Q&A: Not wiping!

Beth writes:

"My daughter is 3.75 and has been potty trained since about 2.5. She's super independent about using the bathroom — can get on the toilet by herself, get her own toilet paper, wash her hands afterward, and so on. But the past several weeks, she's been acting really weird. When she poops, she will use the potty, then come out of the bathroom half-naked without having wiped her bottom or washed her hands. She acts like it's funny. When we direct her back into the bathroom to finish the job, she resists. When we tell her to wash her hands before touching anything, she rubs her hands on everything. When we're firm with her, it only escalates things, but explaining gently doesn't work either. We've even tried explaining consequences — such as that her bum will hurt or itch if she doesn't clean up — but it doesn't have any impact.

I get that she's at the age where she's severely testing boundaries, but this is obviously a non-negotiable issue. We've asked (in non-potty moments) why she isn't carrying through the poop routine like she used to, but she can't explain what she wants, if anything. It's getting really frustrating, not to mention unhygienic. Would love any suggestions from folks whose kids may have done this behavior."

I really basically have not much, as potty training is a bullet I dodged for the most part. But if I recall correctly, my kids couldn't consistently and adequately wipe themselves until closer to age 5, so it isn't something I'd have trusted them to do at this age anyway.

So my reaction would probably to be to put this in the camp of "You have no choice" along with holding my hand to cross the street, and I would wipe for her until she was willing to wipe herself. And she wouldn't like it, but a 3.75-year-old has a lot of choices available so hygiene isn't negotiable.

But there's probably someone out there who went through this who has some way of making it fun, and who had an early wiper like your daughter. Anyone?

34 thoughts on “Q&A: Not wiping!”

  1. Yes, my children did not/do not consistently go to the bathroom themselves until closer to 5 (or maybe even 6) so this was not much of an issue because I would wrestle them to the sink and wash their hands myself before I would let them touch anything with what we called “poop hands”. Although, now that I think about it, since I was the one doing the wiping, their hands were actually relatively clean.I’m going to chalk this up to kids are crazy. And you’ll muddle through until it’s not an issue any more.

  2. We use wet wipes (not the flushable kind, sorry environment). You could try that? My son is also 3.75 and it is a SUPER frustrating age. Probably for both sides.Also, maybe a book about hand washing/ tush wiping/ hygiene? I don’t know. Sometimes it helps. Can’t think of any off the top of my head though.

  3. Almost 4.5 son (potty trained since 2.75) finds great power in making me cling to keeping myself together. Slow (strange) paper gathering, the cheek clenched “look no hands!” move, asking for check wipe without having done the first wipe himself…..No help I’m afraid, but I get where you’re coming from.

  4. Yep, my 4.5 y.o. son refuses to wipe too, and it is a battle every single time I insist that it be done (I do it – haven’t even attempted to force him to do it). We fight the battle, but sometimes I can barely hold it together.He has a similar resistance to nose blowing. He will run and hide, scream, cry, kick – etc – whenever I try to wipe his nose. But then as soon as he is out of my reach, he will smear his goopy nose on whatever he can find – the couch, the rug, the curtains. Absolutely infuriating. We’ve had less success with this than with the wiping because he can generally get away from us easier. I hate it, but I admit I sometimes pretend I don’t notice the runny nose and then just clean up the mess, because I know the mess will happen whether or not I battle him on it. Disgusting, huh?

  5. Nope, no help from me, either–my 3.5 y-o daughter does the same thing, despite being really independent about potty habits 6 months ago (we always “checked her work” re: wiping and hand washing). I figured this might have been a little regressing since we also have a 10 month old and a little boundary-pushing (she’s a beast to her older brother too). So yes, children are crazy and sometimes jerks. Good potty habits are non-negotiable, so like it or not, she’s gotta do what she’s gotta do…

  6. I think this is a non-negotiable too. At that age, I’d follow her into the bathroom every time to enforce the routine. Agree with PPs that they can’t really do it all by themselves until 5 or 6.

