Going To A Counselor With My 4 Year Old

What I Learned From Going To Counseling
With My 4 Year Old

I'm gonna start this with a disclaimer. This is not a post to tell people how to parent their own children, or even to give advice for that matter. This is a post of the things that I learned and some of the tactics that we now use with our kids after talking to a counselor for 8 weeks.

THE BACK STORYWe potty trained our oldest when he was 3. It went fairly well from our perspective. He even pooped on the toilet a couple times. We made a big deal about like everyone told us to. We thought we'd succeeded. But that was the beginning of a very, very long fight.

I know this story is not unique to us. I've looked it up on the internet dozens of times. It's not an uncommon question asked of Google. He refused to poop on the toilet. So we gave in and let him poop in a diaper. We prepped him just before turning 4 that on his birthday he didn't get anymore diapers. He seemed totally fine with it. Even after he turned 4, he knew he didn't get anymore diapers. Until he had to poop. He just held it. Our then 2 year old was on miralax because he had recently been a poop holder, and we didn't want another one of those. We caved again and let him poop in a diaper. Although, this time we made him put it on himself and poop in the bathroom. This lasted for months. He never showed any sign of wanting things to change. We basically had 3 kids in diapers. We finally decided to see if counseling would help, cause Google had certainly failed us.

I took Sam in to the counselor really not knowing what to expect. They had me fill out a bunch of paperwork answering questions about Sam's behavior so they could rule out certain behaviors that can be tested for. Everything came back mostly normal. He was having an excess amount of tantrums for a little boy his age it turns out.

The counselor gave me the option of heading straight for the potty stuff, or "clearing the path" so to speak and work on some other behaviors first. I took the second option of course, figuring we would take all the help we could get in this parenting department.

The first week we focused purely on remaining positive and making sure our relationships were solid. We praised the boys for everything they did right, for being kind and sharing and worked on having more one-on-one time with each of them. The doctor did mention later that this is probably one of the most important things throughout their life, even though we only talked about it for a few minutes of the 8 week process.
(Side note, we were told the recommended amount of time for each child to have one on one time with each parent per day is 30 minutes. Which is basically impossible, just so you know.)

I was given a chart each week to track Sam's behaviors. We started doing time-outs for certain things. Hitting, major tantrums, yelling/talking back, non-compliance were the main focuses. We added house rules and temporary rules down the road. 

I was emotionally exhausted after the first few sessions. There was so much change and I wondered if we had been parenting wrong for the past 4 years and questioned all of the other parenting things I'd seen online and on social media. I finally addressed these concerns with the counselor. He said "there are lots of great ways to parent. If what you're doing is working, that's great. It's when it's not working that there needs to be a change." I asked about stuff I see on social media, ect. He told me most of it was garbage. It was like a load lifted off of my shoulders. I decided to ignore what I see out in the world and just focus on my family and what we need. (Not to say there's not a lot of good things out there, but there's just a LOT out there, and for me, it was too much.)

My mom and I had discussed parenting last year when I was focused on a certain "trendy" parenting technique. We compared it to God's way of parenting. God sets boundaries. He has given us commandments. When we fail to live His laws, there are consequences. Yes he is merciful, but he is also just. My children need to learn that even though they CAN do whatever they want, there are consequences for their actions. They need to learn at home to be kind and loving. I'm not saying we need to shut them down every time they have an emotion. We are very clear with our children that the emotions they are having are normal and fine, but hitting/biting/screaming because of those emotions is not the right thing to do. We try to teach them to use their words or other means to express their feelings instead.

Sam was doing so great with all of this. Both boys really, Tyler just ended up in time outs more often, but he's always been more aggressive and is younger. Time outs consist of an adult-sized, hard chair in a boring corner of a boring room. They are sent there and are to remain there for the number of minutes that matches their age. You can add time if they scream and yell or get out of the chair or if you have to put them in the chair because they wouldn't go by themselves. We were instructed that they need to have 30 seconds to a minute of quiet calm before they can come out, depending on their age.

Time outs became the consistent thing when rules were broken, or non-compliance happened. The counselor also introduced "temporary rules" which I am now a huge fan of. Temporary rules are rules that make sense for a few minutes, up to a few days, but they don't make the cut for standing rules. Sometimes it's for safety reasons, like, you need to stay out of the garage while dad is working on this project so you don't get hurt. Other times, they're for sanity reasons, such as, you need to stay out of the kitchen while mom finishes baking this. You set the rule, explain that if they break it, they go straight to time out, and you'll let them know when the rule is over. It comes in really handy actually.

