Category Archives: Parenting Theories

Parenting Book Review: Diaper-Free Before 3

So I never got around to finishing this post about how I potty-trained Noah, but now that Ender’s potty training has begun, I’m ready to approach the subject again. I checked out Early Start Potty Training again from the library to refresh my memory, and I saw this book–Diaper Free Before 3 by Jill M Lekovic, MD–on the shelf next to it. Boy, am I glad I did! I’ve finally found a potty-training book that embodies my personal philosophy of the process.

The philosophy behind Diaper-Free Before 3 is simple: earlier potty-training means fewer diapers. Fewer diapers are better for the environment and mean greater freedom for both the parent and the child. I personally have also found that it is easier to potty train at a younger age because 1) your child is less independent and more willing to respond to direction, and 2) you are more patient because you expect slower progress with a younger child.

Note that I said it’s easier, not that it’s faster. It took me 6 months to train Georgie at age 2.5, and it took me 6 months to train Noah at age 1.5. However, Georgie’s 6 month potty training was filled with yelling, bribery, and tantrums on both of our parts, and Noah’s was a gradual, pleasant, laid-back experience. I know which way I’d rather spend 6 months.

So what is the Diaper-Free Before 3 method of potty training? You’ll have to read the book for the long version, but here’s my cheat sheet:

  1. Learning to sit on the potty – Starting as early as 6 months, set aside 10 minutes a day to practice sitting on the potty. After a meal or before or after naptime are the best times to ensure your child will have some success. Bring a book and comfort your child as he gets used to sitting on the toilet. If something ends up in the potty, great, deal with that, but otherwise just focus on the routine of using the potty once per day.
  2. Increasing potty opportunities for success – Once the child is willing to sit on the potty when asked, increase the your 10 minute potty sessions. I like to introduce a new one every week or so, again after a meal or before or after a naptime. Soon your child will be a pro at the routine of sitting, and even be successful some of the time. Use the phrase, “It’s time to go use the potty” rather than asking your child, “Do you want/need to use the potty?” They don’t know, and the default answer to a parent question is often “No!” Just make it part of your day, like eating lunch or brushing teeth. However, there’s no need to force your child to sit for long periods, just like you shouldn’t force your child to eat if they don’t want to. Just go and try, then finish and be done when they are done.
  3. Training sessions – When your child makes the connection between the potty and what goes in it and is having lots of potty trips each day, add a period in your day when you allow your child to wear training underwear or go naked. (No pull-ups, please!) This will allow your child to realize when they are going in their diaper and hopefully begin to make the association that they need to use the bathroom.
  4. Full time underwear – After your child understands the process and has few accidents per day, transition to full-daytime underwear!

Notice there are no bribes, rewards, or elaborate systems. This is what I love about this system. No coercion, just a normal expectation that they will learn eventually. It’s a slow process, but because you start early, it’s much less stressful because you have all the time in the world.

I also love Dr. Lekovic’s relaxed tone. She takes a very middle of the road approach to many parenting debates (cloth diapers vs disposable, early potty training vs readiness) which makes her a delightfully refreshing voice. I love how she bases her opinions and evidence rather than philosophies and guesses.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to potty train a child. It doesn’t matter if your child is older than 6 months; just start now. I started with Ender a few weeks ago (14 months old). At first, he was terrified of sitting on the potty, but he’s calmed down now and even had a few successes. And he loves washing his hands! I’m excited to see where this adventure takes us.

What are your favorite potty training tips and tricks? What parenting books I should read next?

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Montessori, Potty Training, Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)

Monsters University as a Parable of Gifted Education

I was skeptical when my husband picked Monsters University for our family to watch on New Year’s Eve. But since my husband is an avid movie watcher, we’d seen everything else that was remotely interesting. It was that or Planes, which had gotten panned on Rotten Tomatoes, so Monsters University it was.

