‘The last couple of days our son has bad accidents with bowel movements at preschool. He’s been potty-trained for almost a year; why would he regress now?’
Even the toddler who’s been using the toilet for a year is entitled to an accident now and then. But when such accidents happen regularly, there’s usually a good reason, such as Stress. A new nanny, a new sibling, a new school (or a new teacher), a trip away from home, or another anxiety-provoking change in a child’s life can disrupt his internal timetable and lead to toileting accidents. A new routine. Often, a child who’s just begun attending preschool has trouble adapting his toileting habits to the new schedule and structure.
- Be sensitive to his situation. Having an accident can be a real blow to a child’s ego, particularly at school. SO go out of your way to be understanding, empathetic and reassuring about what’s happened. Don’t scold, don’t pressure, and don’t insist that your child explain or talk about the incident if he’s reluctant. A child is often so unnerved by toileting accidents that he’ll deny them, even with the evidence in clear view. Don’t demand your toddler own up to the accidents – you know about it, he knows about it, enough said. If you’re with him at the time of the accident, just change his clothes while changing the subject – chat casually about something unrelated and distracting rather than commenting on the mess he made, or worse still, telling him what a baby he is for making it.
- Acknowledge all of his achievements. Continue to applaud him whenever he does a bowel movement in the toilet instead of his pants. But also look for other accomplishments to acclaim – offer praise when he gets his coat on by himself, when he draws a self-portrait, when he remembers to wash his hand before lunch. The better he feels about himself, the better his chances of making it to the toilet next time.
- Ease up on him. Sometimes too much pressure – whether it’s pressure to use the bathroom, to eat what’s put in front of him, to have model manners, or to perform academically or socially – can cause a toddler to unravel. And one way that the travelling can manifest itself is in toileting accidents. So make sure that you’re not helping too many demands or too many expectations on your toddler.
- Counter constipation. If hard-to-pass bowel movements seem to be the root of the problem, take the steps for dealing with constipation.
- Deal with diarrhoea. If frequent soft movements seems to be inducing your child’s potty accidents, examine his diet. The most likely dietary factor is excessive fruit juice. If your child is drinking more than 250 ml/8 fl ounces of juice a day, cut back. Dilute the juice with water, substitute all water or milk at some snacks. An excessive amount of dried fruit and high-fiber foods is another possible, though less likely cause of the problem. Cut back some on such foods for a week or too to see if the number of accidents is reduced.
- Get some help at school. Speak to your child’s teacher about his problem, but do so in private, so his embarrassment won’t be compounded. Find out if there’s been a change in routine that may have triggered the accidents, or if the teacher thinks he may be shy about using the toilet around other children. Ask the teacher to remind him to go and to offer him the opportunity for privacy if that’s what he needs.
- Get up earlier. If you’ve been rushing your toddler from the breakfast table out the breakfast table out the door each morning, that could be part of the problem. Giving him breakfast (preferably one that contains a high-fiber food and some fruit juice) half an hour earlier than usual and then letting him do something active, maybe even go for a short walk, may enable him to use the bathroom before he leaves home.
If your toddler’s bowel movements are loose, watery, bloody, or contains mucus, or if the soiling continues for more than a couple of weeks, discuss the problem with his doctor to see if there is an underlying medical reason.