Monday, September 24, 2012

Foster Parent Q&A: Help! My RAD Child Needs a Door Alarm, but Then Pees in his Room!

by John and Diane. 

Hi Friends,
The issue of kids, foster or adoptive kids especially, urinating in their rooms, closets or in other inappropriate areas is huge and a very difficult issue to deal with and correct. The source of the issue needs to be determined while simultaneously dealing with the symptom of inappropriate peeing.  We have addressed this issue in the past in our post:  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.
Here again though, is a question from a blog reader regarding their RAD kid and how to address the complex issue of room urination, food hoarding and room security. We are sharing it here in hopes it will help other parents, and that other parents might be able to make suggestions that may help our reader.  As always, the letter is anonymous to protect everyone’s privacy.
Question from our reader:

"Hi -- I was scouring the Internet looking for anything helpful in dealing with peeing and RAD behavior.  Our son came to us at age 4 and is now 11.  We have seen a drastic upswing in RAD behavior in the last 6 months.  He has have gone from peeing the bed rarely (once every 6-8 months) when he first came to us, to occasionally (once every 2-4 months), regularly (3 to 4 days in a row, followed by 6-8 weeks of nothing), to nearly every night. The only thing that we have done differently in the last six months is installing an alarm on his door for the nighttime hours. 

His door has to be shut and the alarm engaged.  This is because, while we can't definitively prove that he is stealing food (usually candy) or other food items or prove that he is up and sneaking around the house, there are just enough times that we can't quite track all the bagels/candy/food distribution, and there are just enough bumps in the night that we can't place. We also have two little kiddos in the house that were making their way into our room every night.  After the alarm was installed the kiddos have nearly ceased in coming to our room, the bumps have stopped and the kitchen has been fairly undisturbed. 

However, this has drastically increased the amount of peeing that has gone on.  It is all a game to him, with him readily admitting that if the alarm were removed he wouldn't have to pee in his room. We have explained with great patience that the alarm isn't preventing him from going to the potty; it is just allowing us the privilege of knowing where he is at and that he is safe. He is required to clean up his mess, rinse out his bedding and get it to the laundry.  This also led to a power struggle and blame game on his part, if I didn't get his laundry done because the day was full and I had other engagements, then he "won". I recently switched to a weekly laundry day, mainly because our family is now a family of six and it seemed like a better use of my time to designate one day for laundry rather than doing laundry all week long. I had hoped that this would curb the peeing because he would now be without bedding for longer than just a few hours in the evening.  Nope, no dice.

We are so weary of this behavior, since we live in very northern latitude, this can get really stinky in the wintertime.  Any suggestions/wisdom would be greatly appreciated."

Answer: Foster Parent Rescue:

Hi there, Thanks for writing. I am glad you reached out and I am hopeful we can help you.

I have a question: Is he sharing a room other kids?

I found that alarm systems are good if you are trying to keep a child in a room, but now the child is using it against you.

I would recommend using a camera instead of an alarm system because you want to punish the behavior of leaving the room to get food or prowl the house, not leave the room to go to the bathroom.  See the difference?

You want to be able to record nighttime activities and then discipline and correct the nighttime prowling behavior and cameras work great with RAD kids (they cant lie when their activities are recorded.)

With the other children, they are fine, so they don’t need an alarm system.

The peeing issue may be due to a medication issue, so he may need to use the bathroom, but with the alarm system, he has an excuse to not leave his room and use your rules against you.

RAD kids LOVE to use your rules against you. So, make the punishment for continued peeing in his room a little more extreme.  You need to teach him to do his OWN laundry. He is 11 years old. He can throw his own sheets in the laundry.  And you can always pre measure the soap and everything in zip lock bags etc. That way it is no longer punishment for YOU by him wetting his bed.

Take his cleaning of his mess to an extreme as well. If he puts the wet sheets on the floor, tell him he must scrub the floors as well. Make this a very unpleasant task for him to deal with. Take the burden off of you entirely and make it much more of a burden to him.

I don’t know when you got the other children in the household, but RAD children will act up when new children come into the house because they lose some contact with the caregiver, so that might have been a trigger for the behavior. So, this might be an understandable situation.

If you can dedicate 20 minutes to the child, (which you are probably doing already) but make it special to him by saying, "This is YOUR time," and make it positive time with him, since you have these other children in the home, that will help him with the behavioral problems as well, knowing that he has special time with you in positive interactions.

RAD kids always think that they don’t have everything that other kids have, so be sure to point out to him all the things that he has special that the other kids may not have, like privileges and special things in his room or whatever because he is the oldest. 

You have to Guilt the child into behaving well.  I know it sounds crazy, but it works. Have him help you (supervised of course) with the little ones It shows that you trust him. Just in a limited way.

Of course, these are suggestions with just what we know of this situation. Clearly, the alarm is not working. You'd be better off putting the alarm on the pantry, or where you keep the food. Have you tried removing the alarm and if so, does the peeing in the room stop?

Let me know what you think and if you try some of these solutions. You are not alone. We can work through this together I am sure.
We will be praying for you....
Diane and John

Do you have ideas or suggestions for our reader? Please feel free to share. 

Image:  Flickr:
Attribution Some rights reserved by Beth Rankin


  1. I don't have a suggestion, but I wanted to say that your own suggestion does sound very good. If the alarm was put on the pantry, then the problem is specific to the hoarding issue, "you steal food, the alarm comes off, you replace it with your allowance". The camera in the bedroom becomes more specific to the peeing, "if you pee on your bed, we see it on camera, you clean it all". With the strategies being more specific, that could help him to see it more clearly too. Less generalization and more specification.