  7. The only tip I have comes from having to make my kid do other things… as others have said, my almost-5 y.o. isn’t wiping his own butt yet, though he did demonstrate to me how it is done, like “Jeez Ma, don’t you know?” Anyway, I think with the wiping, the best thing to do is probably do it yourself until the phase has passed, but with the hand washing, you might try a couple of things:Hand over hand. In other words, make her do it by physically bringing her hands through the motions. Kids often hate this, and will elect to just do it themselves instead after the first few times, which is the goal. You’re at least sending the message that *they* have to do it, you won’t do it for them.
    The other idea is to switch up the handwashing routine to make it fun. Maybe a new fun soap or dispenser, a superhero towel, and/or a song. To the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat:
    Wash, wash wash your hands
    After work and play
    Scrub and rinse every day
    To keep the germs away.
    (Thank you pre-school)
    They should sing that one twice to be long enough at the task. Also, the ABCs might work, especially if it’s matched up with particular areas to wash (A-G = palms, H-P = backs of hands, Q-V = between fingers, W-Z = last swipe over palms and backs of hands, the rest = rinsing. That’s from a friends of mine who works in public health, with a specialty in poop. For real.) Or any other short kids song, probably.
    Good luck (keeping your sanity).

  8. I think this is absolutely normal for kids this age. My oldest is 5.5 and it is only in the last 6 months that I felt I could trust him to do an adequate job of wiping most of the time. And he still gets the routine out of order, often just to irritate me or spend more time standing around with no pants. But with the youngers who are just learning the routine, I go for a “Your choices are you may wipe and let me check immediately/help if necessary, or I will wipe for you. Choose now.” That leads to wailing and gnashing of teeth more than I care to admit, but so it goes. Three year olds are assholes when they aren’t being the most wonderful delicious things on earth.

  9. The method used on children with lower functioning ability is to complete a task hand over hand with them and gradually start pausing before the last portion, then the last two steps, then the last three, etc. Usually if you start a process they’ll continue it to completion. I suspect she won’t want your help and will take over quickly once you begin to help. Try to avoid making it an issue, just start being there to participate like you did when she was younger. I agree with others that mine were at least five before they were independent in all bathroom activity. (They fake us out by letting us think that “potty trained” is the same as “independent” at that we’re off the hook!)

  10. @eep has described three-year-olds exactly and perfectly: “assholes when they aren’t being the most wonderful delicious things on earth.” Yep, that.Also, my kid is 7 and can wipe himself just fine (since 5-6, as PPs said), but prefers that I do it. :eye roll: ‘Cause butt wiping is just SO FUN, right?

  11. Oh yeah, I had to put my foot down on my Dd1’s 6th birthday and tell her that “6 year olds wipe their own bottoms.” She had practiced off and on all summer, because one of the stipulations of going to summer camp was that you wipe your own bottom (did she EVER poop at summer camp? No. She would hold it until she got home. lol). But until she was 6, I was often being called in to service her ass. Now I get to wipe the bottom AND the potty chair bucket of my nearly 3-year old. I’m so sick of the wiping years!!!I imagine that it’s more of a 3.75 thing (what a horrid age), than a poop related thing. You have some good advice here to try out!

  12. If you think she can but just rebelling than we have a lot of success with sticker charts. The younger they are the more frequent the prizes need to be- she needs to know that after e.g. 5 stickers she gets a fancy pencil or toy car or whatever you think will motivate her. Lots of kids love stickers and will enjoy putting them on the chart. With my 5 yr old girl, she got out of the habit of wiping after peeing- very sore, itchy, rashy- so we had to make part of the deal that she remembered herself.

  13. This might be an area where a little bit of pop culture influence might help change your child’s mind about wiping. Surely, there are some kids’ potty books she would find interesting that show a kid doing it the correct way – there’s also probably stuff on youtube and the like.Or find (or decorate with stickers) a super cool wipes package she’d be interested in. My 3-year-old daughter certainly falls for all things Dora (her current issue is “forgetting” to wash hands) but YMMV.
    Three is a tough age. You could also give her a choice: you do it yourself or I do it for you.

  14. I think it’s your basic testing of boundaries. I think that I would matter-of-fact tell her that you know that she’s able to take care of cleaning her body after using the toilet but she’s having a hard time lately and until she is ready to handle it herself again you are going to take care of it for her. That she will let you know when she’s ready. Then, I’d make sure you follow through. I think if she realizes this testing of limits isn’t getting a strong reaction, her capabilities are positively reinforced and this is a nonnegotiable issue, the behavior will disappear soon enough. And, if it turns out she actually needs legitimate additional help for a while considering her age, so be it. As long as she doesn’t get the emotional gratification of pissing you off by being defiant and “funny” as you describe, the behavior should lose its luster after a short while.

  15. We went through something similar with our 3.5 yo. He would come running to tell us he pooped, but hadn’t flushed or wiped. We started to try to do it for him, he freaked and began to do it himself – he’s very independent in this one area and likes his “privacy” (I’d yike some privacy here, Mama) so having someone else wipe his stinky butt was non negotiable for him.

