Q&A: Why Does My 3 Year Old Cry When Peeing?

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blockquote_bgI have a 3 1/2 year old that is being potty trained but since we started, most of the time when we take him to the potty he will start crying when he feels that the pee is coming, so I have to hold him down until he pees. The bad thing is that he holds in the pee for hours throughout the day. We might take him to the potty and he will not pee, so we come back later and he still won’t pee, so when he actually pees is when he can’t hold it any longer. As soon as I see him moving around or can’t stand still is when I know he really needs to go. I try to talk to him so he can relax. Is this common with some children?

It sounds like your son is new to toilet training so I definitely would not recommend holding him on the toilet until he pees, as this only creates a negative experience around going potty and we always want potty training to be positive. Holding urine is not very typical, but some children do it out of a fear they developed around toileting (this can result from anything such as being scolded for an accident, having a fear of sitting on the toilet, being scared of the toilet being flushed, etc). Little kids are just learning to control the muscles which allow urine to either stop or flow and sometimes anxiety can cause them to hold urine, but they are not really aware they are doing it and when they try to go, they simply can’t because they can’t relax those muscles enough to let it flow. Has your family or your son had any major transitions in your lives recently?

Sometimes, a new baby in the house, or a move to a new place, or starting preschool, can be examples of very difficult/stressful times for a child to begin toileting training. Since you mentioned that your son cries when he starts to pee I would definitely make an appointment with your pediatrician to have him checked for a urinary tract infection, since holding urine for long periods can cause a UTI, and pain during urination can be one sign. UTI’s are less common in boys than girls, but they do occur. Children will hold their urine if they know pain is associated with it. If a UTI is ruled out, I would definitely back off toilet training for a while and go back to strictly diapers to alleviate his anxiety related to toileting because you want to get him back on the right track to success without fear/anxiety and if he is holding urine and crying, he sounds as if he just isn’t quite ready. You may also wish to go to the library and get some children’s books related to potty training to read with your son. You can find many book titles at Amazon.com, this is just one example. You can find more tips on potty training at our link here.  Be sure to discuss your concerns with your pediatrician and hopefully you can begin again in a month or two and your son will be on the road to potty training success.