Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why is My Foster or Adopted Kid Urinating in The Closet (in a Jar, Towel, Hamper, Soda Can): The Red (or Yellow in this Case) Flag and How to Deal with It.

By John and Diane

I recently got a message from a parent of a RAD, ADHD adopted child who, although having lived with the family for years, recently began peeing in her room.

Unlike bedwetting, which is unintentional and usually done in a sleep or semi-sleep mode, this behavior was obviously intentional as the urine was “delivered unto” towels, items in the closet and boxes in the child’s room.

This can be troubling behavior for foster and adoptive parents, but it is usually dealt with when the child is first brought into the home. Typically a red flag, this type of behavior is a classic “tell” for a child with some kind of abused background. (Often sexual.) It can also be a reaction to stress or part of a bigger impulse control problem.    The key to figuring out the foundation of the problem is to learn the child’s history and to deal with the underlying problems, should there be some.

Having said that, you do have to deal with the practical matter of urine on your floor, carpet etc.

Although the issue of approving the behavior by giving them a pot or “approved container” to pee in was discussed with the parent that contacted me, my feeling is this:

You are not approving the behavior by providing a place for the child to urinate in, in their room, you are acknowledging that the behavior is happening (which is good, secret behaviors are bad and unproductive) and by providing a solution for the immediate problem (the ruining of your home) you are removing the frustration and anger on your part and giving the child some responsibility for the behavior. 

The child should be given a pot to pee in (go ahead, laugh…) AND they will be responsible for emptying it and cleaning it, as well as any other materials or items that they may have urinated on.  (The same goes for children that are intentionally incontinent of the bowels as well. Be grateful if you only have to deal with urine, I have had to deal with both!) This becomes part of their chores. Of course, also talk about the need for sanitation and sanitary handling of materials and hand washing.

Don’t put a camp toilet or other toilet-looking item in the room, as that would encourage continued use, but a chamber pot or old cooking pot is fine, as it takes care of the problem without retraining the child to pee in the room forever.

This is just a temporary issue, and as you work through the basis of the problem, this will deal with some of the collateral damage.

 Meanwhile, continue the dialog … if it is a result of abuse or stress, the child will begin to open up to you (part of your accepting the behavior is that you are accepting the child and building trust with him or her).  The behavior should diminish as issues are revealed and worked through.

I have had kids come in with this issue, found the basis to be a history of sexual abuse, dealt with it, resolve the issue and then have it reoccur years later.  Usually that tells me that the child is under a new stress or is feeling threatened by another child in the home or at school.  That is why being aware of these red flags is vital to foster and adoptive parents.

In this case, the behavior may be starting because the child is feeling secure and safe in the home after living there for many years. Now that the child’s basic needs of safety and security are met, the child may be able to deal with deeper issues from the past; therefore new behaviors will begin to surface.

Of course, parents should discuss the behaviors with the child’s doctors and caseworkers. 

The advice I give you comes from years of dealing with this exact issue in my own home with kids with trust disorders, ADD, ADHD, Development disabilities, Sexual abuse histories etc. 

If you have experience with this issue and a success story to share, please do! 

Below is a link to more information about wetting behaviors

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  1. Thanks so much for this. Great information, as always!!

  2. Glad we could offer some ideas and resources! Hoping that if anyone else has other ideas or experiences they share too!
    ~ John and Diane FPR

  3. I found a child rescue volunteers who are willing to help us to find our missing children. We should be thankful that they are helping us for free.

  4. Wish there were ideas on what could do this other than sexual abuse. Everyone says it's a common factor, but what about when it ISN'T?

    1. Hi Anonymous, well, without hearing more about your child I would say you need to look at things like anxiety, reaction to stress or attention deficit as potential reasons. There are plenty of reasons why kids could wet the bed etc like urinary infections or other physical illnesses, but its the hiding it, and consistent usage of things like bottles or peeing in drawers that make it a psychological symptom. I hope you find the answers you are looking for. Tell us more and maybe we can help.
      Diane and John