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Potty "Accidents" Due to Stress? (3 Years)

QUESTION: My three-year-old was fully potty trained prior to my separation and now she has very frequent accidents, two or three times per day. My family says to scold my child, while her father says I should not be upset. He says the accidents are just due to stress. I am seriously frustrated because I am not sure how to handle this situation.

Listen to the father of your child on this one. It appears that he understands the effects of stress on a three-year-old, while your parents (family) do not! Though you are separated, you may still have the workings of a good parenting relationship.

It is natural for your daughter to show signs of regression under stress. The breakup of her parental relationship is highly anxiety provoking for her. Her whole world is changing. Help her adjust to these changes by soothing, not ridicule. Help her strategize ways to get to the bathroom, but do not make a big deal of her loss of control. Refrain from shaming her at time when she is already feeling tremendous insecurity.

Consider attending parenting classes to establish guidelines for judging and responding to her needs through this transition. Without seeking a different perspective, you are likely to repeat the patterns of parenting you received. If you do not explore other attitudes towards child rearing based on empathy rather than control, your daughter could suffer loss of self-esteem and show further signs of falling apart.

Be sure to separate your daughter's difficulties from your own self-esteem. Especially during this time of transition, it is crucial that you do not accept ridicule from your family about her behavior. If they are not supportive in helping you soothe her and yourself, seek other, more constructive help, outside the family.

Give your daughter a greater margin for adjusting to a destabilizing situation and do not neglect yourself! Seek your own emotional support through this transition. Joining a support group for women in transition may help you share your frustrations with others going through a similar period of change. Nurturing yourself through this life change is your best insurance that you will have the patience to soothe her when she falls apart.

Your frustration may well be a signal to attend to your own needs first so that you can respond more positively to your daughter. As the stewardess says in the airplane, "In the event of a fall in cabin pressure, put your own oxygen mask on before assisting your child." Clearly, without taking care of ourselves, we will not be able to help anyone else!

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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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