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The Competent Parent: Toilet accidents

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Toilet Accidents

 

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My 3 1/2-year-old has been potty trained since just after her third birthday. In the past month she has had accidents – almost once a day. Her child care provider and I are trying to have similar routines in place – regular reminders to go, helping her change herself without too much exasperation (we’re both acting), but it doesn’t get any better.

Hints, please?

Drowning in Pee


Dear Drowning,

Toilet mastery can be a challenge for children and caregivers alike. Ideally, the child’s clothes, environment, daily routines, and caregiver relationships are all harmonizing for her success. But it’s not just about keeping her clothes dry (and keeping you from having to deal with the wet clothes and child); it’s about helping her to recognize and respond to the signal from a full bladder. And in our culture, it is a milestone of achievement demarking the passage from babyhood.

Here are some reminders of what will help her to manage toileting more successfully:

• Easy off clothes – elastic waistband saves time over zippers, snaps, buckles, etc. A change of clothes should always be handy.

• Plumbing close by – during the first year of mastery, know (and remind her) where the nearest toilet is at all times.

• Routine times – have several regular visits to the bathroom: upon waking and before sleeping, before going outside and when coming inside, before or after eating. This way the bladder never overfills.

• Be supportive – your attitude (despite trying to mask it) is very important to her success. Have a conversation with yourself to be sure you are seeing the frustration from her point of view. Your role is to provide all of the above without resentment. It’s your job to help her to do her job of becoming independent of you. Be patient. Take a couple deep breaths.

It’s possible that there is a new stress in her life that is causing her to lose focus on this task. Just being 3 1/2 is stressful as her mind races from thought to thought as she plays and learns. This is an age when the brain is more active than at any other time of life.

It could be that there is an allergen – possibly seasonal – that is changing her body. The pollen has been extraordinarily heavy this year, so take note to look for body and behavior changes again next spring.

Regression to “baby ways” is a normal, although frustrating, phase of this age because she is aware of the one way road toward growing up that she is on. Wetting, whining, clinging to loveys and caregivers, thumbsucking, wanting to be spoonfed, etc. are ways to hold on to babyhood for just a bit longer.

Whatever the cause, ease up, and maybe use pull ups or extra thick “training” underpants to minimize the mess for everyone. If she is still having difficulties after several more weeks, it might be worth the time to have a consultation with her pediatrician. And if you have not been able to reduce your own stress about her toilet mastery, it would be a good idea to share your feelings with a counselor or seasoned parent.

Dr. Debbie

Don’t miss last week’s topic of what to do when you life is a constant power struggle with a 4-year-old.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com

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