Sunday, December 19, 2010

Potty Training 101

NOTE: This question addresses a very specific situation, but a lot of the elements mentioned in the answer apply to potty-training across the board, so it's worth a read.

Q: My daughter - aged 3.5 - is clean at preschool - She goes by herself without being told. She's there 7am-5pm so she doesn't just hold it in. She goes to the bathroom herself.

At home, she refuses to go, goes on the floor, goes in her pants, etc. Nothing seems to motivate her. We can offer rewards for going each time, but she doesn't seem to understand a sticker chart.

I try to get her to go as soon as she gets home, and then once an hour afterward, but sometimes, even within one hour, she'll have an accident.

She is obviously trying to tell me something. Any idea what?

A: Resistance to potty training can often be a cry for attention. Is there a new baby (or even just a younger child still in diapers) in the house? Maybe your little girl just isn't ready to grow up yet. I know kids as old as 7 or 8 that are perfectly capable of dressing themselves in the morning, but they want their moms to do it. Sometimes kids need a little coddling and extra attention (even if there isn't a particular reason), and that's OK. I suggest these parents take a couple of extra minutes and dress their children. After all, they'll be grown and out of the house before you know it. Now's the time they want you around; cherish it.

Maybe if you lavish positive attention on her at other times and in other ways, she won't feel the need to have you bugging her about the potty and changing her pants all the time. Can you find some alone time or a special activity just the two of you can do when she gets home from school? Even just setting aside 15 minutes for her can make all the difference. Maybe go to the bathroom together as soon as you walk in the door and then have a tea party, read a story, do a quick craft or bake a batch of cookies together.

Of course, I know from experience how annoying it is to have a stubborn pottier at home. My Eliana wasn't trained till 3.5 either, and it drove me nuts because I knew she was perfectly capable. She just didn't want to. With her it was a control thing. She's a bossy - sorry, persistent little thing who knows what she wants, and she does NOT like to be told what to do. It's just her personality. The more I pushed, the more she pushed back. And when it comes to a kid's bladder, there is NO one that can tell her what to do about it. So as hard as it was for me, I had to just sit back and wait. And wait. And wait. Until she got around to it in her own time. (And then potty-training took all of a day.)

But these are just shots in the dark here. I think your daughter would know what the issue is better than I do! Have you tried asking her? I know 3.5 is young and she might not be able to express it, but give her a chance. You might be surprised.

After asking your daughter the next step is to go to the teacher. How exactly did the potty-training happen in school? Find out. Maybe the solution is as simple as emulating the methods that worked for her already.

Part of the reason kids potty-train easily at school is the peer pressure. Everyone around them is doing it and they don't want to be left in the dust. This is also why second (and subsequent) children in a family often potty-train younger and more easily than oldest children. You can use peer pressure to your advantage in this situation.

Is there an older sibling at home? Make a fuss when big sister goes to the potty. If she'll let, make a show out of it and have little sister go with and watch. Even give big sister a treat when she goes to the bathroom (only when little sis is around, of course). Let little sis see how great it is to go to the potty and how happy it makes everyone in the family. We use a chocolate chip every time in my house. Any more than that and by the end of the day we've reached sugar overload.

Also, make a big deal about her panties being dry. Often we make such a big deal about kids going in the potty that we forget a big part of our goal is for them to keep their pants dry! I know some people who actually reward their kids for dry underpants. I think this is a little excessive - how often are you supposed to give them a treat for not doing anything? But sometimes we overlook something because it's simple and obvious to us, while this basic element of potty training is not evident to our children. It just might not have occurred to your daughter to think of it in this way. Don't just make a big deal when she goes in the potty. Periodically ask her if her panties are dry and if they are, shout "Hurray!" It helps some kids to have special underwear with a favorite character on it. They're just devastated if Princess Aurora gets pee-pee on her. This is worth a try too.

If there are no older siblings in the picture, you can use the peer pressure model when you or Dad go to the bathroom, or you can enlist a friend with similar-aged kids to help out during a playdate. Make a big deal when ANYONE has a successful trip to the bathroom, especially when it's your daughter, of course! If attention is what she craves, she'll find that the positive attention she gets when she's successful is infinitely better than the negative attention she gets when she misses. And that's another important point. Never make a big deal out of an accident. Don't say "Oh no, you made in your pants again?" Don't say anything at all. Just silently clean it up and change her clothes. You don't want her getting any attention for this. It's counter-intuitive to us, but to kids, negative attention is still attention.

When all else fails, wait it out. I'm sure you've heard this a million times, but she's not going to go to college in diapers. I know 3.5 feels old and you probably feel like everyone is looking at you, or maybe you're just sick of cleaning up after her. But it's not going to last forever. One day it'll all be behind you and, like I did with Eliana, you'll look back and say "was that all? Why did I make such a big deal out of it?"

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