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Dr. Sylvia Rimm


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Three-Year-Old Seeks Attention


Q. My 3-year-old son has been potty trained for the last year. He's never had an accident, but lately he's been urinating in different places around the house (carpet, dog bed, etc). When he's confronted he says he couldn't get to the bathroom in time. If this were the case, I'd expect him to wet his pants, not deliberately pick a place to urinate. I also have a 1- and 2-year-old. I've been trying to potty train the 2-year-old and am thinking this may explain some of my older son's regressive behavior. Any insight would be helpful.

In addition, my oldest son likes to cause chaos. When everything is calm, he creates commotion or tries to persuade his younger brother to do it. He knows what he's doing is wrong. He can be aggressive and will say off-the-wall things like, "Do you hate me?"

My husband and I have discussed having him talk to a child psychologist. I'm a stay-at-home mom and feel that I give all my kids plenty of group and individual attention. He's always been what we call "high maintenance." Are we overreacting, or do you think talking with someone would be beneficial?

A. Your intuitive conclusion about your oldest son is probably correct. His urinating in inappropriate places is undoubtedly regressive behavior to claim attention from his brother who's being potty trained, and it will undoubtedly disappear with a simple sticker reward system and patience. Asking him the reason for his regressions isn't likely to yield a helpful answer, because he's unlikely to understand exactly why he's begun this new attention-getting behavior. Regression is typically a subconscious response for a child and not a deliberate plan.

Having him talk to a psychologist about his disruptive behavior is less likely to change it than your talking to a psychologist about how you can manage three children so close in age who vie for your attention.

Oldest children usually cope with sibling rivalry better when they receive some daily one-on-one time and are referred to as the big brother, a helper, and other positive statements that assist them in building some status. You would also want to be conscious of your referential talk to other adults within your children's hearing. For example, if you talk about your son's love for creating chaos within his hearing, you can probably expect more chaos, because that will begin to feel like part of who he is. If you talk to others about his positive attributes within his hearing, for example, being a good learner, a hard worker or sharing well, it will give him a more positive self-image and better self-control.

Don't hesitate about getting yourself some guidance to prevent your older child from becoming the behavior problem of the family. It's very challenging to raise three children so close in age.

For free newsletters about raising preschoolers, discipline, or principles of parenting, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or read "Raising Preschoolers" at

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
I have a three year old who is potty trained but recently has started pupuing in his pants .He just wont say he wants to go to pupu any more.Instead he prefers to hide behind someone or something and goes to the toilet in his pants.
generally he has been a very good kid and fast learner too but recently he has become agressive and usually talks back at people trying to correct him.He had learned his numbers,colours and shapes but lately when you ask him he pretends like he does not know what you are talking about and will respond in some baby langauge.He has a brother who is a year old and he accepted his brother very well when he was born ,and he actually says he loves his brother often.I have been thinking that maybe it has just hit him now that he has a brother and that is why he is behaving like that .
Anyway i dont know what to do with him anymore,have tried talking to him,but he seems to be getting worse what can i do?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mercy Chongo
Mon Mar 15, 2010 2:35 AM
Having trained a son who was late in training I mentioned to my mother that we likely couldn't do our holiday to an amusement park because of the problem. He overheard as he was intended to and was trained from then on. We did have to wake and toilet him before 11 as he was a heavy sleeper but that was was easily done until the bladder was large enough to go all night. I would take him to the bathroom each time he does this and have him sit there with no entertainment until a 1/2 hour had passed. Next time its 45 minutes until he gets the message. Make sure the other children have fun time while he is there. There have to be consequences and not negotiation.
Comment: #2
Posted by: retired
Thu Aug 20, 2015 12:10 PM
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