My husband and I attended your workshop on The Challenging Child a couple years ago. We learned a lot and have put many of your techniques into practice with great results, to be sure. However, we still seem to be stuck on one important issue. Our 5-year-old refuses to wipe his own bum! He has been potty-trained for a long time now, but this is one thing he absolutely refuses to do! How can we make him to do this for himself?
Hi Frustrated Mom,
Thanks for the question and sorry to hear you are facing this challenge.
As you may remember from the workshop, when I hear a parent say “how can I make them” my ears perk up. It is the term “MAKE THEM” that informs me that your son may be perceiving the task of wiping his own bum as you controlling or dictating his behaviour. Children want to be self-directed and they feel that following your orders is being obedient, or in servitude, to your will or power over them. How awful that must feel! It’s no wonder he is protesting.
So, how do we return the power to the child? We let them decide for themselves and allow them to experience the consequences of their choices. Try these techniques.
Admit defeat: I can’t make you wipe – that is something for you to decide on your own.
Fire yourself: You may not be able to make them wipe, but you can decide for yourself what you’re willing to do. When a child refuses to take responsibility for themselves, do not rescue them or take over their responsibility. It is their responsibility for a reason.
Allow consequences to follow: If he refuses to wipe, he may get a rash. That is not life-threatening, just uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons the rest of us wipe, isn’t it? Another consequence of not wiping is that you stink and other people may not want to be around you. You can let him know that he needs a clean bum to sit on your lap or to be in close proximity to you.
Problem solve: Parents often forget to use this tool. Try exploring what it is that he doesn’t like about wiping. It could be he hates the mess and needs more practice with technique so it doesn’t get on his hands. Try wet wipes instead of dry toilet paper. Perhaps he would like to wear a disposable latex glove while he is getting the hang of things.
Effort over improvement: You can encourage movement in the right direction by asking him to take the first wipe. You can do the next one so you have a chance to encourage him and celebrate his courage and progress.
Keep it light: Our attitude sets the tone for whether we will work together or in opposition. Remember to stay cheery and positive.
With these tools, I’m sure he’ll be wiping solo in no time.
Good luck and happy parenting,