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Why parents should seek help with children’s soiling problems

23 May 2006

Children who have soiling problems are more likely than their peers to have a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties.

Children who have soiling problems are more likely than their peers to have a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties.

A study of children aged 7 and 8 years who suffer from soiling problems suggests there are significant links with a range of difficulties including attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, phobias, anxiety, low self esteem and bullying.

But researchers say that only a small proportion of parents ever seek help from a doctor even though successful treatment often results in a resolution or reduction of behavioural difficulties and other psychological problems.

The findings, published in the journal ‘Pediatrics’, come from a study of 8,200 families taking part in the Children of the 90s project based at the University of Bristol.

According to the parents’ reports, 1.4 per cent of children, more boys than girls, soiled their clothes during the daytime more than once a week. Another 5.4 per cent soiled less than once a week.

Soiling was more common in children classified as having developmental delay, but even when developmental delays were taken into account, soiling problems were still associated with behavioral and emotional difficulties.

The study found: “Children who soil were reported by their parents to have significantly more emotional and behavioural problems compared to children who do not soil.

“The rate of attention and activity problems, obsessions and compulsions, and oppositional behaviour was particularly high in frequently-soiling children.”

The report’s author Dr Carol Joinson says it is unclear which comes first – the psychological problems or the soiling problems, although in many children soiling is associated with a history of constipation.

She said that not enough parents know they can get help. “Although soiling is a common childhood problem causing a great deal of distress to children and their families, little publicity is given to the problem.

“As a result, many parents are not aware that soiling is a condition for which they should seek advice from a health professional and only a small proportion of children see a doctor for soiling problems.

“Many parents are unaware that constipation is often the underlying cause of a child’s soiling problems, and this does not come to light until they have seen a health professional.

“Successful treatment for constipation often results in a resolution or reduction of behavioural and emotional difficulties in children with soiling problems.”

The presence of psychological problems, in children as young as seven years old, highlights the importance of parents seeking early intervention for soiling to help prevent later problems.

Academic paper reference

Psychological differences between children with and without soiling problems. Carol Joinson, Jon Heron , Ursula Butler, Alexander Von Gontard, and the ALSPAC Study Team Pediatrics, May 2006. doi 10.1542/peds.2005-1773



1. ERIC ( Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence ) was given £250,000 by the Big Lottery Fund in 2004 for a four-year programme to research the causes and the consequences of childhood wetting and soiling, in collaboration with ALSPAC.

2. ERIC is a national registered charity which provides information and support to children and young people, parents and professionals on bedwetting, day-time wetting and soiling. Established in 1988, it is the only organisation of its kind nationally and internationally. For further information see

3. ALSPAC The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (also known as Children of the 90s) is a unique ongoing research project based in the University of Bristol. It enrolled 14,000 mothers during pregnancy in 1991-2 and has followed most of the children and parents in minute detail ever since.


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