How to Handle Your 4 Year Old Having Accidents During the Day

Is your child suddenly wetting their pants in the daytime? Learn what to do with your 4 year old having accidents during the day.

4 Year Old Having Accidents During the DayHe’s too big to be having accidents, I thought.

At 4 years old, my son had been potty trained for several months with hardly any mishaps. But we’d be at the playground or out running an errand when I’d catch the telltale signs of an accident on his pants. He’d even have daytime accidents at school.

He wasn’t peeing on purpose, but when I’d ask why he didn’t tell me he had to use the potty, he’d say he didn’t know.

He was wetting his pants so suddenly that I had to wonder whether this was normal. Yes, I knew regression was part of potty training and that progress had its ups and downs. But after months of smooth sailing, I didn’t know how to address the situation. Should I reprimand him for this behavior? Ignore it?

Either way, it was tempting to feel upset and flustered. I had no idea what was going on or why this was happening all of a sudden.

How to handle your 4 year old having accidents during the day

From washing poop out of undies to constant daytime wetting, your child might also be having lots of accidents recently.

He waits at the last minute before he has to go, only to have an accident in his pants instead. Other times, he seems to do it on purpose, like when he stops what he’s doing to pee right in the middle of the living room.

You’ve tried being patient and reminding him to use the potty, but that hasn’t helped at all. You’ve even started disciplining and confiscating items, but even those methods are wearing off. No wonder you’re at your wit’s end.

Rest assured friend, you’re not alone.

Accidents at this stage can trigger emotions in any parent. The fear and frustration that it’s back to the drawing board, or the bewilderment on why this is even happening in the first place.

Accidents can happen for many reasons. He might feel stress or anxiety, especially with changes in his life like welcoming a new baby to the family. He could be distracted by activities he doesn’t want to stop doing. These accidents can even be a sign of power struggles neither of you finds easy to let go of.

What can you do to curb your temper and guide him back in the right direction? The first place to reach out to is his pediatrician since they know him best. They can also rule out serious issues like urinary tract infections or weak bladder muscles, as well as offer medication if need be.

If all checks out, take a look at these tips on what to do with your 4 year old having accidents during the day:

1. Ease your child’s constipation

One common reason for accidents in a potty-trained child is constipation. The discomfort can deter him from even trying to use the potty, for fear that they’ll have to experience the pain again. This, of course, contributes to even more constipation, fueling the cycle.

If you suspect that your child might have constipation, focus on easing his symptoms. Start by offering plenty of water, and even some prune juice. You can also increase his fiber by giving the “P” foods like peaches, plums, and pears to break down his food.

And lastly, make sure that, when he’s sitting down on the potty, his knees are above hip level. Bowel movements are pretty uncomfortable when his legs are dangling off the toilet. Use a floor potty or, if he’s using a toilet, place a step he can rest his feet on.

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2. Use the bathroom frequently

If you sense that your 4 year old is back to having accidents during the day, increase his visits to the bathroom. It might feel excessive, but this can help him get back on track (especially if you’re increasing his water intake).

For instance, he can use the bathroom when he gets up for the day or after eating meals and snacks. He can go before he leaves the house, starts a new project, or takes a bath.

Even if he doesn’t pee much (or at all), the frequency of using the potty can decrease the chances of an accident. Plus, with consistency, he’s more likely to use the potty on his own if it’s attached to routine parts of his day.

Eventually, he’ll get to the point where you won’t have to “make him go” as often anymore.

3. Stop giving rewards

Potty training seems synonymous with rewards, don’t you think? But as much as rewards can work in the beginning, they’re less effective over time. Your child gets bored of the rewards, and you’re forced to up the ante to keep her going.

You see, typical rewards like stickers, candy, and toys are external rewards that she can only receive from elsewhere. Instead, nurture internal rewards like pride in a job well done or focus on progress over perfection.

So, if not stickers and candy, what can you do to guide her in the right direction?

4. Use positive reinforcement

When kids have pee accidents galore, it’s all too easy to focus on their mistakes, especially big ones (“You peed all over the floor!”). But I encourage you to find something, however small, to praise positive behavior.

Sure, your 4 year old pooped in his pants and didn’t seem to care one bit, but what about the times when he did use the potty? Or when he told you he had to go? Or when he admitted that pooping hurts?

Because in those moments, you can say, “You used the potty!” Or “I’m glad you told me you had to go.” Or “Thank you for telling me it hurts to poop. Now we can find a way to help it not hurt anymore.”

