Communicating at the toilet

Did you know that what you say and how you act around your child when they are toilet training can really make or break the whole experience?  A confident and supported child will be happy to keep trying, even if they make mistakes!


Here are a few points to remember about communication, before you get started.

A child is never in the wrong when it comes to toileting

Your positive attitude, no matter what, is key to keeping your child relaxed around the toilet and most importantly, happy to keep trying.  Sensitive children in particular will pick up when you think they are not doing a good enough job.  This can completely derail their confidence.

Whilst toilet training can be frustrating for parents, it is important to look at WHY there might be issues, rather than blaming the child.  This might include not being quite ready (and thus less understanding of the importance of making it to the toilet every time) or being almost ‘past’ the window of opportunity (and thus resisting going to the toilet).  Of equal importance, is to look into any underlying causes of sudden accidents, constipation or frequent bed-wetting.  Any issues around toileting is never the child’s fault!

Keep it positive

Whilst praise keeps it positive, why not try using your child’s own ‘intrinsic motivation’?  To do this, acknowledge what your child has achieved, for example, ‘you did a poo in the toilet!!’ or ‘you told Daddy you needed to go!’.  This generates excitement for your child to do that behaviour again.  Using praise, such as ‘good boy!’, is more likely to encourage your child to repeat what they did more to please you, than for their own self.

Always remind yourself, no negative talk will ever help your child to move forward in the toileting process.  Patience and understanding goes a long way in keeping the huffs, threats or blame aside!

Be careful how you praise and reward

It’s great to express your pride to your child on their toileting achievements.  But…including that you are proud even when they have accidents or wet the bed, will reassure them that you are supportive all the way!

It can be fun and enticing to offer a small incentive for going to the toilet but be prepared to adjust the target according to your child’s toileting skills.  So for example, if you’re only offering a sticker for a wee or poo in the toilet, what will you do if it’s a battle just to get your child to sit there in the first place?  By making it simple enough to earn their reward (that is, a sticker for just sitting on the toilet at first), a child will understand you aren’t expecting too much of them.

Negative reinforcement, in the form of ‘you won’t get this if you do/don’t do this’, is only asking for adrenalin (‘hey mummy and daddy aren’t supporting me here…’).  Stress brings inability to think and perform straight and a lack of support may reduce your child’s confidence and enthusiasm in doing what is expected of them.

Use appropriate language

Depending on your child’s age when they begin toilet-training, this will make a big difference as to whether you are using long sentences or reminding yourself to pick easy-to-understand words.

For the two-year-olds, you might need to use simpler language to make it clear what you need your child to do.  This might be ‘time for wee, no wees in the car!…then you can wee at the park’ or ‘Kasey had an accident, that’s okay, look wet undies, time for rinse then let’s get dry undies’.  You might still be clarifying terms such as wet/dry or ‘need to go’.  It can also be more appropriate to encourage your child to ‘sit on the toilet’ rather than announcing they need to do a wee or poo, just in case they really don’t need to go.

At first, it is important to confidently TELL your child when it is time to go to the toilet.  Be sure your child isn’t at an important moment in their play though!  By asking if your child needs to go to the toilet, you are almost asking your child to say ‘NO!’.  If you forget, respect your child’s answer and attempt again in a few minutes with ‘It’s time to sit on the toilet and try for wee or poo!’.

Lastly, there is a difference in saying ‘oh you had an accident’ compared with ‘did you wet yourself?’.  Hopefully I have inspired you to think twice about communicating at the toilet.

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Most clicked on 2013

An early happy new year to everyone! I will take the chance again to say thanks for being supporters of I Raise My Kids.
This week I’ll be reposting the most clicked on posts from I Raise My Kids.
Actually the most clicked on is ‘about me’ so starting with that, I’ll give a quick summary about who I am, so you know where I am coming from with the posts that I put up here!
I am Heidi, a mum of 2 boys (getting closer to 2 and 4 years) and a paediatric speech pathologist. I am very interested in child development which includes everything from communication, cognitive, social-emotional and even physical development. I am also interested in play, literacy and picky eating/developing healthy eating.
We have been down a road and a half working out the cause of Master 3’s ‘ADHD’ and eczema and have since come across food intolerances, kinesiology and working towards more of a Paleo ‘lifestyle’ so hence I post about this as well. Working with children, I am starting to realise there is a lot more of the unnecessary behavioural problems as well as other health issues that creep up, relating to not only diet but also emotional issues.
I hope that if anyone ever has questions or concerns that they would like more information on, relating to any of the above topics, please send me a message. I am more than happy to try and help!!

