Is your 5 year old starting to poop his pants, whether on purpose or not? Learn how to respond to your child suddenly having accidents again.
Your 5 year old had been fully potty trained for years now—so long that you can’t recall a recent single accident. But now he’s starting to soil his pants out of nowhere (and doesn’t care one bit, either).
Usually this happens when he’s playing and gets caught up in what he’s doing (ahem: screen time). Or he doesn’t want to stop playing with his toys or crafts, afraid that they’ll get cleaned up and put away.
But considering that he had always played in the past and never had an accident, this change feels random and unexpected. You’ve even lectured him sternly, only to feel awful after the fact. But you don’t know how else to make him realize how important it is to poop in the toilet.
One thing’s for sure: you weren’t expecting to still be dealing with poop accidents this late in the game.
When your 5 year old is starting to poop his pants
Rest assured friend, that however surprising it is to deal with this mess (literally), poop accidents can still be quite normal even at this stage. Some kids poop in their pants on purpose for attention, while others feel guilty or even ashamed for having done so.
Still, I know it’s frustrating when you try talking to him about it, only to see him shut down or have a meltdown. It becomes incredibly difficult to keep your cool when you feel like he should know better by now.
The first step? Check with his pediatrician, especially if you feel like you’ve tried everything. She’ll be able to better assess his particular situation and provide the resources he might need.
But if all is okay with him, what else can you do at home when your 5 year old is starting to poop in his pants? Take a look at several ways to stop these accidents once and for all:
1. Pause the play
One of the biggest reasons kids soil themselves is because they don’t want to stop what they’re doing to go to the bathroom. Your child could be in the middle of playing a game, watching a movie, or drawing with crayons. Pooping in the toilet feels like a horrible interruption to the fun he’s having.
If you sense that he has to poop, let him know that you’ll “pause the play.”
Explain that he can leave his toys as-is and that no one will clean them up. Pause the movie while he uses the bathroom. If he has a set number of minutes for screen time, let him know you’ll pause the timer. Reassure him that you’ll watch his toys so no one will move them in any way.
Using the bathroom doesn’t have to disrupt his play as much as he might be anticipating.
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2. Have your child use the bathroom before playing
An even better way to avoid pooping in his pants is to have your child use the bathroom before he plays to begin with.
Let’s say he gets to watch television in the evening. Have him go to the bathroom before TV time, even making it a part of your routine. If you’re going out for a fun activity, schedule time for him to use the bathroom before you head out.
Make sure to give him enough time to use the bathroom, too—don’t make him feel like he has to hurry because you have to leave in five minutes.
This also doesn’t mean that he has to actually poop during that time. You can set a timer for five minutes to at least sit on the toilet. But if he does need to go, then he will have an opportunity to do so beforehand, instead of in the middle of his play.
3. Take potty breaks throughout the day
Not only should your 5 year old go to the bathroom before starting to play, he should do so throughout the day, too. Have him go first thing in the morning, after dinner, or before taking a bath or shower.
Even better is to note when he tends to have accidents and encourage him to use the bathroom before then. For instance, does he usually have an accident after school? Have him sit on the toilet for a few minutes after coming home.
With consistency, potty breaks can become so ingrained in your routine that you don’t even have to remind him to go.
4. Have your child clean the mess
Nothing convinces a child to have fewer accidents than having to clean them up. As young as he may be, your 5 year old can still clean up after himself, with your guidance and help.
For instance, have him dunk and swish the undies in the toilet (or plop hard stools into it). Show him how to pour detergent and scrub the undies. Even if you don’t want him near the poop, he can still help disinfect the toilet or fetch new undies.
He can see firsthand the consequences of the accidents and be more motivated to avoid them down the line.
5. Praise your child for keeping her undies clean
I’m not a big fan of typical rewards like stars, candy, and extra screen time. Instead, I find praise to be more effective, as it draws on your child’s internal joy and pride.
Correcting her challenging behavior—in this case, accidents—doesn’t work as well as acknowledging the good behavior you do want to see. She can only take so much lecturing and nagging, while praise will instead inspire her to continue the positive habits all on her own.
Be mindful not to praise her for things she’s not doing, but for the positive things that she is. For instance, don’t say, “You didn’t have an accident all day!” Instead, say, “You kept your undies clean all day!” This helps her focus on what to do instead of what to avoid.
6. Ease your child’s constipation
Does your child hold his poop in so much that it leads to constipation? Make pooping a more comfortable experience by easing his constipation.
I noticed that the more water I gave my son, the fewer times he pooped in his pants. He was better able to pass his stool in the toilet when he wasn’t constipated.
Give your child a sippy cup of water he can carry with him everywhere, and encourage him to take frequent sips. Make sure he drinks five cups of water a day—you can even make it a game to see how many cups he drank so far for the day.
Offer plenty of fiber-rich food like fruits and vegetables to soften his stools. And encourage him to move often during the day to further help his bowel movements.
As always, check with your pediatrician to rule out bigger issues with constipation, as well as other resources she can offer that will help.
7. Don’t make a big deal out of it
This is likely the hardest bit of advice to follow, but so effective. And I get it—it’s difficult staying calm when your child is obviously clenching his body or making light of his accidents as if they were funny.
But the more you fuss or repeatedly nag him about whether he needs to go, the more of an issue this becomes for him. He’ll see it as a power struggle and will be less willing to comply and try your suggestions when he senses a loss of control.
Instead, treat it matter-of-fact or at least in a neutral way. Talk about it once and let it go for the rest of the day. Clean up the accident without much fanfare (and enlist his help as well). Any time you feel compelled to bring it up, bite your tongue and see what happens if he doesn’t hear a peep from you.
This doesn’t mean you ignore the topic completely. You can say, “You had an accident? Let’s go clean it up,” and deal with the issue quickly. But try not to let it escalate as if it was the biggest problem in the world—that only feeds into the conflict and extends the accidents further.
Just when you thought you were out of the woods, your 5 year old is starting to poop his pants and causing you alarm.
The first step is to give his pediatrician a call for the best guidance on his particular situation. If you suspect that he poops in the middle of play, reassure him that he can pause and go to the bathroom without having his toys taken away.
Even better: have him go to the bathroom before he plays so that he doesn’t have to pause in the first place. Take regular potty breaks throughout the day, incorporating them into your routine. Have him clean up the mess (or at least help) so he’s held accountable for his choices and sees the consequences of the accidents.
Praise him for the times he keeps his undies clean all day. Rule out constipation by giving him plenty of water and fiber-rich food. And lastly, don’t make it a bigger deal than it has to be—escalating it will only make the problem worse, not better.
It’s been a while since those early potty training days—no wonder seeing accidents can suddenly feel frustrating. But rest assured that this won’t last forever, and that your 5 year old will be able to keep his undies clean—and poop in the toilet—once again.
Get more tips:
- Potty Training Books to Ease Your Child’s Anxiety
- Why You Shouldn’t Say “Good Job!” to Kids (and What to Say Instead)
- What to Do when Your Child Is Scared of Restrooms
- Why You Shouldn’t Reward Your Kids All the Time
- Stop Comparing Your Child to Others
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