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Four-year-old wets herself during father’s absence


I have a friend who has a 4-year-old daughter whose dad is frequently away for his job. During her father’s absence, the little girl consistently wets herself. Once her father is home again, she goes back to using the toilet. My friend has warned her daughter that she will have to go back to wearing diapers, but this does not seem to concern the little girl. What can my friend do?



Children often exhibit behavior changes in times of stress. It sounds like your friend’s daughter is having difficulty handling her father’s absence, and she is demonstrating her stress through bathroom behaviors. While this is not unusual, it does need to be addressed.  

What is the relationship between the father and daughter like? Are they close?  Were they close before he started traveling? Does Dad make time for his daughter when he is home? You need to try to understand how ​she perceives their relationship and how she would like it to be.  

Do not assume that all is OK with her and that she understands that her father loves her but just has to be away for extended periods of time because of his job.  She has to know that he really cares about how she feels and what she thinks. Try to put yourself in her shoes to see how she is looking at the situation.

Has her father addressed her pants-wetting? Since she does not seem to care if her mom puts her back in a diaper, we can deduct that the problem isn’t with her mom. It’s with her father. Have both parents sat down with her to talk about the situation? Has Dad talked one-on-one with her?  

A conversation about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors needs to take place.  This is not about having accidents. Those occasionally happen. This is about knowing that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing things.

Once they have talked to their daughter, they need to establish a system of rewards and consequences for her behavior. Everyone must stick to them. It may work best if Dad and daughter develop the system and Mom acts as mediator.  

The rewards and consequences can be simple, but everyone must agree on them.  Rewards for using the toilet should be things their daughter likes the most.  Consequences for wetting herself should be things she likes the least. If her parents – and especially her father – consistently give out the rewards and consequences, she has ample incentive to change her behavior.  

But consistency is essential. Follow through every time she either uses or doesn’t use the bathroom. Be prepared for the little girl to test the waters to see if her parents are really serious. If Mom and Dad remain calm and consistent, the wetting should stop.