Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Why it hits the fan

In the previous blog, I mentioned the mother whose 3-y-o son refused to cooperate in his toilet training. In fact, his resistance reached the point where he was retaining his feces, just simply refusing to go! Since this is not a healthy situation, Doctors considered prescribing drugs for the child in order to "force" the matter. The mother, of course, was extremely reluctant to resort to this radical-- and potentially dangerous-- solution.

So I suggested she simply feed him fruit for a while, and let nature take its course. She replied to this suggestions, "Oh, but he doesn't like fruit."

One of the prime rules of parenting or teaching is choosing which battles to fight. You only have so much influence on your child, and if you squander it on trivial matters, you won't have any left when important issues arise. Here was a classic case.

Mother and son had locked horns in a classic battle of wills over toilet training-- but this was a battle which the mother could never win. Even in an extreme case, and these are not as rare as I would hope, where the parent obliterates the child's will and produces a totally compliant child, the parent loses. Because in making a child totally compliant, totally dependent, the parent has obligated himself or herself to directing that child's life forever-- or until the child encounters a more skilled controller and manipulator. These are the ingredients of tragedy.

Short of this scorched-earth, and ultimately self-defeating tactic, so long as the child's will remains intact, he or she will control their own sphincter muscles-- and there's nothing the parent can do about it.

So long as this remains a contest of wills, no amount of coaxing will get the child to relax those muscles on the toilet. And when the child discovers the discomfort and embarrassment they can cause the parents by releasing at an inopportune moment, the game is really over.

Being the supposed adult in the situation, the parent can avoid this becoming a contest of wills, avoid it becoming a problem, if they think about it. After all, the parent is not without advantages in this situtation.

Chief among these advantages is the simple fact that wearing a diaper is not pleasant. Few adults would choose to. At some point, the child will discover this unpleasantness, and desire to be rid of it. That is the golden moment of "readiness."

Unfortunately, adult readiness seldom synchronizes with child readiness. Tired of changing diapers, weary of insinuations by in-laws or others about one's competence as a parent, fatigued by stories about "cousin Samantha, who was toilet trained at 6 months," parents grow increasingly eager for little Fauntleroy to be a "big boy," and start using the toilet. This almost always anticipates little Fauntleroy's readiness by several months.

When mom, because it is generally she who bears this responsibility, decides "it's time for Fauntleroy to be a big boy" without regard to his readiness, the battle is joined. Chances are, she and dad should be focusing on something else, some other area of behavior where they're losing a battle they should be winning, like the mother I mentioned with the screaming children. Frustrated and worn out by the child's bad behavior in other areas, they decide to have a showdown in an arena they really care about-- but can't possibly prevail.

Why would I say a thing like this? Remember the mom whose child "Didn't like fruit?"

She had surrendered the battle of diet, and sought to regain the ground lost there in toilet training. So she was losing both.

Three-year-olds don't purchase or prepare their own food. It's unbelievable that this child actually disliked the flavor of every type of available fruit, or that he couldn't learn to like it. It just wasn't worth the trouble of his fussing and complaining, and, who knows, maybe throwing flatware or china. Those are all areas where, for the child's long-term good, the parent can and should prevail. But having failed on that battleground, the parents could not win the battle of the potty.

I should have known that I couldn't deal, in a couple of short blogs, with a topic on which many books have been written. So it will have to wait for the next installment--and the final one on this topic, I hope-- to finish up and draw larger lessons from this area of parental/child conflict. I will just finish with this: the key to toilet training is also the key to Math, to reading, and to virtually every other difficult area for parents, teachers, and children.


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2:50 AM  

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