I received this question from a reader, and with her permission, I’m answering it here on the blog.

Dr. Naumburg,

My 7 year old daughter has started having pee accidents again, and yesterday she peed on the side of the soccer field during her game! I saw her squatting and I assumed she was trying to hold it in until she could make it to the bathroom, but nope, she was peeing. Right there, on the side of the field, right through her clothes. I’ve tried everything – timers, reminders, sticker charts, even telling her that her friends will see if she pees her pants, and they might make fun of her–and she just doesn’t seem to care. I know she’s capable of making it to the toilet in time, because she often goes weeks or months without accidents, and then it starts again! I’m at my wit’s end. Any advice??

Thanks,
Mother of a Free-Range Pee-er

Dear Mother of a Free-Range Pee-er,

Oh dear. Right there on the soccer field. That must have been quite a sight. I’m sorry you’re both dealing with this. Without violating my kids’ privacy, let’s just say, I can totally relate.

I have some suggestions for you, and I share them with this caveat: there is rarely a magic bullet when it comes to potty training. Some kids figure it out right away, some kids take a little longer, and some kids pee on the side of the field in the middle of soccer games. If you happen to be in that last unfortunate category, please keep these points in mind:

  • Dealing with this is just a huge pain in the butt. It just is, and the sooner you can accept that, the easier it will be.
  • You’re not alone, and neither is your daughter. You may think every other second grader on the planet is consistently dry, but I promise you, they’re not.
  • It’s unlikely you will fix this overnight. I hope I’m wrong, and if I am, then you rock. But if I’m right, and this does take awhile to resolve, please remember it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong. It’s because children are an inconvenient truth and you just can’t force them to use the toilet.
  • This too shall pass. It might pass like a damn kidney stone, but it will pass, so hang in there.

Having said that, here are my recommendations for you:

  • Before you do anything else, sit down and have a good laugh (just not in front of your child, or in any public space–shaming or embarrassing her isn’t cool). Once your little free range pee-er is in bed, text your best friend with all the details, and laugh your ass off. I mean, COME ON, it’s hilarious. Your kid, in that moment, had no f*cks left to give. In the middle of a busy soccer field? Gotta pee? No toilet in sight? Who gives a f*ck?! Children are absurd, and if you can’t laugh at it, well, parenting is going to be a lot harder and less fun. So, with all due respect to your daughter, go ahead and laugh until you pee yourself just a little bit.
  • Now that we’ve taken care of that… You mentioned that your kiddo is capable of staying dry for extended periods of time, so I’m assuming that she doesn’t have a urinary tract infection or other medical issue. If for some reason I’m wrong, or your gut is telling you there might be something up, be sure to check with your pediatrician.
  • Talk to your daughter. Wait until you’re both in a good enough mood and have some private time, and then get curious with her about what’s going on. As I mentioned above, there’s no need to shame her; just the opposite. Let her know she’s not the only 7 year old who struggles with this. That’s not the same as telling her it’s ok, because it’s not. But when she knows she’s not alone, she may feel less anxious or ashamed about it, and thus more likely to try to deal with the problem rather than avoiding or ignoring it.
  • Try not to get too pissed off. (Pun fully intended; how could I not?) I know it’s frustrating, but there’s nothing to get mad about. It’s just another bump in the road, and you’ll get through it. If you find yourself getting overly angry and screaming, snapping, or even sternly lecturing on a regular basis, that’s probably a sign that you need a little time off and a lot more space from those wet Hello Kitty undies.
  • Fortunately, you can get that space. Your daughter is 7 years old, she’s perfectly capable of cleaning up her own mess. Make sure she knows that it’s her job to change her clothes and put her wet stuff in the washing machine. It’s also her job to keep extra clothes in her backpack for school, and to take out the wet ones at the end of the day. Please, don’t do this for her.
  • I hear how hard you have been working to help your daughter stay on top of her bodily functions, so please remember this–you should not be working harder on this than she is. If she wants your help, you can help her come up with strategies, or teach her how to set a timer on her watch, or devise a secret hand signal that will allow you to check in with her without shaming her, but she needs to be showing up and doing the work too. If you’re doing it all for her, she’s only going to stay dry when she’s with you, which just isn’t what you’re going for.
  • Embrace natural consequences when you can. Random punishments like time-outs won’t help; it’s not as if your daughter is going to sit quietly in her room and think about how she could manage her urinary habits more effectively. She’s going to play with her toys or sing to herself or plot your demise. Instead, let the natural consequences play out. Maybe she’s not allowed to sit on the couch during TV time if you can’t trust she’s going to stay dry, or maybe there are certain outings or events she can’t attend because it will be too inconvenient to deal with accidents.

I hope this helpful! Hang in there, Mama. Remember that you’re not alone, and eventually your kiddo will get the hang of this. In the meanwhile, try to not to get stressed about it. You’re doing great.

— Carla

Got a parenting question for the blog? Email me at cnaumburgATgmailDOTcom.

Want more Mindful Parenting? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or sign up for my free, informative, and not-at-all annoying newsletter.

Want some individual help? I’m now offering offering virtual parent coaching and consultation services–if you have a phone, we can work together. You can learn more by visiting my website.