Help! My Child Won't Poop on the Potty

How to convince him to go when he's gotta go

my child won't poop on the potty
It can be frustrating if your child won't poop on the potty, but there are a few things you can do to convince her otherwise. Andrea Chu

Reader question: Help! My Child Won't Poop on the Potty!

My three-year-old son is potty trained. Almost. When it is time to urinate, he has no problem going at all (he even stands up!). But when the time comes for him to sit down and poop, he won't do it. I don't even know if he can at this point. He'll either end up having an accident in his pants or will be constipated for a few days. He's miserable, I'm miserable, and I don't know how to help him. We are both at the end of our rope. Help!

Answer: First off, take comfort in knowing that half the battle is over. Potty training a child to urinate without regular accidents is a great accomplishment that you both should be proud of. Know though, that while your child is doing a great job, the potty training journey is still not over. It can take a little one a couple of years before they are consistently going to the bathroom, using a toilet, accident-free, without any underlying issues.

Also know, that while it might be upsetting to both of you, your child refusing to make a bowel movement (or being unable to) is normal and actually very common for children this age and in this phase of potty training. Still, there are some things you can do to help your little one work through this issue:

  • Ease his embarrassment. One of the major reasons a preschooler has trouble making a bowel movement on the toilet is because they are embarrassed. Let's face it. Poop is yucky and smelly, and your little one probably is mortified that something like that comes out of him. Add to the fact that when you used to change his diapers you may have said something to the fact about having a stinky bottom, which could also cause him to feel embarrassed. It's natural for a child to feel this way. To ease his self-consciousness, try not to make a fuss over when your little one poops. Whether he goes in his diaper, in the potty, or has an accident, treat it as business as usual. 
  • Show him where the poop belongs. If you preschooler does happen to do a bowel movement in a diaper or a pull-up type garment, make a show of bringing it into the bathroom, dump the poop into the toilet and flushing it. Explain to your little one that is where poop needs to go and that he is the one that can put it there.
  • Tell him that you know it feels strange. For a child who is still learning to potty train, pooping on a toilet is a strange sensation, one that he might not necessarily like. Explain that it is something that everyone feels and while it might feel different now, it is something he will get used to. 
  • Let him know everyone does it. Everyone uses the bathroom, every day, multiple times a day. You know that, but does your preschooler? Explain how going to the bathroom, and yes, pooping, is a fact of life. If you feel comfortable doing so, let your preschooler be in the room when you need to use the toilet so he can gain the understanding that this is something that everyone does. You can also try reading some potty training books that do a really good job of driving home this point.
  • Address his diet. To treat any constipation issues your little one might be having, make sure he is eating a diet rich in fiber -- lots of fruits and vegetables and making sure he drinks plenty of water. If you are concerned about your child's constipation, check in with the pediatrician.
  • Make the bathroom comfortable. What does your child sit on to use the toilet? Make sure that whatever he uses (a ring that goes over the toilet seat or a self-contained smaller sized toilet) is something that he feels comfortable using. If he's using a ring, consider putting a step stool at his feet so they aren't dangling. When he is getting ready to do a bowel movement, bring in some books for him to read, and ask him if he would like you to stay or go. If he does make, gauge your reaction based on his words and actions. 

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