[This letter has been edited and condensed.]
My daughter is turning 5 next week. She has a sister 13 months older and a brother who just turned 2. I thought she was "potty trained." After my son was born, she would go to the bathroom and have no accidents. She was almost 3 at that time and seemed fine for 2 months or so. Then one day she peed her pants six times, and ever since, she has peed them EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I have not reverted back to diapers. I have set the potty timer, I have rewarded and had potty charts... but lately I have just become very frustrated and angry. I have taken away everything I can think of, telling her she can have her toys/dolls back when she keeps her pants dry for a day. She crosses her arms and says, "Anyways, I don't like playing." She is stubborn. I have taken her to the doctor .... three times! They have tested her urine and examined her physically. Nothing is wrong there. She has few accidents outside of the home; mostly they happen only at home.
I feel horrible, because I will get so upset. I say things to her that I later regret... pointing out her age and how there is no reason to be peeing her pants, letting her know she stinks like pee. I compare her to other children. I always apologize when I lose my temper, telling her I love her no matter what, even when she pees her pants. I try to explain to her how it really upsets me because it seems like nothing I do will help correct this situation.
Today I am upset with her because ...she lied about peeing in her pants. She lied several times and even asked me if I was proud of her for keeping them dry. I found her wet underpants behind the toilet. I understand why she would lie, to avoid my being upset. I don't like that she carried the lie on for so long and lied several times about it. She is now sitting in her room.
I just really don't know what to do anymore. This has been happening for two years now. She still wears a diaper at night because if she doesn't, the bed is wet. Surely she won't still be peeing her pants at the age of 8. Maybe I just need to ignore it... which I have tried as well. And, it didn't fix anything, but it did help me feel a lot less frustrated.
From: Steph, Warrensburg, MO
Wow, two years is a long time to let a problem like this fester. In fact, in the course of these two years, I would say that you have unwittingly created a secondary problem: an interpersonal dynamic with this child that, in her mind, depends on negative behavior.
Here are what I take as givens in your story: That's what kids do. Surely when she started having the accidents, it was a form of regression, coming only two months after her brother was born. But it got her attention and, with a new baby in the house, that's what she wanted. That it is negative attention is not a problem to her. As time passed, with three kids close in age, there's plenty of vying for attention; that's just the nature of the beast. For her, the attention that came from having accidents became part of a routine: she'd have an accident, and she knew what to expect from you. Believe it or not, that made her feel safe and secure. It's comfortable, even.
That you have gotten more angry and frustrated over time -- especially so much time -- isn't so good; at this point, even she probably has a sixth sense about that. But she's only 5: she doesn't know how to break the cycle. It's up to you to do that.
My suggestion is for you to do two, possibly three, things:
Step one: Build in time on a daily basis to give each child five minutes of undivided attention. (You can't just do this with her; then you'll have problems with the other two.) Label this as "Mom & Sara's time," etc. Make it clear that no one can interrupt. Let the child choose what you do during this time: cuddle? read a story? walk around the block? If you can't squeeze fifteen minutes out of each day, then make a schedule where each day is a different child's turn. The point is for her, especially, to see that she has your undivided attention. That she can have access to you for no reason other than being your daughter.
Step two: Ask her how she feels about having accidents. Your email is filled with how you feel, but -- trust me -- at 5, she can't be really happy about this, either. She knows that her peers are not still having all these accidents. Ask her how you can help her to stop having the accidents. Taking away toys or other so-called punishments? Just stop doing that and tell her you're going to stop doing that. She needs to feel supported. See what ideas she has. Would she like to wear pull ups during the day? Would she like to pick out all new big-girl underwear and just decide to have no more accidents? At 5, she may well be able to do just that, with support and incentive. When she has an accident, remain neutral; don't show your anger. Make sure she knows how to clean herself, where to put the wet panties, and how to put on fresh ones. Don't even be involved. If she lies and you smell pee, tell her, "I smell something which makes me think you aren't being truthful. Please go in the bathroom and check, and then take care of yourself. When you're fresh and clean , we can be together."
The less you feed into the dynamic, the more you will be able to change it.
The third step? If this doesn't feel doable for any reason, please seek professional help. Your daughter is suffering, and you are, too.
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