June ’18 Q&A – Refusing the Toilet, Unrealistic Expectations and Huge Feelings

Refusing the Toilet

Q. My 3 yr old daughter goes to a small home daycare and uses the toilet there without accidents but refuses to use the toilet at home. I understand that it’s more of a control issue than a potty training issue. I have been letting her wear pull ups at home as long as she puts them on herself. She still refuses to try the toilet. There hasn’t been any event that I can think of that would have scared her. She is very verbal and will tell me that she just doesn’t like to use our potty. She won’t poop at daycare either. She holds it until she gets home and gets a pull up on and then she goes.

Do you think I am doing the right thing by letting her wear pull ups at home? I have tried not letting her, and she lays on the floor and screams. I am trying to make it her idea to use the potty and am trying not to make a big deal about it. She is so stubborn about it that when we “ran out” of pull ups she wore the same one for the entire day. When it leaked down her leg, she changed her pants 4 times, but still refused to use the toilet. Any ideas? I have tried everything (stickers, rewards, bribes, presents, running out of diapers/pull ups, picking out her own underwear, we made a potty for her babies, she has a potty and a seat for the toilet, tried going naked).

A. You are right to not make a big deal of it but all the stickers, bribes, presents, etc. indicate that it is a big deal for you—understandably. I would imagine she is using the potty at school because she is following the lead of other children and/or the expectations of the teachers. She doesn’t have to at home—not that she should. For some reason she feels resistant at home. But I would pull back from thinking of her as stubborn (a thought that may elicit frustration and anger) and think instead she is determined (a thought that might elicit more understanding). You definitely don’t want to give her more resistance to resist, if you know what I mean. Let toileting be as comfortable as possible for her.

If she “doesn’t like to use your potty”, maybe you could suggest that the two of you get some decorations for it to make it more to her liking. She may buy into that and may not. If she does, have fun together decorating the toilet. If she doesn’t leave it alone. She is only 3. Let her find her comfortable way of eliminating and then support her in it and forget about it – for the time being. The fact that she stayed in a very old pull-up all day meant that she was telling you something.

If she gets close to 4 and is still not using the potty, you can do some clever problem solving with her about pull ups. Let her know in a very tangible way how much money they cost and that you would like to stop buying them. Problem: She wants to use pull ups; you want to stop buying them. Then pose a curious question asking her if she has any ideas about how you can both get what you want. Until then, let it go. Frustrating I know, but you want to de-stress her toileting experience. This too will pass.


Unrealistic Expectations Can Get Us Off Track

Q. I need help with my 6 yr. old daughter. It’s time to go to bed. We all know the procedure. We are calm, we had our quality time, but my daughter decides that she doesn’t want to go to bed. I talk calmly, trying to understand her, but it is obvious to me that she has decided to push my buttons and doesn’t care how she makes me feel, even when I tell her the logical consequence to this behaviour is not feeling like reading a book to her. She tells me she doesn’t care. She jumps up and down on her bed, laughing in my face. This makes me feel really dis-empowered and sad that she is obviously trying to hurt me. (Otherwise she is extremely emotional and empathetic). Of course her little brother joins in and it’s impossible to calm them down.

So far the only ways to make this stop was losing my temper—I really yelled (I hate this!) and showed clearly my limit—or putting them in time-out. Every time I use these measures I am really sad but it is the only way to stop this behaviour. When they reach this limit, they both cry and soon after are loving and sweet. I also apologise for my yelling, but I still feel bad long afterwards. My husband says I should be harsher and thinks that the kids are spoiled and don’t respect us because we allow too much, because of this “stupid connective parenting“. But I believe there must be a better way in these cases where a limit must be very clear.

A. First, you must understand that very few children want to go to bed. Your daughter has learned how to postpone the inevitable and relishes her little brother helping her cause. Perfectly normal. Frustrating, but to be expected. When you think she is deliberately pushing your buttons to hurt you intentionally and instead she should be considerate of your feelings, you hold unrealistic expectations for a 6 yr.old.

