Stool Holding Behavior in Children

When your child holds in their stools, the situation can become embarrassing for both children and parents. It may cause constipation as well as stool leakage. Understanding the causes and treatments for stool holding helps you get your child's bowel functions back on track. In some cases, this may indicate a deeper health issue, so be sure to mention it to your child's pediatrician.


Children who suffer from chronic constipation are more likely to hold their stool, according to 1. Having a bowel movement while constipated is often difficult and painful, making kids afraid to go. Over time, their stool can become impacted in their colon and small amounts may leak onto their underwear. Constipation itself has many causes, including a low-fiber diet, lack of hydration and food intolerances. For some kids, emotional problems, such as divorce, a death in the family or a new brother or sister can result in stool holding.


Often, treatment for constipation can help reduce the incidence of stool holding, though for some kids, you might need to treat each separately. Make sure your little one eats plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables for fiber and drinks water to stay hydrated. Use stool softeners with a pediatrician's approval, which can make your child more comfortable having a bowel movement. Some doctors recommend suppositories or enemas to clear out the colon, according to 1. Have your child use the bathroom on a regular schedule. Never get angry or shame your little one for stool holding and its consequences, which may simply exacerbate the problem.


Often, parents who remind or even nag their child to have a bowel movement only make things worse. If your child holds his stool, make sure he knows he's responsible for fixing the problem, and then stop talking about it, suggests Contemporary Pediatrics. Simply tell him that his body needs to get rid of waste in the form of feces and that it is up to him to figure out when he needs to go. Then stop all reminders and suggestions, and let him take over. For some kids, this control is enough to get them back on track. For other children, the lack of attention gets them on the toilet so they can get some recognition and praise for going.

When to Call the Doctor

In some cases, stool holding needs medical attention, particularly if your child is suffering shame and humiliation from peers or adults who don't understand what is going on. Your child's pediatrician can provide a referral to a psychologist who can help your child work through emotional aspects of stool holding. If the condition persists, an X-ray may be necessary to rule out a bowel obstruction or deformity. If you suspect a food intolerance, such as to dairy or gluten, medical testing can help confirm a diagnosis. In these cases, treatment for the food issue often helps get rid of the stool-holding problem at the same time.