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The Problem With Pee

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Q: Dear Kim,

I have two little boys, ages 8.5 and 7, who have, for lack of a better phrase, “cleanliness issues” when using the bathroom. They pee all over the toilet and floor, which I understand is common. Despite our explaining it to them, they still have no understanding of their role in cleaning it up. My husband and I are at the end of our ropes, and honestly feel we don't know what to do.

We've discussed with them calmly (and not-so-calmly) the process of cleaning up the mess they make when it comes to the toilet. We've shown them how to clean it, and we've even gone so far as to leave the Lysol wipes right there on the toilet tank for them to use easily whenever they are needed.

No matter what we say, we still come into the bathroom to find that they are not cleaning up after themselves. It's disgusting.

This bathroom is shared not only between them, but also with their 3.5-year-old sister, and serves as the guest bathroom. I'm embarrassed to say that we've had people come out of the bathroom refusing to use it due to this issue. We really do not want to resort to following them into the bathroom every single time they use it.

P.S. Do you know how to also get them to flush every single time?

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A: Dear Frustrated,

You are not alone. Even if all of your real-life friends have neat little girls who pee nicely in the toilet with nary a drip gone astray, you should know that us parents of little boys—all of us—have had this problem or still have it. I have two little boys myself—and a guest bathroom with no windows or otherwise functional ventilation. On many occasions, I have entered that bathroom wondering why it smells so nasty, and discovered yellow stains on and around the toilet and even on the walls.

Intrigued (OK, infuriated) one day, I watched as my 7-year-old started off going about his business with appropriate posture and aim. That is, until he heard something on television in the next room and turned his entire body toward the door, creating a perfect arc of urine on the wall and floor beside the toilet.

He thought it was hysterical. I gave him the Clorox wipes and told him to get busy.

But that didn’t solve the problem forever—it happens over and over again, and even when I think the boys have mastered the art of getting their stream into the big bowl in front of them, I will find stains and even little puddles yet again. Time for gentle reminders.

To get a little more insight into this issue, I asked actual men how they learned to perfect their aim. Most of them don’t remember, and at first more women than men chimed in about how they trained their little boys. But the men who did respond overwhelmingly recommended target practice (having the boys aim at Cheerios in the toilet) and that seemingly least useful suggestion of all: time.

You see, there are many reasons that boys are less than exact in their aim when standing up to urinate, but overall it’s because they are little boys. Calmly explaining anything to them might seem to work for a few seconds, but, in general, they will simply forget information that doesn’t have anything to do with the minutiae of Skylanders characters or the higher levels of Angry Birds Star Wars.

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Most boys have no regard for cleanliness or paying attention to something that seems so unnecessary. Some make it all the way to young adulthood not really understanding the necessity of good aim or cleaning up their spills. One grown man told me, “I think it was when I started entering the dating world. Realizing how important hygiene is to the ladies prompted me to step up my game at the commode.”

The hard truth is that you are actually going to have to step up your game, parents. While you don’t want to have to join them in the bathroom every time they need to go, or put up yet another dreaded achievement sticker chart, that’s actually what you need. Parenting is hard. This is just one of those times that make it so.

Basically what you need is behavioral conditioning—exhausting for parents but worth the effort in the long run. After all, part of raising happy, well-adjusted children is teaching them proper cleanliness and hygiene. Your boys could turn out to be the most awesome, kind and smart young men, but if behind closed doors they’ve got super-nasty bathrooms, well, that’s just nasty.

As annoying as it is, you will have to check the bathroom after they use it. Every. Time. Remind them to go back in and clean up if they’ve spilled. Reward them if they’ve managed to perform neatly and also flush without being told.

It’s a new year—perfect time to make a family resolution, right? Why not try it for one month? After all, the saying goes that it only takes 21 days to implement a new habit. A month should cement it in their behavior for all time.

At least until they forget again.

Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your friends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at mommecs@bermanbraun.com, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back.

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