How long will we be there Mummy?

[18 mths+] Don’t forget to explain to your children what will be happening over the next few days and weeks!!!!! You might use a few strategies below:
– get out a calendar (or just draw boxes for each day) and draw what is happening each day
– there might be where you are going, who you will see, Santa/presents etc
– explain scenarios according to your child’s age. For the young ones it might be ‘Santa, presents tomorrow’, ‘we go in the car tonight, singing’. For the older ones you might be explaining other concepts about Christmas eg carols – what IS a ‘one-horse open sleigh’, Jesus Christ, tidings, bobtail etc!
– timing – for the little ones you might be talking in ‘tomorrows’ but otherwise a calendar with symbols or words helps as a visual aide for the older ones
– think about all the changes that are happening in their life – no daycare, parents off work, going on holiday. Are they wondering if life will ever go back to normal?

From having been an exchange student and not having a clue what I was doing from day to day, not understanding the language, I’m aware that our children no matter how young may be wondering but also not able to ask!

Helping your child to talk : WAITING

[Birth onwards]  How long do you give your little one to respond?  By waiting and expecting your baby/toddler to give you some form of communication (a smile, kick, reach or words), you are teaching them that communication is two-way.

Some children need you to wait a bit longer, to give them time to come up with a response. Silently counting to 10 while you look expectantly at them is not ridiculous!

tickle, tickle!!..........

tickle, tickle!!……….

An example is :
Mum – tickle, tickle, tickle!!!!! (WAIT!)
Baby – eventually kicks in excitement for ‘more’

Mum – more or finished? (WAIT!!!!)
Toddler – might push food away or say finished after they realize they have to make a decision

Dad – pink shirt or red shirt? (WAAAIIT!)
Toddler – might reach for or even attempt to copy colour

The key is waiting 😉

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Mind your language – giving directions

[12mths +]

Remember, when giving directions to your little one, as a ‘general guide’:

  •  if your child is using single words (eg. more?, go!, drink) or nonverbal communication such as pointing, they will only understand about 1-3 words at a time (give or take)
  • if your child is using two word phrases (eg. no more, daddy car), they will only understand about 2-4 words at a time (give or take)

So when your child doesn’t follow your directions, or appear to understand, FIRST stop and think about how many words you have just used and if you could say it again more simply. This is also for the older ones who can be assumed to understand more than they really do. Too many times I see the child get into trouble when the directions (or complex words used) would have flown ooooover their head!

As I always say, think about learning another language and imagine someone coming to you with a direction of 5 or 6 words when you are just learning single words. You would have no hope of getting more than a ‘gist’..  And then that person rousing on you for not understanding and obeying.

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My first vocab list – 6 mths+

[6 months +]

Help your baby to understand more about their world as soon as the ‘lights come on’.  Around six months, a baby starts to focus their attention on things more easily and this leads into a perfect time to start giving them some words (just to understand at first).  This then starts the snowball effect of communication development, where the more a baby learns to communicate and communicate back to you, the more their brain develops, so the more they communicate… and the cycle continues.  Your baby is smarter than you think.  By assuming their brains are ready to learn, you can start building their vocabulary from a young age.  Make the early years count and help develop your child’s communication and future literacy skills!

Where do I start in teaching language?

Here is a list of first words that I have found babies first focus their attention to and thus it is easy for them to learn about these concepts.  If you know a natural gesture (think ‘car’ or ‘phone’), use this too which all helps to get the message across (think how gestures help to get the message across in a foreign country – Getting thrown into a new language is not easy).  Take a look at Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not? to understand how to start using a few signs with your baby.  Signing (and even just using your hands to communicate) will help your child’s brain to develop that bit quicker, particularly at first.  It can also be particularly helpful for those that are slower to develop speech, so they will still be able to practice communicating to you, and in turn receiving the positive attention for doing so and get the snowball effect of communication happening too – just without speech at first. 🙂

Of course, your baby might find a different word/concept to take interest in, so go with that!