  16. I think Beth and I must have the same daughter (Same age, too. My girl will be 4 at the end of January). Wiping and hand washing are huge, awful issues. I almost wish that she were still in diapers so that there wasn’t the “I can do it myself” issue. Natural consequences and gentleness don’t seem to cut it. I have to not allow her to leave the bathroom (and not leave her alone in the bathroom) until she has allowed me to wipe her and I have watched her wash her hands (or I have washed her hands for her).It seems ridiculous that this is still an issue, but I do wonder if it’s the age. She’s trying to rebel and control something she can control and doesn’t get (or want to get) that she is risking sickness for herself and others by doing that.
    All I know is that I dread potty-training our second child. This has been one huge pain, despite our daughter wanting to use the potty. I hate it and I wish she would just decide to cooperate or decide to do it all herself.

  17. I would love to have this problem. My 3.5 year old still poops in her pants. The next person who tells me that girls don’t like to be dirty and cloth diaper kids learn faster than paper diaper kids will receive a poke in the eye. 🙂

  18. Ha ha! Karen, I feel ya. My daughter regressed to being a “pants pooper” and I had to completely distance myself from her toileting to avoid the power struggle. So she doesn’t wipe. She gets skids. She gets red occasionally. We make sure she bathes every day and we put rash cream on when needed. This too shall pass?

  19. @Regina W’s got it right: Now that I recall, this was around when I had to start giving my kid candy after he pooped. Otherwise he’d hold it in until it started escaping on his own. Having watched my sister do that for far, far too long (older than ten), I opted for candy FAST. But it was primarily about control, without a doubt.

  20. We’re getting the rubs hands on everything (or worse puts in her mouth before we can grab) at 2.5, I don’t want to know that it’s not likely to get better for years!Related, even at the higher end of the height percentiles, the one foot high (or shorter) bathroom steps you see everywhere are still too low for DD to easily wash her hands. Trying to lift her & prop her up while simultaneously washing her hands is a annoying in public but a real pain to do every time at home. Does anyone have a better trick to do this?

  21. we tried to hit home over and over that getting poop makes things smell bad and be thrown away or worse, makes people sick. Both my kids have a horror of vomiting and when told that the germs that the poop takes away could make them throw up if they got it in the wrong place really helped. But wow, it felt like a long time for that to sink in. (Really probably a week or two.) But also wiping wasn’t a strong skill for many years either. Good luck.

  22. One of the things I did was put a step in front of the potty so the wiper could get some leverage without trying to balance on the toilet seat or stand up and then not be able to do a thorough job. We also use flush able wipes, and I’ve taught them to wipe twice (when pooping) so they clean up any stragglers from the first pass. Does everybody do that?

  23. Blanche: There’s a faucet extender called the Aquaduck that pops on the faucet and moves the water a couple inches forward. About $12 from Amazon. Combined w a stool that should do it!

  24. Yeah, I think she’s just testing your boundaries and generally agree with Jamie above about how to address the behavior. My daughter is 3.5 and although wiping is not particularly an issue with her right now, we are seeing a LOT of that “acts like it’s funny/resists/won’t do it” behavior right now, with the escalation when we put our feet down. Well, it IS funny to her, because she doesn’t get it. She’s three and a half. She’s just not capable. Just like my daughter will occasionally run away in the parking lot or do something else equally dumbassed because she wants to get our goats and she knows that will do it. Most of the time she knows that’s dangerous and behaves, but sometimes her drive to test boundaries seems to obliterate that understanding. Similarly, the “this germ might make you throw up” approach mentioned above might work, because as it makes the topic more relevant/understandable for her… or it might not, or only sometimes.This is one area where I’m really glad that she’s my second child, because when she’s being an asshole it’s easier to see that she’s not doing it AT me as much as it feels like; she’s just doing it because she’s three and a half. I still lose my temper sometimes but it’s easier to have perspective now. So, I don’t know if it can really help to hear that from other people, but your mid-3-year-old is being a jerk just like all the other 3s, and will stop eventually.
    However, I do think the 3-year-old jerkiness also overlaps with general potty training ups and downs that have a more physical and/or psychological developmental component. My older kid has gone back and forth a lot over time with potty competence and, again, my daughter’s now doing the same. That competence does seem to have developmental components unrelated to boundary-testing. So, there may be a bit of complexity, like choosing this area for boundary-testing because she’s having a bit of regression in her potty competence.
    Blanche, we use a two-step folding footstool that is just left set up in the bathrooms during the day. I also just bought this or something very like it (http://www.onestopcleaningsupplies.co.uk/images/uploads/folding-foot-stool.jpg) which is a kind of intermediate option.

