Oct. ’18 Q&A – Pull-ups for Poops, Healthy Anger and Early Adolescent Rejection

Pull-ups for Poops

Q. My 4 yo daughter won’t poop on the potty/toilet. She uses a pull-up to poop (she is very independent in the process). She holds it if she isn’t at home. She is totally fine with peeing in the toilet and has been for about 2 years now. Two things I think are contributing are that she gets constipated and has had some pain with pooping. She says she isn’t ready to go on the toilet because she’s scared it will hurt more. We are working with her Dr. on resolving the constipation and in the last couple months it’s been a lot better. She also regressed in this area when her baby sister was born. I’m not sure if that’s still part of it or not after a year and a half. She does have a few “baby” things she still wants to do, so maybe this is one of those things too. She has said she knows she’s too big to still poop in a pull up (her dad and I have never said anything like that to her). We have tried really hard not to make a big deal about it and let her decide to do it on her own, but I’d really like to stop buying pull-ups!

A. I know how frustrating this issue of eliminating is. I remember it seeming as if it would never change, and we’d be stuck in this stage forever. However, I can say with all assurance that this too will pass on its own accord when she is over feeling whatever stress she has around poops hurting, baby sister, etc. So give her permission/acknowledgment about wanting to poop away from the toilet. Then tell her your problem. “I don’t mind at all that you don’t want to poop in the toilet yet. My problem is the amount of money I have to spend on pull-ups. They are quite expensive. Do you think we could come up with any other way for you to poop off the toilet without using a pull-up and of course not getting it on the floor?” Chances are she will likely say “no” or “I have to have a pull-up”, but if you approach it with genuine curiosity and no judgment or agenda, she may come up with an answer you’ve never considered. Being engaged in the problem means that children feel more important and heard, which in turn means they are more likely (no guarantees!) to help solve the problem.

If she doesn’t come up with another solution, you might say, “Okay we’ll keep doing the pull-ups for a while. I’d like to have a time marked on the calendar when we can agree that you will be using the toilet. No rush, let’s just pick a time when you think you will be ready.” Then go to the calendar, help her understand the time frame, and let her choose a date. If she picks one, chances are better that she will work toward that date because she is part of the process. When that time gets closer (couple weeks or so), if she is still using the pull-up, let her see on the calendar again how soon that date is. Ask her if she thinks she will be ready, if she would like your help in some way, or if she wants to take care of it herself. If she is not ready, encourage her to choose another date.

And this may just be an expense you have to swallow for a while longer. My guess is that baby sister has something to do with it. But I think it just has to work itself out. The area of pooping is definitely not an area you want to put added pressure on.


Allowing and modeling healthy anger

Q. I was hoping to get some insight from you on the topic of a 6.5 yo being very defiant, angry and grumpy a lot of the time. My wife and I are doing our best to be patient, and model appropriately. We are happy people and don’t model anger ourselves, so we are little taken back by where its coming from. From what I’ve read it sounds like his anger and disappointment in what feels like “everything” may just be his way of working through and learning how to act out his own emotions, and that’s OK, we just want to be able to support that. But we both had moments this week where we felt like enough is enough, what is going on here? Sure, there’s little moments of happiness, but mostly its defiance, anger, negotiations and grumpiness, from the time he gets up to the time he goes to bed, and it can feel like a constant battle all day long. 

 We are limiting screen time, he is outside and at different camps a lot, and he is not this way towards teachers, and other parents, but the little devil really comes out when he’s with us. Also, when he’s tired or when he wakes up.  

The article about “Taming your gremlin” was very helpful. We will try and put some of that into practice. I think naming his anger and other feelings in a fun way like that would be helpful. Do you have any other words of wisdom in this department? 

A. My first thought is that developmentally, he is at the peak of perfectionism, which translates in a most annoying way. Whenever a 6 yr. old does not get his way, things don’t turn out the way he planned, his drawing doesn’t match the picture he had in his head, he is not immediately successful at trying something new, etc. he will lose it at the drop of a hat. His anger at himself will of course be taken out on you or the safest people in his life, often it’s a sibling.

My second thought is that since you stated that you do not model anger, he may think there is something wrong with him. Anger is an absolutely normal human emotion. Just because you don’t express it does not mean he wouldn’t have anger. If you never get angry, he doesn’t quite know what to do with his. You are definitely right that he is working out his various emotions and what they mean.

I always tell parents, you have as much right to your anger as your kids have to theirs. The difference is in how it is expressed. It’s important to model healthy anger – in other words, feeling angry and owning it. “I get so angry about….” “I feel like yelling and screaming when…rather than, “Stop that. You make me so angry.” The first models responsible anger; the second models blaming, projected, irresponsible anger, which only builds a child’s defenses. His anger is of course projected onto you because he is too little to hold it all.