The first step

Watch your baby closely at different times throughout the day.  As soon as they focus their attention onto something, name that item (or action)!!!  It could be anything, from a fan to a door handle.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Don’t just say it once, try to say it three times.  This just speeds up the process of learning, as if someone was telling you a word in Portuguese three times, you would remember it quicker than hearing it just once.  If you go into the next room and again see your baby looking at a ‘fan’, say it again!  Your baby is obviously interested and will be open to learning the word for this.

Use your hands.  I’ve said it a few times already, but being visual helps your child to understand what you are really talking about.  Just moving your finger round in a circle, in the direction of the fan, helps to confirm to your baby ‘yes that thing moving around and around goes with the word I just heard…fan’.  Think about how a child might point to something in a corner of a room.  Sometimes you really can’t be sure exactly which item they are pointing at without more information.  This goes for your baby – make sure they know which word you are defining, by using your hands!  For those that are keen for more formal signs (for example, animals), go to and type the word into ‘sign search’ in the top right corner!

Define the word. The only way your baby will learn a word is by you saying that word/signing at the time.  For instance, you can say ‘daycare’ while you’re at home or even in the car, but your baby will learn the word much quicker if you say it when you are there, say at the front gate.  Yes, I have had to mutter/pick a quiet time to say ‘daycare’ a few times at the front gate to define it to my two!  The same goes for ‘home’, you could say it when you’re leaving daycare for home or better yet, say/sign ‘home’ at the front door or when you arrive in the garage.  If you forget, just take note to remember for next time!

'book!', 'eat!'...

‘book!’, ‘eat!’…

Even if your baby is closer to 12 months, take a look at the vocabulary list and think about whether your baby definitely does understand each of these words.  You might pick a few to point out each week.

The first vocabulary list

Here is list of words your baby might take interest in, or routines that happen every day (eg. changing nappies) that they will soon learn to understand:

light (probably one of the first things your baby will take interest in, give them the word! or a sign)

fan (in summer, it will surely catch your baby’s attention)


pet – teach them ‘dog’, ‘bird’, ‘cat’ at first until they have seen and generalised other dogs, cats, birds are also called this word, THEN introduce your pet’s name

up – picking them up, or pulling them to sit when on the change table

boo/peekaboo – ‘boo’ is a bit easier for your child to say back, eventually

eat – say when they are eating


bath – take a look at the sign on

finished – after the last drop of medicine, bathtime, changing nappy, eating


home – say this each time you get to the garage or front door

car – remember to define it, say the word whilst pointing at the car

TV – certainly not your baby’s first entertainment, but guaranteed they will show some interest in it before they should be watching it! Give them the word!

phone – easy to ‘sign’ this one

book – check out the sign for this

brush teeth – use a gesture too

change nappy – your baby will basically learn this as one word

wait – a good one to sign as you will be using this for ‘years’ to come!

swing – your baby will probably have good attention for this one, as soon as you put them in it

park/beach/other places they may take note of.  Give them a word!

Stay tuned for the next vocabulary list!

The snowball effect of communication development

[6 months on]

The first time a child points or says a word (or signs one), what parent doesn’t get a flutter in their heart from the excitement that their child has something to say?  Have you ever thought about how a baby learns to communicate?

Whilst early communication such as smiling, pushing food away and waving are all signs of language development, think about how much attention your child gets when they communicate through a formal means (as mentioned above, pointing, talking, signing).  This attention from (usually) an adult, helps to develop their language further by:

  • the adult confirming their communication attempt is what they should be doing
  • giving the baby positive attention (what baby wouldn’t want that?)
  •  the adult repeating their attempt ( for example, pointing to the item or saying the word again)

These all encourage the baby to try it again!  So, the more the baby communicates TO others, the more they get attention and interaction.  And this interaction develops their language further, which gives them more opportunities to receive further attention and interaction from both familiar and unfamiliar adults.  The snowball effect!!!

So whilst we can sit back and wait for the baby to develop language by picking it up themselves, there are two things to remember!