This is what my notes look liked, and we hadn't even talked about the potty yet. It was a lot to take in. Thankfully we took it a step at a time, week by week.

We finally got to talking about the potty. We had Sam count out a few diapers, the last diapers he would be using. We put them in the bathroom so he knew those were his. After he would poop in the diaper in the bathroom, we'd change him in there, but have him sit on the toilet and start learning to clean himself up. (This was a MAJOR pain because it's way messier when they poop in a diaper.)

Once he finished his stack of diapers we put him on a small dose of miralax every day. He didn't poop for 3 days (as we predicted) and kept asking for a diaper. Anytime he asked for a diaper, or said he needed to go potty or we thought he did, he was to sit on the toilet for 10 minutes at a time. At first he was very cooperative and I was hopeful. As the days went on he became more resistant and we had to start doing time outs when he wouldn't listen to us. He would cry and scream on the toilet as I sat in there with him. (Which is what I wanted to do, and tears were certainly shed on my end.)

We finally had a success the night before we were headed back to the doctor's after 8 minutes of screaming on the toilet and an almost accident. He was so happy and felt much better of course. We gave him his candy reward and praised him and told him he'd done such a good job and pointed out how much better he felt now that he'd gone potty.

At the doctor's office the next day we shared the experience (well, I did. Sam never talked to the doctor. Not once.) and the doctor found out that Sam was still in a pull up at night. He said that needed to stop. I mentioned that the boys came into our room every night and slept on the floor and we sat in their bedroom while they fell asleep. He said that was all going to change. He gave us the strategies we needed, which included time out, even in the middle of the night, and we were on our way.
I was nervous for the upcoming week. That was a LOT of changes and this was supposed to be our last week. We took a little house tour that evening before bed and explained to the boys that mom and dad sleep in their own room, and the boys slept in their own beds all night. We all had a place. We put Sam's pull ups away. He had 2 accidents that night. The next night the same. They didn't come sleep in our bedroom! Sam got out of bed several times and ended up in time out at 3 in the morning a few times. We've had better nights, and some not so good nights, but I'm positive it will get resolved as we stick to the consistent steps we've been using for the past couple months. He's currently gone 3 nights in a row without any problems.

He refused to poop the day after counseling again. It had been 2 days since he last did this time. Still on miralax every day. I spent a lot of time frustrated in the bathroom with him that day. I still couldn't figure out WHY he was doing this. (Turns out, the WHY didn't matter, just changing the behavior mattered.) Travis was overall probably the more patient parent during these times. The next day, Saturday, we were going to run some errands. Sam didn't want to go--because he had to go potty, he just didn't want to, and I'm sure he was afraid of having an accident. We had him try before we left and then we went. While in Old Navy it was apparent that he needed to go, so Travis took him to the bathroom. SUCCESS! WHAT?! He was so happy. We took them to get donuts as a reward. The next day we were at grandma's house. SUCCESS AGAIN! (Also with Travis.) The next day he told me he needed to go potty. I asked if he needed to poop. He said no and went to the bathroom. A few minutes later he called for me. SUCCESS AGAIN! And I wasn't even in there with him. It got better every day after that. He went by himself daily.

In one week our lives had changed completely. From a boy who wouldn't go potty on the toilet or sleep in his own bed all night and slept in a pull up, to him being independent in the bathroom, sleeping in underwear in his own bed all night. We got an hour of our lives back at night since we don't have to sit in their room as they fall asleep. It's been amazing. A lot of change, but the boys have handled it mostly well. I've been impressed by them as they've rolled with the changes the past 2 months have brought. Going to counseling was a decision that was best for us in this situation. It was so helpful to have someone who had more knowledge in these areas with children than we do to give us advice on how they can be handled. I'm sure we could have resolved this without counseling, I'm also sure we would have had even more frustrations, questioned our methods and he would not be where he's at today.

Parenting has been one of the biggest challenges in my life, while at the same time being one of the best things about my life. These kids are amazing. They're kind, loving, forgiving, funny, smart...and I couldn't be more happy that they are mine. I just pray every day that I can be what I need to be for them.


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