Q: My five year old son goes through phases in which he wets his trousers, and even poos in his pants. He seems to hold on and hold on until it's too late, and then he's embarrassed to go to the toilet because he doesn't want us to see the mess. I've had times, particularly when we're staying with friends, or he's got friends round, when I've had to change and clean him three times a day. He says he won't go at school because the toilets smell, which I can understand, but how to get over this? We've tried bribery (this did work once but no longer seems to impress him), taking away privileges e.g. TV and Lego (he admits he forces himself not to care), getting him to clean himself up. I'm not only concerned about how to get him to use the toilet when he needs to, but also feel I need to know why he does it. My husband says it's pure laziness, I worry it's something deeper. Any ideas?
A: All children have accidents and wet themselves or even soil from time to time, however by the age of five your son is physically able to control both his bladder and his bowels and you have some good evidence of this as you describe the problem to come in phases.This eliminates any underlying medical reason for this to be happening.
My first suggestion would be for you to maintain a diary, so that you can monitor what is happening here. Record the time of day, where you are, where your son is specifically at the time of an accident, what is going on, who is present and lastly note down your reaction to the event. This will enable you to build a picture to see if there is a pattern to the events. For example is your son holding on and holding on because he is frightened or anxious about opening his bowels? Or, is it when he is excited or craving your personal attention? Or each time certain friends visit?
When you have established this pattern I ‘d like you to turn your attention to your reaction. What was your response? Were you angry? Critical? Anxious? Or were you matter of fact about the situation?
You need to think this through and see how your reactions are affecting the situation. For example if your son wets his trousers, how much attention are you giving him? Even if you responded in a negative, critical way you are still offering huge amounts of attention to your son and effectively reinforcing the behaviour.
Knowing and believing you can help your son is key here, so start by explain to your son that you expect him to use the toilet in future. Be clear that he understands what is expected of him and that he has easy access to the toilet at all times.
If an accident does happen stay calm, change him quickly without conversation or eye contact.This reinforces that the behaviour will receive no attention from you.
Instead of taking privileges away why not introduce a sticker chart? And give plenty of verbal praise and attention each time he uses the toilet. This will help your son to feel special and positive about the situation. Make sure the behaviour is rewarded immediately as this helps motivation. Your son will be able to see his progress as he collects more stickers, maybe you would like to reward him with a small treat after a certain period of time.
Remember to remain consistent to your new approach, keep it up even if you find it difficult at times, otherwise you will be sending out mixed messages to your son.
Good luck, I am sure you can overcome this phase very soon.
About The Author: Allison Marlowe, founder of Allison Marlowe Ltd coaches, inspires and challenges women in business to achieve new levels of success. She can be contacted at www.allisonmarlowe.com