Vera is 3 years old and recently started toilet training. She spends the early mornings at her grandmother’s home before going to preschool. Her grandma is teaching her to go “tinkle” in the adult sized toilet, puts her in a pull-up, and takes her every 3o minutes to ensure success. When Vera gets to school her teachers help her change into underwear and go to “the bathroom” in a child-sized toilet open to several other stalls. By the time she gets home in the evening, her mother rewards her with a star sticker for initiating use of the “potty chair” but still asks Vera to wear a diaper to avoid messes. Vera is learning one skill in three different settings in three different ways.
Personalized Books That Teach
Toilet training is arguably the most stressful milestone of early childhood. Complicating this is the fact that in Nebraska, according to the 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, nearly 72% of children aged 0-5 have both parents in the workforce, and the national average is not far behind. The stress of toilet training can also be extended to child care providers who, due to licensing ratios, may have multiple children in their care toilet training at the same time with little assistance. The investment of time and stress involved in toilet training is exacerbated when the home and school environments do not have consistent toileting practices. Using self-modeling in the form of a personalized story book is one approach to teaching the skill of toilet training in a fun and educational way that children and parents will both enjoy.
Toddlerhood is a time of rapid growth and milestones. These milestones often involve learning new and complex tasks such as sleeping in a bed and toilet training. While these are exciting new developments, they can also be stressful for young children, families, and teachers. Even in the best situations, children have multiple adults teaching them the new skill, often in multiple settings, and with varying materials. Making a personalized book to teach a skill can ease transitions for young children and support families.
Personalized books can be used to teach a skill by uniquely creating a story that teaches a sequence of skills with the child as the main character. In a personalized book, the child serves as his own model and can see himself be successful from the very start. Creating a personalized book to teach a new skill accomplishes three main goals important for transitions: using familiar language and terminology, providing a visual image of what success looks like, and maintaining consistency between the home and school environments.
Language and Terminology
When writing the text for the personalized book it may be helpful to keep a children’s book nearby as a guide or imagine yourself talking with the child. Be sure to write the text in clear, plain language using the family’s preferred terminology. Gathering input from the family or child care provider will help to identify how the child communicates about the topic at home and school. This could be the difference in using “potty” or “toilet” or incorporating the correct word used in a child’s native language. Using specific sequencing words such as “first”, “next”, “then”, and “last” can cue children to the order of the steps and help them remember the sequence. In the case that a specific reinforcement is used to celebrate a child’s success (such as a high-five, reading an extra book at bedtime, a sticker, or fruit snack) the reward can be written right into the book. Although it is temping to try to use rhyme, a popular feature of many children’s books, it is best if the message is simple and factual.
Visual Image of Success
The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been more true. A personalized book provides visual images depicting the child completing each step of the new skill successfully. Research indicates that children find personalized books more engaging than even their favorite picture books (Kucirkova, 2012). When a child sees her or himself as the main character of the book it draws their attention to the necessary steps, can increase motivation to achieve, and prompts conversation about the topic. All three of these benefits can be incredibly helpful for parents beginning toilet training with their child.
Consistency Across Settings
The goal of learning a new skill is to be able to generalize that skill across materials and environments. However when the skill is being acquired, it can be challenging to learn in multiple environments and with different materials. For the toilet training child this may mean success at home on a potty chair but difficulties at school with a child-size toilet. In addition, well-meaning adults often use a variety of terms to communicate about expectations, but this can lead to confusion on the part of the child. Overall, it can be a challenge for all adults to be on the same page. A personalized book can quite literally keep everyone on the same page. For this reason, it is helpful to print multiple copies of the personalized book, one for each home the child resides in and one for school. This allows one uniform message to be shared in multiple places and serves as a reminder to busy adults about the agreed upon process, how to talk about it with the child, and how to reinforce it.
Of course, the busy lifestyle of today’s parents doesn’t always allow for time to create and write your own personalized book. Luckily, several online resources are available that streamline the process or do it for you. Advances in technology have improved and led to innovative ways to integrate children into stories that teach a skill or lesson. Below are online resources that personalize books to support children not only in potty training but through other early transitions as well.
Kucirkova, N., Messer, D., & Whitelock, D. (2012). Parents reading with their toddlers : The role of personalization in book engagement. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 13(3), 445-470. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798412438068
Voices for Children. (2016) Kids Count in Nebraska Report. Ralston, NE: Chrissy Tonkinson.
Erin Hamel, MEd, Guest Blogger | THE LEARNING CHILD
Erin holds a masters degree in Special Education and is currently a doctoral student in Child Development at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is a licensed teacher in the state of Nebraska. Erin began her career teaching internationally and has worked with children of all ability ranges from eighteen months to sixth grade. She is passionate about teacher development, connecting young children to nature, and supporting parents and children.
Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Extension Educator, The Learning Child and Sarah Roberts, Extension Educator, The Learning Child
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