Do you have an older child who still “holds”? It’s a common problem with children in the younger grades. They check out medically as being okay, yet when they need to move their bowels, they still won’t go use the toilet.
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You plead with them to go sit on the toilet, you discover soiled underwear hidden in their bedroom and you find yourself monitoring their washroom habits to see if they are “producing” anything. You’re afraid they’ll soil their pants in public if you don’t help them train properly. Right? Actually–wrong. Let’s look at what is happening.
Why Older Children Hold Their Bowels
It’s our fear that our children can’t manage that gets us overly involved, and as we begin to micromanage them, we usurp the child’s proper role and responsibility for toileting themselves. We rob them of this power. This sets up a power struggle. The child resists the parental urgings and manipulations. They are saying “It’s my body, it’s my decision, and you can’t make me.” They “hold” to win the power struggle.
What to Do?
The power struggle needs to dissolve. You need to hand over this responsibility back to the child and trust him to manage it, accidents and all. I suggest you teach them how to wash soiled underwear and how to do a load of laundry. At 8 years old, with a a step stool, it’s as easy as a toaster. Once they have learned how to do that, your life is not impacted by their bowel habits, and I suggest you tell them so, and let them know respectfully that you trust them to be independent and that won’t be mentioning toileting to them again. Ever.
The child will decide in their own time how long they want to hold and how much of a hassle it is to clean up–and none of that will be worth if it doesn’t set you off!
So, we end the power struggle, empower him, and stop being invested in trying to change the child’s behaviors. They won’t change until you get un-invested. If the power struggle still exists, they will feel defeated by you if they change, so they are in essence, “stuck” in this behavior.
You can free them to change by stop your involvement in their business.
Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.
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94 Responses to “Still Pooping Pants at 8 Years Old”
-W June 25, 2009
My child is a 7 yr old boy. We have been dealing with pooping issues since potty training. He was born with Hirschsprung’s Disease and had 1/3 of his colon surgically removed, which complicates our issues. About 18 mos. ago we saw a pediatric gastroenterologist for just over a year. The doctor never changed her course of action and nothing she did helped in the least. She never acknowledged that the disease could be a factor and just kept the same treatment the whole time we visited her. After 14 mos. of $40 co-pays I said ENOUGH! I have given up on the medical world and I am now looking for other solutions. I too am guilty of loosing my patience and, his 3 siblings often make unkind comments. We are working on this as a family. But we know the exhaustion this issue brings upon individuals and families. Good luck to each of you!Reply
eliza February 19, 2016
Take your son to a kinesiologist! they work!Reply
Gigi July 6, 2016
Encopresis is commonly caused byconstipation, by reflexive withholding of stool, by various physiological, psychological, or neurological disorders, or from surgery (a somewhat rare occurrence).
The colon normally removes excess water from feces. If the feces or stool remains in the colon too long due to conditioned withholding or incidental constipation, so much water is removed that the stool becomes hard, and becomes painful for the child to expel in an ordinary bowel movement. A vicious cycle can develop, where the child may avoid moving his/her bowels in order to avoid the “expected” painful toilet episode. This cycle can result in so deeply conditioning the holding response that the rectal anal inhibitory response (RAIR) or anismus results. The RAIR has been shown to occur even under anesthesia and when voluntary control is lost. The hardened stool continues to build up and stretches the colon or rectum to the point where the normal sensations associated with impending bowel movements do not occur. Eventually, softer stool leaks around the blockage and cannot be withheld by the anus, resulting in soiling. The child typically has no control over these leakage accidents, and may not be able to feel that they have occurred or are about to occur due to the loss of sensation in the rectum and the RAIR. Strong emotional reactions typically result from failed and repeated attempts to control this highly aversive bodily product. These reactions then in turn may complicate conventional treatments using stool softeners, sitting demands, and behavioral strategies.
The onset of encopresis is most often benign. The usual onset is associated with toilet training, demands that the child sit for long periods of time, and intense negative parental reactions to feces. Beginning school or preschool is another major environmental trigger with shared bathrooms. Feuding parents, siblings, moving, and divorce can also inhibit toileting behaviors and promote constipation. An initiating cause may become less relevant as chronic stimuli predominate. I found this on Wikipedia. I hope it helps.Reply
Fiona July 2, 2009
I feel compelled to contribute to this thread. I consulted this website three months ago when I reached an impasse with my four year old (since turned five). She was having daily bowel movements in her underwear, and I couldn’t figure out why. It had been happening on an off for about six months, but this last stretch was particularly trying.It turns out that a number of key foods that I had been encouraging her to eat (because they are healthy) had been irritating her small intestine. It was a Naturopath here in Oakville, Ontario, with NAET training (allergy training) who pinpointed the problem for us. We have since eliminated these foods from her diet and there hasn’t been one poop incident since.I wanted to share this with you to let you know that it really might be out of your child’s control. I hope that this e-mail has helped you and I wish all of you and your children the very best for the future.Reply
Suzanne July 14, 2016
I am raising my 8 year old niece, she has been diagnosed with severe constipation, the pediatrician has on taking a daily laxative powder, which does help.. But I do remind her to use the washroom and she has actually chosen to poo her pants instead of using the toilet. She told me it’s easier to just clean her pants then use the toilet… This frustrates me so much! I’ve taken her to a psychologist and she thinks part of it may be caused by a deep rooted problem or depression, but this has been going on for years. As far back as I can remember my sister complaining about it when she was alive.. Parents, please give me suggestions to help me not get so frustrated??I already make her clean the mess herself, so other suggestions please.Reply
alyson October 11, 2016
Suzanne, I believe this is a power struggle. As such, you can drop the rope so she is no longer embroiled in a fight with you over toiletting. After all, if she is cleaning up the mess independently, then I would say this doesn’t involve you. Its between her and her choices for how she cleans herself, odd as they are.
