Questions & Answers

How can we help our four-year-old get over his habit of soiling his pants, even when he's in his play group?

Try and establish a regular time every day (after meals is usually best) for him to sit on the toilet and move his bowels. He may need to sit on the toilet several times a day. Reward and praise him every time he has a bowel movement in the toilet. If the problem persists, consultation with a mental health professional is warranted.

My child has a very limited diet. Could this have anything to do with his soiling?

Respect his choices, but be sure his diet contains enough high fiber which is found in fruits, vegetables and grains. What does constipation have to do with soiling? Children who are constipated may have painful bowel movements or they may not empty their stool completely. For these children, the stool left becomes so large that stool leaks out and produces soiling. Constipation may also result in extreme straining during a bowel movement, pain and bloating, tiredness, loss of appetite between bowel movements, and reluctance to use the toilet.

Rewards just seem like bribery to me. Won't punishment make him more aware that he's doing something wrong?

It's seldom wise to shame or punish a child for behavior that seems to be beyond his control. If you feel your child is soiling as a way of being negative or oppositional, or as a way of getting attention, even if it is negative attention, it would be advisable to consult a mental health professional and find ways to help change his behavior. Other members of the family might be included.

My daughter, who is now five years old, had a problem in learning to control her bowel movements. She was finally successful in establishing good toilet habits, but since my husband and I have decided to separate she's starting to soil again. What can we do?

Some children, particularly those who had difficulty in this area initially, may regress when they're under stress. Arrange for her to use the toilet at the same time every day to re-establish her regular routine. Reward her for successes. It would be helpful to make sure that she understands the new family situation in concrete terms, such as where she will live, go to school, etc. If possible, provide a predictable schedule for other aspects of her life; for example, make sure she knows she will have time with each parent. It is also important to help her understand the separation is not her fault and therefore she is not being punished.