Potty Training and Learning to Read

What do these two things have in common? Well, the potty is somewhere that people often sit and read, although that is the one place I usually have no desire to do so. The thing that these things have in common to me is that they are both are societal measuring sticks that put way too much pressure on parent and child and can cause issues later if bungled. This is because they are both based on standards that are sometimes unrealistic and unhealthy.

When our oldest daughter hit the ripe old age of two, we knew it was “time” to get her potty trained. We read all of the books. Read the books to her. Bought her a special potty-seat, pull-ups, and training pants. We tried making it fun by reading to her and singing songs. We tried to anticipate her needs to get her on the potty. And when she fussed and cried and screamed to get off the potty we tried to lovingly force her to stay seated. Finally, we kind of gave up. I had enough stress with a new baby on the way. We still kept the potty out and suggested she use it from time to time, but it really wasn’t until she was 3 1/2 that she took any initiative. By age 4 1/2 she was completely out of diapers, even though she was literally anal-retentive until age 5 but that’s a whole other story. I remember being so frustrated with her, though. I remember one time at age two she said, “I need my diaper adjusted.” My husband said, “What two-year-old says she needs her diaper adjusted?” I disapprovingly replied, “One who shouldn’t be wearing diapers anymore.”

Now here we are with DD#2. While I have pretty much kept potty training on the back burner, with another new baby and all, the pressure has started creeping up again. As her age-mates have started becoming potty-trained, and as she leaves toddler-hood for preschool-age, I decided to really give potty training a try. So for three days last week she lived on the potty. She did pee three times, and we praised her, sang a celebratory song, and even offered her a chocolate treat. By the third evening, though, she was complaining about her booty hurting. I realized that she was trying to hold everything in because she didn’t like using the potty. So, I gave up on potty training for now because I didn’t want her giving herself a urinary tract infection or other anal-retentive problems. While she might be physically ready, I don’t think she’s emotionally or intellectually ready. It’s been almost a week and she is still freaking out every time she feels the sensation to pee, but then she is really relieved when I finally talk her into going in her diaper.

So, she probably won’t be potty trained until the age of three. But then I thought, “So what?” By the time she is five or six, no one will be able to tell at what age she was potty-trained. Everyone, unless they have a physical disability, becomes potty-trained, and no one knows whether it happened at 18 months or 3 1/2 years. There is just so much pressure to prove your child is “normal” by having them potty trained at age two. Not every child is ready at age two, though. It seems like my children are too busy building their vocabularies to worry about the potty at that age, while another child might be great on the potty from an early age but may be slower to the draw in a different developmental area.

Reading is the same type of pseudo-measuring stick for homeschoolers. If a child has a problem learning to read by age 6 in schools, it’s because the child is deficient. If a homeschooled child doesn’t start reading at age 6 or earlier, then it’s because the parent is deficient as a teacher. The reality is that the only thing deficient is the expectation. Many homeschoolers and most non-homeschoolers panic at the thought of having to teach their children to read without the expertise of the school system. Again, pretty much anyone can learn to read at least at a most basic level if regularly exposed to books, but not everyone will be taught a love of reading especially if it starts out as a shameful ordeal.

Studies show that children may be ready to learn to read anywhere between age four and age eight, depending on the individual child. The majority of kids are ready around age 6 with others being ready earlier or later. They have also found that whether a child naturally learns at age 4 or age 8 their skills level out around age 10. (That’s provided that a late reader hasn’t been shamed and pigeon-holed as a sub-standard learner.) It’s often the difference between the efficiency of a chef who doesn’t start cooking until they have all of their ingredients ready (like a late reader) and the chef who is putting their ingredients together while they cook (like an early reader).

Now, I have never doubted that I could teach my child how to read. After all I was doing basic reading before I started kindergarten despite having never gone to preschool. I think the fact that I was always an “advanced” reader did set up the expectation that my child would also be an early and advanced reader. So, I was delighted when my oldest daughter at the age of 3 1/2 told me that she wanted to learn how to read. I started phonics games at the recommendation of the local librarian. At age 4 we started working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I think we made it through about 15 lessons before she started getting really bored and frustrated.

Over the next year we continued to do a variety of phonics related exercises in addition to read-a-louds at bedtime. When she was expected to read a word herself, though, we would both end up extremely frustrated. I finally gave up. I realized that she just wasn’t developmentally ready to learn to read, and by this point her desire to read or be read to had gone down the drain. We are just now starting to ease into formal reading lessons as she approaches the age of six. I’ve been trying to keep it really low-key, just two reading worksheets a week unless she asks to do more; I don’t allow her to do more than three in one sitting, though. She also likes playing Spelling Bee, where I give her simple words to spell out loud.  She learns a lot from shows like “Word World” and “Super Why” on PBS, playing on the computer, and asking how words are spelled when she is creating various posters, fashion magazines, and other things.

Even, though, I know that learning to read at age 8 is not unnatural, I still succumbed to the idea that early reading signified higher intelligence. Now I realize that early reading is sometimes just early reading. Lest you think this is just rationalizing to make myself feel better about having a late reader, I really don’t have a late reader. My oldest is right on “schedule”. She’s almost six and she is doing really well with three-letter words. I just have to discipline myself to not try to rush her to the next level of reading before she is ready.

Even though I only read one of their books a few years ago, I am starting to subscribe more and more to the philosophy of Raymond and Dorothy Moore: “Better Late than Early.” I am really starting to think it might be better to wait on the far end of any spectrum to make sure that all of the developmental issues have had time to resolve themselves. I thought I could just follow my child’s lead on when she was ready, but like in the instance of reading, I learned that kids are not always physically ready for where they want to go. I think this will definitely influence how I parent and teach my two younger daughters.

I will still try to encourage deeper study of the things that interest them. But when it comes to potty training and reading, I will probably take the pressure off of me and them and not try to approach them with it until a later age on the spectrum (maybe 3 1/2 for potty training and 6 or 7 for reading). If they start insisting on going to the potty before that age or reading on their own (yes, children can learn to read without formal instruction), then I will try to go with the flow. I know the temptation will always be there to push them too far too fast, but I will try to resist the best I can. As I sometimes remind my older daughter, you need to keep your eye on the prize. In this case, the prize will be happy and healthy children rather than silly bragging rights for me.

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2 Comments on “Potty Training and Learning to Read”

  1. Kelly Says:

    I met quite a few parents with “late” potty trainers, and the great thing about them is that they almost all seemed to train themselves very quickly, and rarely have accidents. It was more about the desire to take over, as they had already reached all the needed abilities.

    Mine have all potty trained earlier, but there are definite trade-offs. Like packing extra pants around for months, or stopping several times to pull pants and underwear on and off. As you said, by the time they’re five, no one will know when they were potty trained. 🙂

  2. Laura Witten Says:

    My son was extremely easy to potty train – he really wanted to do it himself. As with everything else he sees! He trained himself pretty much within a week around age 2 1/2, and yes, i was proud! he’s still in Huggies Overnights, though, and probably will be for another year at least.

    He’s doing well in preschool but reading will be far far away. He is just now getting interested in page numbers 🙂 If he will just keep up his new found interest in books, i will be thrilled! He went through more than a year of practically refusing to be read to, so i was worried.

    Have a great weekend!


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