If you don’t care – and if you stop making it an issue in the house, I suspect that she will see there is no power to be gained in defying you anymore, since its no longer defiance! Its accepted that she can poo her pants if she chooses. Without the benefit of conquering you and upsetting you and proving to you that you CAN”T MAKE HER – the behaviour losses its purpose. With no gain to be had – why not use the toilet, its just easier.
Tammy July 21, 2009
I have a 6.5 year old whose still pooping her pants.Here lately she has even wet them also.I have tried time out,taking away television which hurts her mostly,and I have even tried spanking.She’ll just hide it when she’s tired of punishment.She’ll even use a bunch of clean clothes to clean herself off which means more laundry.She will also poop on herself and then use a whole roll of toilet paper at a time to clean it off and then stop the toilet up.She gets poop all over her bedding,her mattress,the carpet,the toilet,and making her clean it up has no effect either.This is a daily routine that happens several times a day sometimes.Sometimes her undies and clothes are so bad I have to throw them out.I replace so much underwear.She will sit in it for hours and then you’ll start smelling the old poop and you just gag.She knows what she is doing is wrong because she knows our other children don’t do it but I think she doesn’t care.What do you do when they are doing it because they are just being plain lazy?We have 3 bathrooms in our house,and she rarely ever pees on herself.We have even taken her to the doctors and he said she is not constipated and he told her in a stern voice not to do it anymore and thought that would cure her.Any advice!?Reply
Pam Timmermans March 16, 2015
My experience might be helpful to you.
I have a 5 year old son who constantly pooped his pants and had pee accidents all the time. It was driving me nuts. I stayed calm and was indifferent to the situation, as I figured he would do it when he was ready. I do have an incentive system (he gets 1 smartie for going pee on the toilet and 5 for going poo). That is working quite well. When he does have an accident (which is for 2 reasons: 1, he has anxiety around going poo on the toilet; 2, he is way too involved with playing and not willing to take the time to go on the toilet). When he does have an accident, I immediately remove him from his play in an indifferent way and take him to the bathtub, where he is required to clean himself to the best of his abilities, then I do the rest. When he complains, I tell him that he chose to go in his pants, so when he makes that choice, he has to get cleaned up. He chose the action and the natural consequence is to clean himself up. I think this is a good method because he can’t be lazy. If he chooses to be lazy, then in the end, he spends more time cleaning himself up and has to get wet in the tub. He has to choose for himself, is it really worth it?
I know as parents we are busy and it’s hard to constantly monitor our kids to see if they had an accident. As part of our routine, he is also on a toileting schedule until he consistently makes better choices. Every hour, he has to come down to the toilet and try to go, whether he has to or not. You could try instilling a similar technique with your daughter. That way, it doesn’t pay to be lazy. Let her know that it’s not healthy to go to the washroom in her pants, so as her mother, it’s important to you for her to make healthy choices. Let her know that when she starts making better choices (ask her what some better choices might be; Let her be a part of the process), she won’t have to be on a schedule any longer.
When he does go on the toilet, I make sure I give him lots of praise. Recently, a switch has gone off and he is finally getting it. For the past week, he has had no accidents in his pants. He’s going poo and pee on the toilet all day long on his own and he still gets his smarties until the container is empty (we filled a container from the bulk store). So nice to see some progress.
I wish you lots of luck.Reply
alyson March 17, 2015
Thank you for sharing your story. You have made recommendations very generously and I thank you for taking the time to help someone you have never met. In Adlerian psychology, we call that social interest. BRAVA. That is one of the best parts of these websites – for parents to connect and share so we don’t feel alone. Alas, I want to make some comments without being discouraging. Could it be that children who are made to clean up, sometimes find that they get personal one on one time with their parent during this time of assistant, such that, there is more to be gained from soiling than in toileting? Also, when we reward kids with smarties and insists on a schedule, they can be made to feel very controlled and will NOT use the toilet simple to defy our authority? To prove ” we can’t make them”. I find that by accepting the reality that most people do the normative behaviour of using a toilet, that simple patience, faith, guidance, and a hands off approach will allow a child to move in the direction of pro-social behaviours of the group norm. The busy-er we get training ( aka controlling) the longer the process takes. Hope this helps and gives some potential insights. – AlysonReply
olpampam March 17, 2015
I also wondered if the cleaning process was more along the lines of positive reinforcement because it gave him mommy and me time.