Praise his positive behavior to encourage him to continue more of it—anything to remind him that he does make good choices as well. He’ll be more encouraged to make better choices through positive praise than through punishments.

5. Don’t overreact to accidents

One of the hardest things to do is to not show a reaction to potty training accidents.

We feel frustrated at its frequency, our nerves fried when our kids do exactly what we tell them not to. We show disgust as we clean up the mess, and worry that this will never end. And of course, we engage in all-out power struggles, from forcing them to use the potty to punishing them for having an accident.

But these reactions only fuel the problem further.

Your child feels resentful of what he deems as unjust consequences and even blames you for his predicament. He might continue the behavior, especially if he gets attention for it. And you might regain a sense of control when you raise your voice, only to have it backfire when even that doesn’t work.

Instead, avoid overreacting when accidents happen. Treat it as matter-of-fact, as if you noticed that it’s raining today or that the mail arrived. It is what it is. Move on to cleaning it up without much fanfare so that your child knows that this doesn’t trigger you.

Punishing him—from timeouts to losing your temper—doesn’t help him, but only allows you to release the anger you feel. Don’t give accidents the extra attention that might fuel more of them.

6. Give natural consequences

If you’re not supposed to berate your child about her potty accidents, what can you do to get the message across? You can give natural consequences.

Let’s say she has an accident and wets her pants. Keeping your reaction minimal, respond with, “Looks like you had an accident. We’ll need to take care of that.”

But don’t handle the whole situation alone. Instead, without getting angry, have her bear the consequences along with you.

For instance, have her help you clean the mess, from wiping any urine on the floor to rinsing her undies and putting them in the hamper. Then, have her get a new pair of undies and pants on her own. And you can even say, “We won’t be able to play as long at the park because we had to clean this mess.”

With natural consequences, she’ll learn far more that accidents are a hassle to deal with than any lecturing or discipline you might do.

Learn how to give consequences for kids.

Consequences for Kids

Conclusion

Dealing with your 4 year old having accidents during the day can feel exasperating. This is especially true when you thought you were finally done with potty training. Rest assured that potty-training regression can be normal and, more importantly, have solutions.

To start, eliminate constipation as a potential culprit, as this can lead to accidents and make using the potty uncomfortable. Use the bathroom frequently so that the chances of having accidents are lessened. Avoid giving rewards, since these eventually fizzle out and are less effective.

Instead, use positive reinforcement and praise your child for making good choices. Don’t overreact to accidents, and instead rely on natural consequences to teach the lessons he needs to learn.

Hopefully, you won’t be dealing with accidents any longer. And remember that setbacks are a part of potty training—even if it feels like he’s too big to be having them.

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4 Comments

  1. We started potty training a little over a month ago and until recently, getting pee in the potty was going pretty well. Less than 5 accidents in more than 2 weeks!

    Then suddenly, my son decided that he didn’t want to use the potty. He would sit and not try to go. He doesn’t care about wet pants. Just a total rejection suddenly and it’s infuriating. He’ll get some pee in the potty but a ton of accidents – such a contrast from a week ago! He dances around and holds his pee. Argh! Getting him to sit on the potty and then pee has become a sudden challenge where it wasn’t before. I worry that I’ve been mindlessly prompting him too much lately and need to back way off. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Sigh.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Alison! I’m wondering if you use rewards to get him to pee? Sometimes they can backfire when they lose their pizzazz. That happened to one of my kids. He was so great about using the potty when we did a star chart (we’d draw a star each time he peed or pooped). But after a while he had more accidents than usual, and it seemed like he just wasn’t interested. We stopped with the star chart and praised him instead for every bit of progress he made.

      And yes, if you feel like you’ve been harping him too much, it can also help to back off, even with praise, especially if it looks like he has already mastered it. After a while, we all have to back off with praise and making a big deal out of the potty, so maybe he’s just ready to start doing it on his own without too much fanfare.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Hello there, thank you so much for doing this kind of thing to help people in need. So my biggest struggle is with my 4 year old boy and his pooping in his underwear! He can pee in the potty all day, but won’t go #2. He knows when he has to go tho because he will go and hide!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Pooping in the potty can definitely take longer than peeing. He could be an expert in peeing in the toilet but can still have accidents up to a year after potty training with #2. But it’s not like there’ll be accidents galore until a magical day a year later when it all disappears. Instead, you’ll find the poop accidents decreasing in frequency, but could still happen even months later. So definitely know you’re not alone and that this is likely normal 🙂