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“Stool withholding is still a very misunderstood issue. Most parents, it seems, have little or no knowledge of it. And, unfortunately, many health professionals are not up-to-speed on the subject. Finding the correct advice, as early as possible, is essential but can be challenging.” Sophia Ferguson, Author of Stool Withholding and Your Child.

Breaking the withholding cycle

Resolving stool holding (that happened because of hard poos) needs a ‘two pronged’ approach, first to sort the physical, then working on the psychological and behavioural effects that the physical problem created.

  1. Treat the constipation first.

  2. When their poo is reliably soft, you can start working on reassurance and confidence building.

Remember relaxation is key to pooing and weeing.

Take time to make sure your child is as comfortable as possible in the bathroom - there are lots of tips to help with this stage in Toilet Anxiety.

Your child needs to believe that their poo will not hurt them anymore. Many children will not trust it when they are told their poos are ok now, they need to see for themselves. 

Using rewards - the do's and don'ts! 

“I’ve spoken to parents who are so desperate for their child to do a poo that they’ve offered rewards and treats of increasing value - a trip to Disneyland was even something one parent had laid on the table. But still their child refused to go. The parent was amazed at their willpower and inability to do the one simple thing (in their eyes) that would earn the prize. Sadly, the fear of pooing is very primal for the child and hard to overcome overnight”.
ERIC Helpline advisor. 

It’s important for parents to bear in mind that the fear of passing a poo for a committed ‘stool holder’, is usually greater than any treat you can offer.

Here are some tips for using rewards in a supportive and effective way:

  • Reward schemes are very specific to all children and their families. They should be given for each effort your child makes in moving this problem forward.

  • Try rewarding a range of different things, toilet and non-toilet related, that are achievable for your child. These could include: improved drinking, taking medication, sitting on the toilet, anything they pass into the toilet, wiping, going to the toilet without being prompted or reminded.

  • Many children prefer to be part of the plan, negotiating suitable rewards. Both sides have to stick with it for it to have effect. If children ‘buy in’ they are more likely to succeed.

  • Keep the rewards small and achievable so your child is not deflated by appearing to not make progress.

  • Try to make sure your child cannot gain the reward for doing something easier, this gives it too little power. They need to know they will only get the item they really desire by defeating their fears.

Other practical ways to help children feel more comfortable around poo