I was surprised when I got a call that my 9 year old had wet her pants in the middle of a school day. At first I figured she may have been sick. And the worst sickening worry that came to my mind is that she’d somehow been triggered and had a moment of anxiety regarding her past sexual abuse. When I arrived at the school with a fresh change of clothes, though, she was smiling. She happily took them, hugged me, and thanked me for coming in. I asked her what had happened and she said the teacher said she couldn’t go to the bathroom- and she couldn’t hold it. Knowing this little fawn has a tendency to roam the hallways of the school when left unattended for bathroom breaks; I really couldn’t blame the teacher for his choice. As she changed I explained that she needed to behave better if she wanted to be trusted to go to the bathroom so she wouldn’t have accidents like this again. She happily agreed to try and be better and asked if I’d walk her back to the classroom. Of course I agreed and walked her back to her classroom and gave her a hug goodbye.
Two days later, I got a similar call. The almost identical process was repeated ending with me walking her to the classroom and giving her a hug goodbye. The next day- the same thing happened. It happened repeatedly for 3 more days until the counselor pulled me aside. We both knew we needed to talk. My little fawn was as happy as could be each time I came in. And it was almost as if she was peeing her pants on purpose…
The counselor had spent many years counseling this little fawn and had known her before I was even her foster mom. I was worried that he may tell me something awful- something regarding her past trauma or a need for an immediate doctor’s visit. He did neither. Instead he explained to me that from Kindergarten to 2nd grade he had never once seen this little fawn’s mother come to school. She had the older sibling walk this fawn home. She never came to a school play, concert, or science show. She never came to a parent teacher conference. She seemed to have no motivation to be a part of this fawn’s school day. So when the fawn realized that I would come in, whenever she called, to cater to her any need- she got an immediate sense of validation that she had lacked in the past. Peeing her pants was one of the easiest and most assured ways to get me to come in to the school.
I was taking time off of work to bring her in clean clothes regularly. It was a 15 minute drive each way and it wasn’t something I could afford to do each day. Also, rewarding her … purposely unhygienic behavior was not healthy for anyone. But it did allow me to look deeper into the needs of my child. She desperately wanted me to be a part of her school day- and even noted that she really liked having a mom to show to her friends. As a compromise I came in 15 minutes early to pick her up, each school day. We would sit together when her class read a story. My fawn got her much needed ‘mom is caring about my schoolwork time’, and I got a lot less urine stained pants to clean.
Never assume that your child’s behavior is being done to inconvenience you. That is very VERY rarely the case. Often times what seems like a child misbehaving is actually a child trying to tell you something. ‘Children don’t act out- they reach out’. It’s your job to take a moment, breathe, and try to figure out what they’re reaching out for.