Why your child may have pooping problems

The teacher sheepishly reported to a parent in her class that she found “a little, uh, turd” on the floor by 7-year-old Jack’s chair. Some days, she said, “Jack smells, uh, poopy, but he won’t be directed to the restroom, insisting he doesn’t have to go.”

Needless to say, you probably don’t want to be the mother or the teacher in this situation.

Unfortunately, you may be that mother because many of our adopted and traumatized children have trouble with this sort of thing. Clinically, it is called daytime enuresis and encopresis. The labels are not particularly helpful, however, in figuring out how to make it stop.

Guess what? You cannot make it stop. You can be understanding and work with your child to lighten the shame and to figure out solutions. There are reasons for having daytime accidents, and none of the reasons have to do with being too lazy to get up and go.

First, always start with a thorough child checkup with your family pediatrician. Rule out physical problems that may be contributing. If there is an all clear from your doctor, take a look at the following for areas to investigate.

If your child has sensory integration issues, feeling the urge to go may not be that simple. Our kids often are disconnected from their bodily functions. Their sensory perceptions are cross-wired due to in utero abuses, birth trauma, maltreatment and abandonment in the first two years of life. When that occurs, sometimes the brain-body connection is weak. If you think that is going on, talk to your child about the physical experience of feeling the urge. Yes, get right in there with frank descriptions and help your child learn to connect feelings (the physical urge) with thoughts (interpreting the urge as “time to go” and acting on this.)

On top of sensory cross-wiring, foster and adopted children often have chronic survival needs for control of their lives. After all, those who were supposed to be in charge let these children down, so primally they have great difficulty letting go of control to the next parent. You have probably noticed that children are told what to do all day long, every day. They have very little control of anything.

Does this sound familiar? “As soon as you finish your carrots, you can get down. I am not hungry. Eat them anyway.”

How about this? “Go to the bathroom. I don’t have to go. Go anyway.”

In a misguided attempt to have control, some children focus on the only thing they can.

Children with control needs can be helped by parents sharing power and control. By definition, parents are in charge and they can share power and control with their children any time it is safe to do so.

Power-sharing questions sound like this: 

  • “How many more minutes do you need to be ready to go?”
  • “Do you want to pick out your clothes today?”
  • “Would you like carrots with your chicken?”
  • “Would you like to pick the family movie tonight?”

Little by little, you will find your child feeling powerful enough to go to the bathroom instead of fiercely controlling their bowels just to have a smidgen of self-possession.

One last thing. What you focus on, you get more of. Take your focus off the toilet and put it on sharing power and helping your child learn to feel and properly interpret hunger pangs and physical urges. With daily understanding, support and encouragement, the daytime accidents will become a thing of the past.

To read more by Ce Eshelman, LMFT, go to: www.wisdomforadoptiveparents and www.attachplace.com.