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Encopresis afflicts one in 100 children causing considerable stigma and parental concern. General practitioners are in a position to help in most cases but are often deterred by the psychoanalytical theories which have been developed to explain this problem. It is currently accepted that children with encopresis tend to retain stools. This leads to constipation, overstretching of sphincters and resultant faecal soiling. Physical and psychological perpetuating factors result in retention once again, thus completing a cycle of constipation and retention. Various precipitant and predisposing factors can maintain this cycle. Once physical causes have been excluded a simple behavioural approach can be adopted aimed at retraining the bowel. By using laxatives to prevent retention, gaining the child's confidence, cooperation and understanding and involving both the family and school, encopresis can be successfully managed in general practice.