I recently received an email from a distraught mother who complained that every night after tuck-in time, their 3 1/2-year-old daughter would call out, “Mooooomy, I have to go peeeeeeeee” even though she was put on the potty right before tuck-in every night.
The Way I See It
I suspect that this 3 1/2-year-old has discovered a behavior that mom can’t ignore. She thinks, “If I’m thirsty or I’m hungry, mom might be able to disregard the complaint.” But what kind of parent wouldn’t respond to a toilet-training-tot when they cry out they need to pee? After all, we don’t want to be inconsistent. We don’t want to take a step back in training. We don’t want them to be wet all night. So we go and put them on the potty again. No doubt there is a small conversation, an additional tuck-in kiss, maybe even a song. It’s really a very social experience for the child.
(Note: This late-night bonus socializing is the “usefulness” that sustains the nightly behavior that we need to address in finding our solution: undue attention-seeking.)
The Immediate Solution
Lose the “payoff” or social benefit of these extra night-time potty visits mom is making by teach the child self-sufficiency.
During the day, take time for training (T.T.F.T.). Show your child how to pull their own pants up and down, and practice wiping themselves. 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 put 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 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 void before bed since they no longer have a successful stalling/attention tactic, and they just get on with going to bed.
The Long-Term Strategy
As with all the behavior guidance tips, you’re not going to have long-term success unless we solve the unmet goal of feeling encouraged. Every child needs to feel secure about their worth and place of belonging in their social group (the family or classroom). That means parents need to bring on the encouragement and connecting time with our children during those times when they are not demanding our undue attention.