Saffer asks:

My 3.5 year old son is potty trained but has accidents at school. Please help!

Hi. My youngest son is almost 3.5 years old and goes to playschool every day. He is fully potty trained and has never wet his bed like his older brother used to at his age. He is also a healthy happy child. The problem is that he poops in his underwear at school. It is not a daily problem and last week he did not even have one accident, for which we praised him. The school also does not seem to believe my wife and I that the boy does not have any accidents at home. They have started making an example of him by putting him in a nappy when he has a accident but it is very traumatizing for him and his parents when this action is taken. I do not agree with this extreme action and we are currently talking with his teacher to find alternatives. It is very unpleasant for all of us but the last thing I want to do is to have my boy feeling that there is something wrong with him or to humiliate him in front of his friends. Please help, it seems like a common problem among boys but I need help.
In Topics: Bedwetting, Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago



Hand in Hand
Jun 3, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

I'm sorry to hear this is happening to your young son. I can understand why the school's reaction feels uncomfortably punitive to your family. We have an article on toileting that might help, I'll add a link to it below. It's a little tricky for you to help him at home since this is an issue that he has just at school. But anything you do at home to boost his confidence and help him feel loved and connected will help him in his struggle with this challenge in playschool.

The first thing I would suggest is that you get yourselves on a regular schedule of Special Time. Set a "date" with your son for this. I realize he's only three, but it's important for him to have an opportunity to anticipate Special Time, even if you just say, "As soon as we are finished with our snack, we're going to have five minutes of Special Time." Then set a timer or use an external counter like an alarm clock to mark the beginning and the end of the time clearly.

When it's Special Time, you tell your son, with warmth and eagerness, "We've got five minutes (or ten, or whatever you've got available) of Special Time and I'll play anything you want." During Special Time, you follow his lead. He gets to be in charge and you follow along with his play with as much warmth and fun as you can muster. When Special Time is done, tell your son how much fun you had playing with him and when the next Special Time can be.

As he adjusts to the routine, your son will begin to use Special Time, when he has your full attention and focus, to work on things that are challenging for him, or emotional issues he has no way to verbalize. He will benefit greatly from having these protected bits of your time and he will quickly understand that you won't allow yourself to be distracted until the timer is done. This creates a spot in your relationship where you are ready to welcome whatever it is that's not working for him as far as toileting at playschool goes, or anything else he may need to work on.

I'll add a link to our booklet on Special Time and our other Listening to Children tools under the article on toileting. You can also check out our blog for stories from parents who use this approach with their kids in the third link.

Having caring and thoughtful parents ready to support him is already a huge advantage for your son. Keep up the good work!

Julianne Idleman
Hand in Hand Program Director
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