24 answers

4 1/2 Year Old Won't Stop Peeing Her Pants

We are at wit's end with our 4 year old. She has a horrible habit of not going potty when she needs to. Her panties (and sometimes she) always reek of urine because she consistently pees in her panties a little, and then goes when it's super urgent. Since the baby was born in July she full on wets her pants, even though we ask her constantly to go potty. Mind you, this has been going on since before the baby came. It used to be just leaking, but she has had quite a few full on accidents since the baby came 8 weeks ago. We have tried punishing her with time outs, having her smell her underwear so she understands that peeing her panties is yucky, we've tried rewarding dry panties, we even bought her a necklace, tacked it up to the wall, made a 30 link long paper chain and told her if she can go dry for 30 days she can have the necklace (oddly enough, we still haven't had the chance to remove a single link). We've reiterated over and over that she is a big girl and that big girls don't pee in their pants. We both spend one on one time with her everyday, and include her in as many activities as we can as a "helper" or "big sister". We arrange playdates and invite relatives over to play with her. We've also taken steps to give her a little independence, so she can take pride in things like getting her own cups of water or snacks. Short of putting her back in diapers, I have no idea what to do. I feel like we've tried everything. Does anyone have any advice? We've talked to her doctor who said it was normal for little girls to "forget" to go, but our problem seems to be getting worse, not better. She's been potty trained since last June, but it wasn't like she said, "hey, I wanna use the potty!" it was more like, "you're going to start using the potty now" and I wonder if that is affecting her? She never wets the bed, so I know it isn't a medical issue, just a straight up behavioral issue.
ETA: I'd like to clarify for the people who read this and assume the worst.
We have spent plenty of time rewarding her for dry panties. Plenty. We rewarded her with snacks, with trips to the park, with extra cuddle time, with books, with movies, with games, slumber parties, putting her in preschool (which we'll have to take her out of if we put her back in diapers, and which she so badly wanted to go to), we've taken her to the store and let her pick out panties as a reward for dry panties, we've let her pick out new clothes, we've let her pick out new toys...so it's not like it's all been time outs.
Second, she's VERY sensitive to smells. She is very picky when it comes to things that smell unpleasant and in fact, talks about smells as a very integral part of her daily exploration ("Mommy! That smells like this, and I don't like the smell of that, and I wish this smelled like this, and at daycare so and so brought in something that was fun to play with but didn't smell very good!") . She was the first to comment on the smell of her baby sister's cloth diapers right before they get washed, which is what prompted us to tell her hey, your panties smell too when you pee in them. "You know, when you pee in your panties, they smell bad like baby's diapers do. Go you like to see for yourself," at which point, she grabbed a pair of her wet underwear off the floor and gingerly leaned close enough to smell them. "Yuck!" she said. "I know!" I said. "What can you do to prevent this? Oh, not pee in your panties? Well, then you need to run to the bathroom when you feel that tingle that says you have to go." It's not like we rub her nose in her dirty underwear and yell at her every time she has an accident, it was a one time thing, it was based on her observation of her sister's dirty diapers and was treated as a fact. It's no different than observing that Daddy farted and it stinks, or daughter took a bath and smells like melons, or Mommy brushed her teeth and has clean breath.

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Featured Answers

My daughter had similar issues. After my son was born, she started having accidents. She also has a problem with waiting too long to go to the bathroom.

Part of that could be physical. I remember as a child, not feeling like I had to go to the bathroom, then all of a sudden, having to go so bad that I had to run to the bathroom. I don't know whether I missed the early signals, or whether my body just wasn't sending them.

We finally helped my daughter get over her issues by leaving them alone. This was after a year of trying everything we could think of. In the end there was nothing we could do. I think she got some sort of satisfaction out of the struggle. So I sat her down and told her that if she peed in her pants she would have to wash her laundry. I also told her that I was not going to worry about what she did. I thought it was best for her to use the potty, but she was on her own. I then followed through on it. I helped her do her own laundry. And I completely separated myself, emotionally and physically, from the process. Eventually she took care of it on her own.

I don't know whether this helps with what you are going through. I hope you get some advice that helps you deal with this problem. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

When my oldest was already potty trained then lapsed to peeing her undies, I put her in a diaper. She was 3 1/2. One day I got so tired of it I layed her on my bed and put her in one of her cuisin's diapers. Oh she hated it, kicked and screamed the whole 20 minutes she had it on (and never got off my bed). I finally went back in there and took it off of her and never had a problem with her wetting again.
I know this doesnt work with all kids but it worked with her.

