Julie Jenkins Sathe
Author of
Enlightened Discipline©

Maybe it’s your first child and you really haven’t figured out the next few steps from toddler to prekindergarten. Maybe it’s your last baby and you really want to relish this “toddler” time because you are keenly aware how fast childhood passes. Or maybe you have simply lost track of the development and abilities your child has developed…..who knows all the underlying reasons?

You may not see it, but as you pick up your four-year-old child from the child care center where he has: recited the alphabet, weighed and measured in science, negotiated his playthings with his peers without conflict, and has begun to write parts of his name (albeit in mirrored writing), you greet him at the door with his pacifier, his binky or his sippy cup. Huh?

Or maybe your child has successfully used the toilet all day in child care and when you arrive to transport her home, you switch her from underwear to diapers.

Or maybe this is your scenario…you have company over for dinner. Your preschool child plays dress-up in the play room with their child. The kids have spent hours making up names, trying on hats and scarves, putting on beads and baubles…. and when they wind down, getting tired your child is ready for her bottle. Her bottle? Reeeeally?!

Every so often I hear someone refer to their 7 year old as, “Baby Johnny”; or their 4 year old as “the baby”. (Not to be confused with “my baby” which any mother might use even when describing the youngest of her four children who are now approaching middle age.) But the reference I mean is: “the baby”, (who is now approaching 1st grade or beyond). It’s as if you have freeze-framed your child. What is up with that?

So, you’re feeling a little beat-up by this article. I’m pushing your buttons and maybe I haven’t exactly described YOU but you can see a little bit of your behaviors. So, what am I getting at?

We, as parents have to determine what ‘developmental’ needs our child has and which habits, limits and crutches we are promoting far beyond necessity. Even though childhood is lovely and sweet, even though we are mature enough to know it is the best of times….we must allow and encourage our children to mature from one step to the next. We need to allow our toddler to walk because SHE CAN! We must encourage our three year old to hold and use utensils, because that is the next step. We must trust that our children can HOLD IT to the next toilet or communicate their needs well enough that the car can be stopped. We must allow them; encourage them to … grow up.

It’s true. If you can’t see it, if you are too close, if you have blinders on….listen up to your friends, your neighbors and watch your children’s peers. Do they have bottles? Are they sucking on a binky? Not all comparisons are fair because all children develop at their own personal rate, but there is a range of development that your child should be close to. But most importantly, you as a parent should never be inhibiting that growth. If you are, then YOU may be the problem.

One of the big ones I have encountered is parents who feel their child simply isn’t ready to toilet independently, to be potty trained. (Not full time. Not a night time. Not during church. Blah, blah, blah….) You work, you cook dinner, do laundry, pay bills, you have a two page list of all the things that you don’t have time enough to do. The risk of putting your two-year-old, three-year-old or four-year-old in underwear is just is too big of a risl FOR YOU.

As parents, this will not be the first time that you will need to give your full time and attention to your child and set your needs, plans and desires aside. But it’s just momentarily. Keeping your child in a diaper so that you can avoid a wet seat in the car, or not have to change the sheets in their bed is not in your child’s greatest interest. In this article, I won’t get derailed into the conversation of potty training vs. independent toileting and how to successfully reach the latter, because if you are the parent who is delaying your child’s underwear-wearing progression for your own reasons, put yourself on notice, it is more than toileting!

Usually parents who have found themselves in one of these scenarios mean no harm to their child. Read that again. I know you mean no harm to your child. In fact, most parents are usually acting out of love and the desire to hold on to the sweetness of the magical years of childhood. But, I promise you that your child will unfold much more appropriately make better friendships and feel better about the relationship with you if you can follow his or her lead to the next natural step of growth and development. Change is hard. But… not for kids, for us adults. Kids change and adapt at a rapid pace, if left to their own devices. We are the ones who resent change, are fearful of failing and sometimes present that to our children until they indeed begin to carry our fears and reluctance and make them their own. Most children are naturally fearless. That’s why we need to teach and protect them before they know all the reasons why.

So do your best. Observe and listen to your friends. Ask the advice of your child care professional or pediatrician. “Is it okay for my 4 year old to have a bottle at night? Is it unusual for my preschooler to want his binky at home?” You want to support your child’s growth. You want to encourage their personal development. You want to be your child’s escort into their next precious step of life. Enjoy all of the steps. Don’t get stuck in one. Have fun!

Julie Jenkins Sathe is building a reputation for her humorous and straight forward
inspirational workshops for both educators and parents. She has published
two books, Enlightened Discipline and Teens! Change is Your Choice.