  25. Maybe she is worried about falling into the toilet? I know my son used his hands to brace himself on the toilet at this age and wouldn’t have been able to wipe himself without falling in.We also made up a potty schedule for him–a vertical chart that lists what steps he uses when going to the bathroom: pull down pants, sit on toilet, poo, wipe, flush, pull up pants, wash hands. My kid has ADHD, but even for neuro-typical kids it is easier on YOU to say “check your chart, what do you need to do next” rather than “WIPE YOUR BUTT WIPE YOUR BUTT WIPE YOUR BUTT.” This also gives them some power in the equation–they are in charge of checking the chart and following the steps.

  26. Should go anonymous for this, still feel hugely guilty and responsible.My daughter has eczema, controlled by elaborate regime of emollients etc. And avoidance of allergens.
    Poo gives her bacterial skin infections very easily. The only prevention is non flushable wipes, and application of an emollient marketed as multi-purpose in Germany but as nappy ointment( diaper) here in the UK twice a day and after a motion and cleaning.She called me to the bathroom to check she had wiped well herself until this autumn.
    She started Reception, bridging year but part of ” Big School” and she learned to read( well decypher some words).
    And refused the mucous membrane ointment. As it was for babies. Would only use the regular skin emollient.
    Also now all day in school, she would sometimes go poo there and they wouldn’t wet wipe.
    Tick, tock, tick, tock. The family doctor said it was a fungal infection. Prescribed anti fungal. I argued it looked too angry and the discharge wrong.
    Week later there was a huge bacterial infection of the peri-anal area, involving the vulva and with many pustules to the buttocks that cultured as a mix of group A beta hemolytic Streptococcus and Staphylococcus aureus.
    The pain and suffering enormous, the side effect severe withholding now needing treatment for months with laxatives.
    School now wet-wipes with doctor’s letter. The nappy ointment is back. Daughter now sees the point.
    There was considerable hostility about her wearing cotton replicas of the mostly polyester school uniform for her eczema among staff and other parents. That has gone away.
    Oh and my point is that the A&E doctor asked me if I was five as well about allowing my daughter to swap emollients on my bottom, and the gastro enterologist told me no child under the age of 5.5 has really got the dexterity although wet wipes will usually work around that.
    With regards to the OP I would just keep wiping and washing the hands for the child until she is doing it herself well. That time will surely come. I never argued and tried to make as dignified a routine as possible. Because I had to of course, so my mileage varies.

  27. @Wilhelmina – we also had a school-poop related nightmare with our eczema prone little guy (your daughter’s age, I think). He got a very red bum that progressed to a yeast infection followed by a nasty strep infection. We immediately stopped encouraging him to wipe himself, and now we do it for him, very carefully with wet wipes. And we check sometimes after school. He luckily doesn’t not protest the regime. I’m mentioning this story out of sympathy & solidarity, but also to alert parents that the not-wiping-properly can turn pretty ugly.

  28. My almost 3 yr old (Jan) goes to a Montessori preschool mornings only with integrated ages 2.5-6 in the same classroom. And while he has fabulous teachers who I trust in all other areas regarding child development… They do not assist in wiping. As in, my kid sometimes has very loose stools (which if he doesn’t make it in time, end up down his pants and has to clean himself while they instruct him with words and encourage him, but hello! He is under 3 and cannot do the job even remotely sufficiently). I asked if he could have a set of flush able wipes in his cubby to use, but answer was no. There is something with their certification as a school versus a daycare and it restricts them lawfully from being able to aid in wiping. I usually find he has pooped at school from the messy bottom I see next time I help him wipe, hours later.. Redness and itchy bottom, of course. If it’s a really messy poop job, then I’ve had to come early to pick him up. I then ultimately assist in cleaning him up in the admin’s office bathroom before heading home, which just seems ridiculous.How do parent’s deal with pooping at school and what their teachers are able to help with or not?

  29. @Jena M, my daughter started in the preschool section of the Montessori school she is still at and I was also told that independence was the alpha and omega of Montessori.Because she was only in for less than three hours then the subject didn’t come up, of wiping stool.
    Now she has had the awful infection detailed above they will allow her wet-wipes to bin herself,and will accompany her and check she is wiping well by looking.
    They will do it for her or apply the emollient with the dertmatologist’s letter. It means gloves for the teacher and a witness, for obvious reasons, one teacher can’t just do it like a parent.
    You could ask your paediatrician? US or family doctor to write a letter to the school.

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