Care and Feeding

Is It Normal for a 4-Year-Old to Ask Me to Wipe His Butt?

I was his nanny, and the parents didn’t warn me, and I still feel degraded.

A young child smiles beatifically while sitting on the potty.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AND-ONE/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I worked as a nanny last summer and fall, and I have a question that has been nagging at me. The child I nannied was 4 years old. About a week in, he tells me he has to poop—that’s all great and fine. But upon seeing my quizzical face when I told him to go ahead, he quickly tells me he needs me to wipe for him. I was pretty aghast by two things: One, 4 seems pretty old to have someone wipe for you. Obviously, kids aren’t great at wiping, but that seems like a lesson they should learn with potty training. Second, I was mortified that his parents never mentioned this to me. I’m ashamed to say I never asked them about it because I was too embarrassed, so I just went ahead and wiped for him whenever he went (not often). But it was sort of a degrading experience, especially because he was a pretty bossy kid and seemed to take some weird pleasure from it. I have a lot of experience with older kids (elementary school), so I’m not sure if I just didn’t understand that age or if this is totally bonkers. What do you think?

—Is This Normal?

Dear Is This Normal,

Yes, it’s normal. Lots of 4-year-olds still need help wiping, though this is the age when most kids are gaining enough coordination and diligence to do the job themselves. Potty training isn’t a process which ends with a graduation ceremony and a diploma that says Total Bathroom Independence Achieved. If you’re not comfortable helping, I recommend sticking to nannying older kids.

You can ask the parents if he’s generally wiping himself (in case he’s just trying to regress with a new care provider), but I can assure you this is not bonkers. This is really pretty standard.

In terms of it being degrading, we all come into the world needing our butts wiped, and most of us will leave the world needing our butts wiped. Some perfectly lovely people need that level of care their entire lives. If it feels degrading for you, you may not be the best fit for young children. But it’s not degrading in and of itself.

Dear Care and Feeding,

This is a strictly feeding question. My 8-month-old loves to eat, especially if he can feed himself and especially if that food is avocado. He can eat half an avocado in one sitting and then will grunt for more and try to rip it from our hands. So many baby-feeding books say to follow the baby’s cues, but if I did that I might have to start illegally smuggling avocados out of Mexico. How much avocado is too much avocado? Also, if Donald Trump closes the border and no avocado is available, what other foods do you suggest for an avocado-crazed relatively new eater?

—Avocado Monster

Dear Avocado Monster,

Go ahead and decide how much of your family food budget can be safely devoted to stuffing your baby with avocados, and then do so with my blessing. Should we run out of avocados, your child will be able to experience the loss at an early enough age as to inoculate him against future traumas, such as when the first guinea pig goes to play at the great farm upstate in the sky.

Avocados really are fantastic for self-feeding (and for leaving green smudges everywhere) and are rich in splendiferous fats and vitamins. For now, don’t borrow trouble, and enjoy his new enthusiasm.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 3-year-old is a sweet, charming, loving child. He is also totally spoiled. We recently had his third birthday and I put on the invitation “no presents” because he has so many toys. Well, our generous friends brought presents anyway, which was very thoughtful, but we got a ton of crappy plastic cars. He loves cars, but he has hundreds of them. I’m not exaggerating: My in-laws bring him a new car every week, most of them from cheap plastic. I don’t care that they are inexpensive but the plastic waste makes me cringe. And he appreciates the gift for about five minutes and then whines for another one.

I’ve tried to explain gift-giving, being grateful, and even donating old toys to charity but he seems too young to really understand and it ends in tears. I try to sneak toys out, but he’s got a memory like an elephant and he ends up crying because he’s missing a particular car.

I’ve asked my in-laws to please stop buying him presents, but he’s so used to it that he asks every time he speaks to them and often cries so they give in. He’s now also taken to asking anyone who comes to our house because of his birthday. Now he thinks it’s just a thing we do. I don’t want to offend my friends and family who are being very generous, but it’s turning my 3-year-old into a monster. Help!

—Please, No More Cars!

Dear PNMC,

Well, it’s time to (mildly) offend your friends and family! They are being ridiculous. The easiest way to do this is to get pleasantly conspiratorial with them, like you need their assistance to help your son get over his (very common, very normal) Smaug phase.

Explain to the main offenders that your son now expects gifts from everyone who comes to the door, does not cope well when you attempt to pass those toys on to kids who are in greater need of them, and is in danger of becoming one of Willy Wonka’s more … permanent … visitors. If they protest, shake them down at the door and make it clear the cars are going directly to charity. But ideally, you will be able to get them on board to keeping presents to one or two special occasions per year.

What cannot be allowed to occur is your in-laws knuckling under to tears. They are supposed to be the adults! I recommend suggesting they use that money to take your kid out for fun experiences: the zoo! A kid’s movie! A corn maze!

You can’t spend anyone else’s money, but you can keep them from burying you in Hot Wheels in your own home. I believe that you can do this.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 6-month-old with an obvious genetic condition. The condition doesn’t impair his intellectual functioning in the slightest but does give him an unusual appearance. People comment on his condition in public, and I am trying to find ways to respond that respects that my son will someday want privacy. But I also know he will get asked these questions often, and I want him to have the skills to explain to others when needed. This condition is going to be obvious to others throughout his life, and at times he’s going to need minor accommodations.

I want to find a balance between honoring his right not to have everyone know his medical condition, but also acknowledging that given his appearance there are going to be questions. Is it best to give a factual explanation to people who ask directly to model how to explain this condition? Or should I refuse to respond (which feels rude to me)? Is there an in-between option? Obviously, he doesn’t care now but he will in the future.

—Mommy, Why Does He Look Funny?

Dear MWDHLF,

You are indeed correct that your child will have years (decades!) of questions about his appearance ahead of him, which will run the gamut from polite curiosity to blatant rudeness. As he gets older, he will have every right to decide on his own how to react to such questions (and pointed looks).

What I think you can do over the next few years, while the questions are still directed to you, is to politely model both his right to medical privacy and the idea of social politeness by answering questions from strangers with “There are billions of people on the planet, and many of them look different from what you might be used to. This is what Charlie looks like. What’s your name?” Close friends and family can certainly know his exact condition, and he may grow up to want to share that information more widely, which is his call and can be done at his own pace.

Your child does not need to be a teachable moment for all and sundry. He will eventually get truly rude questions (“What happened to your face?”) and I want you to make sure you allow him the scope to occasionally say, “That’s a really inappropriate thing to say to a stranger” and not always have to be the Saintly Disabled Kid. My mother has a tremendous amount of scarring, and when an adult asks what happened to her she has a lightning-fast “terrible accident while masturbating” response which has, I believe, cured numerous nosy people from a lifetime of asking shit that’s none of their business.

Most of my friends and acquaintances with facial disfigurement (the term they, at least, prefer) have a ton of time for well-meaning questions from small children, and very little time for spit-take glances and interrogations from adults. Raise him with self-esteem and confidence and the concept of civility, but don’t make him think it’s his job to manage the emotions and embarrassments of others.

It sounds like you’re a great parent, and I’m glad you’re thinking about these questions early. Give him a squeeze for me.

—Nicole

Ask a Teacher

My daughter is a very bright first grader, excelling at both reading and math well beyond her grade level. Because of this, she has become quite bored and disengaged with school, and has even asked if I could teach her at home full-time (not currently a viable option). My parents have asked why I don’t just have her skip a grade. While it used to be more common, this option has not been presented to me by the school, and I have not heard of any child skipping a grade in years. Is grade-skipping still a thing?