Do you try to calm him down when he gets angry? If so, don’t. The last thing he wants to hear is calm down. He needs to get it out so give him something he can hit, kick, throw, etc. You also need to be able to say, “This is not okay with me. I will not allow this/I do not want to listen to this. I will be in the kitchen. Come and talk to me when you are ready to talk and not yell at me.” It is so important that you make clear what is okay and what is not. You then create balance and strong boundaries. When you are trying your darndest to tolerate him and remain calm, you are not letting him know what your boundaries are. To have proper balance, you need to take care of and protect yourself and your integrity. Does that make sense? I think this is one of the toughest things for parents today. You can be very firm and yet never blame or punish. Problem solving means, “You want A, I want B. How do we make this work so we both get what we want?” Negotiating is a great skill to encourage, just make sure he is not calling the shots.

It also sounds like he may have a tough time with transitions – going to bed and waking up are major transitions for kids that we often forget. Watch for anytime he needs to change what he is doing and be proactive. Give him warnings and when it’s hard, let him know that you understand how hard it can be to switch gears and do something different. And is he getting enough sleep. That of course can be at the root of so many issues.


Early adolescent rejection

Q. I know that it’s usual for adolescents to reject their parents to some degree but my son (11) has been coming out with some very explicit insults about me. After school today, when I have said not a word except, “Hello”, he replied “You’re so annoying.” I said that I felt it was an unkind thing to say (he has said it a number of times lately) and he said, “Well it’s true, you do annoy me – a lot.” I asked if he wanted to sleep at his friend’s on the weekend and he said, “Yes, so I don’t have to see you.” At other times he chatters away happily, wants to tell me things and is physically affectionate. The previous time I said, “What is it about me that annoys you?” and prior to that had let it pass. I can brush it off and not take it personally a few times but when it’s repeated, it’s hard not to feel angry and hurt. I don’t expect a growing young person to hang out with Mum, but I give him the best of my care and kindness and all he feels is “annoyed”? It’s not that he says it that I have a problem with – it’s that he feels it. Please help with how to interpret and respond to this.


A. I had the worst year ever with my daughter when she was 11. As you know, she was my “difficult” child and I learned so much from parenting her. At 11, her brother went away to school, and she hated being the only one, feeling like she was being watched all the time. She threw a lot of nasty barbs my way, which I didn’t always duck from (but should have). So, I know the hurt you are feeling. I wish I knew then what I know now.

I know you are a long time connective parent and so I’m assuming his remarks are not in response to power over/punitive parenting. My guess is that there is something else going on with him and he’s taking it out on you.

I would interpret “annoying” as “embarrassing”. I imagine he is feeling his oats and wanting his independence (he unfortunately has a long way to go before he actually gets it!) But in the meantime —and this may last only a short time— mom’s presence with a striving-to-be-on-my-own adolescent is embarrassing because you are a constant reminder that he is not on his own. And you may never understand what it is, but knowing that it is not nearly so much about you as it is about him can help you duck the barbs.

But when those barbs come on strong —and only you will know what that bar is— do not simply take it. When he crosses the line of disrespect, tell him that you do not like to be spoken to/insulted that way, and you will be in the other room when he is ready to talk more kindly. Then walk away. When he has thrown insults your way and soon after wants something from you (getting him something, taking him somewhere), you can say, “You know I am still feeling bad about the way you have been talking to me, and it doesn’t feel right to me to then do something for you. Ask me again after things have been different for a while.” This is what I consider natural consequences for being treated unkindly or disrespectfully by a child.

And of course, you have to ask yourself, Have I said or done anything that has been unkind/disrespectful/insulting to him? If you’re not sure, pay attention and be impeccable with your word and deed before refusing to do something for him. But if you can answer absolutely yes, then it is important that he knows he cannot use you as his punching bag. If you allow that, he will become more and more disrespectful. You can also add, “This attitude is not like you. Anytime you feel like talking about whatever is going on, I am here to listen.”

Also ask yourself if you have been nagging or hovering a bit more than usual. Are you getting nervous about the upcoming teen years and inadvertently pulling in the reins a bit? He is probably approaching the time when he thinks he knows everything he needs to know and wants nothing but freedom from you, who represents the boyhood he is desperately wanting to shed. Perhaps he needs a bit more freedom in some area, so he can feel a little more responsible for himself.

To submit a question, email me at bh@bonnieharris.com with your short question and I will answer you within a few days. It may appear in the newsletter at a later date.


When Your Kids Push Buttons BookWe punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.




Related Articles:

Problem Solving 101

10 Ways to Get Respect from Your Child

The Skinny on “Consequences”