Accidents that aren't accidents

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 15, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I have a potty training predicament. My oldest who is 3.5 years old has been potty training for the past few weeks. We have seen the normal regression from time to time and a few accidents here and there. We just can't get him to turn the corner. What confuses me is when he is at day care (with a family member in her house) he can wear underwear all day long and stay dry. As soon as he comes home, all potty trips stop and he just goes in his pants. We have come to our wits end and have no idea just what is causing him to totally regress when he walks in the house. He went over 12 times yesterday for his care provider and today he wet his pants 4 times before lunch and has not gone on the potty once. Any help would be great. I am beginning to feel like it is something we are subconsciously doing to him.

From: Wet in Norwell

Dear Wet in Norwell,

If these "accidents" only happen at home, then they aren't accidents: He likes the attention they bring him, even if it's negative attention. Since you say he's your oldest and he's only 3 1/2, I'm gonna take a leap here and assume that there's a baby (or two?) in the family. Instead of just seeing the accidents as a pain in the neck (which, of course, they are!), pretend they are a cry for attention: "Hey, mom, I'm not getting as much of you as I like to have and having these accidents at least gives me your undivided attention. You know, like before the baby was born."

Here are two suggestions:

1. Create "Mommy & Me" time. Announce it to your son as a special time each day -- it can be as little as five minutes -- when the two of you will do something together. It's such a special time that there are no interruptions. Make a point to turn off your phones, and to make sure there's someone else there for the other children. Let him choose the activity from a few you suggest. I'm talking low-key activities that encourage intimacy and interaction, like sitting on your lap and reading a favorite book, or having a snack under a tree in the back yard. He will see that he has your undivided time and doesn't need to act out to get it.

2. Don't react to the accidents in any way. Stay matter of fact & neutral. Don't scold, show exasperation or even talk about it. Ask him to help you clean up by getting clean underwear or clothes. Don't talk about it to any adults if there's even a chance he will overhear & stop talking about any aspect of his potty behavior. Once you stop giving him attention for the behavior, it will be less interesting to him.

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10 comments so far...
  1. Pretty much the same thing has been happening with my 3.5 year old except we've been at this since February. My kid has a strong personality.. It is frustrating to no end. I wish I had better advice for you but at the same time I am happy we are not alone going through this. Good Luck

    Posted by Jd June 15, 10 09:44 AM
  1. Make the wet pants HIS responsibility. 3.5 is old enough to get new clothes and change himself.

    Posted by MITBeta June 15, 10 11:29 AM
  1. My advice is to train your other children earlier! (especially if they are strong-willed) Older kids get into control behavior around potty training - it may be faster to train them but there are often more "issues" (refusal, getting diapers to poop, regression etc.)

    Why don't you temporarily make potty trips the bonding time for you? Have him tell you and say you'll go with him each time. Read him a book in there, make a big deal of him going etc.

    Don't let on that the accidents bother you AT ALL... And don't sweat it. He hasn't been at it all that long. It is difficult for him to get into a new routine, remember that he has already been trained to go in a diaper (he's been doing it for 3.5 years!) so he needs to both un-learn that behavior and learn to do something new. Also, think through some of the differences... maybe there is more of a rhythm to his day at the daycare, maybe the toilet is in a more obvious place, maybe they are actually taking him there at regular intervals or reminding him every hour.

    Good luck! This too shall pass...

    Posted by CeeCee June 15, 10 01:45 PM
  1. It might help using a reward systems. If you haven't used one, it will be a novelty. If you have, you can come up with something a bit new; it does not have to be costly; it could be a "ticket to do a special activity of his choice with mom/dad".

    We've been using a stickers that we place on a mat/paper we placed on the bathroom door. Every time she does #1 she gets a sticker of her choice from a packet that we only use for potty training. Every time she does #2 she gets a reward from a special bag where we have little toys from the $1 store and CVS, etc, (little doll, cell phone toy, book, coloring book, new crayons, etc) and she can choose one.

