My 5 year old son has acquired a new habit. To paraphrase an email I just got from my wife on her way to dropping him off at school (on her way to work):

We need to figure something out for (redacted)'s new penchant for claiming to have to go pee while in the car. He started it as soon as we were driving into (town). I stopped at the (convenience store), we went in the side door, went right to the potty, came out the side door, got into the car, and left. Two seconds (literally) later, he claimed he had to go again and wanted to stop again. I told him he could hold it until we got to the schools. (note-the entire trip is roughly 15 minutes from our house to the school, and from the convenience store there probably less than 5 or 7 minutes to arrive). He started crying that he couldn't hold it. When I hit the exit ramp, he cried that he had peed his pants because he couldn't hold it. He cried harder so I turned towards Walmart. He stopped crying and admitted he hadn't peed his pants. I took him to his school. He got out of the car crying that he couldn't go pee at his school because he would get into trouble.

This is the third day he's done this. In a row. And only in the car, otherwise I'd suspect an infection of some kind. No medications. Nothing that we know of new in his life. Sleeping well (actually better than well, as he's been going to sleep earlier and waking up a little earlier and has been more cheerful because he's more awake when it's time to go to school in the morning). He's not going to the bathroom more frequently at home. No complaints of pain or anything like that. Doesn't seem to be drinking more than usual either. Just seems to be a new habit he somehow fell into.

Has this happened to other people? Is there a way to break him of the habit?

EDIT- well, it's been awhile since posting the question, and someone requested an update. I think my son may have a combination of things here that led us to conclude that he isn't paying attention to when he has to go (waits until the last moment...maybe playing is just more fun than pausing to go potty) and when he gets to the car, he feels an urge to go and isn't focused on anything else, so I HAVE TO PEE!

We now try to get him to go to the bathroom before getting in the car, regardless of whether he wants to or feels the urge to go. It seems to work. Usually when he did the in-car "I have to pee" he has a trickle, not an urgent problem. Other times he really has to let loose. But having him go before the trip seems to have alleviated much of the issue.

Perhaps he's simply still learning signals from his body. For now we'll just chalk it to a quirk in being a five year old.

asked 09 Dec '10, 13:45

bsilver's gravatar image

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edited 17 Dec '10, 13:28

Probably not related but my toddler doesn't like sitting in the car seat so every time I put him in it he says he has to go.

(09 Dec '10, 15:14) Kiesa ♦

My guy dislikes the seatbelt, but otherwise doesn't object to his chair. I think he thinks it's a special seat just for him that others don't get to use.

(09 Dec '10, 15:22) bsilver

Wow, that's really intriguing and interesting.

I am afraid that I don't really have any advice after reading the comments in all the answers so far, but all I can try and do is suggest to you what I would do;

We have quite a verbal relationship with our daughter who is now 6, so my first thought would be to encourage you to also try and really talk/communicate with your son, (When I say talking/communicating I actually mean doing it in the way that works best for your family, and if this involves special elements like role playing or special timing then you may want to pick your moment carefully so you are able to get a result so to speak).

Depending on the reactions you receive the next step could be to start looking and researching about "Play Therapy" and finding out how it may help you pinpoint with more clarity what's causing the desire to pee at certain times.

You may find Kathy Euguster s website to be of help to you as it explains the benefits of "Play Therapy" clearly.

And additionally

Filial Therapy quoted from this site can be used as a

prevention approach as well as an effective intervention for a wide range of child/family problems: oppositional behaviors, anxiety, depression, abuse/neglect, single parenting, adoption/foster care, relationship problems, divorce, family substance abuse, toileting difficulties, trauma, family reunification, chronic illness, etc.reunification, chronic illness, etc.

If possible please let us know how you get on, best of luck.


answered 09 Dec '10, 19:27

Emi's gravatar image

accept rate: 19%

I have you talked to his teacher about why he thinks he would get in trouble if he goes to the bathroom at school? From your description it sounds like the problem is something at school, since he doesn't seem to have any problems at home.


answered 09 Dec '10, 14:52

mkcoehoorn's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

I know the teacher, and don't think there's an issue there. He's hyper about following rules though and sometimes thinks he can't do something or risk trouble (like looking for a library book in his locker if it isn't "search your locker for books" time. We've reassured him he can ask the teacher for things like that and it would be fine.

(09 Dec '10, 15:02) bsilver

He also pulled the "I have to pee" heading home one night from school, and he also pulled it not two minutes from leaving a WalMart where he knew there's a bathroom. "I didn't have to go then," he said.

(09 Dec '10, 15:02) bsilver

I think that your son has told you himself what the problem is:

"He got out of the car crying that he couldn't go pee at his school because he would get into trouble."

I'd have a talk with his teacher and see if anything has happened at school that would make him afraid to go to the washroom there. I wouldn't count on her (or him) knowing what the problem is though, sometimes kids this little get funny ideas into their heads from the smallest comment or incident, something that doesn't even register with us. (Which, having a 5 year old, I'm betting you know already!)

You'll need his teacher onside to convince him that using the toilet at school is perfectly fine though, so maybe you and/or your wife and your son should have a small chat with his teacher.

My second oldest wouldn't use the washroom at school for months in first grade because his best friend got in trouble for playing in there. We reassured him over and over again that he could use the washroom whenever he needed to and made sure he went before he left home. (In my situation though we were lucky and the boys came home for lunch!)


answered 09 Dec '10, 14:57

Neen's gravatar image

accept rate: 30%

I can send a message and ask, it's possible he's getting an odd idea in his head about it. This morning was the first he said he'd get in trouble doing that at school, though. As in another comment, he did this before shortly after leaving a Walmart, and another time leaving with Mommy from work where he knows where the bathroom is, and he didn't go before leaving there. As soon as he got to the car and on the road, "I have to pee..." So it's not just school that it's happened.

(09 Dec '10, 15:05) bsilver

Strange... It's always something with little kids, isn't it? :) Maybe his seat belt pushes on his bladder? Or the vibration of the car reminds him of the feeling of a full bladder? I dunno, it's so tough when they can communicate but not necessarily get their point across, isn't it?

(09 Dec '10, 16:47) Neen

@Neen-and very frustrating at times. I wondered if the belt isn't pushing the bladder; maybe he's "not feeling it" until he is forced to sit still for a few minutes and then with that pressure on he thinks about it.

(09 Dec '10, 17:45) bsilver

I don't have a piss after morning eating. I tell ma I did. We get to the school. I hold my piss all day. When I get home I tell ma that I had just gone before I got home. After dinner I went to the bathroom and pissed for 5 minutes. That is my only piss for 24 hours.


answered 12 Dec '14, 17:21

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Harry Coble
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Asked: 09 Dec '10, 13:45

Seen: 10,182 times

Last updated: 12 Dec '14, 17:21