Potty Training and Giving up the Pacifier: A Relaxed (and Attached) Mom’s Perspective

My child is three years and three months old and she occasionally she pee-pees and poo-poos in her pants. Not every time, not all the time. But often enough.

Recently when my daughter started at a new daycare she was not potty trained as was required by the program. She was still in pull-ups full time and had not been showing any interest in moving towards full time use of the potty. At the daycare’s advice, I took the pull-ups away cold turkey and put her in underwear during the day. This worked to some extent but not completely.

To add another layer to this, she was not allowed to use her pacifier during naptime because the program was for preschoolers and not for toddlers. I’ve heard from others that this is not unheard of, that many preschool programs except a child to be completely potty trained and do not permit use of the pacifier. The potty training I can understand due to the license and the teacher-child ratio, but the pacifier at naptime? That I do not understand.

Having come directly from a smaller toddler classroom in a daycare where they put her on the changing table to change her, sat her on the potty once a day to practice, and let her have her pacifier whenever she was upset or taking a nap, this changes were a pretty big shock to her and seriously turned her world upside down.

In the end, she was not able to potty train fast enough and the amount of help she needed was more than the daycare could offer. I was also encouraged to raise my expectations for my child and to consistently send her the message that she is a big girl and to not offer help around pottying and dressing.

Some of society’s ideas about child development fly in the face of what I feel is right for my daughter. At three she’s been on the earth for approximately 820 days. At day 821 she’s supposed to give up the warmth and comfort and security that comes along with having a mother guide her and carry her through some pretty major developmental changes? She’s also supposed to give up her pacifier because she’s crossed some arbitrary line into preschoolhood rather than toddlerhood?

This is the crux of the clash of my world view, as it applies to parenting and childrearing, and some other mainstream ways of thinking about child development.

When I posted my potty training dilemma on Facebook, some provided sympathy, whereas others felt that I needed to examine why my daughter, at three years old, was so “late” in being weaned off the pacifier and why she wasn’t potty trained.

This reaction shocked me. It had gone from being an issue whereby my child simply wasn’t potty trained to an implication that I was infantalizing my child.

My approach to parenting is definitely an “It’ll happen when it happens” type of attitude, whereby the child takes the lead in his or her developmental changes. I believe that a child will hold onto what they need until they no longer need it and that a child will make their emotional needs known somehow or another.

I also don’t see a problem with helping my child with new tasks that she is starting to master. There may be times when she can do it completely independently and times when she wants me to do it for her. When she’s tired or crabby or has had a long day, it is natural that she will want her mother’s assistance. She needs me as her object of security. There are times when she wants me to dress her and feed her and hold her hand and rock her. And I do—with pleasure. I do it because I know that I am meeting her emotional needs at that moment and that even though she is capable of pulling up her pants by herself, she simply wants the comfort of knowing her mother is there to do it for her when she asks her to.

Through all of this it has become even clearer to me that my views of parenting and childrearing, which are primarily based in attachment theory, don’t always mesh with the world at large, especially a world in which individuality and self reliance is valued over all else. In my view and practices, the relationship between me and my child is prioritized over independence. If independence is going to come at the cost of a sense of comfort then I choose comfort and security.

As for the transition to a new placement, I can only imagine that for my child,  this move to a center where they are better able to meet her needs will provide her with a renewed sense of being allowed to be who she is at this moment in time—to be the half baby/half big girl that she is; to be able to pee in the potty, or in her panties or on someone else’s lawn (if that’s where she is when she needs to go!); and to become a big girl over time and at her own pace.

As for now she’ll continue to pee in her pants from time to time and she’ll continue to suck on her pacifier when she’s feeling the need for comfort, and that’s okay with me. She’ll stay with some of these “baby things” until she’s good and ready to give them up completely. In the meantime I’ll help out by spoon feeding her when she’s tired and hungry and pull up her pants when she wants me to. I’ll encourage her and teach her to do things on her own while remaining there as a safety net when she falls. On the way I’ll gently move her towards being the big girl that she’s on her way to becoming without any rush and without any urgency.

