Stop bad behavior by ignoring it

Question: The first time my 3-year-old called his 4-year-old brother “stupid,” I was caught off guard and probably made too big a deal over it.

I told him that he is not allowed to call a person stupid because it is hurtful.

He promptly began calling the dog, his cup and everything else under the sun “stupid.”

He loves to call people “stoopy” or “foopid” or “poopid” (especially that one, since it combines two words he knows annoy me).

I’ve created a monster, haven’t I?

I have started ignoring the behavior, but what should I do when he directs the term at a friend or just some random kid at the playground?

Answer: Yep, you’ve created a monster, but monsters can be starved into submission, if not to death. At this stage of the game, you’re doing the right thing by ignoring the stupids (including every creative variation on the word) completely, or as completely as possible.

If he calls a friend or stranger “stupid,” you need to make him apologize. If he resists, sit him in a “thinking chair” (or whatever is available) until he complies.

If you react calmly but authoritatively in those situations and ignore the rest, the stupids should die a natural death in, oh, anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. Hang in there.

Question: I started potty training my son when he turned 3. He always uses the potty independently when he is completely naked from the waist down. But when he’s wearing underwear or even shorts with no underwear, he pees and poops on himself, chairs, the floor, etc.

I know I caused the problem by putting him in pull-ups at naps, night and when leaving the house.

What should I do to help him be successful when wearing underwear or clothes? He can’t go naked forever.

Answer: You actually set the stage for this problem by waiting until he was 3 to train him. Studies find that toilet training after 32 months is associated with increases in bowel control problems, including “holding.”

As I say in my latest book, “Toilet Training without Tantrums,” the optimal window for toilet training is between 18 and 24 months. The post-1960s recommendation to wait until certain bogus readiness signs have emerged and let children train themselves has proved a huge flop.

It’s transformed something a pre-1960s mom did in a week or so, with little hassle, into the most stressful parenting event of the preschool years, often dragging on for months.

And yes, so-called “pull-ups” will only delay a child’s success. Bulky fabric around the pelvic area is associated with permission to release at will, without regard to time or place.

At this point, the solution to your problem lies in what I call the “potty bell.” Put your son in thin cotton underwear when he’s at home. Set the stove timer to ring every hour.

When it rings, the rule is that he has to go to the bathroom and use the potty, and he can’t come out until he’s had success.

This procedure will slowly but surely train him to pay attention to the need to go when he’s wearing clothing.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at

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