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The Unmentionable: Wiping Your Child

by on Mar.07, 2011, under Parenting, Toddlers, Transitions

Sheepishly, the mom asked, “Should I still be wiping my seven year old’s tush after he makes a poop?”  Some of you might be gasping in horror, but others of you are nodding in agreement as you wonder the same thing. The third time in a week that I was asked the question in a parenting group, I knew it was time to write about it:  When should a child wipe his own bottom?

Isn’t it funny that parents flock to my seminars on raising self reliant children…. and the next morning they run to wipe their  5 year old’s hiney?

Toilet training, (though I prefer to call it toilet learning), is much more than just learning to put your pee and your poop in the toilet.  It is also a giant step towards independence and self reliance when all the parts of the lesson fall into place.  Not only does the child recognize the need to go while he’s building with Legos, but he makes it to the bathroom in time, pulls his own pants down, gets himself onto the toilet, releases his business there, wipes himself, pulls both his undies and his pants back up, and tops it off with washing his hands…with soap. That’s a whole lot of self reliance!

Not all the steps of toilet learning happen at the same time, but within months, most children are relatively accomplished at the task. That is, unless we parents sabotage their self reliance.

Of course, the wiping part is usually the last skill to be accomplished, and not many take to it easily. There’s not much that’s actually pleasant about poop, except being done with it. But it’s a necessary evil. And, unless you plan on accompanying your child on his honeymoon as his hand maiden, you best teach him how to wipe himself early on.

Learning to wipe should begin as soon as the child learns to use the toilet. At first you will do the dirty work, but your child should do the second wipe, as he learns the motion and becomes better able to reach his hind quarters.  Some children even do best getting off the toilet and squatting down so their cheeks easily spread to an open target.  Some children like to do a spot check in the mirror. (Back to the full length mirror, bend over, and look in the mirror between the legs.)

As a former preschool teacher, let me break the bad news: preschool teachers do not wipe their students’ behinds!  They expect the children to do it themselves. Therein lies the answer to the what age question:  Four year olds should do their own wiping.

I can hear you now, declaring the inadequate job he will do. Yes, this is part of the learning process.  Children will have skid marks in their underpants. Some will even have sore bottoms from not doing a good enough job.  But this is why God created baths, showers, and washing machines! And this is why pharmaceutical companies make all kinds of soothing creams that kids learn to apply all by themselves!

Continuing to wipe your child because he won’t or you won’t let him is a strong message about your faith in him. Learning to take care of all his bathroom needs is an important part of becoming a self reliant person.  Now, out of the bathroom, please!

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21 Comments for this entry

  • Anita

    Have I told you lately how much I appreciate your honesty?? My daughter, now 3.5 if you can believe it, has very little patience for this step in the process. Her busy schedule just really does not allow for a whole lot of time to be spent on all this cleaning business!! At least with hand washing she gets to play with some soap and water for goodness sake! The toddler wipes do help for at home but she does come home with the dreaded skid marks from school and a red tushy now and again!! Thanks for the tip with the mirror, I am redoing her bathroom and will definately add!! And thank you for always being so frank and honest to tell us parents like it is!

  • Betsy Brown Braun

    Thanks for taking the time to share, Anita. This issue challenges more people than admit it! Of this I am sure. So glad the blog helped.

    And thanks, too, for appreciating my style and approach. No question that I tell it like it is. Happy that it works for you!! BBB

  • caitlin

    This advice can (and must!) be applied to all ages of kids. Yea your pre-teen might not be as good at vacuuming or loading the dishwasher as you…but they have to start somewhere!

  • Betsy Brown Braun

    Amen, Caitlin!!!

