Potty-training resistance meets parental insistence


January 15, 1995|By BEVERLY MILLS

Q: My 3 1/2 -year-old will not have a bowel movement in the potty. He goes and hides to have a b.m. Otherwise, he was completely potty trained six months ago.

D. A., Hyattsville

A: It's time to say goodbye to diapers forever. Many parents and authorities have achieved quick results with "the one-room technique" and "the puppy-dog method."

But first, when you find yourself in a potty-training battle, as we noted last week, make sure you lay the groundwork by calming any fears your child may have. Next, put an end to the power struggle by establishing firm, reasonable limits to govern the child's behavior in all other aspects of his or her life.

Once you've done this, child-development authorities say, you need to get tough. Getting rid of the diapers is the first step.

"Tell the child there are no more diapers and take them away," says Dr. Barbara Howard, a developmental pediatrician at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who has successfully treated hundreds of children aged 2 to 4 1/2 for potty-training refusal.

If that doesn't work, Dr. Howard recommends the room restriction method. In a calm but firm way, explain that as long as poops go in the potty or toilet, the child can play as usual. If poop lands anywhere else, the child is restricted to one room of the house, usually the kitchen, in their underwear.

"As soon as they poop in the potty, they're free to return to normal activities," Dr. Howard says. "This usually works in two to four days."

This method will not always work for children who are in the habit of withholding stools and are capable of doing so for a number of days.

Another method that has worked for many parents is the puppy-dog technique, the brainchild of Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., associate director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development in New Haven, Conn. She discusses the method briefly in her book "Your Four-Year-Old" (Delta, $8.95).

At about the time of day the child usually has a bowel movement, put him or her in the bathroom to play wearing only underwear. Put a piece of newspaper in one corner of the bathroom and tell the child when he is ready, he may go on the paper.

"Often he is able to get this far in just a few days," Dr. Ames says. "Once he has succeeded with this, it is usually just a small step to get him to use a potty."

For several other parents, involvement from an outsider did the trick. "All three of our daughters went through this at 3 1/2 ," says Kathy Estadt of Scottsdale, Ariz. "What worked best was the peer pressure they encountered at preschool. When their teacher encouraged them, it really helped."

About half the parents who called Child Life have experienced success with the reward method. The trick seems to be to find something your child wants badly enough.

Rewards are fine if they work, says Dr. Howard, the Duke pediatrician. "If you've offered a big bribe, be sure to give it, but then let that be the end of it," she says.

While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.


Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Dangerous topics: How do you explain the concept of danger to young children? "When I explain safety issues, like staying away from the fireplace, to my 3- and 4-year-old children, their response is, 'Well, I did it one time and nothing happened,' " says Becky Schultz of Minneapolis, Minn. "It's like they think they are immortal."

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