apathetic 7 yr old deficating in pants
Hi everyone! I'm new to this group and need some advice.

My 7 year old is having a problem deficating in his pants. It has been happening on and off since he was 2. I have tried rewards: bribery, wall charts & stickers, etc; punishment: grounding him, taking his toys & tv, etc. I have taken him to the doctor a few different times and they say there is nothing physically wrong with him. Also, he has become apathetic to punishment. He doesn't care what you take away or what he can't do. Just yesterday I had to tell him that he didn't get to sign up for basketball because he pooped in his pants again this weekend. He acted like he didn't even care!!! I don't understand what's going on and I'm at my wits end. I would REALLY appreciate any advice you all could give.

Thanks!! JDE
When your son does this, what is your reaction? Do you get mad or just say "oh, sorry you have messy pants" and go about your day? Does he clean himself, pants, bedding etc.? Or do you do that for him?

Since the reward system doesn't work for him, I wonder if the chore system might have an impact? For example, when he messes his pants, have him do his laundry. And since he's 7 and will require help from you, have him do another "chore" for you since you had to spend time on his mess and he now owes you for your time. This can be anything from running a lap around the house, picking up toys, sweeping the floor etc. As long as YOU decide what he does and he can't predict what the consequence will be. In other words, don't say "if you do this, this is what will happen" Just say "there will be a consequence and I will decide what it is at the time".

I don't know your son's background so hesitate to make any assumptions that he has any attachment disorders etc. Has he been evaluated by a therapist? The not caring about punishment does ring true with a lot of kids who have some attachment disorders or kids who sabotage things by acting out.
Since medical problems were ruled out, I would suggest he wash his clothes out by hand and take them to the laundry area for washing. And, like crick suggested, chores for your time.

However, I would be sure to consult an therapist familiar with attachment and adoption. If your child was not adopted at birth, is there a possibility of sexual abuse? Sometimes soiling can be associated with those issues.
He may be doing this to get a reaction out of you. You need to be totally unemotional about it. Make it his problem. He needs to clean it up (do the laundry, change the sheets, etc). Not you. Let him know that he made the choice to do this and he has to pay the price. Again, not you - he made the choice. Say something like "Oh honey, I'm sorry you made the choice to spend the afternoon doing laundry instead of playing with your friends. What a bummer for you." You also need to vary your consequences. That way he can't predict what you will do. Sometimes children will actually do something and get punished, just to prove to themselves that they can control their parents. They think "Watch this, I'll do x and mom will do Y." And when it happens they feel victorious. If mom does z, then it throws the child off kilter.

These are just some thoughts that popped in my head when readng your post.
Another possibility is that even though there is nothing medical to justify his behavior, his stools may just be tough enough to be too painful, or he may be afraid of the toilet.
When my sister was little, she would NOT defecate anywhere but in her diapers in front of a mirror. Part of it was fascination, but the other part of it was her stools were painful to pass due to what we later found was IBS, and so looking in the mirror was part of her way of taking the pain of the defecation away.
And I can speak of personal experience of fear of the toilet.
My dad flushed a mouse down the toilet after it was snapped in a trap (septic system could handle it) and it apparently freaked me out. I don't remember any of that, except for a LONG time I would NOT use any toilet but my own, and flushing or blue water would scare me half to death.
I remember even being a teenager and being uncomfortable with the toilet flushing...fearing it would clog...and I never knew why until my parents told me the mouse story.
So, those things may be some other, simple things, that may be going on as well as all of the other good suggestions given already.
My son's 5 yr. old friend, "T", just had this issue and he was brought to the doctor because no one could understand why he was doing this. It sounds like the same control issue, apathetic to punishment, and little remorse or admission of responsibility.

Everytime "T's" parents got ready for the day to go anywhere, sure enough, "T" pooped in his pants and they had to stop everything, get out of the car, clean him, bathe him, etc. They were at their wits end!