    She looks forward to getting her rewards and is exciting to let us know of her accomplishment.

    In your case, it might be related to the new baby in the house... Deal with the mess without focusing on the negative and by including him in the cleanup, and move on to a new subject swifly. Best of luck.

    Posted by rmg June 15, 10 02:35 PM
  1. We have been going through something similar with a very strong-willed boy. The control issues here are complicated. The goal is for him to take control of his body functions, but right now that means going to the potty when YOU say. So where's the autonomy for him?

    The good news is it does get better, and the advice here so far is worth following. When you get the inevitable "I potty trained my child in one day and s/he never has accidents" comments (and you will), remember: these are the same people whose babies slept through the night at four weeks old. They are either a) lying; b) showing off in order to make you feel inadequate; c) just plain showing off; or d) all of the above.

    Posted by DA Mom June 16, 10 10:26 AM
  1. How to you know that your son is dry with daycare provider and they are not covering up accidents ?? Anyway, it sounds to me like you need to implement reward system- stickers and positive feedback once he comes thru the doorway. Also, if he does have an accident, help explain to him that he needs to go to the bathroom and have him clean up himself with you watching him. If all fails, I hate to say it but have him run around without clothes for a few days and start again -asking him every 10 minutes, do you have to go to the bathroom? Good luck, but he's like every other child so be strong and eventually you'll work it together.

    Posted by jmc June 16, 10 12:08 PM
  1. This happened with our son (age 3.5) when our daughter was born. He was completely potty trained at daycare and would have accidents at home every night and on the weekends. We tried using rewards, but he quickly lost interest. He told me he "had enough prizes." The pediatrician told us it was related to the birth of our daughter and not to make a big deal out of it. He said not to worry, that he would get it eventually. We followed his advice and around my son's 4th birthday, everything just clicked and he stopped having accidents at home. It helped minimize accidents if we had him use the potty right before he left day care or right when we walked in the door at home. This worked sometimes, but not all the time, so we didn't push him when he wasn't interested. He got it eventually. Don't be too hard on yourself. Hang in here. Your son will turn the corner when he is ready.

    Posted by JBP June 16, 10 01:21 PM
  1. I hear you DAMom. I have a strong willed boy too and it is hard trying to get him to give up control. He doesn't like adult driven activities of any sorts...he wants to control things himself so if tell him to something..he will do the opposite just because. For me, I hear people say how hard it was training their kids but hearing them say it makes me wish they were in my shoes because my kid is clearly more difficult to train than theirs..(not to say it wasn't difficult for them) but Stickers and rewards simply don't work for all kids. My kid liked stickers for one day and then was not one bit interested. All kids are different so to say stickers will work is not true for all. Yes I agree with a reward systems as opposed to punishing. It isn't good to punish a potty training child for not going or whatever. NOw for my kid, it is coming down to "if you want to play with your Train Table, then you need to go on the potty if not, then I have to take it back to the store " So in that sense, a reward system may work. but the LW will have to tweek to her own child's temperment. I also agree that maybe letting heim run outside naked or in undies may sound harsh but sorry but it just may be the thing that will work for this LW

    Posted by JD June 16, 10 01:25 PM
  1. How about a change - not of the pants - of your language.

    "Accident"? No. Have we forgotten (rhetorical question) that what children do is perfectly natural. It's no accident. It just happens.

    Stigmatizing and stressing when a child's age can be easily determined with one hand deserves a re-think. They are not here for our convenience and did not pop out "trained" and ready to conform.

    When they're ready, they're ready. This is a principle that only the years will teach you. Take it to heart now before it's too late.

    Posted by Mark Richards June 17, 10 05:34 AM
  1. So here's the follow up. I want to make a few points.
    1. I am a dad, not a mom - surprise!
    2. My day care provider is my sister in law, she has no need to cover anything up.
    3. We use a reward system already, he loves it.
    4. We don't use the word accident.
    5. Most importantly, my wife has been an Operating Nurse for 19 years, she has seen literally dozens upon dozens of kids under the age of 3 that have needed surgery to repair damage to their bladders due to overzealous parents "forcing" them to go. I really don't care what any of you commenter's say about that, I'll change diapers till the kids tell me they are ready to try. End of story on the age front.

