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

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by VCU Libraries


  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

  5. I was a foster kid and between the ages of 13-16 I did this. Thinking about it now, I can't put my finger on WHY I did it- but I have reasons like above. I was abused as a child and didn't tell for along time. I was put in foster care but still had not disclosed the sexual abuse. Looking back, I can remember being scared to leave my room at night and also scared of talking about anything. I guess peeing in the closet or under my bed was about that- however, at the time I didn't think "Hey, I am going to intentionally pee in the closet. In fact, I let the family I was with at the time blame the dog- 3 times later and they knew it was me but I still denied it because I was super ashamed and embarrassed. No one really said anything to me about it and just kept transferring me... I think someone who talked about it and allowed me to be me and safe and listen- would have made an astronomical difference.

    1. Wow. Thank you SO MUCH Katie for sharing this with us. Your insight right here will help so many struggling foster parents AND kids, because you have just put into words what kids are afraid (as you were) to say. You have named so many possible factors (being afraid to leave the room the least of them) that can help foster parents deal frankly with their kids and help open up the discussion. THANK YOU SO MUCH. I am so sorry you had a difficult (understatement) childhood. I can see that already your suffering is helping children that are in the system today and foster parents who are trying to help them. I wish you the very best in your future. I can see you are a THRIVER!

  6. Hi, I did this when I was a child and I just want to know why. I would pee in some kind of lidded container and hide it where i knew my parents wouldn't find it and i never had a real reason for doing this. I know this is a site about foster children but I lived at home with my parents and had no history of abuse so why did I do this?

  7. My 14 year old son does this...he is diagnosed with ADHD. I first noticed him urinating in his much that I had to buy three matresses. Then he started urinating in the closet...drawers...corners..instead or in addition to the bed. I think it was poop one time as well. Then I started finding pickle jars...gatorade bottles full of old stank urine. Gnats would be flying around. He has been doing this on and off since around 9 years old. At least no more urinating in bed( not that jars are normal). He does not know why he does it and says its probably because he is lazy. The restroom is right next to his bedroom.

    1. Hi Bree, Be sure to follow the recommendations above. This is not unusual for ADHD kids. Do not shame him, but make him responsible for the clean up. Open up a frank discussion with him about this, tell him it is un-hygenic and that you need to break this habit. Limit his time in his room, especially now that summer is here and school is out, lock his room door during the daytime and encourage more active physical activity. This could be a control-issue. Is he being bullied in school, does he have a confidence problem? Get him involved in sports and group activities with other kids, so he has a stronger support system amongst his age-group. It sounds like he has anxiety, or it could be a physical issue. So, 1. Rule out physical/health issues, 2. Make him responsible for his clean up, 3. Keep him out of his room during day, 4. Get him involved in Self-confidence boosting activities - sports, horseback riding, group activities etc and see if you can't end this behavior thru the summer.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. I've been dealing with this with my adopted 12 year old daughter for over a year. I started off with making her clean it up and having a "non-reaction." But yesterday she peed and I lost it. I screamed my fool head off and threatened public shaming. I feel bad for the way I reacted and I'm not sure why yesterday was the breaking point but it was. I don't know what to do anymore.

    1. It happens. I have to assume you've already had her to the physician to rule out physical problems or infections as well as side effects from medications, and I don't know anything else about her behaviors so its hard for me to say anything helpful here to you, I'm sorry. Feel free to tell me more so I can help trouble shoot the issue with you and maybe we can come up with some new approaches for you to try. Is there a pattern to when she's doing it? Start keeping track... what are the triggers? Is she focussing on a game or task-- often a symptom that ADD is the cause. Anyway, Once you know what the cause is, we can figure out how to re-train her behavior or to remove the trigger.