Is Your 5 Year Old Starting to Poop Their Pants?

Not sure why your 5 year old is starting to poop their pants? In this article, join me as I share different ways to respond to your child suddenly having accidents again, whether on purpose or not.

5 Year Old Starting to Poop Pants

One thing’s for sure: you weren’t expecting to still be dealing with poop accidents this late in the game.

Your 5 year old has been fully potty trained for years now—so long that you can’t recall a recent single accident since he was a toddler. But now he’s starting to soil his pants out of nowhere.

Rest assured friend, that however surprising it is to deal with this mess (literally), many potty training accidents are still normal, even at this age. What can you do 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:

Pause the play

One of the biggest reasons kids this age soil themselves is because they don’t want to stop what they’re doing to go to the bathroom. It’s less about outright potty training resistance and more that pooping in the toilet feels like an inconvenient interruption.

Your child could be in the middle of playing a game or watching a movie. 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, or pause the movie while he uses the bathroom. If he has a set number of minutes left for screen time, let him know that you’ll pause the timer.

Using the bathroom doesn’t have to disrupt his play as much as he might be anticipating. Interrupting his play can still be a hassle, but at least he knows that he can pick up right where he left off.

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Have your child use the bathroom before an activity

A simple way to avoid pooping in his pants is to have your child use the bathroom before he plays to begin with.

Let’s say watching television in the evening—have him go to the bathroom before you start the show. 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 or you’re going to start the show. Factor bathroom use into your day so that he doesn’t feel rushed.

This also doesn’t mean that he has to 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 has an opportunity to do so beforehand instead of in the middle of his play.

Take bathroom 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. For instance, have him go first thing in the morning, after coming home from school, 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 coming home from school? Have him sit on the toilet for a few minutes after you arrive home.

With consistency, bathroom breaks can become so ingrained in his routine that you don’t even have to remind him to go.

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 them clean. Even if you don’t want him near the poop, he can still disinfect the toilet or fetch new underwear.

Let’s say you really don’t want him to clean anything up. He can still deal with the consequences of his accidents in other ways. For instance, you aren’t able to help him build his construction set until after you clean up the mess, or you’ll have to use some of the money you earmarked for a toy on new undies or laundry detergent instead.

Whether cleaning up the mess or dealing with the consequences, he can see firsthand what happens when he poops in his pants and be more motivated to avoid doing so again.

Praise your child for clean undies

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t reward kids with typical incentives 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, pooping in her undies—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 can inspire her to continue the positive habits all on her own.

For every mistake she makes, try to find something positive to point out. Keep these comments more about what you noticed (“Thank you for sitting on the toilet right after school!”) rather than your opinion (“I think it’s great that you sat on the toilet after school!”). Both are positive, but giving your opinion too much might make her rely on it to feel good.

Expert tip

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.

Ease your child’s constipation

Does your child hold his poop in so much that it leads to constipation? Some kids withhold poop because of the pain and discomfort of a previous experience of pooping. Unfortunately, withholding poop contributes to even more constipation, furthering the cycle.

If constipation is the culprit, focus on easing its symptoms. For instance, 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 enough water per day—you can even make it a game to see how many cups he has drank so far.

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.

Then, eat a healthy diet with plenty of fiber-rich food like fruits, vegetables, and grains to soften his stools. Apples, prunes, and the occasional fruit juice can help. Simple dietary changes like adding more bran to his cereal or reducing dairy can be all it takes as well.

Lastly, encourage him to move often during the day to further help his bowel movements. Staying sedentary for large parts of the day can make it more difficult for poop to pass.

Don’t make a big deal out of it

This is likely the hardest bit of advice to follow, but so effective. I get it, though—it’s difficult to stay calm when your child is clenching his muscles 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. He might see it as a power struggle and 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 were the biggest problem in the world—that only feeds into the conflict and makes him have even more accidents.

Frequently asked questions

How can I get my child to stop fighting me about sitting on the toilet?

One way to convince him to sit is to set a timer. Let’s say you want him to sit for 5 minutes—set your timer for just that long, particularly a timer that he can hear as well. That way, it doesn’t feel like he has to sit on the toilet until you say so.

Another way is to give him something he can do while he sits, like reading a book or using a tablet. This special treat can be a way to not only make the time go by, but it can distract and relax his body enough that he passes bowel movements.

How much water should my child drink?

According to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, kids should drink the same number of 8-ounce cups as their age. In this case, your 5 year old should drink 5 8-ounce cups, or 40 ounces, of water a day.

The bottom line

Just when you thought you were out of the woods, your 5 year old is starting to poop his pants, causing you alarm (and him some embarrassment).

It’s been a while since those early potty training days, but rest assured that this is normal and won’t last forever. Most importantly, he can keep his undies clean—even this late in the game.

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