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Getting Your Child To Wipe His/her Own Butt

Teaching kids to wipe their butts effectively is a common parenting struggle. It’s a topic that is never brought up to me (I think due to embarrassment), but one I bring up daily. Often in the well child exam, I will discover poop all over the child’s butt, skids in the underwear, mom is horrified, and the child is oblivious. It is usually in the 4-10 year-old range. In the younger ages, mom is usually still wiping the child’s butt.

When I discover the problem, I respond with: “(child’s name)…you aren’t doing a good enough job wiping your bum. You’ve got lots of poop on it. Let’s review how to do it. Take 2 squares of toilet paper, reach around your bum and wipe back (especially important to emphasize direction of wiping in little girls in order to prevent urinary tract infections). Look at the toilet paper. If there is poop on it, put it in the toilet and get 2 more squares to wipe again. If you have done it 5 times and there is still poop, flush the toilet (to prevent clogging). Keep going until there isn’t any more poop.”

I usually try and pull a few funny faces during the talk (e.g., a gross face when you describe looking at the poop on the toilet paper). The child usually laughs, it keeps the mood light, and it sends the message home.

Keep in mind that most kids aren’t developmentally ready to wipe their own butts until they are 5 years-old. In the beginning, have the child try on his/her own first and then call for the parent to “check” after the child is done. Expect serious smears and poop all over in the beginning. That is normal. Just encourage the effort.

Now here’s the trick. Once your child has learned and is old enough to be doing it on his/her own, hold him/her accountable. If there are skid marks on the underwear, warn the child first. If it continues, make them scrub out the poop in the underwear before it goes in the laundry. Your child will only scrub feces out of his/her underwear a couple of times before they miraculously get better at wiping.

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