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20 comments

  1. A relaxed approach is so much easier for both you and your little one. I need to remember to keep my mommy zen when the pacifier issue is addressed.

  2. So was it more difficult for your daughter to 1. give up the pacifier at school and potty train or 2. change classrooms/programs in the middle of the school year? Not helping your child meet the expectations of her preschool and then pulling her out a few months in so she can have a binky and pee her pants does NOT make a secure, happy situation for a child as you are mistakenly stating. She is now behind her peers, in addition to to completely having to change her daily routine and get used to a new set of children and adult teachers, which actually may set her training/pacifier use back even further. If you knew the requirements of the school were that your child be potty trained and not using a pacifier and you had no intention of pushing these issues, then why did you send her there in the first place? Although I doubt permanently damaging, I would say this is pretty negligent on your part.

    You do realize that Preschool is intended to help teach extremely basic academics and, more importantly, social skills to small children, right? How do you expect your child to function next year in Preschool or the following year in Kindergarten when she hasn’t learned how to follow directions or play nicely with other children?

    Attachment parenting does not equal zero parenting, as it appears you believe. And I’m sorry, if your child came over and peed on my lawn, neither of you would ever be asked back again, ever. And if you don’t think you need to teach your kids at an early age to be less self-indulgent and more self-reliant in today’s society, you are dead wrong. Your philosophies sound pretty, but the reality is that you are raising your child to be a 100% catered to spoiled brat. NO ONE in real life has all their needs met, all the time, not even small children. The sooner they learn how to cope with this reality, the better — and THAT, my friend, makes a secure child …. not binkies and diapers.

    1. Actually I was not aware that she would not be able to have her pacifier for naptime as it did not come up in our school visits and I never thought to ask (nor did any of the other parents). I had attempted to potty train her before school started but was unsuccessful. I had assumed incorrectly that the school would help out if she wasn’t completely ready.

      Ultimately, the change in schools was not by choice. It was a very difficult time for me as I wanted to avoid transitioning her again but given that I work full time I had no choice. She was there for two weeks total and then I was forced to find a new place for her to go. I was given three days to find a new day care.

      In the end transitioning out turned out to be the best for her. At the first school, she was unable to sleep during naptime, was becoming overstimulated and unable to self-regulate which resulted in crying episodes in the afternoon because she was over tired and overstimulated and didn’t have her pacifier to help her self soothe during naptime.The class size was also too large and the materials in the classroom too much for her. She’d never had a problem with crying or behavior in the past so I knew the school was simply overwhelming for her.

      As for her now, she has gone through the changes and adjustments just fine and is well adjusted at her new school. She started napping on the first day and was completely potty trained within two weeks. She’s a happy, well socialized, polite and lovely child who is thriving in her new environment. Her teachers love her and they comment on how adaptable, friendly, caring, creative and generous she is. Sharing with other children and helping them are some of her favorite activities. I have no doubt she will continue to be just as delightful when she starts Kindergarten.

      As for the peeing on the lawns that was more of joke than anything. She picked that up from camping and did it a few times in the beginning when the adults weren’t looking and when she was not close to a potty! Today she’s completely a toilet user although I won’t have any problem with her going in the woods if we go camping again next summer.

      I’m not sure where I mentioned that she doesn’t get along with other children or that she doesn’t follow directions. That is a misperception. She does both of those superbly.

    2. Laura you have an interesting interpretation on Christina’s post. The accusation of negligence is a bit far reaching. I am not sure why there is such an accusatory tone in your rather long response, which misses many important points in a series of issues leading up to what transpires in this particular post.

      Yes, I know this is the Internet and your anonymity here might prompt such a response. And since you have neither a profile nor blog to read I find this response a bit suspicious. Are you truly a reader of this very caring mother’s ongoing story about trying to do what is best for her cild or are you just trolling and looking to start a fight?

      Christina’s child is being just that, a child learning how to interact with the world around her and she has an amazing mother tiring to provide her with the best way to do that. Someone will always question our parenting choices but it is unfortunate to see such a mean spirited response to such a loving mother’s parenting and her sharing of her journey here.

