When food is eaten, it travels down the throat to the stomach, where it is broken down into a liquid consistency. It then travels through the intestines where nutrients are extracted. The unneeded elements move through to the colon, where water is absorbed back into the body and the material becomes solid. The solid material is removed from the body during defecation.
When a child does not regularly remove the solid material from his or her body, and it sits in the colon for an extended period of time, more water is removed and the stool becomes hard. As the stools become larger and harder, it becomes difficult and painful to remove. This is called constipation.
As more stool is produced, the rectum expands. When this happens, the child’s body loses the sensation to tell the brain when it is time to defecate. As the newer, softer stool travels to the colon, it will escape past the older, harder stool and leave the body unexpectedly.
This is how soiling, or encopresis, occurs. This cannot be controlled by the child, and most of the time, it is not even felt or smelled. Children are often rightfully embarrassed by these accidents, and may attempt to hide the behavior or his/her soiled clothing. Playmates and siblings may also tease children experiencing encopresis, adding to further upsetting or acting out behaviors. Parents may act out their own frustrations of the incidents on the child, which may result in the child feeling ashamed or “bad” because of the soiling.
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