While it is widespread, encopresis in children is not pleasant for the sufferer or adults around them!

From buying excessive washing tabs to worrying if your classroom’s carpet needs to be cleaned each day, the implications of the condition span many factors. It can cost parents a lot of money, and it can be challenging to watch a child in discomfort.

If a child you teach, or even your child, is suffering from encopresis, or you’re not sure what encopresis even is, read this article to find out more.

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What is encopresis in children?

Encopresis is a condition that is characterized by a child over the age of four defecating in places where this would be considered wrong, such as in their clothes or various communal areas in the classroom. It’s rarely done on purpose, and the child might not even understand that what they have done is inappropriate.

If someone is suspected of having encopresis, then staff should make a conscious effort to find out the sufferer’s identity in a respectful, inclusive manner, especially if feces are found, and they don’t know who is responsible. This can then be rectified going forward.

What are the behaviors associated with encopresis?

Children with the condition can sometimes have constipation symptoms, which is why they tend not to go to the toilet. Passing the hard stools can take a long time and be incredibly painful, so they might not feel able to do this at school, in public, or in some cases, even in their own home.

When children hold back their stools, it can make them highly uncomfortable, leading to them losing control of their bowel movements when they do not want it to happen, such as during a lesson. Similarly, constipation can lead children to struggle with passing their stools even with attempts, which means that soft stools behind them will eventually push through, both without warning and against their wishes.

While it co-occurs with developmental conditions, it can also be present in children who experience trauma or stress at home. If someone’s parents have just split up or come from a chaotic background, they could be experiencing lots of difficult emotions contributing to constipation.

To gain a diagnosis of encopresis, a child must have pooped in an unconventional place at least once a month and must have other factors ruled out, such as foods acting as laxatives for them.

What are the risk factors for encopresis?

Encopresis is not only caused by stress and constipation, but it could also be a sign of a learning difficulty or even an autism spectrum disorder that affects a child’s sensory processing. Your child might be hypersensitive to their own body, which means they don’t need to go to the toilet, hence the reason for their accidents. They might not like the sensation of going to the toilet or even find it frightening.

If your child shows signs of any neurological developmental differences, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible with your concerns.

Encopresis can also be caused by neglect. A child might not have been taught how to use the toilet and have been forced to find ways to alleviate themselves. However, this might be maladaptive and will need to be discussed with their family. If you think one of your student’s encopresis could be the result of negligence, then you should monitor a child for any further mental health problems that arise in the future.

Other risk factors for constipation and, therefore, encopresis include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Not drinking enough water and fruit juices
  • Being too busy playing to take time to use the bathroom
  • Having a change in bathroom routine (e.g., starting school and having to follow a new schedule)
  • Eating a high-sugar, high-fat, or junk-food-based diet
  • Drinking mostly soft drinks and sugary drinks

Risk of other disorders in children with encopresis

Children suffering from encopresis are understandably at a higher risk for bullying in school settings due to judgment from their peers. Anyone close to the child affected should watch for signs of depression, anxiety, or anger outbursts, as these can be indicative of the abuse.

How to care for a child with encopresis

If your child has encopresis, pay attention to your mannerisms and behaviors at home. These are some strategies you can take to ensure you maintain a good relationship and create a healthy space for them.

  • Never pass judgment on your child’s condition, and assure them it’s not their fault for what they are experiencing. Clean up any mess without showing discomfort or negative emotions, as this will make them feel guilty.
  • Talk to your child about bodily functions as a normal part of life by reading books and showing them diagrams.
  • Encourage your child to recognize when they need the toilet and communicate this effectively.
  • Consider potty training your child again, as the first time might not have been practical. Ensure that they understand the process before moving them onto the actual toilet.
  • Talk to their teachers and create a structure to help your child at school.

If you’re looking for more information on children’s medical conditions, head to our website.