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Transitions tap executive-function skills—inhibitory control, working memory, and attention—and challenge baby’s powerful feelings of independence and exploration.
Interoception is the awareness of what’s going on inside you. This includes feeling full, the impact of food or exercise on the body, and the need to use the bathroom. The development of interoception has been linked to greater emotional regulation and is connected to later-life success.
The river is getting wider as your toddler expands their vocabulary and begins playing with words, ushering in the next phase in development: questions.
This is a simple exercise to help baby become more aware of their body’s signals (interoception).
During a favorite meal, ask your child to tell you when they think their tummy is half full.
Continue to periodically “check in” on how hungry or full they are. How can they tell? Ask “wh” questions—what, where, when—to probe further. Can they think of other sensations they feel in their body? For example, excitement in their belly or fear in their face. What about if their bladder is full? What does that feel like?
Familiarizing baby with the internal sensations of the body is an important step toward emotional intelligence. Our bodies experience sensations before our brains are even aware of them. Learning to tap into that is important sensory work that can lead to positive outcomes in the future. It’s also the key to learning to use the toilet and recognizing when it’s time to go.
Many toddlers show an initial interest in toilet learning, and happily try it, only to drop it for six months. Beware of getting ahead of your child—it will delay the whole process. However, if they do show readiness (they are aware they are about to go before they actually go), there are several methods to try. The approach you choose has to be right for your schedule, baby’s temperament, and the realities of your home. Some methods are more gradual while others require chunks of time spent indoors and near the bathroom. All of them will eventually lead to baby using the toilet regularly in daytime, while night training may not always be possible at this age. If they are in a crib, or unable to wake throughout the night to use the bathroom, keeping them in an overnight diaper (like Our Pull Up Style Diapers) is totally normal for several more years.
Whenever you decide to transition to toilet use, and whatever method you choose, keep in mind that this experience should never be a power struggle between you and baby. As with eating, it’s a power struggle that you have no chance of winning. Be supportive of them through this new challenge and work to create a calm, low-stress learning environment. No pressure—literally!
One of our favorite activities for challenging the brain is to first find a small container or bag and place three common household objects inside. Simple objects like a bottle cap, a ball, a coin work well. Encourage your child to feel the outside and describe what's inside. Then let them reach their hand in and feel for what’s inside without looking. You can blindfold them if that makes it fun. Then ask them questions about the object before they pull it out. What size is it? Let them smell it, run it along different parts of their body and talk to them while doing this.
Parents, help your child become mindful explorers! Grab a soft bag or pillowcase and place. Next, show your child three objects, including one that is the same as the object in the bag. Have your child touch and look at each of the three objects and then feel the object inside the bag. Ask your child to guess which of the three objects is the same as the one inside the bag. Too simple? You can make this more complex and ask them to name the object in the bag without giving them three choices to choose from.
This activity encourages your toddler to visualize without relying on their sense of sight. Your child is tuning into tactile stimuli while engaging their semantic and episodic memory to make an educated guess, while strengthening their self-regulatory capacity (no peeking!).
Toilet training is a particularly stressful event for parents. Accidents—while completely expected and normal—can add to the stress and elevate the family’s cortisol levels. As you focus on baby’s interoception, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your body signals, too. When you’re upset or angry, your body doesn’t just think “fight, flight, or freeze,” it feels it. When we go into a reactive state, we may experience dry mouth, racing thoughts, an elevated heartbeat, butterflies, nausea, dizziness, cold hands, sweat, bladder urgency, and muscle tension. It’s a lot.
How do you get in front of it so you can model healthy coping skills for baby? Try a simple grounding exercise:
Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
By the time you finish the exercise, your body should have paused long enough for your thinking brain to get back online.
It didn’t work? Try a 4-count box breath:
Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and hold for 4.
It’s impossible to breathe and panic at the same time, so breathing will do the trick anytime you need a quick rescue.
One more helpful trick: Rinse your hands in ice water or splash some on your face. The cold water will help your brain to shift attention and allow you a moment of perspective. All you need is a slight pause between the feeling and the reaction, just enough to slow down and act with intention.
Yes on all three? Great! One or more No’s? Let’s talk about it.
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