This potty struggle is enabling toddler to lie

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  January 24, 2012 06:00 AM

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My son is 3 years and 4 months. He has expressed only a vague interest in potty training and his daycare and we (mom and dad) are trying to encourage him. But what's most frustrating is that when he makes a poop in his diaper, he lies where we can smell it and ask "do you have a poop?" "No" "I know you do" "no I don't" and this goes on and on. Finally after periods of time ranging from minutes to hours, he will admit he has a poop and let us change him. He's getting too heavy and strong for me to force him to a place where I can change him. Any suggestions for getting him to be truthful and do you think this is related to reluctant potty training? Thanks in advance, I look forward to your feedback.

From: Rachel, Billerica, MA

Hi Rachel,

You are enabling him to lie when you ask, "Do you have a poop?" You know he has a poop. You can smell it. In fact, you're not only enabling him to lie, you're also ceding control to him. Instead:

1. Make statements of fact: "I smell a poop." Pause. "I bet it feels icky to have a poop in your diaper." Pause.

2. Give him control: "Do you want me to change it now, or in five minutes?" Of course, he'll choose five minutes.

3. Set a timer. It's objective. "OK. Here's the deal. When the timer says five minutes, we'll change. Deal?" High five the deal.

4. Timer goes off. Upbeat voice: "OK! Mr. Timer says it's time." He'll likely balk. Do not negotiate. Sound slightly disappointed: "Oh. I thought we had a deal." Pause. "Well, that poop smells unpleasant to me. I can't be with you/play with you until we change that unpleasant-smelling poop." Leave his side (assuming he is safe), including leaving the room.

5. He will likely be furious. Your job is to not react. Stay cool & calm: "I know. I want to play, too. But that poop! Ew" Be clear it is not him you are avoiding, but the smelly poop. Be clear he is not a bad boy, it's just that he has a smelly poop. In fact, be clear that everyone has smelly poops: "When I make a smelly poop, it goes right down the toilet. Three cheers for toilets!" Etc. At some point -- and you may have to wait this out the first few times -- he will run through his tantrum and ask you change the diaper. Be gracious when that happens: "Good idea! Let's get rid of this smelly poop." Here's his reward: "Now we can be together again!"

Once he stops resisting, and once he's exhibiting the signs of readiness, you can move to the next step, which is to ask him in the morning, "Do you want today to be a diaper day or an underpants day?"

As I've said in this space before, boys are often "late" to train. Please read this earlier posting for more suggestions.

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11 comments so far...
  1. Oh for crying out loud. Since when is it the childs decision about when he gets his diaper changed?? I can't believe a parent would wait for hours until a child "admits" he pooped and that it is now convenient for mom or dad to change him. Sorry to be so harsh, but this parent just needs to take control. Maybe the boy will kick and scream when he gets his diaper changed at a time not of his choosing, but perhaps that will also motivate him to finally go on the potty.

    Posted by Dad January 24, 12 10:11 AM
  1. I agree with Dad. This mom needs to take control. Seriously, you left your kid in a poopy diaper longer than a few minutes..even hourS?! Be firm and get control back.

    Posted by mom January 24, 12 12:53 PM
  1. Why is she coddling her 3 year old? I don't understand parents who think their toddlers know the best course of action.

    You're an adult. Do your job and set your child on the right path to independence and responsibility. Other mammals do not coddle their children.

    Posted by Kayti January 24, 12 02:14 PM
  1. Thank you, Dad. I am amazed at the questions sometimes. Has everyone lost their common sense? "Junior, you pooped. Lets go!"

    Posted by patches02 January 24, 12 03:35 PM
  1. Dad is right. Grab the kid and change him. This is disgusting and how unsanitary, not to mention embarrassing, that the boy likes to sit around with a dirty diaper/pull up. Why make it a game? Potty training is not optional. The kid is playing his parents like a violin and getting a kick out of it. Yes, I have two kids. No, neither one of them was very easily potty trained. No, I did not play games and set timers. When they were dirty, they got changed, like it or not.

    Posted by Michele January 24, 12 03:38 PM
  1. Dad - You got it. When our daughter was still in the early to mid-phase of training, she would fight having her diaper changed as well. It wasn't an option. Leaving a poop-filled diaper on a child's rear-end for hours while you negotiate a diaper change can actually cause nasty diaper rash. And with girls, it gets in all of the cracks and crevices as they continue to move and run or play which can create other problems too. So our daughter fought and kicked - and got her diaper changed anyway. It was actually a catalyst to her desire to train faster. That way she didn't have to deal with the diaper changes!

    Posted by Phe January 25, 12 09:09 AM
  1. I'm not sure I understand the importance of the child telling the truth about what's in his diaper. He's not lying in the same way older children lie; he's hoping to avoid something he finds unpleasant, physically. Please, take the focus off the lying and change his diaper. Why even ask at all? If you can smell it, take him to the changing area and clean him up. Why is there a conversation at all? Teaching him about being truthful or lying can be done in some other, more appropriate way.

    Posted by Linney January 26, 12 11:37 AM
  1. LW says "he lies where (parents) can smell it" . That is 3YO telling you the truth with his body language.

    His verbal language is looking for attention, period. How much time does his dad spend with him one-on-one? I mean, in meaningful conversations about daily activities instead of poop?

    This being a boy, his dad has a role to play. Dad can plan to redirect the nonverbal message on the next weekend or whenever he can spend two whole days being the primary changer. Son's too heavy to pick up? Dad should just change him right there in the middle of the floor.