  2. I had boy/girl twins who had extreme bathroom issues........I never did find a good solution. They found a way around every type of deterrent...... Knowing you are in good company is all I can offer. :)
    You must listen to this one mom's awesome pee video song.....she has incredible parenting tips videos, blogs and website...well worth the time.! and this is my web~page on the issue with advice from other moms.

    1. Thanks for your input KT! We appreciate you taking the time to help.

  3. First let me start by saying, that food hoarding is a type of way children feel some comfort and control over their environment. How can you accuse a child of "stealing" food? I for one think that is absurd.

    However, if the alarm is the problem, REMOVE IT!!! It sounds as if you are in a power struggle and you are doing more harm than good with the alarm.

    My suggestion would be to remove the alarm, and before bedtime each night give the child a little basket. Allow him to pack some bedtime snacks in it.

    Allow him to keep them in his room and ensure him that he may eat them at ANY TIME! He does NOT have to give them back in the morning.

    You will see the pantry raids decrease, and with the removal of the alarm I would hope he would not be as fearful of going to the bathroom. (you mentioned yourself that the peeing issue has worsened since the alarm installation)

  4. Thanks for your comment Natausha, you have some good points. For a child without an attachment disorder, an approach like this might work, as the food forays would be more a comfort thing than a control issue.
    With a reactive-attachment disorder child, most of the time the behavior is a symptom with complex layers, not the least of which would be manipulating the family dynamics, in which case, providing him with a basket of snacks would be allowing his bad behavior to be rewarded and instead of providing comfort which would lead to a decrease in need, it would provide power which would lead to an increase in bad behavior.
    The other concern here is the nighttime wandering with other younger siblings in the home. This can be a concern depending on the history of the child.
    In any case, We appreciate your input, we always have to remember how very complex these cases are and try to approach our suggestions and solution ideas with empathy.

  5. I realize this post is a few months old but I came across it in a recent search about door alarms and RAD kids. I read another blog post elsewhere today about this same problem and the author mentioned finding success by using an alarm / alert system that is intended for wandering Alzheimer's patients. The advantage here is that there is no audible alarm on the child's door; there is a motion sensor that sounds an alarm on the caregiver's end but the child never realizes an alarm has been "set off". Since the child doesn't ever realize an alarm has been sounded, the caregiver can be notified, can then check to see if it's a 'legit' excursion (bathroom vs. kitchen raiding) and respond appropriately and the alarm itself does not become a game or something the child feels they must "defeat" or learn to work around. This makes a lot of sense to me especially when dealing with older RAD kids who will obviously figure out in a short time how to turn an alarm off if they are aware of one being used.

    Anyway, it is something we are going to try with regard to our 10 year old's nighttime kitchen raiding and I thought I'd share in case it might help someone else. We simply cannot AFFORD to continue to allow her food hoarding / unauthorized binge sessions / food waste to continue as there are other people in the house who need to eat!

    The specific monitor and alert system mentioned on the other blog is by a company called Mr. Chime, Inc. It seems to be a bit pricey but I think it will be useful for us for years to come.

    1. Thanks Sherri, Thats a great referral for people and might be a helpful resource for some folks. Even though this is an older post, it still gets plenty of reads, so, I appreciate you taking the time to share your story and your find.

  6. We have the same problem with our almost adopted 10 year old. He pees in his closet at least once per week, and he has an alarm on his door due to sexual acting out behaviors. I think that he is afraid to set the alarm off at night even though we have encouraged him to do so many times. When he does pee, he of course, denies it vehemently, and we make him respnsible for cleaning up the mess. Maybe an alarm that sounds at a remote location would be worth a try. I like the idea of the camera, so that we could show him the footage when he denies it. Thanks for the ideas! This, along with soiling himslef on an almost daily basis are the behaviors that exhaust us the most.

    1. Hi Indefamily, Thanks for commenting. Check out these links and see if there is anything in there that might be helpful...

    2. Here's the other link:

  7. I know these are older posts but I have a 14 year old who is adopted (at age 5) and has been peeing on things for the last few years. He prefers to steal things from siblings to pee on such as jeans, toys etc. Cleaning excites him more because he loves to clean. He is in therapy (regular visits to the home 2-3 times a week) and they suggested I give him a box with a pair of jeans in it to pee in without consequences. He was responsible for cleaning it up daily. Well I did this and he stopped for 2 weeks but last weekend he went back to peeing but on everything of his siblings and of his except in the box. I am at wits end. I don't think we should have to live with locked doors every where to prevent him from having easy access to our stuff so he can pee on it. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi friend,
      Did you read : (Why is My Foster Kid Peeing in the Closet)?
      It sounds like you have already taken some of the advice we would normally give, and are having issues still.
      Usually this happens when the child is under stress or is still dealing with some issue from prior to adoption. The Territorial aspect of it is obvious - ... Here's my suggestion:
      1. How is his relationship with his siblings? Build a stronger family unit amongst the kids by lots of outdoor team play. Build up his self-esteem,and create a stronger bond with his siblings should reduce his attack on their belongings and build his empathy for how his behavior is affecting other members of the family.
      2. Continue looking for the source of the behavior. Is there a sexual abuse history? That could be the cause of the behavior initially, and now that he is reaching puberty perhaps this could create conflicted emotions - which results in this Anxiety-Reducing urination behavior.
      3. Keep him busy and out of the bedrooms during non-sleeping hours. Limiting his freedom to go into his or others rooms and keeping him busy with Active, Physical Play will help to break the habit of this behavior, and give him something physically tiring to do that can also help build his social skills - Getting him around other boys his age on a team of some kind (or boy scouts) will help him model more "normal" bathroom routines.
      Hang in there Anony... There are a TON of other parents dealing with this exact thing - You are doing great!! Let us know how he does in a few months.