The behavioral specialist finally told "T's" parents that this is a control issue for negative gratification. Namely, he wants to inconvenience you and everyone else in order to get that sole attention completely on HIM. Nothing more. Once you ignore the defecation, and make him walk a mile in it, he will cease. Don't stop your day. Don't give him a change of clothes if you are on your way to the grocery. Explain to him that it is too bad...but errands are important and it is important that you get your stuff done without delay.

I personally felt horrible thinking about my son (if he had this problem) having to "walk a mile in it" -- but after I thought about it, how else is he going to learn? If it is uncomfortable for everyone else (when he does this) but not truly UNCOMFORTABLE for him, how will he ever learn it is something he can live without? This, of course, after you have ruled out the fear of the toilet and/or a possible medical issue...

good luck!!!!!
I can relate!
My oldest son just turned 13 and is finally overcoming this issue. His father and I divorced when he was 6 years old and I've always felt his soiling himself was a control issue. His bowels have been the only thing in his life he can control. I think that if there are no medical problems then this is one area we parents just need to say, "Bummer!" and walk away. It is so hard not to sweep in and try to "fix" everything! Or to share your feelings by saying "I'm sorry.....etc." But don't fix and don't make it about your feelings!! Show them step by step what to do including bathing and washing clothes then let him be in charge from that point on. Good luck!
Thanks Everyone!
Thanks to everyone who has replied. We have tried making him wash out his own underwear, it doesn't seem to phase him. He just ends up making a bigger mess and doesn't ever get them clean. We started making him throw them away and use his own money to buy more. He doesn't care one way or the other. He already does chores around the house; he must keep his room clean daily and he does his laundry once or twice a week. He gets other chores to do sporadically, but those two are a regular thing. We have taken him to a psychologist, mainly due to his ADHD, but will be taking him back very soon. According to his pediatrician he's doing it out of laziness. The saddest part is the fact that he will walk around in it. The only way we know it's happened is when we smell it or see it in his laundry basket. Just this past weekend, he went from Sunday morning to Monday night @ 7:00 wearing it. (He was at his grandpa's house & we found it when he got home.) I just don't understand and I can't let it keep happening. I've got to do something about it. He has a little brother that he could make very sick by keeping this up. Any other suggestions would be fantastic!!
One word for you to do some research on: Encopresis.

This sounds like a very classic case - onset around the time of potty training, doesn't realize that he's messed pants, etc...

If you're dealing with Encopresis, it is a behavioral issue, but the way to deal with it is very different that what you're doing.

I had a 17 y/o foster son with this and it can be dealt with.

Do some research on the Internet with the search term "encopresis" and see what you think.

Thank you, T!

I could not think of that word to save my life, so I didn't suggest it in my previous post. LOL

I hate it when a word slips my brain, but again, ty for pointing it out to her, as I think this may be information she needs.
Encopresis, which some people mentioned, is one possibility. And it is very treatable, once you understand that the problem is actually chronic constipation.

However, the level of apathy you are describing suggests that something is going on, beyond toileting issues.

I would definitely wonder if your son has a problem such as depression. Yes, depression. It does occur in children, more commonly than many people recognize. Some doctors say it occurs in 5% of children, and it may occur more frequently in adopted children. And it, too, is treatable.

I would STOP blaming or punishing your son or calling the soiling a behavior problem. I would strongly doubt that it is.

If it is a problem with chronic constipation, it can be resolved with an initial cleaning out (enemas), ongoing use of a stool softener, increased water consumption, increased fiber consumption, decreased contipating foods in the diet, and bowel training.

If it is depression, it can be dealt with by therapy and, if necessary, medication. And both encopresis and depression could be going on at the same time. When your body is playing tricks on you, and everyone thinks it's your fault, it's easy to become depressed, especially if you already have low self-esteem.

The first thing you should do is ascertain whether encopresis is a factor. Your pediatrician doesn't seem to be much help, so I would consult another doctor, who is more familiar with the problem and its treatment.

The second thing you should do is to familiarize yourself with the issue of depression in children. It is worth having your son looked at by a therapist, especially one who deals frequently with adopted kids.

Believe me, you CAN resolve this issue and have a happier son.

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