Q: My daughter is 3 and will start preschool this fall. We don’t know what to do because the preschool requires that kids be toilet trained, and she still wears pull-ups and shows no interest in using the potty. She tried the potty a few months ago, but didn’t like it. Now she just shakes her head "no" when we ask her. Sometimes if we offer her a reward she will use the potty, but only for that time. I know she would like preschool, but I don’t know how to get her potty trained. L. T., Oak Park
A: We have known many 3- and 4-year-olds who resisted using the potty in general but who were willing to use it for specific periods to participate in an activity of their choice, such as school or swimming lessons. If your daughter likes the idea of preschool, most likely she will be willing to use the potty to attend. Describe the fun she will have at preschool, focusing on the activities you think she would like most. Then explain to her that at school she needs to use the potty like the other children. Let her know she can keep her pull-ups the rest of the day. Since your daughter will use the potty to get a reward of your choosing, she will probably use it to attain a goal of her own choosing. On the other hand, if preschool doesn’t appeal to her, it’s unlikely she will accept the notion of using the potty there, and you may have to wait one more year.
How do I get my toddler to behave in a nice restaurant?
Q: I have three children, ages 8, 6, and 2½. My husband and I have always had a tradition of eating out on Sunday nights, and we like to eat at the kind of restaurant that has tablecloths and decent food. My 6- and 8-year-olds enjoy this, too, and are very well behaved. The problem is that our 2½-year-old ruins the time for everyone. She throws food, silverware and anything else she can get her hands on. We bring toys for her, but she gets bored quickly and once she has eaten her fill (which takes about four minutes), she wants to get up. If we remove everything within her reach, she has a fit and starts screaming. We really don’t want to have our Sunday dinner at a fast food restaurant, but this is not working either. Suggestions? P. C., Evanston
A: At this moment you probably have only two good choices—get a babysitter or downscale your restaurant choice. It would be a rare 2-year-old who could sit through the time it takes to eat at a nice restaurant, even with creative management. That said, there are some things you can do to lengthen the time your youngest is able to stay calm and content. For example, feed her food that takes a long time to eat (such as kernels of corn or tiny bits of meat), bring toys she hasn’t seen before that fit on a high chair tray (paper and markers, cars or finger puppets), and enlist her older siblings to read to her or play with her. If all else fails, the adults can take turns taking her out of the dining room, where she can stretch her legs in the hall or lobby.
Should I check up on my 13-year-old’s party plans?
Q: My 13-year-old son is very popular and gets invited to many parties. To what extent should I be checking up on the party arrangements by calling the parents ahead of time? A friend of mine told me her daughter went to a party where the parents weren’t home and alcohol was available—she only found out from another mom who dropped in early to pick up her daughter. My son seems like a pretty solid citizen, but I do have questions about some of his friends. I hate to start acting like the CIA and dropping in or calling parents ahead of time to see if they will be there, but on the other hand I don’t want to be too laid back and discover later that my son is in trouble. How much vigilance is warranted here?
B. I., Skokie
A: Regardless of how much you trust your son, it is a good idea to call the parents hosting the party to make sure they will be home. Your son could go to a party thinking parents will be there only to discover they are not and his friends are doing things that make him uncomfortable. Or perhaps he has been told the host’s parents will not be there but is unwilling to tell you because he doesn’t want to blow the whistle on a friend. The worst scenario is that your son knows there will be no chaperones and plans to use alcohol or drugs. Whatever the case, by making clear to your son that you will always call the party-giver’s parents, you protect him from unsafe and illegal activities. And, no matter how much he protests, you demonstrate your love and concern for him.
One footnote: There are some instances when the host’s parents are home but the parents allow underage drinking—or even drug use—in the false belief that kids will engage in these activities anyway and it is better if they do it at home under parental supervision. So if you don’t know the parents well, when you call to make sure they will be home, it is also a good idea to say something like, "I assume you will make sure that there is no drinking or drug use during the party."
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.