  • Melissa

    I have a 5 year old son who has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS; one of his problems involves lack of fine motor skill development. He started occupational therapy about 4 months ago two times a week and is making progress. (aka he can now hold a crayon and has limited control now) He recently has been showing some interest in wiping his own bottom but I know he has not developed the skills to do the job. And although I appreciate that sometimes kids do have to struggle to learn I hesitate to have him struggle in this area. He has a history of problems with learning potty skills and he does still wear a pull-up at night. How can I go about helping him find success in learning this skill without add even more frustration to his life?

  • Betsy

    Baby steps are what you need. Start by letting your boy do the “first wipe” (And use flushable wet wipes). Then you follow up. Praise him to the hills and avoid the “oh yucky” comments. Good for you!

  • Monica

    My son turn 3 this year in January and is not willing to learn to go potty. I have tried most things I read about. Bribe him with stuff, watching videos with him while we are in the bathroom, put big boys underware allowing him to have accidents, making him go regardles of his crying. the few times he went by me forcing him to sit I praised him big time! He is in a potty train classroom at daycare and everybody is required to actively participate but he will cry every single time. He has struggle with chronic constipation since he was 9 months old and because I give him a stool softener sometimes he gets diarreah. I talk to his pediatrician and she said to back off for a month, dont talk about it or anything. She said that I have to make it look like is his idea. ultimately he is the one who has control over it. when I talked to his daycare teacher to ask her to back off for a while as the pediatrician suggested which she did but went back to start insisting he goes without consulting with me because she feels that it is not fair to the othwer children who are made to go. this is so stressful she thinks he is manipuplating me because I told her that my son had asked me to talk to her to request giving him more time. She has told me in many different ocassions that my son is very smart, that he speaks a lot better than everybody else in the classroom, he listens to instruction,and participates in all activites, that he and is well behaved and that he is ready to move on to the next classroom if he only learns to go potty. My take on that is yes, I want him to move on to be challange in other areas of learning but I dont believe in forcing him to do something he is not willing to do just yet. Betsy, should I be looking for some kind of deficit at some level or concern about his development at all or do you think this is simple power struggle and I am being manipulated? I’d appreciate your advice in this matter so much.

  • Betsy BB

    Toilet skills cannot be rushed. Sounds like you got off on the wrong foot with this one. Too much pressure at home and for sure at school. While your son may be physically ready to use the toilet, he sure isn’t emotionally ready. Too many cooks in your kitchen. Leave him alone for a while. No talk, no comments, no offering the toilet. I repeat leave him along and not a peep about it. There is no concern about his development.

  • Sarah

    Monica, after a long break, one thing you might want to try is letting your son ‘teach’ a doll how to use the potty. We started too early with our son and I was probably too intense about it. We laid off, then his teacher loaned us a baby doll that wets after feeding. I evidently held the doll wrong while feeding it, and it leaked all over me. I explained to the doll (for my son’s benefit) that accidents happen, but that we should try to use the potty. I then asked my son to teach the doll what that meant. He loved it, was super instructive and sweet with the doll, and used the toilet himself from that day on. It seemed to empower him to be the one doing the teaching instead of having to listen to a bunch of grown-ups telling him what to do.

    As for wiping, Betsy thanks for this post. We had been told it takes years to master wiping and so thought we didn’t need to push it. I’m trying what you suggested, starting with me helping with the first wipe. He’s cool with it. I may even borrow Pauly the doll again and have him practice on him. I’m stoked for the day I don’t hear calls of “Mommy, come wipe my bottom!”

  • Betsy

    What a great idea using the doll is. Hooray for you (and your son’s teacher) for sharing that. Often putting the child in control leads to a positive resolution. So much of child raising has to do with control, doesn’t it?

    About wiping…it can take years to master it. (If you do your kids’ laundry, you will see evidence of this reality for years to come!) But expecting your child to take responsibility for his physical care is a good message. Teaching him to wipe is a great start.

