My kids potty-trained fairly easily. We don’t have horror stories of poop-smeared walls or puddles on the floor. Of course, we had our share of emergency outfit changes (or three) and “MOM! I have to potty!” just as we pulled out of the gas station, where one kid sat on the toilet and did absolutely nothing. But potty-training was mostly a non-event for us.
The first time, that is.
Then my kids started kindergarten. Suddenly, my daughter started having urinary accidents. I’m not talking about noticing her underwear was a bit wet at the end of the day; I’m talking fully-soaked-pants accidents. She didn’t seem to be able to stop it. We talked to her. We talked to her teacher. We watched her like hawks. She would go to the bathroom and still end up soaked 20 minutes later. We offered rewards if she could stay dry all day. We enforced consequences if she didn’t speak up when she had to go potty. We got her “special underwear” with pads in them. Absolutely nothing worked. It got so bad that her after-school program said if she had one more accident, they were kicking her out. Then she did. They told us she was out at the end of the month.
Panicked, we took her to her pediatrician. There, we learned that her last growth spurt was more than her little body could handle and that her internal muscles hadn’t quite caught up. It wasn’t her fault. After I stopped feeling like a horrible failure of a mother for yelling at my kid who literally couldn’t control her bladder, we got her medication to help. We called the school and set up a 504 meeting. Those oft-maligned 504 meetings aren’t just for kids with behavioral problems or who have different learning needs. They are for any student who needs some assistance during the school day—and my girl definitely did.
We talked to the school staff about my daughter’s medication and made sure all the adults were aware of the need not just for frequent potty breaks, but the need to remind her to go.
We talked to the people at the after-school program, who agreed to give us one last chance. Girl child’s accidents almost immediately went from one to two a day to once a week or less. We used the opportunity with her to talk about how she had control of her own body and she got to choose to go to the bathroom. If that meant she had to go every few minutes, that was OK until she felt confident in her bladder. We had a talk I didn’t think I would ever have with my kid about what we called “squeezies,” and just like that, my six-year-old was doing kegels.
Thanks to some amazing adults in her life, my daughter survived her second potty-training. Our pediatrician affirmed that this wasn’t a choice she was making and kindly but firmly put her frustrated parents in their place. Her kindergarten teacher worked so hard to make sure she wasn’t singled out or embarrassed, and it just became routine for the whole class to line up for frequent potty breaks. Even the adults in the after-school program worked to remind her to frequently use the restroom without making it a big deal to the other kids.
Over the summer, the problems all but disappeared. She slowly came off the medication. When first grade started, we had a few hiccups as she got back into routine, but we have the medicine for days when she thinks she needs it, or when we are going to be somewhere where an outfit change would be difficult. Also, she’s been gaining confidence in her body and has started declining the medicine even in those situations.
My favorite parenting advice is this: “This is normal. You are normal. Your kids are normal.” Whatever you’re dealing with, someone has probably survived it before you and will survive it after you. Even if it’s a kindergartner who suddenly needs to go through potty-training again. In our search for a solution, we found friends who had dealt with similar problems. Our pediatrician assured us that, while not common, our daughter’s situation was not unique. As embarrassing as the whole situation was, for her and us, we found that we were not alone. I only hope the next “normal” thing we deal with doesn’t require quite so much laundry.