    And Yes Barb, we have 2.5 yr old girl and a third due in about 3-4 wks. Just over the past week or so he has done wonderful. We stopped reacting to the accidents and bought him one of those Lysol Automatic soap dispensers ( he LOVES to wash his hands & brush his teeth) as an incentive to go. So we are "accident" free for well over 10 days now. He even stays dry at night too. He's setting a very good example for his little sister.

    I think the key was that we completely removed our emotion from the scenario, and that seemed to help things tremendously. Now if we could just get to get over this "fear of pooping" phase so may toddlers seem to have we'll be good. One day at a time.

    Thanks to everybody for their input, even if some of it is ill informed, its the thought that counts

    Posted by Wet in Norwell June 22, 10 02:42 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. Pretty much the same thing has been happening with my 3.5 year old except we've been at this since February. My kid has a strong personality.. It is frustrating to no end. I wish I had better advice for you but at the same time I am happy we are not alone going through this. Good Luck

    Posted by Jd June 15, 10 09:44 AM
  1. Make the wet pants HIS responsibility. 3.5 is old enough to get new clothes and change himself.

    Posted by MITBeta June 15, 10 11:29 AM
  1. My advice is to train your other children earlier! (especially if they are strong-willed) Older kids get into control behavior around potty training - it may be faster to train them but there are often more "issues" (refusal, getting diapers to poop, regression etc.)

    Why don't you temporarily make potty trips the bonding time for you? Have him tell you and say you'll go with him each time. Read him a book in there, make a big deal of him going etc.

    Don't let on that the accidents bother you AT ALL... And don't sweat it. He hasn't been at it all that long. It is difficult for him to get into a new routine, remember that he has already been trained to go in a diaper (he's been doing it for 3.5 years!) so he needs to both un-learn that behavior and learn to do something new. Also, think through some of the differences... maybe there is more of a rhythm to his day at the daycare, maybe the toilet is in a more obvious place, maybe they are actually taking him there at regular intervals or reminding him every hour.

    Good luck! This too shall pass...

    Posted by CeeCee June 15, 10 01:45 PM
  1. It might help using a reward systems. If you haven't used one, it will be a novelty. If you have, you can come up with something a bit new; it does not have to be costly; it could be a "ticket to do a special activity of his choice with mom/dad".

    We've been using a stickers that we place on a mat/paper we placed on the bathroom door. Every time she does #1 she gets a sticker of her choice from a packet that we only use for potty training. Every time she does #2 she gets a reward from a special bag where we have little toys from the $1 store and CVS, etc, (little doll, cell phone toy, book, coloring book, new crayons, etc) and she can choose one.

    She looks forward to getting her rewards and is exciting to let us know of her accomplishment.

    In your case, it might be related to the new baby in the house... Deal with the mess without focusing on the negative and by including him in the cleanup, and move on to a new subject swifly. Best of luck.

    Posted by rmg June 15, 10 02:35 PM
  1. We have been going through something similar with a very strong-willed boy. The control issues here are complicated. The goal is for him to take control of his body functions, but right now that means going to the potty when YOU say. So where's the autonomy for him?

    The good news is it does get better, and the advice here so far is worth following. When you get the inevitable "I potty trained my child in one day and s/he never has accidents" comments (and you will), remember: these are the same people whose babies slept through the night at four weeks old. They are either a) lying; b) showing off in order to make you feel inadequate; c) just plain showing off; or d) all of the above.

