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I have a problem with my 13 year old daughter that she only recently told me about. I decided to ask here because there's already some other questions on this topic.
She told me that she holds her poop in for weeks at a time. She said that it's been going on for as long as she can remember. I was confused at first, so I told her I would buy her a laxative or some food with lots of fiber. She started shaking her head aggressively, and said, "No, no, no, you don't get it at all." It's a gesture she does when she knows you're 100% wrong. I did more research, and realized there wasn't much you could find about this topic on the internet. I'm convinced this isn't physical, as she seemed humiliated with me even mentioning doing anything that would be done for constipation.
I feel like I should have noticed the signs, like her hiding dirty panties when she was younger, but I thought she just had trouble with wiping. Every 2 or 3 weeks she will produce a gigantic poop that I will have to de-clog.
She doesn't soil her panties anymore, but she does complain that it feels like there's a rock in her stomach. She constantly rubs the spot and says she likes the feeling. She also wants to talk to me about a issue a lot. I can't exactly do the ignoring approach when she's constantly asking to talk about it. It's like it embarrasses her, but she still likes talking about it. (She used to use excuses that she was "just constipated" when she was holding it for weeks. She also went in the bathroom and pretended to go.) I don't want to take her to a doctor, because covid (she's scared of it, plus she has sensory issues with the mask) and they will tell me to use laxatives, and there's no way she will go with that.
Hopefully I put enough information. I need an answer quickly, so if you have any suggestions please tell me!
Things I've already tried:

  • Telling her that everyone poops and it's normal, and saying stuff like, "Miku poops too, and she tells you that you should so you can be like her!" (Miku is one of her favorite characters, and has been for years. The rest of her favorites are literal vehicles.)
  • I can't offer her rewards, as all she wants are expensive technology devices that we can't afford.
  • It's definitely all a mental issue, I've asked her and she's sure of it. So medicine won't work.
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This kind of behavior can be an act of control, similar to the self-harm behaviors of cutting and anorexia. Make no mistake, what she is doing is a slow-burn level of self-harm, and her desire to discuss it with you reflects her obsession with controlling this (but may also be a subtle 'cry for help').

Behavior like this can result from an environment or circumstances in her life that disturb her over which she has no control -- the act of tight control exerted in this way would then be a comfort and pride on some level for her.

Your daughter needs help right away, especially if this has been going on for years. She not only needs to address the reasons that brought her to this behavior, she also needs a general practitioner doctor's exam (and a 'doctor talk' about the science of digestion) to address the physical ramifications of years of this behavior. I recommend that you scale up your efforts, and urge tele-medicine appointments with a psychiatrist or therapist ASAP; I would not let another month go by.

As family, there are things you can do to support your daughter. One is to re-think your family dynamics to afford her the privilege to make decisions for herself wherever it is appropriate to do so. Rethink what decisions you as a parent make for her, and defer when you can -- get her involved and give her a sense of being an executive in her own life.

It is likely also to help if you foster and support (lure, not force) engagement in activities, hobbies, or sports (even if gentle ones like walking, bike riding, or ping pong) -- the key being to engage her mind in positive directions away from the obsession.

In my opinion it is imperative not only for your daughter's well-being, but her health, that you get her prompt professional assistance.

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I have similar issues with my son, but he's only 3 years old. His 'holding it' is 100% mental (in his case he doesn't like the fact poop is smelly, doesn't wish to stop playing to go, thinks taking the time to go to the bathroom is 'boring'). Rewards haven't worked even at his more impressionable age, they will almost certainly not work with an older child of 13. We've had a little success by trying to suss out his objections to the process and deal with them (scented spray for the toilet, making a designated poo time when nothing else fun or interesting is happening, bringing a book to the bathroom). You might get somewhere by asking your daughter what she likes about not going, or what she doesn't like about going, and working with those things to make the experience more pleasing to her. Maybe playing music in the bathroom, scented candles, a nice soft rug on the floor, or other simple changes will help her get more comfortable with the idea.

To be frank, I think this issue is already out of hand as far as you dealing with it entirely alone. Your daughter's insistence on talking about the issue (even though she seems embarrassed or ashamed) seems to me like a cry for help. On some level I think she knows she's hurting herself with this behavior, and probably doesn't know how to 'just stop' a habit of many years. In your place, I would look for a counselor or therapist to work with your daughter on this. If there is an underlying sensory or shame issue, they may be able to help her overcome that. The fact that your daughter has such sensory sensitivity that wearing a mask is difficult seems to point towards a similar origin for this problem.

You will likely need to meet with a doctor as well, even if you choose tele-health to avoid covid risks. Even if the reason for her constipation truly is all mental, intentionally choosing not to go to the bathroom, years of this habit has almost surely stretched her colon and disrupted the normal action of her body. A doctor's advice many include medication or dietary changes to help restore her to normal function. You or her doctor may need to speak quite seriously to her about how much long term harm she might do to herself by not listening to her body's need to eliminate waste.

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  • Thanks for the answer! I tried asking her why she does it, and she says that she "hates soft poop and likes the challenge of holding it in". Now I have no idea what she means. (My older daughter had problems that were common and I could find online, can't find anything about this one.) I tried to make her eat some fiber one cereal earlier and she said it was disgusting. (She tries lots of things but hates them all.) She was happy in 4th grade and she still did it, so I don't think it's linked to having no friends. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist but that's in March. – Sarah Jan 27 at 17:15

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