5-Year-Old Insists on Diapers

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My 5 year old son refuses to poop in anything but a diaper. I can beg him, bribe him, punish him, take away the diapers (than he holds it for days) he has suffered from chronic constipation since age 2 and he is still dealing with the issue. I can get him to sit on toilet and go pee but still has never pooped in it. He suppose to start kindergarten this fall but how can he when he wants to wear a diaper all day. I’m lost and I’ve tried everything. Bought him his own toilet, a ring for the big toilet, had people he admires talk to him about going in the toilet. He knows it’s safe and wont hurt him, he is a very smart articulate child, but claims he needs them. What am I to do?

A: I’m very glad you wrote. The issue for you and your son is no longer whether he is toilet trained. You and your little boy are now in a huge power struggle. He is getting lots of attention for his behavior. You are getting more and more frustrated and angry. You are trying “everything.” He is outsmarting your every move. He clearly can control where he poops. He saves it for the diaper. What a smart and ingenious little boy!

Here’s the problem. The issue has become much, much too big. I suggest you tell your son that he wins. You don’t care anymore. He can wear diapers all he wants. Don’t say this sarcastically or angrily or sadly. Just be matter-of-fact. Then take all the positive – and negative – attention out of it. Change him with no conversation about it. Be matter-of-fact and efficient. No conversation. No scolding or sighs. No interaction. Change him and go about your business.

Meanwhile – and this is important – give him lots of attention for other things where he is demonstrating competence. Has he started helping you around the house? A 5-year-old can learn to set and clear the table, make his bed and help put away laundry. He can help with the gardens or with shoveling the walk or cleaning snow off the car. Give him lots of praise for being quite the little man. Also — get him excited about going off to school. Talk about all the neat things that will happen there and all the friends he’ll meet.

If he’s still soiling as you get close to school opening day, call the teacher and enlist some help. Bring him in to meet the teacher and see the classroom a few days before school starts. Pack his diapers in his backpack (again – no discussion, scolding or sighing allowed). During that visit, have the teacher “discover” the diapers and then say to him very, very sadly, “Oh. I’m sorry. Kids who come here don’t wear diapers. I guess you can’t come. That’s too bad. I was so looking forward to having you in my class. Maybe you can come next year.” Don’t talk about it. Just quietly pack up, shake the teacher’s hand and tell her you’ll let her know if he changes his mind.

Your attitude through all this is the most important factor. You really need to be able to at least act like you don’t care a bit one way or the other. You are dropping your end of the fight. When the adult stops fighting, the kid usually gives up the behavior. Everything else you’ve done hasn’t worked so it’s at least worth a try.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Mar 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). 5-Year-Old Insists on Diapers. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/03/09/5-year-old-insists-on-diapers/