    Posted by DA Mom June 16, 10 10:26 AM
  1. How to you know that your son is dry with daycare provider and they are not covering up accidents ?? Anyway, it sounds to me like you need to implement reward system- stickers and positive feedback once he comes thru the doorway. Also, if he does have an accident, help explain to him that he needs to go to the bathroom and have him clean up himself with you watching him. If all fails, I hate to say it but have him run around without clothes for a few days and start again -asking him every 10 minutes, do you have to go to the bathroom? Good luck, but he's like every other child so be strong and eventually you'll work it together.

    Posted by jmc June 16, 10 12:08 PM
  1. This happened with our son (age 3.5) when our daughter was born. He was completely potty trained at daycare and would have accidents at home every night and on the weekends. We tried using rewards, but he quickly lost interest. He told me he "had enough prizes." The pediatrician told us it was related to the birth of our daughter and not to make a big deal out of it. He said not to worry, that he would get it eventually. We followed his advice and around my son's 4th birthday, everything just clicked and he stopped having accidents at home. It helped minimize accidents if we had him use the potty right before he left day care or right when we walked in the door at home. This worked sometimes, but not all the time, so we didn't push him when he wasn't interested. He got it eventually. Don't be too hard on yourself. Hang in here. Your son will turn the corner when he is ready.

    Posted by JBP June 16, 10 01:21 PM
  1. I hear you DAMom. I have a strong willed boy too and it is hard trying to get him to give up control. He doesn't like adult driven activities of any sorts...he wants to control things himself so if tell him to something..he will do the opposite just because. For me, I hear people say how hard it was training their kids but hearing them say it makes me wish they were in my shoes because my kid is clearly more difficult to train than theirs..(not to say it wasn't difficult for them) but Stickers and rewards simply don't work for all kids. My kid liked stickers for one day and then was not one bit interested. All kids are different so to say stickers will work is not true for all. Yes I agree with a reward systems as opposed to punishing. It isn't good to punish a potty training child for not going or whatever. NOw for my kid, it is coming down to "if you want to play with your Train Table, then you need to go on the potty if not, then I have to take it back to the store " So in that sense, a reward system may work. but the LW will have to tweek to her own child's temperment. I also agree that maybe letting heim run outside naked or in undies may sound harsh but sorry but it just may be the thing that will work for this LW

    Posted by JD June 16, 10 01:25 PM
  1. How about a change - not of the pants - of your language.

    "Accident"? No. Have we forgotten (rhetorical question) that what children do is perfectly natural. It's no accident. It just happens.

    Stigmatizing and stressing when a child's age can be easily determined with one hand deserves a re-think. They are not here for our convenience and did not pop out "trained" and ready to conform.

    When they're ready, they're ready. This is a principle that only the years will teach you. Take it to heart now before it's too late.

    Posted by Mark Richards June 17, 10 05:34 AM
  1. So here's the follow up. I want to make a few points.
    1. I am a dad, not a mom - surprise!
    2. My day care provider is my sister in law, she has no need to cover anything up.
    3. We use a reward system already, he loves it.
    4. We don't use the word accident.
    5. Most importantly, my wife has been an Operating Nurse for 19 years, she has seen literally dozens upon dozens of kids under the age of 3 that have needed surgery to repair damage to their bladders due to overzealous parents "forcing" them to go. I really don't care what any of you commenter's say about that, I'll change diapers till the kids tell me they are ready to try. End of story on the age front.

    And Yes Barb, we have 2.5 yr old girl and a third due in about 3-4 wks. Just over the past week or so he has done wonderful. We stopped reacting to the accidents and bought him one of those Lysol Automatic soap dispensers ( he LOVES to wash his hands & brush his teeth) as an incentive to go. So we are "accident" free for well over 10 days now. He even stays dry at night too. He's setting a very good example for his little sister.

    I think the key was that we completely removed our emotion from the scenario, and that seemed to help things tremendously. Now if we could just get to get over this "fear of pooping" phase so may toddlers seem to have we'll be good. One day at a time.

    Thanks to everybody for their input, even if some of it is ill informed, its the thought that counts

    Posted by Wet in Norwell June 22, 10 02:42 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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