I wonder if you could tell me if my daughter's behavior is not atypical for her age, and also what is the best way to handle it. My daughter is four and a half, and while she has never wet the bed, she still on occasion has accidents. I don't mean those little I-didn't-quite-make-it-to-the-bathroom accidents; I mean a-gallon-of-pee-all-over-the-new-couch accidents. I had thought we had finally gotten beyond this, as she hadn't had one of these episodes in a couple of months, but then today the floodgates opened once more.
When a child is two or three and just being potty-trained, accidents are to be expected. I know that the appropriate response is to be matter-of-fact about the slip and to find the positive. I've certainly tried that even up through age four: "Gee, you didn't make it to the toilet on time, but at least you made it to the bathroom, which is a good thing." But finding the positive is not always easy, or - looking at my sad couch right now -- even possible.
I don't know if it is significant, but we adopted our little girl from another country when she was about 12 months old. She's reasonably bright, though socially she is a bit young for her age compared to her classmates.
I'm just wondering if, at her age, I should be using different tactics to help her (and me!) with this. The responses that work well with a three-year-old are perhaps not as effective with a preschooler. Thank you for any advice on this "sticky" problem!
From: Adoptive mom, Georgetown
Dear Adoptive Mom,
There are a number of possibilities for you to explore:
1. Urinary tract infection. If she's complained about pain or itching, and even if she hasn't, UTIs are not uncommon in girls this age, and it's worth checking out, even if just to rule it out.
2. Is there a stress in the family or extended family, someone sick or dying, out of work? Are you having a problem? Children pick up on our stress and it can cause regression.
3. Is there a stress in her life, maybe something at preschool? Is her favorite teacher or a best playmate leaving? Is there a pressure at school that may be stressing her out -- something she's being teased about because she is more "babyish" or not as accomplished as classmates? Is there conversation (already!?) about kindergarten and being "grown up"? Worry about kindergarten ("What if I can't do X....?") is often a source of regression. Ask teachers or caregivers if they are aware of any of these issues.
Underlying all of these issues, of course, is the fact of her adoption at 12 months old. Any of the events I've listed above could be a trigger for her to something that happened in the first year of her life that could, in turn, lead to these kind of accidents.
You don't want to respond in anger (even though you have to be feeling some of that!); you don't want to pretend this isn't a big deal because, at 4, she knows it is. In fact, you hit the nail on the head when you wonder if your response needs to be different because she is older. Yes. At 4 1/2, she's not only cognitively more aware of her own abilities, but she's also more aware of the effect her behaviors have on those around her. She surely feels badly, even ashamed and humiliated, for ruining the brand new couch: "I'm 4 1/2 years old! Wetting the couch is what babies do, and I'm not a baby!"
A good starting point is to identify and acknowledge her feelings: "That must have made you feel bad yesterday when you wet the couch." That's likely going to lead somewhere, and your next response needs to be collaborative and supportive at the same time, so that she can be part of the solution. If she says, "Maybe I need to go to the bathroom every time before I sit on the couch," you can be sure she will do it willingly, rather than if you impose that as a new rule. Plus, coming up with the solution herself will give her the power and confidence she needs as a 4 1/2 year old. So ask her, "What ideas do you have about why this is happening? What ideas do you have so it won't happen again?"
Meanwhile, I would also tell her, "Let's talk to the pediatrician; sometimes there's a small infection and that's why accidents happen."
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