Parenting Win

When Caitlyn was born, Mackenzie stopped handling the freedom her big girl bed provided very well.

Ok, that’s a major understatement and I’m going for full disclosure here: Normally compliant, eager to please, and a great napper, our girl started spending a few hours of her afternoon screaming, dumping dresser drawers, weeping and wailing herself hoarse.

It was awful and seemed to come out of nowhere. I would just lock her bedroom door and leave her in there until her “nap” was over. With a constant stream of house guests to see the (completely quiet) new baby, it made for some really awkward afternoons. Mackenzie throwing marathon fits and banging walls like a crazy person, me doing a terrible job of pretending not to cry, and our visitor-of-the-week shifting in their chair.

One step forward

Scott had the brilliant idea of putting Mackenzie back in a pack and play so at least she couldn’t destroy her room. I liked it because it was a logical consequence for her actions and it saved me from re-sorting by size the baby clothes she threw everywhere for the nth time.

For better or for worse, Mackenzie was happy to be put in the pack and play. In fact, she even optimistically asked if that meant she could sleep in my room like Caitlyn did in her crib. Jealous much? She still didn’t nap but definitely dialed the wailing down a notch.

Two steps back

Unfortunately it was at this point that Mackenzie developed a terrible awful no-good very-bad habit of pooping in her diaper ON PURPOSE during naptimes and nighttimes.

I quickly discovered you can’t control your child’s bowel movements. She discovered the same thing and pushed my buttons every single chance she got. To the point where I’d change multiple diapers most naps. Ick. And I should say, Scott’s buttons are big and bright and flashy when it comes to poop.

One step forward

When I stopped and pondered the situation, though, it was obvious her motivation was to get attention even if it was negative. So I stopped giving her any attention for it. I told her matter-of-factly that I would not come in during her nap time and if she pooped she would be sitting in it until the end of her nap. After nap time, I bit my tongue, came in and changed her diaper without saying a word. I gave her the requisite time out without fanfare and moved on with my day. She was livid. She screamed and cried and did everything she could to get another reaction out of me but I held firm.

Sure enough, after two days, I noticed a shift. The gross diapers were still happening but she wasn’t gloating about them. She was apathetic rather than spiteful. But apathetic poop still stinks and she was old enough to know better, so I re-assessed my strategy.

And another step

How to motivate her to quit the habit? I was convinced that’s all it was at that point: a habit. Scott and I were hesitant to implement a reward system because after all, this was something she had regressed to. She had been going on the potty just fine before Caitlyn was born. But I considered her motives and I was sure she did not start pooping in her diapers just to be rewarded when she eventually stopped… so I made her first ever sticker chart.

Sufficiently motivated by the “big treat” box at the end, she went a whole week with only one accident. A fresh sticker chart was made after the accident and she successfully completed it and was over-the-moon about getting ice cream at the end.

A leap!

On the very same night we enjoyed the ice cream, I decided she was ready to kick the diaper habit entirely. This was a significant leap of faith because she still soaked a diaper every nap and nighttime, but I knew she could do it: Her friend Jonas was diaper-free at her age in just three days and she had 9 months of potty-training behind her already. I was convinced the wet diapers were habit as well and that sufficiently motivated, she’d take care of business in the bathroom instead. I also felt like this would give her a chance to accomplish something special when she was clearly still struggling with Caitlyn stealing some of the limelight.

Three sticker charts later (oh it was hard to start over when she fell one day short the first time through!) and she was a 24/7 underwear girl and has been since. As soon as she was keeping dry underwear consistently, I put her back in her big girl bed. I still take her to the bathroom once at nighttime before I go to bed, but she gets up on her own in the morning and hasn’t wet the bed in a month.

I think the new goals gave her a consistent, positive source for attention and she completely stopped acting out. Of course, Caitlyn’s dresser drawers are still a hodge-podge of sizes, but now it’s my fault not Mackenzie’s. 🙂

What I learned:

  • I’m a better parent when I consider the whole situation, and most importantly, my child’s motives. I rarely have success when I apply a generic fix to a behavior problem.
  • Sometimes I need to just take the plunge. She was probably ready for underwear at night loooooong before I finally made the switch.
  • I need to consider the whole child. A bad behavior is usually an indication of a larger problem. Mackenzie was used to heaps of positive attention and with the arrival of Caitlyn and the beginning of her negative behavior she was on a slippery slope and just getting more and more desperate. She needed a boost, something to focus on and get positive attention for to help her recover her footing.
  • Parenting is a roller coaster. It’s unreal to me how awful Mackenzie’s behavior was just three months ago. I was sure those dark days were going to be the new normal but now they’re just a distant memory.

About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to three beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Life as we know it, Tough Days. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Parenting Win

  1. Andrea says:

    I’m so glad to hear how well she’s doing! That’s awesome. I totally understand the parenting roller coaster. Isn’t it nice to make it through those hard stages, having learned a lot, and realizing they don’t last forever? It’s so hard when you’re in the middle of it though. There have been one or two times where my boys were so hard, I was sobbing uncontrollably . . . and they didn’t even notice! I thought kids were supposed to shape up when they saw mom cry! Oh well! Being a mom is life-changing. It makes you realize you can really handle anything.


  2. Miriam Kettle says:

    Hi, I occasionally check your site for new healthy eating recipes and tips. I believe I am dealing with a similar situation. My son actually potty trained after the baby was born, but has never successfully pooped on the potty and has started habitually peeing in his pants. I was hoping for a little advice on what type of reward chart you used and what rewards, just to get a frame of reference on how long she had to go before she got a reward and how big the rewards were, etc. Thanks for your help, and thanks for all your recipe tips etc.


    • beanland says:

      Hey Miriam,

      Congrats on a new baby!

      Here’s the nitty gritty of what I did, for what it’s worth:

      – To motivate my daughter to keep her diaper poop-free at naps and night time, I just drew up a simple chart with markers on paper and numbered the boxes to 10. She got to put a sticker on after each nap or night time when she woke up with a “just wet” diaper. If she pooped in her diaper, she started a fresh chart at square 1. When she filled in the whole chart, we went out for ice cream (HUGE deal around here). That was definitely enough to break the habit for her and I also started praising her again every time she went on the potty. I pointed out that it would make it easier to stay clean during nap and earn a sticker.

      – To encourage her to stay dry when I switched her to underwear 24/7, I drew up a similar chart but this time there was a small reward at 5 and ice cream at 10. She had to stay dry a whole day, meaning nap and nighttime, and then got a sticker in the morning when she woke up. I did this because she wasn’t always sleeping during her naps and so those diapers were automatically dry. I wanted to make sure she earned every sticker. Again, we started all over if she wet her diaper (and she did out of habit a few times… I think it took three charts?) The small reward for her was picking out a book at the used bookstore, as I recall.

      Best of luck!


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