  1. Learning a new language is MUCH easier when someone is pointing out the words for you, instead of having to work it out yourself.  See post ‘Getting thrown into a new language is not easy‘  
  2. Time is neural pathways – that is, the sooner your child gets communicating, the more neural pathways they will develop in their brain for communicating to others/getting information from others and the more their learning is able to develop, again the snowball effect.

AND, language brings so many benefits, to name a few:

  • being able to distract your child from tantrums or just rolling over on the change table more easily (hey, look! bird! – as opposed to nothing around that your child understands the words for)
  • entertaining them more easily (waiting in line – ‘next, go swimming, then home, then daddy home – as opposed to wrestling a bored baby)
  • teaching them about new concepts more easily (having defined ‘potty’, ‘nappy’, ‘undies’, ‘wee’ and ‘poo’, you can then talk about toilet training to your little one well before they start – ‘soon Jill go nappy… Jill use undies…Jill do poo in potty…Jill do wee in potty!!‘)

As soon as your child starts taking notice of people or things around the house, usually around six months (but give or take a bit), you can start helping to develop their language!  It is particularly good to help those babies that aren’t so communicative, in order for them to experience the snowball effect too.

** Stay tuned for an upcoming list of the first words/concepts that are ideal to point out to your baby**

Waiting for the words to come…

Joint attention...tick!

Joint attention…tick!

Most parents have two big milestones in mind – first steps and first words.  Being a speech pathologist, I feel like I can comment on the latter!

The thing about first words, is that there is a wide range of ‘normal’.  Some children come out with a word well before 12 months, whilst others take a fair bit longer.  Really, before two years of age, anything goes……

Differences in development

  • Children’s brains can only focus on developing so many things at once.  Some children head straight to the gross motor development, getting crawling, whilst others focus on communication and are very vocal and social, whilst others focus more on cognitive skills, sitting back and working out how the world works.  And some do a bit of each at the same time!  Have a think about your child’s strengths – are they simply developing another area of their brain?
  • Children have personalities from the very beginning.  The extrovert baby will most likely ‘show’ their communication skills more than an introvert, who might understand everything and be taking it all in, but may not be as vocal.  Where does your baby fit?

Early skills

  • Babbling is a good indicator of future speech, particularly using different sounds – mama, baba, dada.  Is your little one babbling and are they making consonant sounds?  (ie baba, mama, dada not just
  • There are some important early communication skills that come before speech – eye contact, motor imitation (copying actions such as banging, throwing, waving), pointing and joint attention.  Joint attention is when your child focuses their attention on something (say a toy or book) but acknowledges that you are there too by looking back at you as if to say ‘this is fun’ or ‘wow did you see that’ or even ‘hey I need some help with this’.  If your child has any difficulty with any of these by 12 months, it is definitely time to start thinking about a visit to the paediatrician, even just to monitor them.
  • How much does your child understand?  Language doesn’t just involve talking but primarily understanding words, before using them.  Before words, children start taking in their surroundings and learning about the routines that happen each day.  Does your child understand what is happening in their day?  For example, after dinner they have a bath; when Mummy picks up the keys, they are about to go in the car.  Does your child understand a simple question, for example, ‘where’s Daddy?’, ‘where’s ball?’, ‘where’s dog?’.

The sign test

  • Start teaching your little one a couple of signs, for things that THEY might want or find fun to communicate back to you.  This might be ‘more’, ‘bath’, ‘drink’ or a word that relates to their interests, such as ‘ball’, ‘book’, ‘bird’, ‘dog’, or ‘music’.  Most children don’t need to sign the word ‘eat’, as generally their parents are offering them food before they would really need to ask for it.  You can find signs (in Australia) at  Here is an I raise my kids post with far more detail about getting started with signing.  Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not?…  And have a look at our sign of the week each Friday!
  • After 12 months of age, a child shouldn’t take more than a month or two to understand the sign and start signing back to you.  If they can learn to sign back to you, it will show you that they can and want to communicate.  This may hint at a speech problem, which means their brain is having trouble getting their mouth to make sounds and words (particularly if they haven’t babbled too much).  This is where signing becomes important to help your child communicate whilst they are learning to use speech.  If your child is using several signs really well and still no speech, this would be a good time to start looking into finding a speech pathologist. See another I raise my kids post, ‘We’re off to a Speechie – Finding a Brilliant One’.