So like I said, I had my doubts about yet another transparent Disney milk-the-cash-cow attempt. But if someone had just told me that the movie was about gifted education, I would have been all in.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know Monsters University was about gifted education? It wasn’t in the trailer? Well, no, MU wasn’t explicitly a tale of why we need gifted education in this country, but it’s about as close as we can expect mainstream Hollywood to get.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, Monsters University features Mike Wazowski rather than Sully as the main character. Turns out, Mike has wanted to be a scarer ever since going on a field trip to Monsters Inc. when he was a socially isolated but charming elementary school monster. Right away, I was intrigued with how the film was going to pull this off. Anyone who has seen the original movie knows that Mike does not turn out to be a scarer: Sully’s the main scarer, Mike is just his clueless assistant. How could they make a movie for little kids where we know from the beginning that the main character is going to utterly fail? Or, at least, how could they make such a movie without being heartless jerks?

The film skips to Mike’s first day at Monsters University, where in his first day of scare class, he is informed by the highly creepy, dragon-centipede-hybrid dean of the department that there will be an exam at the end of the semester to determine who will qualify to continue in the program. As she says, “I’m here to make good scarers great, not make mediocre scarers less mediocre.” Hmm, interesting educational philosophy there . . . .

Enter Sully. He waltzes into class late, without so much as a pencil, and impresses everyone with his lineage of great scarers. A rivalry ensues between Mike and Sully, with Sully floating by on pure talent and Mike studying his butt off on technique, history, and theory. At first the cut scenes show Sully trouncing Mike in class—after all, he’s a 6–7 foot hairy blue nightmare and Sully’s a green adorable beachball. But soon, the professor notices Sully’s stagnation and Mike’s marked improvement from practice.

This experience exactly mirrors what happens to many talented students when they hit college. So many truly gifted kids breeze through high school, never lifting a finger to study even though they are in the “honors” or “challenge” sections, or even in an AP or IB program. Nothing they do in school requires them to push themselves past what comes easily and naturally. Then eventually, they finally hit the ceiling—in late high school or early college these students reach a class where the answers don’t just come to them. And they have no skills to cope with it. At 17 or 18, they are faced with a challenge for the first time in their lives, and because they don’t know how to overcome, they feel like imposters, failures, idiots. They give up on what they were born to do and do something easy.

Alright, being truly honest, this happened to me. Up through high school, I never met a class that I had to study for. Oh sure, I had to memorize lists (like world capitals) when they came up, but other than that, no studying was ever required for me to both comprehend the class material and pass the class with flying colors. When I got to college, it was pretty much the same story, until I took organic chemistry in my sophomore year. Here I ran up against concepts that didn’t make intuitive sense, that I couldn’t read once and then completely understand. I had no method for dealing with this and ended up flailing to get a C in the class. I re-took it the next year and did better, but it only got worse as I took biochemistry and physical chemistry until eventually I quit my chemistry major to pursue something that didn’t require much effort on my part.

This ability to push through challenges and overcome is called “grit” and it’s the big trend in education theory right now. Many books I’ve read on education—I’m thinking particularly of How Children Succeed—focus on the idea that it’s not about how high a child’s IQ is that matters; it’s how hard they work to overcome challenges that matters. And this is often true—in many cases, a high-achieving but average child will outperform an unmotivated, under-performing high IQ child. So these theorists say that we should focus on building this quality in children in school, rather than focusing so much on academic progress.

There are two problems with this theory. And both of them are addressed in this movie.

First is that high academic achievement and gaining grit are hardly opposing processes, where we have to choose one or the other. In fact, in the case of gifted children, high academic standards are a necessity in order for them to develop grit. After all, how do you develop grit except by facing challenges? And to challenge a gifted child, you must set academic standards that challenge them, at their level, regardless of whether that level is one level above grade or five.