More Answers

Hi A.,

It sounds like everyone in the situation needs to take a BIG step back and gain some perspective. First of all, your daughter has just gone through an enormous transition: she's spent all of her life, so to speak, being your one and only, and now she is really having to share everything about your. It sounds like you are trying to include your daughter in the care of your new baby, however, I think that it's likely she's going to really miss the one-on-one with you.

It also sounds to me like the ante has been upped significantly. That is, she's getting LOTS and LOTS of attention and engagement in the area of wetting her pants. Whether it's "good" or "bad" attention, kids want our time and will do whatever necessary to get it. I understand that you feel like you are running out of option and may be at your wit's end...I get it, I really do. I've worked with some children who regressed in this way and it was extremely challenging.

One thing I have learned over the years is to neither punish nor reward children for biological functions. Period. I am as matter-of-fact as possible when kids have accidents, and when I have a "repeat" wetter, who I think is doing it for attention, I often put them in the bathroom to change themselves. Proactively, I tell them that I need to go do "x" (say, finish what I was doing, putting away something, doing a few more dishes...I invent a task for myself that takes about five minutes) and ask the child to go ahead and work on things and if they need help, I'll be back in a few minutes once I'm finished. This sends a message to the child that I am walking away, not because I'm mad at them, but because my work is important to me and I need them to take care of their own problem...but I will give them help when I can, if they need it. They are not abandoned, but they are not receiving the attention either. (Never make the task about the baby unless absolutely necessary!)

This Laissez-Faire approach often has the affect of softening the interaction between adult and child. Child realizes that the adult knows, and expects, that the child is capable of managing some self-care (I never say as much, it should not be discussed, just implied by calmness and action); and the adult let's themselves off the hook. This isn't YOUR problem, it's your daughter's challenge. Let her figure out how she's going to solve it. I have more details in the area, but my time is running short...personal message me if you feel like this is a route you'd like to try. In short...less talking from the adult, more letting go of the situation...she'll figure it out.

3 moms found this helpful

A. - I might be the only one that suggests this....
First, make sure there is not a medical reason she is having all of these accidents. (I am willing to bet there's not since she is staying dry all night)
Put her back in diapers, NOT pull-ups. Tell her that you are sorry that she is no longer able to make the choice to go the potty and that when she is willing to try the potty again she may go back in panties.
Stop talking about it with her. Let her come to you.
Seriously, that would make me just as angry and frustrated as you are. Good Luck to you
L.

2 moms found this helpful

I am sorry that you are going through this. Your post really expresses the frustration you are feeling.

Now I would strongly suggest that you go back to your pediatrician and ask them on how to best handle potty training. I happen to share his opinion that what your daughter is going through is perfectly normal AND the escalation of her wetting problem is also to be expected in the context you just having had a new sibling.

I really urge you to take a step back and look at your post and how you have been reacting to this. I am pretty sure (about 99.9%) that she is not doing this to provoke you. Yes, having a potty trained child is more convenient, but she may just not be ready and now the situation might have escalated into a point were she is actually even less in tune with her body because she is afraid of punishments.
This should not be about your feelings towards her wetting her pants, but about helping her taking a developmental hurdle.

Punishment and humiliation (making her smell her stained clothes) are just not good teaching strategies. You have some great ideas for positive rewards - just make them more achievable.
Take baby-steps with her, instead of having a 30 day goal, have a daily goal, or a weekly goal.

Your situation may have escalated to a point in both your and her perspective, that maybe taking a step back and starting fresh would be a good idea. Get some underwear like training pants, so you won't have to full on change her and deal with a "full accident" cleanup, while tending to your newborn.

Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful

I'm really sorry. I know how frustrating and even frightening this can be when you don't know WHAT to do to fix the problem!

I'm no expert: these are just some ideas.

1) emotional intensity. Sounds like there's a lot of EMOTIONAL INTENSITY surrounding this issue of peeing her pants. She feels your displeasure powerfully. She's not convinced in her own mind that she WANTS to go potty, PLUS there's the issue of the new baby sister. If possible, I would urge you not to react with emotion when she pees her pants. Don't get all upset, don't show you're upset. Be really matter of fact. (Who knows, you might already be this way.) Focus on action = CONSEQUENCE; don't focus on Bad behavior = disapproval/displeasure.

2) consequence. At this age, I would identify all the different places she cannot go or things she cannot do because she has gotten into the habit of peeing her pants. And make those be the consequence. This way you can matter of factly even sound sympathetic toward her that because she peed her pants, she will not be able to ... ? Sit on the couch and watch tv, go to the park, etc. because it's not safe for other kids to be playing on peed on equipment, you don't want to ruin the couch, etc. I mean, each time she has an accident you can spontainously decide what thing that will really affect her she can't do because her pee would ruin the thing.

