I recently received an email from a distraught mother who complained that every night after tuck-in time, her three-and-a-half-year-old daughter would call out, Mooooomy, I have to go peeeeeeeee even though she was put on the potty right before bedtime.
The Way I See It
I suspect that this three-and-a-half-year-old has discovered that toileting is a behavior that mom simply can’t ignore. She thinks, if I asked mom for another song, or to come kiss me again, she will disregard my request. After all, it’s bedtime and tuck-ins are over. But what kind of parent wouldn’t respond to a toilet-training tot when he cries out he needs to pee? The child has learned this is a request mom can't refuse!
Yup, she's right. After all, we don’t want to be inconsistent. We don’t want to take a step back in training. Nor do we want them to be wet all night. So we go and put them on the potty again. No doubt there is a small conversation, and probably an additional tuck-in kiss, maybe even a song if we are real suckers. Late-breaking pees actually become a very social experience for the child. And therein lies the payoff. These late-night toilet breaks provide bonus socializing sessions and that is the usefulness that sustains the child's nightly behavior. It is our responses that we need to address if we are going to find a solution to the child's creative behavior!
The Immediate Solution
Lose the payoff, or social benefit, of these extra night-time potty visits by teaching the child self-sufficiency.
During the day, take time for training (or T.T.F.T. as I affectionately call it). Show your child how to pull her own pants up and down and have her practice wiping herself. You might find wet wipes are easier for kids than dry toilet paper. They can wipe first and then you can be the checker until you are satisfied they have the manual dexterity to get the job done properly. Once they have this skill, you can install night lights in the hall and explain that they don’t need to call you to go to the washroom: You are so capable! You can go to the toilet and tuck right back in all by yourself! You may also opt to simply leave a potty in their room with some wet wipes and hand sanitizer (again, after some T.T.F.T.). Some children find this new limit exciting and want to test it out. However, after a night or two, most children prefer to avoid asking to use the potty before bed since they no longer have a successful stalling/attention tactic, and they just get on with bedtime.
The Long-Term Strategy
As with all the behavior guidance tips I provide, parents are not going to have long-term success unless we solve the child's unmet goal, in this example: undue attention seeking, a mistaken means for finding connection. Every child needs to feel secure about their worth and their place in their social group (the family or classroom). That means parents need to bring on the encouragement and connection during those times when their children are not demanding undue attention. Find opportunities for positive connection instead.
About the Author:
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada’s most notable parenting experts. She is the resident expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, CTV News Channel and CBC’s The World This Weekend. Alyson is an “Ask an Expert” Columnist for Today’s Parent Magazine, and sits on the Health Advisory Board for Chatelaine Magazine. Alyson is the best selling author of “Breaking The Good Mom Myth” and “Honey, I Wrecked The Kids” and her latest, “Ain’t MIsbehavin”. She is an international speaker including the inaugural TEDxKids in Brussels and offers free parenting tips at www.alysonschafer.com.