We can see this in Sully’s character. He’s always been the most terrifying thing around, so he had nothing to reach for. His ability was assumed and never challenged. Not only has this prevented him from developing grit, but it has also been psychologically scarring. In a critical moment near the end of the movie, Sully tells Mike, “I act scary, Mike. But most of the time, I’m terrified.” He’s terrified of not being good enough to live up to his (and his family’s) reputation. Many gifted kids have this affliction: they know they can’t go on never messing up forever, so they spend their whole (educational) lives waiting for the other shoe to drop—for things to get hard for them—and they are terrified of what will happen to them when it does. Their whole self-image is built on being able to do everything easily, and so is very fragile to challenges. We are doing these kids no favors by saying they are “fine” because they are performing above grade level and letting them “relax and be a kid.” What we are doing is the opposite of letting them relax—we’re winding them up more and more as they wait for the inevitable moment when challenge might kick in.

The second problem with the grit theory is that, while grit and perseverance are important, talent actually does matter. Comparing high achieving average students to under-acheiving gifted ones is a total set-up. When you compare apples to apples (hard-working kids of different IQ levels), you can see that IQ absolutely does matter in final achievement. A high IQ child allowed to push themselves through acceleration and compacting of curriculum could make the next big discovery in quantum mechanics or sustainable fuel. And no matter how hard an average student pushes, they just won’t have the mind to make those leaps.

In Monsters University, high-jinks ensue at the final exam and both characters end up getting kicked out of the program, then joining the ridiculous Scare Games in an attempt to get back in. Their team of misfits comes within one event of winning the competition when the dean confronts Sully about his team’s chances being ruined by Mike’s presence. Sully sticks up for his new friend, talking about how much he knows. Dean Hardscrabble comes right out and asks him, “But do you think he’s scary?” And Sully has no response. Of course Mike isn’t scary. No matter how hard he stretches and works, he just lacks the natural ability, and that can’t be changed. As she says at the final exam, “Mr Wazowsky, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”

This idea makes most Americans very uncomfortable. Our country is founded on freedom, and we see this as placing an unfair limitation on people. We are willing to accept the idea of talent in sports and artistic endeavors, but claiming that some people have a talent for academics is just too much. This egalitarian urge is one of the reasons so many districts fight having a gifted program, insisting that all students are gifted. This is, of course, ridiculous and a lie—if there are some students on the special education side of the curve, there ought to be an equal population on the other end of the normal curve. But this lie makes us feel comfortable about ourselves, and about depriving a generation of geniuses of their fair education.

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Filed under Early Elementary (6-9), Tall Poppies, Tiger Mother

Saturday Links – Two Videos and Fall Art Projects

Theory Links

Video: Are Your Family’s Routines Working? – This is exactly why we have routines for everything in our house.  Routines = expected, planned good times.  Lack of routines = panicky, chaotic frustration.

Video: Baby Teamwork – I’m working hard on letting my kids solve their own problems more.  When things like this happen spontaeously between a 1- and almost-3-year-old, it shocks me.  Check it out.

One-Sided Parental Vigilance – Although I’m not on the food hypervilance wagon, I have to agree that I would like to see more studies about kids and media characters.  Not all character play is bad, mind you–I spent a good portion of my childhood playing Sound of Music with a certain friend.  But it makes me sad when young kids are totally addicted to characters on everything they own by age 3.  Childhood (and adulthood) should be a little less branded.

Activity Links

Floor Block Puzzles – I really like the idea of free form puzzles.  Sort of an easy introduction to tangrams.

Display Seasonal Books on a Stuffed Animal Chain – Good enough to go in the family room, I say.

Fun Leaf Projects for Kids – A plethora of ideas for fall themed crafts.  I’m really loving the leaf mobile.

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Family Culture, Infant (0 - 9 mos), Magda Gerber, Preschooler (3 yrs - 5 yrs), Saturday Five, Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)

Saturday Links – Let Crying Babies Cry and Parenting Theory Shortform

Theory Links

7 Reasons to Calm Down About Babies Crying – I like the intro to this article best of all!  Most of the stereotypes of uncaring, strict parents don’t really exist in the real world.  Most of us are on the other end of responding too much.  Great reminders to let babies struggle.