3) make her clean up after herself and make it a real drag (not vindictively, but if she makes a puddle ont he floor, make her clean it up and don't let her quit til it's really cleaned up. Remind her, sympathetically, this is a real pain isn't it? It's so much quicker to just use the potty.

4) ? perhaps you should give it a rest for a few months? I don't know. I'm not saying you SHOULD. It depends on it you think it's taking over your whole relationship and doing damage to her emotional health, you might want to drop the subject and bring it up again later.

I don't think it is at all unusual to regress when a baby enters the family.

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A.,

I work as a behavior specialist with children from 3 to 13; here is the advice I would give to any parent I work with.

Stop punishing her for having the accidents but have natural consequences as well as rewards. Don't threaten her, it will only make it MUCH worse and she will then start to fear you which will cause her to hide things from you now and in the future--not the result you want. Natural consequences, as others have said, would be to have to clean up her mess--do the laundry she soils, take a bath, clean the floor if there is a puddle PLUS no reward for the day (nothing taken away just not earned). No big deal is made of this you simply say "oh, I'm so sorry you had an accident. Please get it cleaned up (you will help some especially until she learns what she has to do but make her do the bulk of the work remembering she is 4 so she won't do the "sparkling" job you would do) and we will try tomorrow to earn _________ (whatever you work out)". At this point you have her clean up and move on to the next activity. Her rewards would be "big girl" activities and she can earn one EVERY day. 4 year olds do not have the attention span to earn a weekly or monthly reward. When she has stayed dry she earns something that only kids who are potty trained can do like playing in the ball pit at McDonalds, that special necklace that big girls would wear, special time cooking in the kitchen with mom, etc... It doesn't have to be anything that costs you money just something that if she isn't potty trained she couldn't do--change it everyday or she will get bored and stop trying to earn it. You have to be consistant and don't put off giving her the reward--make the time to follow through everyday.

I see some people have posted that they don't like to reward kids for behaviors they should be having, that the feeling they get from accomplishment is the reward--I hear this frequently. What we as adults have to remember is that no matter how good we feel at the end of the day when we have done a good job and finished our work we still expect to have a paycheck at the end of the week or the end of the month--even if we love our jobs we don't do them soley because they make us feel good; why should a kid have to do a job with no pay and only because it makes them feel good?

I hope this helps, good luck to you and your daughter.

1 mom found this helpful

Well, she is a bit jealous, as she is no longer the center of attention. But you are doing a lot of the right things.

Tell her new rules.

My one suggestion would be to make the rewards come in one day at first. That would be more manageable for her. Thirty days is just to long right now. Make the reward something like having a grab bag of toys (not too expensive) and she gets to take one out. Make sure the bag is full of toys that she likes. Perhaps she can go to the store and help pick them out. So this goes on for a month.

Then she has to stay dry for two days at a time. The toys are better, because she has to stay dry for two days.

And I am sure you can see how the method would proceed for three days, and then four. When you get to five days, then she gets to take on parent to a movie or outing (beach, shopping for clothing, etc.).

Never react disappointed or angry. Do not punish. Just stay calm and return to the beginning day of the cycle that she is in.

Also, show her how to clean herself up, put her dirty underwear away, and get new underwear to put on. It is after all, her responsibility to take care of her body.

1 mom found this helpful

My daughter had similar issues. After my son was born, she started having accidents. She also has a problem with waiting too long to go to the bathroom.

Part of that could be physical. I remember as a child, not feeling like I had to go to the bathroom, then all of a sudden, having to go so bad that I had to run to the bathroom. I don't know whether I missed the early signals, or whether my body just wasn't sending them.

We finally helped my daughter get over her issues by leaving them alone. This was after a year of trying everything we could think of. In the end there was nothing we could do. I think she got some sort of satisfaction out of the struggle. So I sat her down and told her that if she peed in her pants she would have to wash her laundry. I also told her that I was not going to worry about what she did. I thought it was best for her to use the potty, but she was on her own. I then followed through on it. I helped her do her own laundry. And I completely separated myself, emotionally and physically, from the process. Eventually she took care of it on her own.

I don't know whether this helps with what you are going through. I hope you get some advice that helps you deal with this problem. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

I would suggest that first you need to make sure that the problem is not medical and if everything is fine, just put her in pull-up and back off. There have been far too much punishment here and that includes even the necklace that she can look at but can't have. I find your methods very unatracctive and all that is too much pressure for a 4 year old. Just let her do it on her own and when she is ready. You might be suprise with the results. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

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