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Handling Accidents

Toileting accidents are part of the learning process and are to be expected. Your child may be so interested in something else that he forgets about going to the bathroom until it is too late. Use an accident as an opportunity to teach and to reinforce using the toilet instead for elimination. Keep your feelings of frustration and anger in check; give a calm, matter-of-fact response to your child.

Although most professionals recommend a neutral response to accidents, some add the use of positive practice after an accident. When using positive practice a caregiver may:

  • Have the child feel the clothing to confirm that it is wet
  • Using the “toilet” picture from the toilet routine, communicate to the child that “pee (or poop) goes in the toilet”
  • Take the child to the bathroom to sit on the toilet
  • As soon as the child sits, offer praise and/or a reward
  • Have your child place the wet/soiled clothes in the hamper or washer
  • Calmly clean up the area where the accident occurred. With your help, have your child clean up the area where he had the accident. Praise your child for successfully taking care of the accident. However, the setting, your child’s understanding of why you are cleaning up, as well as your own emotional state as the caregiver may determine whether you choose to clean up any mess together.
  • Positive practice may help the child form the toilet-elimination connection. It is not to be used as a punishment with associated negative affect from the caregiver. Avoid responding with anger, disappointment, or other negative emotion which are likely to compound the problem when your child has an accident. Instead, stay calm and neutral and have the child complete the established toileting routine despite the accident.

If you sense that your child may be having accidents to see your reaction, remember to stay calm and neutral. If an accident has already occurred, respond as described above. Then, reflect on the circumstances of the accident. Sometime accidents occur when the caregiver and/or child are rushing to get to the bathroom on time. Once you become aware of your child’s elimination patterns, try to take your child to the bathroom 10-15 minutes earlier. Trial and error on the timing may prevent accidents. If your child becomes restless on the toilet, use relaxation techniques such as listening to music or singing a song, reading a book, or playing with a toy to encourage the child to continue sitting.

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