      1. It should read “trying” rather than “tiring” in this sentence. Christina’s child is being just that, a child learning how to interact with the world around her and she has an amazing mother tiring to provide her with the best way to do that.

      2. Thanks for your comments. I agree about the anonymity and the Internet. I am going to write an “Internet Decorum” piece that addresses this! I also find irony with someone who states the goal for a child should be getting along well with others yet that same individual has no problem displaying a high levels of aggressiveness and hostility that does not promote collaboration or unification of ideas and discussion with others.

  3. Good for you, Christina. There is so much pressure to make children detach from parents and comforts, not because it is best for children, but because it is easier for the schools. My son still uses a pacifier at age 4, and I don’t feel bad about it. A couple of years ago I listed to a lecture by a preschool admininstrator, and her own daughter brought 5 pacifiers with her to preschool to help with naps. So if my son uses a pacifier to soothe himself, great, it is not doing him any harm.

    But did you have to change daycare providers, since they were insisting on pressure to be potty trained and no pacifiers?

    1. Hi Sheryl – Yes, I had to change daycares. The new school actually supports the use of the pacifier. It’s one of the five methods by which children self regulate. I’ll find out what the five things are. The new place is amazing. They are very sensory based so they are really able to meet the needs of children like mine who are very hyperresponsive to external stimuli and have difficulty modulating. http://willowandsprout.com. She was actually recently diagnosed with a sensory processing issue and is being treated by an OT for her sensitivities. Her old school would not be able to address these types of issues on an individual basis so I feel VERY fortunate that I found the care that I did.

  4. I am so glad you found a better daycare, Christina. Pressuring children to be fully potty trained before they are ready, and denying the use of soothing techniques like using a pacifier is likely to cause more harm than good.

    Both of those requirements were to make things easier for the daycare, nothing more.

    I was very fortunate to have found the perfect opportunity for potty training my son, at 18 months. He was allowed to run around with no pants on, and the potty chair was always within a few feet of him. There was encouragement and a happy dance when he used the potty, but ZERO pressure. He also had the opportunity to go Parenting Oasis where many of the parents were using Elimination Communication with their children. He saw other children using the potty chair, so he wanted to do it too. By age 2, he was potty trained, though certainly he had accidents from time to time, which is totally normal. But every child is different, and the age that works for one child would not work for another. Some children will be fully potty trained at a older age due to physical differences, and things like stress and food sensitivities can also interfere with potty training and even cause children who were previously potty trained to have frequent accidents.

    Alowing a child to use a pacifier to soothe herself and not being pressured into being fully potty trained when her body isn’t ready has nothing to do with being spoiled, and everything to do with raising a healthy, independent, young person with good self esteem.

    1. I completely agree, Sheryl. I was torn on the pacifier issue until I learned more. One of the things that stuck with me the most was that you can take the pacifier away and most likely the child will just replace it with something else (like thumb sucking). One time my daughter became very distressed when she did not have her pacifer. She became very distressed and started to chew on her fingers.

  5. In response to Laura’s post, I would like to add a comment. I think Laura is confusing a child’s wants and needs. Fulfilling everything a child asks for is indeed setting down the road to “spoiling.” Meeting a child’s emotional needs is an entirely different story and can only result in having a child who feels loved and important. The need to throw a three-year old out into the world to “grow up” seems to me something akin to tossing a child into the water in order to teach her to swim. It may indeed happen but there is a lot of trauma along the way. Is that what we want our children to experience?

    1. No. It isn’t. Research in child development shows us that by meeting your child’s emotional needs consistently in the early years your child will be more competent and secure children in later years. The sink or swim approach to child rearing creates more anxious children rathen than more resilient children, contrary to what may seem logical.

    1. Hi! Thanks so much. My heart is in this article as it is so important to me to make the right choices for my daughter. If you’d like to use it in your newsletter, please do. Just give me a heads up that you’ve included it, if you don’t mind! Thanks Shepherdess!

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