Personally, I have worked with a good few children who have not been saying much at around 15-18 months, but then have developed on quite normally after that.  I have also had several parents that have said they were a ‘late talker’, not saying much at two but have ‘turned out fine’!  Ask around for how you developed, as late talkers do seem to run in families.

In the coming posts, I will give many tips to consider trying with your child to ensure they are being given the best ‘language environment’ to help them to learn to communicate.  Firstly, have a look at my post ‘You’re off to Brazil’ to have a think about what it is like to learn another language.  Your child is going through a similar experience and so it helps to take that into consideration when communicating with them (husbands and other family members too!).

If you have tried the strategies (that I will post about soon) and signing and there is still little speech by 18 months, I would start thinking about contacting a speech pathologist (there can be waiting lists) and also maybe a paediatrician, so that you can be on top of things by the time they are two.  Early intervention is the best thing that you can do!

Please comment if you have any other questions or would like more information on anything here.  🙂 Heidi

Don’t wait to start listening!

[Womb into toddlerhood…]  Listening to your baby is very important.  We ‘listen’ to them whilst they are still in the womb – noticing what they are up to and wondering about them.  Studies have shown that it really helps a baby to grow well if we are keeping them in our ‘conscious’ thoughts.

Don’t wait to start listening once they are born!  Whilst it may seem a long time before they will be able to talk, they are unknowingly communicating to you from the very first scream.



Some of the ways a newborn might communicate to you are:

  • looking towards you – they are noticing you either through smell, sound, vision or just by touch.  You can communicate back by talking, getting into their sight or by touching or holding them.  Touch is so important in growing a baby and helping them to form good attachments that it may not be enough to simply talk to them from a distance or be in their line of sight.  They may need to be in your arms (yes for the 14th hour that day…!).
  • vocalising – through goos/gaas or snuffles or crying.  Any use of the vocal cords is certainly meaning one thing, ‘I have something to say’!
  • rooting around for some milk – either on you or someone else.  Obviously one action to take here!
  • smiling – once they do, you know they really are starting to communicate. See post A Smile is Just the Beginning

The more responsive you are to your baby, the quicker you are teaching their brain what communication is all about – ‘you communicate through some form, I will be listening and respond’.

Although they might be in your arms, a baby may still cry or even scream.  As long as you are there to say ‘I’m here, you can let it all out now’ (and trying to work out what might be wrong at the same time – nappy, milk, bed etc), you are doing the best thing for your baby.  See post Is It Okay to Ssshh Your Baby?


The listening keeps continuing once your baby becomes older.  Don’t forget to ‘listen’ to their actions as before they can talk, this is all that they have.  Teaching your baby a few signs is also a great way to help them to become excellent communicators and will fill in the gaps whilst they are getting their mouth around words!  See post

Do I get on this baby sign bandwagon or not?…

When you are listening to someone, you don’t ignore them.  This goes with your little one.  By the time they are a toddler and attempting to communicate (through actions or words), always give your best shot to understand them.  And don’t ignore anything!  For example, your toddler might be pointing at some food on the bench, right before dinner.  Tell them ‘no crackers, wait for dinner’ (signing ‘no’ and ‘wait’ can be useful to help them understand) and then distract!  It could be easy to ignore them or pretend you didn’t understand but it doesn’t help them to learn or teach them that you are interested in their attempts at communicating.  At least they know they are being understood!  AND they are learning at the same time (why they can’t eat crackers right now).

It could be easy to ignore the toddler trying to point to the swings outside on a rainy day, or you could say ‘swings? no swings…raining’ and then distract!!

What did your baby communicate to you today?

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Saving the mealtime mess

It’s true, it’s no fun cleaning up a massive post-mealtime crime scene!  But really, it comes down to communicating with your child…and staying a few steps ahead!

Firstly, if your child is throwing food, it is important to look at WHY the behaviour is occurring.  To me, it’s either too much food in front of them and they literally can’t see the food for the food, get overwhelmed…and start throwing!  Or, they are finished (either the food in front of them or finished eating completely), they then get bored (a little one’s attention span isn’t long!)…and they start throwing!  I’d have fun throwing it too if someone cleaned it and me up at the end!

