She has to go potty...oops...
June 16, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Suggestions for dealing with an increase in potty accidents in an almost-four-year-old?

My daughter's been potty trained for a year and a half or so. Occasionally she'd have pee accidents when she got totally distracted, but overall quite good. Lately, not so good---her pee accident frequency has gone way up, and she's even had two poop accidents in the last three days, where she never had poop accidents before. (Mind you, the first one is excusable, because we were in the car and couldn't get to a potty immediately, and then she/we were distracted when we got home.)

I'm pretty sure this is all psychologically related: we're moving to Alaska in a month and a half, packing, trying to sell the house (with the accompanying life disruption caused by showings), daycare's out of session so her schedule is all wonky...and it's not like there's no stress in the household. Oh, and she has an 11-month old sister who's getting some of the attention of the household, and she (the almost 4-year-old) has been exhibiting other "regression" behavior, like incessantly taking her sister's binkies and wanting to "play baby" a lot.

So, I'm looking for suggestions for ways to appropriately handle the accidents when they occur and/or things we can be doing to make them not happen. It's going to be especially hard if she has accidents either on the road or while she's staying with my parents for 4 days later this summer (we have an elaborate "getting to Fairbanks" plan which will take about three weeks, all told, which will involve some long driving days).
posted by leahwrenn to Human Relations (9 answers total)
I'd put her in pull-ups temporarily. It's not a punishment, just a practicality. Once things have settled down, hopefully she'll get her groove back.
posted by originalname37 at 8:25 AM on June 16, 2009

We've had something similar happen at almost exactly the same age. I suggest that you should definitely not focus on it - i.e. don't make it a big deal, raise your voice, get upset, etc. We took the subtle approach when it happened - "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry that happened - I know you're a big girl, and big girls go in the potty. You'll do better next time." The implication that she might not be a big girl if she allows it to happen is a big motivator.
posted by jbickers at 8:35 AM on June 16, 2009

I don't have a solution, but I want to say that we've been going through this same thing with our 4.5 year old daughter -- she'll go weeks without an accident, then we'll see weeks where she has one (or more) almost every single day. On again/off again. This cycle has repeated itself over the last six months or so. Talking to the parents of her peers and her preschool teachers indicates that this isn't all that unusual. Other than forcing our daughter to use the potty before every activity or trip outside, and trying to stay at least somewhat positive (but firm) about the situation, I'm not sure what can be done. It is a phase that she will almost certainly grow out of, but in the meantime, we just try to get her to use the potty as often as possible.
posted by mosk at 8:39 AM on June 16, 2009

You know, I think that it might be wise to treat it like any other behavior that you're not especially thrilled with, in that you could just be very low-key about dealing with the accidents, causing them to be occurrences that get no extra attention, which is what she's looking for. Then try to give her that extra attention in a more acceptable way to you, which I know is hard to find time for in your obviously busy life right now (by the way, good luck with all that!).

Maybe you could also try to stress all of the cool things about being older, like "Baby sure wishes that she could ride her own bike, or try ice cream, or whatever your older child values".

There's so much going on in her life right now, she must be desperate for some more predictability and certainty. You could also stress all of the comforting routines that her life still has, or even try to add some fun new ones.

And really, you can just be practical and return to pull-ups for a while, if it becomes necessary, as originalname37 suggests, but you can explain to her that it's just for a while. Good Luck!
posted by Samantha the Curious at 8:47 AM on June 16, 2009

When we moved cities and DD started wetting her bed after being dry for a year or so, my mother did something that worked even though I was horrified at the time: she promised my DD a nickle for each time she stayed dry. Worked like a charm. I thought it was a horrible idea and thought I'd end up paying for everything I wanted her to do. It lasted a couple of months and then the nickles just stopped coming without DD noticing. I asked a child psychiatrist much later who told me that children are just like adults, they like to be rewarded for their accomplishments and that the nickle was no big deal. Me, I'd go for pull-ups and time.
posted by x46 at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2009

She's facing significant life changes right at the moment. It stresses out the adults as well as the child. She needs time and reassurance. Regression behavior in a child her age is pretty normal given the younger sibling and the huge move.

Give her extra cuddle time. If she's still taking an afternoon nap, you can cuddle with her for 5 to 10 minutes before nap. You can do so again as part of your evening routine too.

Even though life is a bit crazy, you can provide a bit of a structure and encourage her to take a potty break once every couple of hours. Even if she's not showing signs of having to go, take her to the potty. Take her to the potty before you leave the house and again as soon as you return. If you go out to eat, build in time for a potty run.

When accidents happen, it is easy to get frustrated that it is one more thing you have to clean up or deal with and you really cannot let it wait. However, don't make it a big deal to her. Just take an "oh well" attitude and quickly clean it up. Making it a big deal will make this whole thing much more emotional for her than necessary.

Lavish her with love and reassurance that the new house will be so cool and the move will be an adventure. Talk about her new bedroom and where she thinks she can put all her stuff. Talk about how exciting it is to meet new friends and see new places. Give her the cuddles and have extra patience with her.

Good luck with the move.
posted by onhazier at 9:22 AM on June 16, 2009

My son, at 4, did the same thing. We had no other new stress happening, and many people assured me that it was an "age thing". I'd imagine stress wouldn't help the situation, though.

At night, we went back to using Pull-Ups. I firmly believe all kids - and adults - should have waterproof mattress protectors on their bed (they make them soft and soundless and cool now, unlike the rubber sheets of my own childhood!) as it makes clean-up a breeze whether for pee or a glass of water.

In the daytime, we started by regularly asking him to "try" using the toilet - before big things (like leaving the house) and before smaller things (like when he was going to go play on the Wii with his brothers and would likely get distracted) and random times in between, just to get him used to the idea of paying attention to how his body was feeling. If we knew he was in for a high-distraction outing or event, we used Pull-Ups.

We also taught him what to do when he had an accident - rather than stand in the puddle weeping. He learned how to use a cloth to wipe up the puddle on the floor (if needed, after which the adults would handle the full-on cleaning of the floor with some cleanser) how to get out of the wet clothes, what to do with them (in our case, put them on the tiled floor in the bathroom instead of his bedroom floor) and to run and get his towel so he could have a quick clean-up shower before going back to playing.

Obviously we couldn't expect him to handle all of it on his own, but it was a good step for him to get in on the 'work' of cleaning up. We didn't do it in a humiliating way, just in a matter-of-fact, "Oh, you peed. Well, we better start cleaning that up together, huh?" and then we would.
posted by VioletU at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2009

Our daughter around age two and a half or so was completely toilet trained and started peeing (no poops) out of the blue, months after any kind of diapers. I thought maybe there were some new stresses--all that psychological stuff you tell yourself.

Well, guess what? She had a completely abnormal kidney system, which showed up two years later during a low-grade fever with no explanation. (To this day, I feel guilty that I never brought in a urine sample earlier when the pediatrician had asked for it. Her kidney infection did some damage between the time of the unexpected peeing and the final diagnosis.) Your child probably doesn't have that since the other end of the plumbing is involved as well. But ask the pediatrician what might be going on.
posted by Elsie at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2009

Might want to have her checked for a UTI as this can sometimes cause accidents in an already potty trained child.
posted by tamitang at 10:01 PM on June 16, 2009

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