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Children and Soiling/Bowel Control Problems
No. 48

In general, most children are capable of controlling their bowels by the time they reach four years of age. However, some children have problems controlling their bowels which can result in soiling their underclothes. This not only affects the child, but can result in anger and frustration in those who deal with the child regularly such as parents, teachers and care givers.

Children who soil their clothes and have bowel control problems often suffer socially and feel inferior. This is often because they are made fun of by other children and chastised or avoided by adults.

Why do children soil their clothes or lack control of their bowels? There are several reasons which may include:

An underlying medical condition such as Hirschprung's Disease, which is a congenital condition that blocks the large intestine because of improper muscle movement in the bowel.

Problems toilet training. Children are often pushed in to toilet training before they are ready. When a parent is too aggressive, it can lead to a child suppressing the urge to go, which can result in dribbling of loose stools and soiling.

Emotional distress can lead to soiling and bowel control problems in children. Traumatic experiences such as divorce or the birth of another child can cause stress in a child's life, resulting in bowel problems.

Soiling that has no underlying medical cause is known as encopresis, and is more common in boys than girls. Children who suffer from this condition often have other problems such as hyperactivity disorders, a lack of coordination and may be easily frustrated.

What can be done for a child who soils his/her clothes or otherwise has problems controlling their bowels?

First off, the child should be examined by a pediatrician to ensure there is not a medical reason for the condition. Once it has been established that there is not a medical problem or physical disability, a child psychologist can examine your child to determine if there are any emotional issues that may be causing the problem.

Treatment of the soiling and bowel problems may include behavioral modification along with educating parents and other adults in the child's life about dealing with the problem and psychotherapy. Medications may be used if constipation is contributing to the problem, along with a change in diet.

Dealing with a child who soils or has bowel problems requires patience and positive reinforcement; never punish or criticize your child but offer support instead.

This article was written by Tim Manasterski, a staff member.

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