baby phase where they want to please you more than anything, and they can’t be quite as easily distracted from bad behavior now. This is a generalization, and there are some parents reading this that are thinking “We never got that lovely baby phase. He went from crabby infant to bossy toddler!” Well, I sympathize, and I still invite you to read on. All is not lost. As language, emotional and reasoning skills slowly grow, a child who still falls apart easily and rages constantly isn’t always at the mercy of neurology as much as not having some basic coping skills. It’s time to work on them before you jump into potty training.
Toddlerhood is long, all the way up to 5 years-old, and I won’t minimize the tantrums and agitation that can emerge. This extended path to greater maturity is why I bought, devoured and constantly use The Happiest Toddler on the Block, Dr. Harvey Karp’s great book on building toddler coping skills. Half of the benefit is learning to both listen to and talk to toddlers in a way that calms things down. I could not do my work as a pediatric occupational therapist with as much joy and enthusiasm as I have without these strategies. Thanks, Dr. Karp!
For parents of children with language, communication or cognitive issues that result in developmental delays, your child may be 4 years-old but their other skills that are closer to 18 months old. You can still toilet train. Has your child been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum? You can still train them. Really. The process may take longer and you may have to be both very creative and very consistent, but it can be done. Job #1 is still the same: building a cooperative and warm relationship.
If your days are defined by defiance and whining, you need to learn all of the Happiest Toddler techniques that reduce frustration, including Patience Stretching and the Fast Food Rule. Stretch Your Toddler’s Patience, Starting Today! You need to use “time-ins” for shared fun and warmth without a goal in mind. You could try some of the more language-based techniques such as Give It In Fantasy and Gossiping. And of course, you need to look at your approach to setting limits. All that love is great, but if your child knows that there are no consequences to breaking family rules or aggression, your plan is in trouble. Dr. Karp’s techniques aren’t intended to be a toilet training plan, but they set the stage for learning and independence. Those are the ultimate goals of toilet training!
If you would like a more detailed or more personal level of support, visit my website tranquil babies and purchase a consultation (in the NY metro area) or a phone/video consult!