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On Potties and Beasts

A while ago I was sitting at the airport coming back after visiting special friends in JHB. It was an emotional visit and it got me reflecting on things that start out so hard but turns out to be ok. My mind worked through illness, diets, exercise regimes, performance reviews, and finally came to rest on potty training. I used to dread having to start potty training with my little ones, it loomed larger than life and scared me to a degree of passivity and total evasion. That is until I faced the Beast. And with ‘facing the Beast’ I not only mean that I faced the beast that is a potty, I also literally mean that I faced the one and only Beast – Beast our family dog.

If you are a parent you will know that every single article on potty training instructs you to do a little dance, sing a special song and high-five until you have blisters on your hands when your child first uses the potty. And so the first time my son performed this very special act, this is exactly what I did. I danced so enthusiastically that I hardly saw Beast moving in… I won’t go into details but this is how the scene ended; me holding Beast back by his collar, high-fiving Kai with the other hand while using my leg to prevent my 16 month old from literally stepping in shit. All this while shouting at the top of my voice: “well done my boy! Beast No!! Babe come help!”

Naturally my son was confused. He was also terrified and disgusted at the dark side to our beloved pet dog. A dark side that none of us had ever seen before. It was as if Beast had been starved for days. But the Jacksons don’t give up easily and so we persisted and persevered with Beast locked in a room every time my son felt the need. Kai was not happy though, I could see that he was troubled by all of this. Potty training was hard and dirty, just as I had expected it to be.

Then the penny dropped for me one day as I watched him deep in discussion with a train. My son is an introvert. Of course he won’t enjoy having the spotlight on him, least of all when he is doing his private business. All the high-fives and silly dances were just making him ever more uncomfortable. As an MBTI practitioner I really should have realised this sooner. I immediately changed tactics – no more cartwheels and dancing, the potty was moved to a private corner of the house and Kai could literally poop-in-peace. And he did. Even Beast has backed off.

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10 000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is to an extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10 000 hours. It is important to note that Gladwell never said you needed 10 000 hours to be an expert, he said that you need 10 000 hours to be a phenom. To be so freakishly awesome that you are literally the best in the world. I often think about this whenever we embark on starting a new habit with our kids or whenever we need to stop a habit such as getting rid of the dummy. As parents we need to remember that it takes a few hours to get used to something new, a few more to get good at it and years of practicing to get excellent at it.

This is, by the way, also what I tell myself to keep calm when our kids don’t sleep. In a few years when they have practiced sleeping enough, they will be really good at it!

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