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3 Year Old Still Not Fully Potty Trained

QUESTION: I introduced my daughter to the potty when she was 18-months-old, but she is now almost three and still in diapers. We moved to "big girl" pants twice and both times she did very well for a week and then completely lost it. I bring her to the potty every morning and she uses it, but then I put her in diapers for the rest of the day. Friends have told me that this is a bad idea. They say I should do all or nothing. She seems to take some pride in going potty in the morning. Am I doing the right thing?

ANSWER: Your daughter appears proud of her ability to use the potty. It does sound like she is on her way. Since she enjoys her morning routine, why not continue it? On the weekends, however, you might consider experimenting without a diaper. Increasing support and opportunities to use the toilet is more reasonable than an all or nothing approach. A more radical change could deny her the pride and pleasure she is developing by successfully learning potty skills at her own speed. It is possible that she will need consistent support to remember to use the potty and she may simply need to experience her "accidents" in order to learn from them. Weekends or evenings may be a good time for this. Eventually, she will naturally evolve a desire and capacity for self-regulation. If she is upset with an accident after having asked for "big girl" pants, does she immediately want a diaper because of it? If so, encourage her to simply learn from the accident rather than feel she must already be perfect at it.

Her "big girl" pants should not be padded, like a diaper, or she will not be getting the immediate feedback from her body. She needs to get the signal that "pee" or "poop" is imminent! Some disposable "training pants" may keep children dry enough that they do not experience the biofeedback necessary to identify their body signals as a precursor to the event. It is also possible to gently encourage her interest in going on the potty, simply by telling her when you are going and even inviting her along. "Mommy has to go potty. Do you want to go with me?" Observing you and the number of times you use the potty during the day may encourage her to become interested in how many times she has to go. In this way, she may become easily attuned to her own body signals.

Exposure to other children her age who are also using the potty throughout the day is usually a sure fire way to interest children. Many children become potty trained in group settings, where the potties are all child-sized, and many small children are using them. It is likely she will learn from her peers, given time.

Her pride in using the toilet is a sign that she will continue to feel good about herself when she does become completely potty trained. After all, this is the emotional reward at this stage of development; to achieve a sense of mastery of body function which contributes to pride in herself, rather than shame. You are already succeeding.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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