Is there a place in potty training for discipline? That was the question my husband and I grappled with for weeks. Our son had been potty trained for a month without any accidents when he suddenly started peeing on things and almost deliberately having accidents. It forced us to completely rethink our strategy and critically evaluate his behavior. The day he promised me he did not have to pee and then looked right at me and peed on my leather ottoman was a defining moment.
What really baffled us was the almost sudden defiance and dramatic increase in accidents. It was not until after we resolved this issue that I learned that many potty-trained toddlers experience a partial or even complete regression. Some attribute this to potty training too early, but others think it is just a behavioral “milestone.” We did potty train fairly early, but our son showed all the signs of being ready and begged to go to the potty.
While we use spanking as a form of successful correction for other offenses, we decided not to use it as a means of discipline for potty accidents. We could not rule out physical causes. However, there were several signs that these accidents were deliberate and behavioral. We decided to concentrate on getting to the root of the behavioral signs: 1) peeing on furniture, 2) peeing in his pants or on the floor while directly looking at us, and 3) peeing in his pants as soon as he got off the potty. We decided not to discipline for bowel movements, particularly because of a viral infection we had just passed around. There were signs that his GI symptoms were physical and not as behavioral. We did two more sessions of bare bottomed potty training. We put him in time out immediately after peeing anywhere put the potty. He also got one toy taken away for each deliberate accident.
Within a couple of weeks, he was back to having accidents once or twice a day at most. Now it has been almost two months without any deliberate accidents. While some may have suggested that we postpone potty training, in the end, we decided to continue. After all, he had already successfully trained and was showing signs of disobedience, not immaturity.
In my opinion, discipline can be used during potty training, and it can identify areas of inconsistency. The root cause may not be easily identifiable, but I believe there are some ways to increase motivation and increase interest in potty training during times of regression. It may take multiple strategies, and it may mean postponing training for some. As with all forms of discipline, I believe it should be done consistently and without emotion. I do not think a child should ever be disciplined for an accident if you have not ruled out all physical causes, but I do think that there can be a behavioral disobedience that needs to be corrected. The key is determining whether the child is acting out of disobedience or immaturity. In our case, disobedience was certainly the cause and we corrected it accordingly.
Bethany is a wife and working mother of two young children. Married 8 years to her supportive husband, Lee, Bethany says that without Babywise her life would be impossibly chaotic. Babywise has helped her children, 2 ½ year-old Kai and 11 month-old Caitlin, become happy, healthy, well-rested and obedient. Despite her busy full-time job as a neonatal pharmacist at a fast-paced children’s hospital, Bethany loves to write about her family’s adventures on a family blog, and she has recently started a healthy-living blog called Babysteps to Organic Living.