Lately, my 4yo son Adam seems determined to show his dad and me, once and for all, that we cannot tell him when and whether to eat or go potty.
(He is right, of course.)
He has developed a pattern where he will complain and complain about being hungry, then when food is served, he eats very little or nothing at all (without much regard for whether it is a favorite food of his or not).
Dealing with this one is fairly straightforward. We have set times, generally, for breakfast, snacks, and dinner. He is welcome to eat or not to eat what is served to him. No snacks until the next snack- or meal-time. We try to keep our response to his choices very low-key or even matter-of-factly cheerful. We also use a timer sometimes to limit the amount of time he can spend dilly-dallying at the table. This is a great strategy because it eliminates the tendency for us to do the following: remind, cajole, bargain, plead, etc. In other words, if we are not invested in the outcome (whether or not he eats), we remove as much drama from the situation as possible.
The potty issue is a bit more complex. Over the last few months, Adam increasingly did the “potty dance” instead of just going potty when he had to go. We dealt with this a few different ways, but finally decided to ignore the potty dance completely. During that time period, one time he completely wet himself while we were in our basement (the potty was on the next floor, but the main problem was that he had waited so incredibly long that once it started flowing, he couldn’t stop it).
Over the last few days, this is the situation we find ourself in: Adam does the potty dance more and more intensely, all the while his dad and I completely ignore the entire issue. After all, as long as a toilet is available to him, and he knows perfectly well how to use it, why should we comment on potty matters at all? If he does get his underpants wet (more than a trivial amount), then into his room he goes for the rest of the day, with only books to keep him company. [If we need to go on errands or take his younger brother for an outing, then Adam can participate only marginally. For example, if his brother is playing in the kiddie pool, Adam is allowed to sit and watch but not play.]
It is so difficult to see him land in his room for the rest of the day. However, he is choosing this “withholding” behavior and no one can decide for him to make different choices. He seems determined to show us that “You’re not the boss of me,” and, well, he is right! He can pee in his underwear every day for the next month if he chooses to. Our job is to show him that his choices have consequences.
This is certainly not the first time that he has used urination as a means of control. He seems rather hung up on “control” in other areas as well. It seems to me that he is apt to take a simple activity like playing catch, and hijack it so that he is doing something completely different from playing by the “rules” of catch. I see how easygoing other kids his age are, and I realize that our Adam just does not want to fit into any mold that someone else has created.
Circle time with songs and activities? Forget it. Craft projects where other kids are having a blast? Forget it. I have this vision of him in kindergarten, and while the other kids are practicing writing the letter of the day, Adam is sitting there scowling and saying “I just don’t want to.”
“I just don’t want to” and “You’re not the boss of me” are his thing right now. Here’s hoping he will move past them at some point in the near future.