So let’s go back to setting the mealtime up to be successful. 🙂

1. Start with 2 bowls.  Put your child’s meal all into one, set a suction one up on the highchair, empty.  This will avoid an extra missile.

2. Think about whether a spoon and/or fork would be appropriate for the mealtime and if these would be more of a distraction or facilitator to getting your child to eat.

3. Set your child up with a few bits and pieces in their bowl.  This could be the food you know they won’t love but want them to eat the most of (like the veges) or a few bits of everything.  Less is more.

4. Then the communication needs to start happening.  To put it simply, it’s ‘more or finished?’!

Learning to communicate at the dinner table

By 12 months of age, a child can easily learn the concepts of ‘more’ and ‘finished’ and can definitely pick up the signs for these too.

More (keyword signing australia)

Finished sign (keyword signing australia)

Declan working out his hands! Signing 'finished' using both

Declan working out his hands! Signing ‘finished’ using both

At first, you would start with the steps above and once your little one throws food, make no comment about the throwing and either pick it up or get another piece the same.  Holding it out of their reach ask ‘more….? or finished….?’.   Try to avoid any extra words that will make understanding what you are meaning harder.   For example, ‘are you finished or do you want more? more? oh no are you finished?’.

Ideally, you would be modelling the signs as you say the words and pausing (a good while) after each so the little one has some processing time.  At first, they won’t sign back but if they understand ‘more’ and ‘finished’, they might give you some type of hint of which one.  You can go with these nonverbal hints until they talk or teach them the signs which will give them a more formal way of communicating AND advance their language skills before speech comes.

‘More’ may look like reaching for the food, nodding, opening/closing hand.

‘Finished’ may look like no response, looking away, pointing at something else, pushing your hand away.

Whichever they indicate to you, you say and sign (oh you’re finished, oh more).  It is also a good idea to take their hand and help them to make the sign – showing the brain what to do helps them to learn quicker.

If they indicate ‘finished’, respect that and take the food away.  This may mean ‘i’m full’ finished or ‘i’m done with that food but still hungry’ finished so you might pick something else (which is why it is good to have some food away from them in their first bowl).  If they throw that too, again say and sign ‘finished’ and pack it all away.

If your child indicates ‘more’, give them the food back and let them have one more go.  If they throw it again, assume they actually meant ‘finished’!  So say and sign ‘finished’ and remove the food.

The same goes for the spoon/fork.  If they throw it, either pick up the spoon, say ‘no throwing…scoop’ and show them hand over hand or pick up the fork, say ‘no throwing..stab’ and show them hand over hand.  If they throw it again, say and sign ‘finished’ and away they go.

The child will learn pretty quickly one chance and it all goes away!

For older children, you can help their brain to learn the correct action when they are finished by doing.  If they throw, pick up the food/bowl/spoon etc, give it back to them and say ‘when we’re finished, we put our food/bowl/plate/spoon down on the table’ and encourage them to put it down on the table.  It sounds like it’s hardly worth doing but this helps their brain to ‘feel’ what the correct action is when they are finished.  And then be quick to remove it before they repeat!

This all sounds very technical (which it is), but it comes down to a few basic things to remember:

  • Set your child up for success by giving them only a few bits at a time
  • Hold up food and ask ‘more?….’ and if no response ask ‘or finished?…’
  • Look for nonverbal hints of more or finished and then model the word/sign to teach the child what they are expected to do.  You only have to remember two words in all of this – more…finished…
  • When in doubt, guess and let them communicate to you if you are wrong
  • Show them hand over hand the appropriate action to use a spoon/fork with
  • Show them hand over hand how to make a sign
  • Respect any communication of ‘more’ or ‘finished’ – even if you think they want more but they sign ‘finished’, put it away (but always watch in case they make a mistake)
  • Keep words very simple.  We want them to tell us ‘more’ and ‘finished’, so by using those words, you are showing them what you expect them to say (or sign)

It’s never too early or late to start teaching ‘more’ and ‘finished’!  This can be started from 6 months but children will probably pick this up closer to 12 months.

Once you and your child have it down pat, you will be able to ask ‘more or finished?’, they will tell you and you can then put more food out or take it away, saving the massive mess on the floor!