Ask Dr. Sears: Peeing In Other Places

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Ask Dr. Sears: Peeing In Other Places

Q  Our 3-year-old son has been using the toilet effectively for six months, but in the last week or so he has taken to secretly peeing in places other than the bathroom. When I found out and asked why, he said, “I was mad”; another time he said, “because I wanted to.” Do you have any idea why this is happening, and how to help him stop?
[ANSWER {With most developmental milestones such as toilet training, it’s normal for children, especially boys, to take two steps forward  — and then one step backward. Emotional and physical upsets can be a cause of regression. Expect setbacks during a change of family routine, such as a move, a new sibling, a new preschool, or a new caregiver. Try these tips to get your child back on track:

Identify the trigger. Journalize what’s different about the days he pees in the wrong place. Does it happen when he goes to preschool or to the home of a caregiver? Or when you are particularly busy? Once you have pinpointed the emotional triggers, try to eliminate them as much as possible.

Play show and tell. Young children like reading books about bodily functions, so use a picture book, such as my book You Can Go to the Potty, to reinforce the use of the potty. Help him identify with the boys in the book, explaining that “big boys” normally use the potty when they have to go.

Try peer pressure. Invite over a bunch of toilet-trained 3-year-olds for the day. Ideally your son will see the other kids go on the potty and not behind trees or secret places. This “group therapy” teaches your child that going to the potty is what kids his age are expected to do.

Shadow your child. Watch him for signs that he needs to go, such as squatting, peering down at his privates, or retreating to a corner. As soon as you see the sign, say the prompt “go potty” as you usher him to the potty. Sometimes little boys get so engrossed in play that they pee in the closest place rather than search out the bathroom.

Offer rewards. If your child is going through a stage of wanting to show he’s in control, reinforce how fun it is to be a big boy. Tell him, “Big boys who use the potty get special treats, such as riding a tricycle.” When you give him rewards for proper potty use, be sure to plant the connection between those big-boy rewards and the big-boy responsibility of urinating where he’s supposed to.

Chart his progress. Put a calendar on his bedroom wall and add a gold star or a “P” for every day he uses the potty. After five straight days of going in appropriate places, he gets a treat.

Play the “pick a potty” game. Since your goal is peeing in the potty and nowhere else, take him to an infant product store and let him pick out his own potty. Toddlers are more likely to use the potty they choose.

Expect a certain amount of “peeing behind trees” or in corners around the side of the house. For your son, determining when and where he pees is part of being in control of his body parts. This is a normal stage for little boys. As long as the mishaps are occasional and not in public, overlook them. Once your son gets to preschool or school, he will be expected to go potty in only one place, and he’s likely to obey.}]