  • Mandina

    Egads! My wonderful grandsons are 6 and 8, and still depend on their mother to wipe their tushes. I only get to see them about 4 times a year, and adore them, and their Mom and Pop. I don’t want to interfere, as they are good loving parents and very hard workers, but I told my daughter flatly that’s it time they learned how to do this themselves. I talked with the boys tonight about it (and the parents), and said this is something everyone learns to do. Unless they’re a cat and can lick themselves clean. They thought this was funny of course, but I was trying to be matter of with a sense of humor. I love my daughter so much, and don’t want to interfere, but the 6 year old won’t ever go to sleep unless mom is in bed going to sleep with him. How can I help without being pushy? She has zero time to herself, and very little with her husband alone either.

  • Betsy

    While there are many things about which I could comment, the most important is this: YOU are the grandmother, NOT the mother. Unless your daughter seeks your opinion or help, don’t offer it. (I suggest you see my recent blog entitled “It’s Hard to Shut Up.”) I know you mean well, but believe me, your involvement will only create more problems. If you must, you can ask her if she would like your opinion or suggestions to make things better because you care so much about her. If the answer is NO, then so be it.

  • Betty

    Thanks this really helped I’m a 19 year old mother of a three year old I’m glad I read your blogs:) My mother gets surprised how I manage to teach my son such things all on my what she dosn’t know is that I get great advice;)

  • Robyn

    Thank you for your article. While my nearly 4 1/2 yr old son’s daycare does wipe butts ( my kid doesn’t poop at school though!), I’m getting sick of doing it at home. My daughter was doing it herself by the time she was 4. I dread the yelling of “wipe my butt please mom!” coming from the bathroom. Tonight after reading your article I empowered my son and told him 4 1/2 year olds wipe their own butts. I gave him some wet wipes, supervised, and let him go to town. He did a fantastic job and was so proud of himself! Now if I could just get him to stop picking his nose and eating his boogers 🙂

  • Betsy BB

    I am so glad my piece was the impetus you needed to empower your son to do his own wiping. Yay for you! As for the boogers,well, that’s a whole different story!

  • Kimmy

    Just had my first baby and was talking potty training with a girlfriend and se told me her 8 year old about to turn 9 does not wipe himself at all ever. This news was crazy to me. What happens hen he is in school and had to “go” she told me the school calls her an she picks him up to go home. So he misses the day or half a day? She insist that ALL boys his age don’t wipe and it’s normal because its harder for boys to wipe than for a girl… I don’t think that’s true at all. I know boys fully trained at 3-4… I think she just babies him way too much.

  • Betsy BB

    Wow! Your skepticism about your friend is warranted for sure.If we are trying to teach our kids to be self reliant humans, that mama isn’t off to a very good start. And then to assume ALL 8 year olds get wiped, she is off base. Sounds like you, on the other hand, get it.

  • Earl

    How can I tell my wonderful girlfriend of 3yrs her only son is eating way to much junk food without sounding to involved or nosy…he is 7 and he is 30 lbs overweight

  • Betsy BB

    That’s dangerous territory, Earl. My advice would be to stay out of it unless your girlfriend runs it by you. She will take it personally, a comment about her parenting.

    If you live together, that’s a different story. In that case, you have a say about the kinds of foods you keep in the house. And you can be a family who exercises together regularly. Otherwise, uh oh.

  • Jai

    And what do you do after your 5 year old daughter screams and cries for two straight hours and the cops show up at your door? Yes, this happened. She woke up with nightmares for several nights afterwards. I’m tired of wiping her butt but I just dont know what else to do. she’s fine wiping after urinating but if she had a bowel movement, she gets terrified and I get frustrated and worried that CPS is going to be banging on my door.

  • Betsy BB

    That you might disturb the neighbors or answer the door to the police when your child screams is not a good enough reason to stop trying. You should NOT be wiping your child, screams or not. But something is going on, and you need to get to the bottom of it (sorry about the pun.) I can’t tell if it’s a power struggle or if it’s a real phobia. This is more than a brief blog response. I urge you to get the name of a local child development specialist from your pediatrician

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