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Growing Concerns (07/26/2006)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

A parenting column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: My 3-year-old daughter has been potty trained for several months, but in the past two weeks she's had "accidents" daily. Her elfish grin when she tells me she "didn't make it" suggests that she may be trying to get my attention. What's up?

Answer: It's hard to know for sure why your daughter has slipped lately, but there are a few things you might consider. She may indeed be trying to get your attention, especially if you've been unusually busy or preoccupied, or if anything in her life is making her feel a little less secure than usual. Has there been a change in your family schedule? A change in her daily activities now that summer is here? Is there a new baby or some other major change in your family? If that is the case, it will be important to give your daughter some extra attention, maybe setting aside special times for cuddling, reading, playing or going out together.

Also, be sure to let her know how proud you are when she stays dry for a period of time - maybe checking every half hour or so and saying, "Good job of staying dry." If she does have an accident, be very quick and matter-of-fact about dealing with the mess so that she's not reinforced in using that as an attention-getter. Toilet training can become an arena for a major power struggle between parents and toddlers, but if you take a low-key approach, there will be little for your daughter to struggle against.

There may be other reasons for your daughter's lapse in toilet training. For example, 3-year-olds sometimes get very caught up in their activities and truly do forget to take a bathroom break. Probably when you first were training your daughter, you prompted her to go to the potty. It may be time for a refresher course, reminding her periodically to use the bathroom and praising her when she does.

Also, it is possible that your daughter is drinking more than usual, as many of us do in the summer when it's hot and we're more active outdoors. She is still pretty new at this potty business and may not be very sensitive to her body's own cues. Her elfish grin may be a look of embarrassment, rather than mischief. A calm, supportive approach probably will help her get back on track with no need to feel ashamed or to turn this into a battle of wills. 


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