A couple months ago I was at my wits’ end about my daughter, age 3 1/2, and her aberrant toileting issues. She’d been potty-trained for 15 months and was as capable as could be of using the potty correctly; it had been over a year since she’d had accidents. But suddenly she started having them weekly, for this reason: she didn’t want to go to the bathroom when I told her to. It was a control issue for her. So this scenario repeated itself regularly: I’d ask her to go; she’d claim she didn’t have to. An hour later she’s suddenly wail that she had to pee, dash to the bathroom, and empty her entire bladder on the bathroom floor right next to the toilet because at that point she was full to bursting and could no longer hold it. It was infuriating.
I was commiserating with my wise next-door neighbor about the situation, expressing my frustration. She suggested I consider making the potty issue “her problem” instead of my problem. “Maybe you should tell her that if she wets her underwear because she waits too long, she has to clean up the whole mess herself and isn’t allowed to change right away out of her wet clothes. That scenario may be sufficiently distasteful to her that she’ll go when you ask her to.” Brilliant suggestion, I thought, and I immediately tried it. It worked amazing well, and the incidences of her waiting too long to pee and having an accident diminished from weekly to virtually never.
Prior to this situation, we intentionally utilized the tool of “consequences”quite seldom. Oh, we use the quintessential, “You won’t get dessert unless you finish your dinner” deal, which I guess counts as a form of consequences. And also the “You will lose your toys if you don’t clean them up” routine. But beyond these, we generally handle disobedience in a much more straightforward and instantaneous manner than consequences often call for. Because in our culture choices can often be wildly over-offered, as we see it, we’ve been careful not to use them too much. (more…)