    While Dad is doing it, he can tell his son that big boys go to the bathroom. Give him the idea that he can avoid the humiliation of his bare bottom. Dad should make time on following weekends to be the primary potty trainer. It will take a lot less time than you might think.

    Posted by Irene January 30, 12 01:42 PM
  1. I agree with those who say the parents need to change the diaper!
    I also, along with Irene, wondered if this is the only interaction the child is having with his parents. I'm sure it can get difficult with twins to finish up with the chores of parenting and spend time playing with them. Maybe an honest appraisal is in order.

    Posted by Sharon Jarvis February 6, 12 09:45 PM
  1. My suggestion is to toilet train around 28 months, the older these kids get the harder it is to train, they are set in their ways.

    My kids are in their 30's, both trained by 3 years old. That was the norm back then, if your child was 3 1/2 the doctor would ask if everything was okay.

    The longer you wait, the harder it is, I see this with my own grandchildren.

    Posted by Ellen February 10, 12 06:21 AM
  1. A nice swat on the butt helps a child stay still for a diaper change. I have NO time to sit around negotiating with a toddler about poop!

    Posted by Jenn February 11, 12 06:05 PM
 
11 comments so far...
  1. Oh for crying out loud. Since when is it the childs decision about when he gets his diaper changed?? I can't believe a parent would wait for hours until a child "admits" he pooped and that it is now convenient for mom or dad to change him. Sorry to be so harsh, but this parent just needs to take control. Maybe the boy will kick and scream when he gets his diaper changed at a time not of his choosing, but perhaps that will also motivate him to finally go on the potty.

    Posted by Dad January 24, 12 10:11 AM
  1. I agree with Dad. This mom needs to take control. Seriously, you left your kid in a poopy diaper longer than a few minutes..even hourS?! Be firm and get control back.

    Posted by mom January 24, 12 12:53 PM
  1. Why is she coddling her 3 year old? I don't understand parents who think their toddlers know the best course of action.

    You're an adult. Do your job and set your child on the right path to independence and responsibility. Other mammals do not coddle their children.

    Posted by Kayti January 24, 12 02:14 PM
  1. Thank you, Dad. I am amazed at the questions sometimes. Has everyone lost their common sense? "Junior, you pooped. Lets go!"

    Posted by patches02 January 24, 12 03:35 PM
  1. Dad is right. Grab the kid and change him. This is disgusting and how unsanitary, not to mention embarrassing, that the boy likes to sit around with a dirty diaper/pull up. Why make it a game? Potty training is not optional. The kid is playing his parents like a violin and getting a kick out of it. Yes, I have two kids. No, neither one of them was very easily potty trained. No, I did not play games and set timers. When they were dirty, they got changed, like it or not.

    Posted by Michele January 24, 12 03:38 PM
  1. Dad - You got it. When our daughter was still in the early to mid-phase of training, she would fight having her diaper changed as well. It wasn't an option. Leaving a poop-filled diaper on a child's rear-end for hours while you negotiate a diaper change can actually cause nasty diaper rash. And with girls, it gets in all of the cracks and crevices as they continue to move and run or play which can create other problems too. So our daughter fought and kicked - and got her diaper changed anyway. It was actually a catalyst to her desire to train faster. That way she didn't have to deal with the diaper changes!

    Posted by Phe January 25, 12 09:09 AM
  1. I'm not sure I understand the importance of the child telling the truth about what's in his diaper. He's not lying in the same way older children lie; he's hoping to avoid something he finds unpleasant, physically. Please, take the focus off the lying and change his diaper. Why even ask at all? If you can smell it, take him to the changing area and clean him up. Why is there a conversation at all? Teaching him about being truthful or lying can be done in some other, more appropriate way.

    Posted by Linney January 26, 12 11:37 AM
  1. LW says "he lies where (parents) can smell it" . That is 3YO telling you the truth with his body language.

    His verbal language is looking for attention, period. How much time does his dad spend with him one-on-one? I mean, in meaningful conversations about daily activities instead of poop?

    This being a boy, his dad has a role to play. Dad can plan to redirect the nonverbal message on the next weekend or whenever he can spend two whole days being the primary changer. Son's too heavy to pick up? Dad should just change him right there in the middle of the floor.

    While Dad is doing it, he can tell his son that big boys go to the bathroom. Give him the idea that he can avoid the humiliation of his bare bottom. Dad should make time on following weekends to be the primary potty trainer. It will take a lot less time than you might think.

    Posted by Irene January 30, 12 01:42 PM
  1. I agree with those who say the parents need to change the diaper!
    I also, along with Irene, wondered if this is the only interaction the child is having with his parents. I'm sure it can get difficult with twins to finish up with the chores of parenting and spend time playing with them. Maybe an honest appraisal is in order.

    Posted by Sharon Jarvis February 6, 12 09:45 PM
  1. My suggestion is to toilet train around 28 months, the older these kids get the harder it is to train, they are set in their ways.

    My kids are in their 30's, both trained by 3 years old. That was the norm back then, if your child was 3 1/2 the doctor would ask if everything was okay.

    The longer you wait, the harder it is, I see this with my own grandchildren.

    Posted by Ellen February 10, 12 06:21 AM
  1. A nice swat on the butt helps a child stay still for a diaper change. I have NO time to sit around negotiating with a toddler about poop!

    Posted by Jenn February 11, 12 06:05 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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