I have an 8 year old son who refuses to use the restroom. He does #1 in toilet but not #2. This has been going on for less than a year, I'd say about 8 months now. Before that, his potty routine was normal. Out of nowhere he started refusing to go. I've asked him if there's any reason to why he doesn't use the toilet and he responds with "I don't know, there's no reason"

He stays with his grandfather every weekend and he does it there as well. He doesn't do it at school at all, I guess he waits till he's at home where he's most "comfortable" because he doesn't want "kids to smell him".

What can I do to make him use the restroom like he used to? I'm tired of having to wash his underwear as often as I do and having talks with him about the need of toilets.

  • 3
    Have you taken him to the doctor about it and if so, what did the doctor offer as advice?
    – threetimes
    Sep 8 '17 at 6:21
  • @threetimes Good call on eliminating medical issues first.
    – user29389
    Sep 8 '17 at 11:08
  • If the issue is not medical in nature, my first question is whether or not there have been any changes in his routine (or general life changes) lately? OR because his grandfather cares for him on a regular basis, have there been changes there?
    – Dr. Mom
    Sep 9 '17 at 14:10
  • Why did you write '#1' and '#2' instead of proper words? I think encryption isn't necessary here, but makes it more difficult to understand your text.
    – Arsak
    Jan 2 '18 at 16:28

What can I do to make him use the restroom like he used to?

My son went through something similar when he was young, and in my case it was just a battle of wills. I said to him you need to poopy in the potty. I would repeat this phrase over and over again. I would sit with him in the bathroom until he did use the bath room. ( Not for hours on end, but 10 min ever hour or so )

The other part of this is I had him hand wash the majority of the mess every single time, be it on just his underwear, or his clothes.

Once he started falling back in line, I provided rewards for doing the right thing, such as allowing him to watch his TV show, or an extra sweet.

Be patient he will come around.

NOTE: In writing this answer, I am assuming that medical conditions have been eliminated. Have your doctor examine him if this is a concern.

  • You provide some excellent advice, however, I think we need a little more information to make sure these techniques might be successful in this particular case. Was your son the same age? Was his change in bathroom behavior just as sudden? Did it last a similar length of time? How forcefully did he resist your intervention? All of these details will help assist in determining the best course of action.
    – Dr. Mom
    Sep 8 '17 at 18:52
  • Whether it’s the same situation or not, the fact that he chooses when to do it indicates he has SOME control. OP should stop cleaning up the mess for him - at 8 he should be able to do it himself, and the OP should teach him how and then make it his responsibility. My 3.5 year old has to clean up his own messes when he has an accident and he does just fine.
    – MAA
    Jan 4 '18 at 0:34

The first thing which needs to be done is that the child needs to see a pediatrician who specializes in encopresis, or a pediatric gastroenterologist. Once a child past the age of 4 starts soiling their pants, it might be a medical problem. (There are medical conditions that start earlier, but they are usually recognized as such.)

This can start insidiously with just constipation then a painful BM. The painful BM makes the child afraid to go again, which results in their holding it in, having a harder stool, maybe larger, and again painful, so it becomes a self-reinforcing problem.

Boston's Children's Hospital describes it like this:

How does encopresis happen?

Constipated children have fewer bowel movements than normal, and their bowel movements can be hard, dry, difficult to pass and so large that they can often even block up the toilet. Here are some examples why:

-Your child's stool can become impacted (packed into her rectum and large intestine).
-Her rectum and intestine become enlarged due to the retained stool.
-Eventually, her rectum and intestine have problems sensing the presence of stool, and the anal sphincter (the muscle at the end of the digestive tract that helps hold stool in) becomes dilated, losing its strength.
-Stool can start to leak around the impacted stool, soiling your child's clothing.
-As more and more stool collects, your child will be less and less able to hold it in, leading to accidents. Because of decreased sensitivity in your child’s rectum due to its larger size, she may not even be aware she’s had an accident until after it has occurred.

This is why "I don't know" is the most common answer parents get when they ask their child, "Why didn't you tell me you needed to go?" The colon and sphincter do not give them the signals they need to feel to evacuate 'properly'.

The approach initially will be medical: a dietary change, a bowel evacuation, laxatives, liquids, fiber, etc. With luck (it's still early), your child will respond and this will be a thing of the past.

Often, however, the treatment of longer episodes of encopresis require a multidiciplinary approach: doctor, dietician, and therapist.

