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You must be very distressed with this behavior! No, it is not normal behavior for a five-year-old at all, as I am certain you suspect. Potty trained children with normal intelligence who play with their stool use this as a means to cope with and communicate their anger and distress over something in their lives. It may or may not have anything to do with home life.

It occurs more commonly among boys than girls and occurs even among teens. It is a more common problem than you might think, so you are most certainly not alone in facing this upsetting behavior. There really are no great print or electronic resources that I am familiar with to refer you to for help in addressing the problem on your own, and I actually don't think that would be a wise way to handle the problem.

The most important action to take is to seek a referral to a good behavioral and developmental pediatrician, child psychologist or child and adolescent psychiatrist. Your son's doctor is a great resource for such a recommendation in your community. The doctor or psychologist can help your son to talk about and understand why he is so angry and upset that he resorts to playing with his stool. He or she will also help him to develop more acceptable ways of expressing his anger and dealing with the stressors in his life. This will require family therapy as well to develop and lead a plan to help your son stop this behavior and adopt better ways to express his anger and handle the overwhelming but thoroughly human feelings we all have from time to time.

I know many adults feel that children do not have true anger or stress or are somehow protected from experiencing these types of feeling. This is far from true. Children also have limited ability to express their internal feelings and they do find quite challenging ways of coping with feelings of distress adults would seldom consider using.  Addressing this behavior now is a powerful way to help your son to a healthier and happier life.

I hope this information proves useful to you.

Dixon & Stein (2006). Encounters with children (4th ed.).

Gross (2007). Handbook of emotion regulation.

Parker, Zuckerman, & Augustyn (2005). Developmental and behavioral pediatrics (2nd ed.).

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University