Q. My 3½-year-old daughter was successfully potty trained when she went through a three-day diaper-free “boot camp” six months ago. There were few accidents in the beginning and none since then.
But we have had to deal with a lot of “on purposes.” Even though we know that our daughter can control her bladder, we’ve watched her deliberately empty it when she was unhappy with us for putting her in time-out.
Our latest challenge is at night. My child wears a diaper to bed since she pees during the night, but she now seems to move her diaper out of the way so she can pee directly onto her bed. Last night, she seemed happy when I sent her to her room at bedtime, but she immediately emptied her bladder onto her clean sheets.
I’m all about positive reinforcement, empowerment and having a drama-free home, but this behavior has been going on for weeks — maybe months — and I don’t know what to do. We encourage our daughter to go to the bathroom before she goes to bed but I can’t force her to pee when she says she doesn’t need to. That would be against my better judgment and wouldn’t work anyway. But what do we do?
A. There comes a time in every parent’s life when she realizes that a child who can walk and talk and recognize a few letters is not a baby anymore. And that’s when she says to herself, “That’s it! No more diapers!”
Although the boot camp trained your daughter quickly and well, you could probably have trained her just as quickly if you had adopted a determined, no-nonsense attitude and promised to reward her. Bribery nearly always works as long as the child is 18 months old or so, she isn’t constipated and she’s not bothered by an allergy that makes her bladder malfunction.
A 3-year-old who is healthy, however, and yet refuses to pee in the potty probably has a control issue. And if she does, then her mom has one, too. Power struggles often show up when parents give too many unnecessary orders to their children, especially when they are between 15 and 30 months. A bad parent-child pattern, once set, can last for years and so can the tantrums and the tiresome arguments that come with it.
Even if you have boxed yourself into this corner, you can get out of it quickly by giving your daughter more independence, by teaching her to take care of herself, by giving only one or two time-outs a week and by ignoring her small failures whenever possible. Once your child has no reason to rebel, she will pee in the pot just like you and her dad.
If you’ve never given your little girl many orders, however, look at the calendar. All children between one and six fall apart for a few months every year, usually about six months after their birthday. This annual meltdown gives her the psychological space she needs to think and act with more maturity, the way a snake needs to shed its skin so it can get bigger.
This rough patch will be smoother if you lower your standards, prevent problems before they start and laugh about your daughter’s “on purposes,” because it’s always better to laugh than to cry.
For those parents who are tired of changing diapers, train your child by following Suzanne Riffel’s e-book, “The Potty Boot Camp” (Bootlocker.com; $4.60).
Whatever technique you use, keep it short and make harmony your goal.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.