Read reputable sites on encopresis. Many parents have gone through this; there are even online encopresis support groups you can join. Good luck!

  • Some excellent information if it is a medical issue. However, it is not currently clear whether or not the OP has already sought medical help. From the way the question is currently phrased, it appears as though the child picks and chooses when he soils himself. Correct me if I am wrong (as this is not my area of "expertise"), but with encopresis, I do not believe children have control over when they soil themselves (due to diminished sphincter strength).
    – Dr. Mom
    Sep 9 '17 at 3:59
  • 1
    @Dr.Mom - You're correct that kids with encopresis don't have control over when and where. I actually missed that on the first reading. Thanks! The other possibility I did not go into was the psychological. It's possible he doesn't have constipation at all, but evacuated completely each time. That would be fairly easy to diagnose with an Xray. In any case, I believe the medical aspect should be ruled out first. Sep 9 '17 at 13:55

I don't know if this will help you but I must share my experience as what we did HELPED!!! 1. We had NO idea our (completely healthy)teen child was having issues with what I NOW know is called soiling/encopresis. I had no idea it was a thing or that my poor child had been dealing with it for YEARS. THEY didn't even know they were struggling with It. We knew they had issues with regular/harder bowel movements and were making them drink more water, consume more fruits/veggies in hopes to alleviate it 2. They had had minor soiling in underwear for years but we just reduced it to poor cleaning or not making it to restroom in time. 3.BUT then their bowel movements became so heinous we suspected something was going on internally. 4. My poor child was starting to smell like horrible poo ALL THE TIME! We'd talk and talk about showering, better hygiene, proper cleaning methods ect. But they would be so frustrated with it all because according to them, they WERE doing all the right things with no explanation for the still smelling/soiling problem. The soiling got worse over time and we had had enough! Last year I spent tons of time researching the issue, still not knowing what it was we were dealing with. I came across this site with others who were struggling with the same issues. Thankfully, we now had a name for the issue and secondly we were not the only ones. But we still didn't have a solution. Our child isn't developmentally challenged, hasn't gone through any traumatic events or anything else that could possibly explain what was happening. We spoke with a dr who suggested the typical treatment for this, which meant OTC drugs/stool softener. But I read about the side affects and there were too many families who noticed a negative change in their children's behavior, ie. Depression, mood swings, rage ect. The softener is only meant for adults and for short periods. We were being advised to take for 6mos + as those parents. I was NOT willing to take a gamble. So we did NOT take the medicine as advised. I researched more looking for an alternative....I came across a post on a blog about some behavioral issues/tendencies. It spoke so much about what my child had been displaying in other areas of their life: low energy, lack of effort in most areas, lack of focus, easily sidetracked or distracted, that I kept reading to see what their solution was. Its main purpose was to bring attention to our children who have an unhealthy gut and an imbalanced level of serotonin which affects so much. www.homeschool-your-boys.com/focusing-attention-sensoryissues/

It was such a blessing to see this article and how adding a few healthy supplements/vitamins can truly make a difference.
I was SO desperate for my child I was willing to give it a try as it mentioned digestive issues as a side affect of low serotonin. It proposes the use of a prebiotic and grapefruit extract seed for 3 months to help build good bacteria and fight the bad. So I ordered enough for 3 months on Amazon. Well let me tell you in just 2 MONTHS of daily doses 3x a day + regular water intake, fruit/veggie comsumption, regular potty breaks AND checking their stool daily for softer stools and comfirm that they had indeed used the restroom,, my child's mood improved, their focus improved AND the bowel issue was almost resolved!! This was at the beginning of Feb 2017, by May we could see a significant difference in our child and buy the 3rd month it was completely resolved. No more heinous stench in the bathroom just the typical poo smell, no more soiled clothes, better overall mood/behavior and a confidence we hadn't seen in years got restored. My child had suffered without ever speaking a word to us out of fear/embarrassment. We continued the supplements for another 3 months just to keep them on track and they have not had the issue again! I pray something you read here is helpful and even more what you read on the blog. They suggest behavioral training with the supplements BUT we didn't use the training just the supplements. We continue to monitor our child just in case but to this day Jan 1 2018 they do not have the issue any more!

  • 2
    Naturopathic medicine is a remarkable field, one that fills the large gaps in traditional/allopathic medicine. It is not, however, without its reliable sources. Please find some reliable sources for there assertions and edit into your answer. Thanks so much! Jan 2 '18 at 6:13

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