The last two week’s blogs have been all about potty training: how to know when your child is ready, and how to go about training them. This week is about when things do not go well–bedwetting, accidents, refusal, and relapses. So what do we do when our efforts are less than successful? When all our hopes and dreams go splat in the night? Read on!
Nighttime dryness tends to be in the DNA and is related to how deeply your children sleep rather than their actual intent. One in five children still wet the bed at age five, and anything that 20 percent of children do has to be defined as normal. Most kids are dry by age seven. Until then, consider pull-ups at night, or a mattress cover. Limit drinks an hour or so before bedtime because what comes in must go out. Hit the bathroom before you tuck them in.
Bedwetting is not bad behavior or a failure in parenting, and treating it as such can damage your children’s self-esteem. They cannot make themselves sleep less deeply. They can, of course, take responsibility and help with cleaning up and laundry.
If it persists at age seven, discuss it with your pediatrician. Once your child is old enough, bedwetting alarms can teach them to wake when they start to urinate, and have no side effects. The alarms that vibrate work better than the sound ones, because the whole issue is that they are very deep sleepers. Alarms are ridiculously expensive.
Never punish accidents; it always backfires. Never punish disinterest. If you want to be potty training for the next five years, punishment is the way to get there. Responsibility is fine: they can throw away the old diapers and get out new clothes, or help to clean themselves up as much as they are able. Don’t even think of punishing a failure. They will do better next time.
Toddlers will occasionally flat out refuse to use the potty. Sometimes this is an independence issue: not just “I can do it myself” but “I can do it myself anywhere I choose to.” This is more common when people try to potty train when their lives are in turmoil. Children want to control the one thing they can control.
Sometimes the only thing you can do when this happens is wait until later and try again after things settle down.
If the refusal is not too bad, sometimes you can overcome it:
- Treat using the potty as a routine task that must be done, like brushing your teeth.
- Rewards are given after the task is completed, not before.
- Ramp up the fun factor: toilet paper squares decorated with targets is available. Aiming for fruit loops is a traditional winner. I know I said food rewards are a bad idea, but I can testify that one M&M for every potty use results in very frequent visits to the potty. I am a hypocrite. Sad.
Sometimes kids are downright terrified of the potty. Again you may just have to wait it out and try again later. They seem to feel that they are loosing a part of themselves to the yawning, abysmal plumbing. Reassure them and be patient. Throwing the contents of diapers into the potty can help: show them that this is where the poop goes. Tell them all about the poo-poo party that awaits it at the end of the journey. It would be very sad if their poo had to miss the poo-poo party. Poor, sad poo-poo. (I know, but sometimes it works.)
They will also occasionally regress when they are stressed. A completely potty-trained munchkin will start having accidents when they are ill, when there is a new baby, or when there is a family crisis.
Even more frustrating is when they relapse because they have figured out the whole potty thing and are now bored with it. Amp up the fun and the rewards, and let them take responsibility for their action—or lack of action. They can help clean themselves up, put the poop in the toilet, and get themselves new clothes. Be sure to mention the reward they could have had, but have now missed. No punishment please!
Kids may also miss when they are uncomfortable in a strange new place, until they understand what they should do. Tell them there is a bathroom in the store where you are shopping; mention that if they have to potty at a friend’s house, just tell the mom or dad, and they will show him and her where the potty is.
Even when children have achieved the necessary milestones and you have used these techniques, the bottom line is that children will train when they are ready and not before. They need to understand what’s happening in their bodies and be able to let you know about it. They have to dislike having a wet diaper on and want the independence of doing it themselves. If it’s not fun and rewarding for them, they will quit—and you can’t win that battle.
Talk to other parents because potty training can drive you crazy, and craziness is better when shared, and because there are an abundance of ideas out there for how to inspire your toddler to hit that target. And don’t forget to have a potty party when they succeed.