5-year-old won't interrupt play time to use the bathroom

Parent Q&A

December 13, 1998|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,New York Times Special Features

Q. My 5-year-old son has been using the bathroom independently for quite some time. During the past couple of months, however, he's been wetting himself.

He has no problem asking for a bathroom at school, but when we're playing in the back yard or at McDonald's, he doesn't go when he needs to or when I remind him to.

He could be practically tap-dancing with his legs crossed, but if I ask if he needs to use the bathroom, he'll say, "I don't need to, I'm just exercising." When I point out his wet shorts, he says, "They're not wet. That's a shadow."

We don't punish him, but we do remind him that this isn't "big boy" behavior. We're frustrated because he shows no shame, embarrassment or even discomfort (he'll wear wet pants all day).

How can we get through to a 5-year-old who's in denial?

A. I'm not sure you can, for he's telling you that it's his deal, not yours. Apologize to him and say, "I'm not going to mention it again, for you can handle it when you are ready. Meanwhile, get some big diapers or Pull-ups so you don't have to worry."

This sounds as if it is some sort of temporary regression, a "touch-point." These are normal and occur for many reasons. When he's ready, he'll control himself again.

Q. In a recent column you discussed moving children from the crib to a bed. When my daughter was 3 and we were expecting our second child, she, too, had no interest in leaving her crib - though she was climbing out of it and we were worried about that danger.

We threw a "Megan's a Big Girl" party. Her grandparents were invited over for cake and ice cream. Her "Big Girl Bed" was adorned with streamers and new sheets that had a lot of kid appeal. During the party we took apart the baby bed - and she never requested it again or seemed to regret the loss.

A. Good for you! You made it so exciting that she didn't mind the loss of her old familiar crib.

I am concerned, however, about how easy it is for small children to climb out of a big bed and wander around the house. That's why I suggest using a crib as long as possible.

Q. I am a single parent raising an autistic 5-year-old who is just beginning to talk.

I've read your articles on discipline and toilet training but find it difficult to apply your suggestions. How do I discipline someone who doesn't really understand the world around her? How do I toilet train a child who has no bladder control?

A. You need professional help, from someone who knows autism, and the comfort and reinforcement you can get from a support group of other parents who are dealing with autistic children. Members of such a group will offer you suggestions that I'd never even think of.

To find both in your area, check with your local hospital. Or use a computer and the Internet to find more information. Good luck!

Q. What is your opinion on playpens for periodic use? My son keeps telling me that no child should ever be put in one. He feels children should be allowed to explore at all times. I feel they need this protection at times.

A. I agree with you. Playpens are useful as safe places to leave small children for short periods when a parent cannot be available. Of course they can be and are overused, and that's too bad. But any small child deserves periods of play time alone.

Mothers who are home full-time seem to feel that it is their job to be available to their children - and that's wonderful. But a chance to play alone can be wonderful, too. A mixture would be the best, with the child guiding the decisions.

Address questions to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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