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Child looking up from the potty

Potty Training the (Super) Jealous Big Sibling

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

My daughter is 33 months old, and her little brother is 7 months old. Ok, so she was thinking the potty was pretty interesting back when she turned 2, and I let her sit on it and do whatever, but I wasn’t really interested in trying to potty train her right before her brother was born, because all of the books say not to do that, so I waited. When the baby was about 6 weeks old she seemed super interested again, so I loaded up on m&ms and thought it would be a good time to potty train for real, and she was doing really well. I mean, we went out in underwear all day with zero accidents well.

Then my son got sick and I had to stay with him in the hospital for 4 days. My daughter has been back in diapers since then because I just about lost my mind. She would tell me she didn’t have to go, then decide to go on the floor as soon as I sat down to nurse him, and she peed on my couch every single time I went upstairs to put him down for a nap. She almost had herself trained again, but we visited my parents for 3 weeks and with all the change I think she lost interest. Now we’re back home and I’ve decided to just go cold turkey and deal with whatever pee and poop I have to, but again she is peeing on the couch every time I have to do something with the baby. I covered the couch with a waterproof sheet and she found the one spot uncovered and peed there.

Do I just soldier through? Do I wait and potty train them together? Help!

Buying a New Couch When this is All Over

Okay, since this the second time someone mentioned being told by “books” or “everybody” not to attempt potty training before the birth of a new sibling, let me go ahead and say YOU CAN TOTALLY ATTEMPT POTTY TRAINING BEFORE THE BIRTH OF A SIBLING. I did exactly that, twice. I had zero interest in having two children in diapers full time, so each time I got pregnant, my toddler got trained. And it was fine! Yes, you may deal with a regression (more on that in just a bit), and you might not even get them 100% out of diapers (night time, the pee vs. poop thing, etc.), but seriously: If your child is demonstrating any interest or signs of readiness while you’re pregnant, don’t feel like you have to wait! As this letter demonstrates, potty training with a newborn can be really extra difficult in its own way, so I refuse to believe that there’s any sort of hard line “right way vs. wrong way” when it comes to training pre- or post-sibling.

All that said, I’d say that your daughter, OP, really IS potty trained, but is simply acting out right now. I mean, it really sounds like she’s got the control and the skills down, but is deliberately choosing not to use them because she’s jealous of her baby brother. The accidents are too well timed and too outright purposeful. (Your poor couch!) So this is more of a new sibling regression issue than a basic potty training problem.

The good news is that the sibling regression period kind of peaks around 6/7 months, so…right smack dab where you are. The child has had enough time to process that yes, the baby gets a LOT of attention and no, the baby is NOT GOING ANYWHERE. So young toddlers can react to this somewhat brutal wake-up call in all kinds of attention-seeking ways. Potty training regressions are super common, as are sleep regressions, rejecting previously acceptable foods, an uptick in tantrums or physical aggression, etc. It’s maddening but it’s all fairly normal.

the sibling regression period kind of peaks around 6/7 months

So my advice would be a touch of the standard “make sure your daughter is getting lots and lots of POSITIVE attention from you” and a touch of “this too shall pass.” Praise her more during the day, even over silly/minor things like clearing her dishes, playing nicely by herself, picking out her own clothes, whatever. Read a book to her while you nurse so turn on her favorite song so nursing isn’t an automatic Mama Attention Drain. Encourage her to “help” you with her brother, like coming with you to put him down for a nap, fetching a blanket or pacifier or whatever part of your routine she can do. (Basically, invent reasons why she’s never out of your sight and thus free to spite-pee on the furniture.) If you can pump and your partner can bottlefeed, try to schedule a fun one-on-one outing with her at least once a week. Go to her favorite park, get ice cream or a treat from the toy store (and ask if she’d like to pick something out for her brother, too).

None of that will solve the problem overnight, but it will help a lot if you are overall more mindful of her feelings and your interactions with her. (Ever look back on a day and realize alllllll you did was scold and nag and reprimand? Yeah me too, unfortunately.) She’ll eventually stop seeking out negative attention if she’s filled to the brim with positive attention, and her feelings of jealousy will subside to a less intense level.

In the meantime, what to do about the diapers vs. potty issue? I don’t know, honestly. I’m sorry. I could argue both sides. Putting her back in diapers could give her a bit of a wake-up call of the “hey! this isn’t actually what I wanted! I’m not a baby!” variety, and she’ll opt for the positive attention that comes from using the potty instead of the couch. OR, powering through this and showing her that you’re really not budging (and also not getting to go to fun places or do fun things until she stops having accidents-that-aren’t-really-accidents) could be the right approach as she might eventually tire of this game. (Especially if you refuse to give her any negative attention for the peeing incidents, just total stone-cold silence as you hand her a towel to help you clean up.)

It’s not clear from your letter, but are you keeping your daughter naked or bare-butt right now? You don’t mention wet clothing at all, so if you DO decide to keep on going, you could try keeping her fully clothed, underwear and pants, and see what happens. A puddle on the floor or couch obviously doesn’t bother/embarrass her, but for some toddlers wet clothing is much more distressing and uncomfortable. I had one kiddo who would have accidents all damn day if I kept him pantsless, but once we put him in underwear and jeans (which we also didn’t rush to immediately change) that ended up being the final motivator to just use the toilet already. He, like your daughter, 100% knew how and was perfectly capable, but was choosing to actively fight the process for some reason. Having to sit in and deal with his own wet clothing wasn’t fun, and thus his little game stopped being fun too.
(Or you might just start catching her pulling her pants down to pee on the couch, upping the deliberateness to infinity, at which point I would personally give up and go back to diapers because that’s a level of commitment I’d be too tired to fight.)


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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