Help my child won’t poop! How do I get my FIVE year old to poop? Doctors say it is behaviour related, nothing medical.
That’s a really good question. First, poor you. You must be feeling horribly frustrated. Ok, the doctors say this isn’t medical and that it’s behavioural. That means, that essentially what you have here is the ultimate battle of wills. Now many people will tell you that when you have a control battle, you should back off and refuse to engage, as it will simply make it get worse. While they’re right in the respect that you can’t make a child go to the bathroom and shouldn’t try, they are completely wrong when it comes to how to deal with such a battle.
This is a control battle
Let me explain. Children act up for a reason, which is why I offer support services to both solve long and short term problems. Children do it for attention certainly but they also do it without really understanding why. That’s because what we see as ‘controlling behaviour,’ is actually created in response to a fundamental need in your child that is not being satisfied. What’s that need? Leadership. Children are designed to be led. They have needed it since we lived in caves and they continue to need it, as it is fundamental to how humans develop.
You see, children need to be with you, watching what you do. They need to mimic and follow you in your day to day activities and while they watch you do all the things you do, to them you look confident and you show them where to go and how to get there. You are like a Captain on a ship, charting a course and leading your sailors toward a common goal. Now imagine if there was a difficult sailor on your ship. The sailor screamed a lot and gave you a very hard time about not wanting to go where the ship was headed. He wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t do a whole load of things. Would you change course for him? Would you back off?
This is a matter of leadership
My guess is ‘no’ and it’s exactly the same for your child. Now, let’s bring in all those people who say you can’t control getting your child to go to the bathroom. They’re absolutely right. You can’t. What you can do though, is to look at the rest of your life with your child for indications of difficulty, because the proverbial ‘difficult sailor’ on our trip doesn’t just act up before dinner every night or when he’s faced with a plate of beans. It’s a constant, ongoing thing and it shows up in his behaviour at other times. That means to solve this issue, we have to stop looking at it being about using the bathroom and holding on to poop and start looking it as a matter of leadership. Get that right and the problem will disappear.
How to do that? Well, you have to prove that you mean what you say and will calmly follow through, through thick and thin, hell and high water. You must take the lead and be the Captain and you must make it entirely clear that your expectations are, that your child will use the bathroom effectively. You cannot force them of course, but you can make that choice the only really appealing one to take.
First though, I’m going to presume your child is just refusing to go, meaning that you spend a whole lot of time hanging hopefully around the bathroom in an atmosphere of stress, with probably some constipation thrown in. So first, take the stress off. Let it be known that you’re happy to hang around the bathroom or the house for as long as your child needs to evacuate comfortably. Really, it’s all ok with you. All you want to add in a clear, calm manner, is you unfortunately can’t go out until he’s done that, as you know that it’s very hard to poop in strange places and you certainly don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. That logically means you’ll have difficulty going anywhere for a few days, so allow that to happen.
Give him a plausible excuse as to why his friends can’t come over and allow him to get bored. Denied of other friends and outside entertainments, he’ll probably look to you so it’s important that you are about as interesting as a block of marble in the meantime. Just keep busy doing other things and take all the attention off the bathroom, even if he tries to bring it up. It’s completely up to him.
If your child decides not to sit on the toilet and has accidents as a result, try not to look bothered but explain calmly, that all the fun things you could be doing unfortunately will now have to be sacrificed, because you’ve got such a lot of cleaning up to do. Then cheerfully clean up but be completely boring, all day long. Don’t give him tablets, phones, computers or any other entertainments. A book to read should suffice. What you want to do here is to keep the emotion out of it completely and just give him two very defined logical choices that are backed up with logical consequences. Don’t hold on to your bowel movements and we get to do fun stuff and be included or hold on to it and be bored, because mom can’t wait around all day waiting for something to happen from a bowel point of view.
Denied some fun stuff calmly and any five year old will quickly figure out they’re on the losing end of the bargain. My guess is as a result, you’ll see the behaviour change course remarkably fast. Oh and add some fibre to his diet to (although you’re probably already doing that.) It might ease the passage. For more help with your parenting, please visit my parenting services page.