I am in the last week of a masters level class that looks at John Kotter’s 8 step process for leading change in an organization. In this last week, we are reflecting back on what we’ve learned throughout the term. For me, it’s the fact that when you make any change, you need to be aware of the barriers that exist to that change. You need to have a vision and an appropriate team that will help guide through the change. It’s not enough to know you have to make the change. You have to make people feel it, see it and live it.
Change is an emotional process. If you want to make a change stick, you need to influence thoughts and behaviors to the point where it’s not a change any more. It’s a way of life.
Potty training may not be what Kotter had in mind when he came up with his 8 steps for leading change, but it makes sense (to me) when you consider that the whole process of creating change is very psychological. It could be changing the culture of an organization or creating social change in a developing country.
It could even be convincing your two year old to take the plunge into big boy land by giving up diapers. Let’s take a stab at it, shall we?
- Increase Urgency Before you even think about potty training, you need to convince your little one that there is a reason for getting rid of the diapers. With my first son, G, we talked about using the potty like a big boy when he was ready. We purchased a training potty at around 18 months and put it in plain view in the bathroom. I asked him if he wanted to use it from time to time. We didn’t push it, but we kept the conversation going. Eventually, he started to ask to use it. It became a challenge that he wanted to take on.
- Build the Guiding Team Potty training takes more than mom and dad. We worked with our daycare and made sure that anyone who babysat G knew to ask at certain times if he’d like to use the potty. Daycare relayed to us how he did on a given day and reported the times he would go on the potty. The most important thing was that everyone was consistent and on the same page.
- Get the Vision Right The vision from the beginning was to potty train G by letting him take the lead. The techniques I read online and in books that involved charts and/or potty training over a weekend didn’t seem like something G would want to do. He has always wanted to do things his way. He also wants to do things right (in his mind) and will work on something on his own until he gets it before he shares his accomplishment with anyone.
- Communicate for Buy-in G was an early talker and a very good communicator. We talked about the process of potty training and how he was working toward big boy underwear. We read books about potty training. We made it clear that it was up to him to decide when he was ready. Sticking to the vision of him taking the lead, the guiding team praised him for trying and left him alone when he didn’t want anything to do with the potty.
- Empowering Action We’d look at some of the cool underwear options at the store. Dancing and singing were encouraged when he was successful at using the potty. Want to read a book on the potty? Sure. We made sure he felt like he was the lead, so he felt empowered to potty train on his own.
- Short-term Wins G was praised for having a dry diaper and was encouraged to share his accomplishments with grandparents over the phone. He would get special treats, like a toy or ice cream sundae, when he went a few days without soiled diapers. Short-term wins were always noted and celebrated.
- Don’t Let Up The guiding team was consistent throughout this whole potty training process. We asked him if he had to go potty at the same times, kept the praise up and encouraged him during the change. It didn’t matter if we were home, at a store or on vacation. We didn’t let up.
- Make it Stick Many kids have relapses after they are potty trained and have accidents. To avoid this, we made sure G was ready to switch to underwear. This mean that he was pretty well potty trained and still wearing diapers for some time. When I got to the end of a box, I asked him if he was ready to buy underwear. I pointed out that he had done so well that we might not have to get diapers anymore. He thought about it and decided he was ready. No pressure. He made the final decision. And it stuck.
I always tell people I didn’t do a thing to potty train G. He did it himself. Sure, it took several months. But most big changes do. When he was fully potty trained he was 2 1/2. And I mean fully potty trained. No nighttime diaper, no accidents. Period. While I certainly didn’t have Kotter’s 8 step model in mind, I did have some key ingredients of the recipe for change: a good vision, guiding team, communication, empowerment and consistency throughout the whole process.
My second son is now 2 1/2. He’s about halfway potty trained right now. I realize that we don’t quite have a vision or the consistent communication with him. Probably because he’s the second, and we’re just not as focused on it. Guess I’ll start working on that next.