Q&A: using the potty for everyone but her parents

Kim writes:

"I have read through all of the potty posts and I don't see my exact problem.......

My 2.7 year-old daughter is a little bit potty trained (it there such a thing?  Is that like a little bit preggo?).  By this I mean..... she's done it, but with no consistency whatsoever.

We have the fun potty chair, candy, stickers, ice cream, potty party, the no-big-thing party, the rubber potty-train pants, the naked toddler, the cool "big girl" panties......

I know not to push her until she's ready....but here's the deal....she will tell others when she has to go.....Grammy, Great-Grammy, church nursery worker, Auntie, mama's friend but NOT mommy or daddy.  She tells us AFTER she goes poopy, but never potty and it doesn't matter if we are home or out.  We've tried wearing the panties (her, I mean).....she will potty & poopy on Dora & Strawberry Shortcake EVERY time, even if we tell he that is not a nice thing to do.  She's not afraid of the potty....she loves to poop in a diaper and then flush it down the toilet.

The only time she will tell us she has to poop is if she is in the bath.  And she gets out of the pool to potty in the grass (even though she has a swim Diaper on) and get right back in.  She listens to her urges with others, but not us.

We have had some changes.  We had another baby 4 1/2 months ago and I became a SAHM.  I have lots of time to work with her and the new family addition did not seem to affect her at all.  She doesn't have any hang-ups that I can think of, and having poop attached to her bum doesn't seem to bother her.

Also, I cloth diaper both my kids and I have heard that should make this process easier.......

Can you rescue me?"

This is a frustrating one. I can come up with a diagnosis but not necessarily a guaranteed treatment. Fortunately, the readers are generous, and I'm hoping they'll come through with something good for you.

It seems pretty clear that she's refusing to poop for you guys because it's a control issue. Most kids are going to have some issues of one sort or another with a new sibling, and I'm guessing your daughter has some, too, even if you don't see any other signs. It sounds like this potty thing is the way your daughter's feelings are coming out.

You've got to hand it to her--she's picked something that's destined to drive you slowly insane. It's almost as if she knew you'd start to wonder what you were doing wrong instead of why she's doing it. She sounds very smart and intuitive, and will probably be wildly successful as an adult. But that doesn't solve your problem right now.

If this is, as I suspect, a way of showing you how angry/confused/conflicted she feels about the new sibling, then once she starts having more fun with the baby she should come out of it. I've talked before about the timeline we learned in the sibling prep class we took before #2 arrived, but let's review:

  • Leading up to the arrival of the new baby, the child's behavior gets worse and worse because they child knows something important is going to happen but can't imagine what it will be like and expects the worst.
  • For a week or two after the baby arrives, the older child is wonderful. The arrival of the new baby wasn't as horrible as expected, there are plenty of people around to play with, and people are mostly happy.
  • As soon as the baby starts to crawl, s/he can interact a little with the older child, so the older child starts to enjoy the baby again and stops acting out as much.

We found this timeline to be pretty much dead on in our family (with the omission that as soon as the baby can grab the older child's stuff there's a lot of jockeying for position and grabbing) and others have reported that it's held true for them, too. So you can either back off and wait it out until the baby starts crawling, or try to help her get out her feelings now in other ways and see if that helps alleviate the potty problem. It may not, but at least it's something to try.

I'm hoping some readers will have good suggestions about books to read that will open up the topic of the stress of a baby sibling. The only one I can think of right now is the Caillou one, but I"m ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I love that Caillou gets to have normal, negative behavior (he even bites his baby sister!) that his parents help him work through, instead of being Perfect Older Sibling. On the other hand, I can't get past the fact that every adult in the Caillou books and show is wearing maternity clothes, even the grandfather. (I know it's a stupid reason not to like the series, but it just bugs me.) So I'm hoping someone else will know of good books that open up the topic and allow negative and/or ambivalent feelings about a sibling.

She may or may not want to engage in some role playing with dolls or stuffed animals. Some kids will really use doll play as a way to get out their aggressive feelings, but others, not so much.

I'm sure you're already doing this, but make sure that your daughter gets to have special alone time with you and also with your partner at regular, designated times during the week. She'll know they're coming and will be able to look forward to special time with just you.

OK, readers. What else have you tried? I'm sure someone else has gone through this exact same situation and had a toddler who was suspending potty-training as a way to get out negative feelings. What did you do? Did it work?