Parenting Theory Shortform – Scroll down past the lovely Pinterest lists, and you’ll get to some great short versions of the current classics of parenting.  I’ve read both Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Free-Range Kids (and loved them–which is ironic, since they don’t work well together at first glance), and I’ve heard about the other two (Nuture-Shock and Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids) and am intrigued.  If you are busy with toddlers and don’t have time to actually read, the interviews she links to are a great place to start thinking about your concept of parenting.

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Filed under Free-Range Kids, Infant (0 - 9 mos), Parenting Theories, Saturday Five, Tiger Mother

Parenting Book Review: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect

After reading some interesting posts on Janet Lansbury’s blog, Elevating Child Care, I was inspired to read the book her philosophy of child care is based on: Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect by Magda Gerber.  I actually read the book about a month ago, but I’ve been holding onto my review because of vacations and visitors.  The delay has given me extra time to try out some of the methods in the book and think about their effectiveness.  Overall, my reaction to this book, and my personal implementation of it, has been quite mixed.

My main gripe was that the book contains a lot of mental coaching on how to think about a situation, but was somewhat lacking in how such a mindset might lead to concrete actions.  As I’m a person who demands implementable results, this wishy-washy mindset talk drove me crazy.  It’s all fine and dandy to say that you have to adapt to new developments in your child’s behavior, but how about some concrete suggestions on how to adapt to stranger anxiety or toilet training?  Where there were concrete suggestions, they were brilliant for the most part. Continue reading

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Discipline, Infant (0 - 9 mos), Magda Gerber, Parenting Book Reviews

Parenting Book Review: 12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old

So, if you recall, one of my first posts on this blog was my version of the Baby Wise sleep method.  I posted it first to help myself remember for the next time I go ’round the baby wagon, but also because I hate the tone and style of Baby Wise even though their techniques worked like a charm for both my kids.

Well, a few weeks ago, I found my new alternative to Baby Wise: Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old by Suzy Giordano.  (My husband looked at me funny when he saw I was reading a baby sleep book even though both our kids are done with all that.  Yes, I have odd hobbies that include raiding the parenting section at the local library for fun.)  This book has much less of a moral tone and focuses more on techniques and strategies for stretching a baby’s sleep schedule to fit yours.

In particular, I loved the daytime and nighttime “toolboxes” she includes for you to use in the transition from “eat whenever you want” to “stick to the schedule, kid.”  Continue reading

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Filed under Baby Wise, Infant (0 - 9 mos), Parenting Book Reviews, Sleep

Saturday Links – Top Formula Myths and Duplo Painting

Theory Links

The Top Five Formula Feeding Myths, Debunked – As a formula feeder myself, I have certainly been (unintentionally) hurt by a lot of lactivist comments.  I think every mother should know the truth and get their facts straight, whether you breastfeed or not.

Dealing with Diaper Changing Disasters – Some good go-to places for the stage Sailor’s currently in, where a diaper change is the worst thing that ever happened to him.  Some of this advice seems to have worked over the past few weeks, so we’ll see how it goes.

Activity Links

Duplo Printing – We loved painting with cars so this is the next logical step.  What other plastic toys can I hit up?

Constructive Eating – I have to wonder if this would make dinner take  more or less time.  I think some modified “pusher” tool should become the fourth official utensil, because really, spoons can be tricky devils.

Fun Uses for Kool-Aid – Because at $.10 a pop, you can always use more.

Table manners come more easily when practicing them becomes a game – So obvious. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to compete.

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Filed under Baby (9 - 18 mos), Feeding, Infant (0 - 9 mos), Magda Gerber, Preschooler (3 yrs - 5 yrs), Saturday Five, Toddler (18 mos - 3 yrs)