Your buttons are yours to be pushed. She does not “make” you feel disempowered or sad or anything. Responsible thinking is: When she refuses to do what I ask, I feel disempowered. When I feel disempowered, I react punitively and then hate it. How you feel is your choice and your responsibility. Your task is to adjust your expectations and your assumptions about the situation. Reframed: She doesn’t want to go to bed and is trying every tactic she can to prevent it. That’s normal. When you think this way, you will still feel frustrated, but not enraged or resentful or dis-empowered and punitive. You see the situation differently and do not take her behavior personally.

Your response of sadness after being punitive tells you how ineffective this is. You do not want your children to be loving and sweet because they think your love is conditional on their behavior. If it’s all in the context of a do-over, that’s great. Then you can say, “Let’s figure this out. How can we make the bedtime routine better for all of us.”

I would suggest that you build rough-housing between the two of them into their bedtime ritual. Tell them when it’s time for jumping and then watch them and enjoy their glee. Many kids need to rev up before they can settle down. And motivate rather than threaten. When they have had good jumping time, let them know it’s time for teeth brushing and reading. “As soon as you get your teeth brushed, we can read. What books do you want to read tonight?” If you stay in this frame of mind and understand they are little children who don’t want to end their day, you will gradually have a sweeter bedtime routine. As far as the button-pushing, I highly recommend my book or better yet, my audio seminar of When Your Kids Push Your Buttons.


Huge (existential) Feelings

Q. I’m really struggling with how to support my 9-yr-old daughter, who is having huge emotions. She’s always been highly sensitive with exquisite feelings, right on intuitions, and an old soul maturity with lots of philosophical leanings (her big questions can frighten her with their vastness). The current crisis was promoted by a mole on her face that is not new but one she has suddenly noticed. (I have hundreds of freckles and moles, so does she.) However, although she doesn’t like the mole, her agony is over the fact that she now notices. She is “mourning her loss of innocence” and wishing she could go back to being “carefree”. She wants me to assure her that she will be there again. I’ve promised her she will not feel like she does now and will grow to accept herself, but she’s utterly bereft and sobs for hours. I’m at a loss.

I’ve tried to simply let her feel her feelings and not shame her (she also feels guilty for being “vain” and feels this shouldn’t bother her). I’ve tried putting the anthem from “The Greatest Showman” of “This Is Me” on repeat (she was on to me immediately!). 

A. Oh, do I feel your pain. Your daughter sounds much like mine. Her cognitive understanding is way ahead of her emotional development which causes the suffering for her. She feels what she can’t yet understand. The best way to handle this is to honor her struggle. Allowing her to have her feelings is huge even though it might not feel like you are doing anything. Be right there for her without trying to make her feel better. Acknowledge that she is not vain, it’s just that her developing sense of awareness has changed and grown, she’s maturing. Let her know you completely understand how much she misses blissful ignorance. Try asking her what positives she can find in her developing awareness and if she can see any negatives to being carefree. Tell her you cannot assure her that she will go back to feeling carefree but that she will have a choice about how much it bothers her. Also remind her that feeling joy does not require a carefree life. In fact, joy is felt more when suffering is present also. Also that when she’s old enough, if it still bothers her, you can look into having the mole removed.

Let her know that the wonderful side of being so sensitive and aware is the level of understanding and perception she has that carefree kids do not. The downside is that she feels the bad things as deeply as the good things; that she will notice so much and will no longer experience the bliss of ignorance. Loss of innocence usually happens gradually and without notice. But some very sensitive, aware kids see something like a mole and understand that it signals much more than the mole.

For you, it is important to know that this is her struggle, not yours. When you do not take responsibility for it, you can be in a much better place to support her and be her sounding board—that is all she needs. But when you feel responsible, you will be in your own head about what you should be doing for her. That’s why you feel at a loss. Let her deal with this existential struggle. Do not give her any false platitudes or promises that she will be sure to see through. She may get through this stage early and not have the struggle so many teens do—who knows. Just notice, listen, and be there for her.

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.

The When Your Kids Push Your Buttons Audio Course
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why did I DO that??”
Wish you knew what else to do?

Learn to:

    • Understand your reactions and gain control of them
    • Interpret your child’s behavior
    • Set appropriate expectations
    • Defuse your buttons


Discipline? Absolutely, as long as it’s positive