My son might be a little different than some because he has a global delay. We had a pediatrician help with these recommendations, although I added the external reward (Smarties) because to be honest, the other stuff did kind of seem like a reward in itself and I wanted to shift the attraction to using the toilet rather than bath time with Mom and after awhile, you’re willing to try just about anything. I don’t normally agree with external rewards, but in this case, I had just about exhausted all of my patience. I knew he could do it, he just needed to want to do it.
The schedule was also recommended by our pediatrician for home and school. I most definitely don’t disagree with you though that it could make him feel controlled, but it did save many pairs of underwear and since he is a very routine based child, he didn’t seem to mind the schedule because it just felt like part of his routine to him. It’s good to take all perspectives due to the fact that every child is different.
Thank you for your expertise. All perspectives are greatly appreciated, especially when there is good reasoning behind it.Reply
Timothy March 21, 2016
Have have a 5 year that will pee in the toilet but poops in the floor and she’s going to school in august. Please help I tried everythingReply
Angela Eller January 19, 2017
Alyson not to be negative but letting the child do the cleaning and go on their own in just good faith that they will stop is ridiculous. Those who have girls know how dangerous it can be for their health as a small example UTIs just being an example. I can half way understand with a boy but as a parent looking after the health for her kids this seems like a receipt for disaster. They are kids they don’t get to be in charge and being able to have some say to what they want to do and can do on their own, should been seen as a privilege if they are acting like a 2 yr old when they are 5 and up. I say the diaper method may be the best way and I mean full on as in make them where it in public and check them regularly like you would a 2 yr old . And yeah even if you have their friends over. I may sound harsh but this is what stopped my son from doing this. It was the embarrassment that got him to stop. And it looks like I’m going to have to do the same for my daughter. Honestly there is a time to ignore them with some behavior but not in this case. You want to pay for that doctor bill go ahead ill be here with my lil girl healthy but extremely embarrassed.
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Grandma September 11, 2009
I want to thank all of you for writing what is going on with you as I have thought we were the only ones in the world going through this hell.We have the most wonderful 10¾ grandson, that came to live with us along with his sister and mother a year ago. Well for the past year all I smell is poop! We have tried JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, and I SO MEAN JUST BOUT EVERYTHING to STOP this. But ALL has FAILED. I WONT allow ppl to come into my house as it smells like a sewer. We’ve had him checked out by his doctor…. all is okay. Next to the psychotherapist… and still POOP! It’s has gotten so bad I am not going through depression as I am stuck in the house all day smelling it! I mean the smell has gotten into everything no matter how much we clean. We have tried making him scrub his clothes, and wash them… still poop!I have talked to him if there is anything I can do to help him… nada. I went and sent away for diapers for older children and that will be my next step as I am lost at what to try next. The sad part is he doesn’t seem to even care that his friends can smell him. One of the psychotherapist told us to make his sit on newspapers on the floor as he ISNT allowed to sit on anything else… and that we should have “pratice wipping” three times a day. Sounds like an idea to me, but the daughter is fighting me on it. The 2nd psychotherapist told us to give him “coffee” which just made him wired out! lol I am at a lost and truthfully really starting to get sick of all of this… HELP!!!!Reply
nikki September 27, 2009
i so happy to hear that i’m not the only parent out there that has to deal with this on a daily basis ~ i’m at the end of my rope too and reading all the other comments ~ i see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but it is going to take a long time in getting there ~ thank you everyone for the advice ~ my daughter is almost 8 years old and has been doing this for almost a year and i’m starting to think that maybe this is caused from us (her parents) always fighting and this is the result ~ but i’m still pretty confused to why it is happening ~ but please keep posting comments on this problem as i will be coming back every few days to read people’s comments and advice on this matter!Reply
KC October 5, 2009
I am so glad that I am not alone!!! My son is 8 and he still has “accidents.” He says that he can’t feel when he has to go. We don’t push him and I have stopped asking him every 5 minutes if he needs to go. He is definately getting better, but it doesn’t bother him near as much as it bothers me. The doctor says that he will outgrow it…Reply
Trevor October 5, 2009
Okay, my brother is 13 years old. He is still pooping in his pants. No idea why he does that. I don’t think it’s a power issue at all.Reply
CeeBee October 6, 2009
These are depressing comments. I’ve got a four and a half year old who I just spanked to within two inches of his life for pooping in his pants. He has two younger siblings, and I’ve always bought into the whole line about how “children will train when they’re ready!” and “He won’t go to kindergarten in diapers! wink wink!”But I’m starting to suspect these happy-sounding lines are a bunch of overly-permissive s&*t.