I'm a speech therapist working in the public school system, covering the maternity leaves of other therapists. I've recently been assigned to work at our district preschool facility. Cute, right? Little sweeties running here and there, me being Ms. Discipline for little bitties...right up my alley.
So the kids trickle in for class at 8 a.m. Toddlers all over the place, playing, reading, pushing eachother...normal toddler things. I get distracted by this awful, distant, drawn out wailing and realize it's one of my 4 year old students, howling his head off in our class bathroom. "TEACHER....WAAAAAAAAAA, TEACHER!!!!" So I rush in there, thinking a snake has surely come up out of the toilet, threatening to eat the little guy. I open the door, and he's standing with his pants down around his ankles, tears streaming. I frantically exclaim, "What's wrong, buddy?" He wails some more and points to the toilet. "I hurt my butt!"
Toilet seat's up.
Ah. So I know the problem now. He must have sat down on a cold edge of porcelain and possibly tottered toward the water. A bit scary, but not life threatening. This aside, I'm a little concerned that he couldn't figure out to put the darn seat down and go about his business without alerting the whole school. It's a peewee toilet for crying out loud - can't be more than 12 inches off the ground, cutely equipped with a toddler sized seat. Not that big, little dude. I'm thinking you can put it down quite independently.
So I point to the toilet seat and gently explain, "It's okay. Just put the seat down and you'll can finish up." I go back out to the classroom. Thirty seconds later, "WAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAA!!! TEACHER!!!!!!!" So I rush back in, seriously concerned that this time it's a baby alligator squirming up through the sewer system. Some scary green animal has navigated through the tiny toilet and bit that poor child on the butt while he was trying to poo poo! I just know it!
He sees me open the door, immediately stops crying and sniffs, "I'm done."
I had to stop short with this. He's standing there yet again, pants down south, looking at me like I'm supposed to do something. And I'm confused. Because there's clearly no alligator. Ooookaaayyy.....soooo, you're done....that's great. "Then why are you crying?" All I get in reply is a blank stare.
SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE!! That little dude was waiting for me to prompt him through the entire pooping and peeing ordeal. If you haven't read about prompts, cueing, and task analysis from my toddler books, then you need to. Cuz this guy was a classic example of mom doing everything for him. He had been trained to either wait for mom to do all the steps for him, or wait for her instructions on what to do next. And by four years old, that's not cool!! Aside from it driving you nuts having to help him every time you turn around, you aren't teaching him how to do it by himself! And he's perfectly capable!! Good gawd.
Three and four year olds can do a heck of a lot more than you think. So instead of doing everything for them because it's quicker and easier, guide and instruct them on how to do it themselves!! It takes some time up front, but I guarantee you will be sorely pissed off and exasperated two years down the line when they still need help putting the seat down, wiping their little butts, pulling pants up, and washing hands. That's ridiculous and doesn't need to happen. You will have better things to do, I promise.
After they understand how to do each step, see if they can put them in order. They will look at you to tell them what to do, and instead of saying, "Now pull your pants up," you go, "What's next?" Make them think about it and figure it out. If they can't, then back off the verbal cueing and use a visual or physical prompt. Point to their pants or tap their leg. Then start backing off the cueing altogether.
If you act like it's expected that they will learn how to do these daily tasks, they won't get so distraught. Stop coddling. It makes kids whiney. There's a balance to achieve with firm, loving guidance, and it's not beyond you to figure it out. And I hear you scoffing, "He's just a baby! Are you nuts?!" No, I am not nuts (although, okay, it depends on the topic) and I'm telling you now, it won't be cute and sweet a year from now. You will be pulling your hair out. You will be chasing baby sister around the house and more concerned about her getting ahold of your scissors or Draino than you will be about your 5 year old who is most definitely old enough to go potty by himself but still insists on your help and attention.
STOP IT. Cut it out. You're making your life harder, honey.
I KNOW it's easier to help him now because you've got dinner on the stove, another kid's dirty diaper to change, and a wailing infant. But if you don't stop now, you'll have THREE demanding kids and millions and millions of grey hairs. Just a thought.