||Subject: Three-year-old refuses to
potty train/throws tantrums
My daughter is three-years-old and will not
potty-train. She throws tantrums about everything from getting dressed
to not getting what she wants. I am at the end of my rope. We have tried
everything - spanking, time out, sending her to her room, taking toys
away - and still she acts the same, repeating the same bad behavior.
What am I doing that I can't get her in control? I feel like the worst
mother. I hold to my guns, I never back down after I say "no",
so I don't understand this behavior. Please help.
Good for you that you are looking for answers that
The main thing is to "get it" that
children behave as well as they are treated (just as we adults do).
Punishment just doesn't work, and if you've been using punishment, there
will be a time period for those negative effects to wear off. Trust your
child! This can be difficult for any of us, because few adults have had
the childhood experience of being trusted and understood. I will soon
add an article to the site on alternatives to punishment.
As to "never backing down", why not?
"Never backing down", no matter what the circumstances,
teaches a child that maintaining firm control over others is more
important than gaining insight into another person's point of view,
apologizing for mistakes, or showing compassion. We parents are only
human. There are many mistakes we can make: we can misjudge the child's
true intentions, we can misunderstand the circumstances, we can be
acting out of personal immature needs, we can be overreacting due to
current stressful events in our life, or we can simply underestimate the
importance of a particular need the child has expressed.
Children learn most of all from their parents'
example. Surely it is more important to show an example of love,
compassion, flexibility, and a mature willingness to apologize when
appropriate, than it is to illustrate stubborn steadfastness. As the
educator John Holt once said, the three most important things to learn
in life are being able to say "I'm sorry", "I was
wrong", and "I don't know." As parents, it is our
responsibility to teach our children by example the ability to
acknowledge, value, and express these important statements to others.
It might help to rethink the goal here. Instead of
wanting to "get her in control", it might be more humane and
effective to get her into a mutually trusting relationship. Punishment
will make this impossible, because it is human nature to feel anger and
mistrust toward those who deliberately cause us to suffer, regardless of
the situation or the parent's "good intentions". However,
recognizing that you need a different approach is the first and largest
step toward establishing a better, more loving and mutually trusting
relationship with your child.
Please read these articles:
Parenting Golden Rule: One Size Fits All
Children: Do We
See also these replies to previous letters:
"Hitting and tantrums at