How Can I Get My Child to Poop in the Potty?

A 2 year old boy on the toilet
Getting your toddler to poop in the toilet. Catherine Delahaye / Getty Images

It's a common road block when it comes to potty training: A child will have no problem peeing in the potty, but no. 2 is a different story. It's hard not to worry, but parents don't need to be concerned if a toddler is not using the potty all the time yet. While most children will show signs of potty training readiness between 18 and 24 months, some are not ready to actually begin training until several months later and even after mastering using the potty, a toddler may experience some setbacks and even occasional accidents for the next couple of years.

At this age and stage of potty training it is very common for children to sneak off to a private place when they have to poop or to have a bowel movement in their pants. To help your toddler through this stage, it helps to understand some of the common reasons why toddlers are unwilling or unable to use the potty for bowel movements including the following:

  • Not Able to Get Comfortable. Your young child may need to be more secure and comfortable on the potty for a bowel movement than when urinating. If you're using a potty cover for the regular toilet, be sure that it is the right size (so a toddler doesn't feel like she will slip through if she bears down). Also try using a step stool or similar prop under your toddler's feet to help her use the muscles she needs. If you have a portable potty, again, be sure that the seat is comfortable and that her feet are touching the floor.
  • Not Sure How Others Do It. The fact is that children learn mostly by imitating others. It's not unusual for parents and caregivers who have taken a toddler into the bathroom to watch them pee never think to take that same child in while they are having a bowel movement. So, yes, a toddler may actually not understand that the potty is used for both if she's never seen anyone use it for pooping.
  • Feels Embarrassed. A child who hides in a closet or behind the furniture to poop may be doing so because he thinks of the action as something ugly or "icky" and doesn't want to be seen doing it. This may be a learned response. Sometimes, without even thinking, parents and caregivers might say something like, "Oh, baby went yucky, icky poops!" Try not to connect the dirty diaper to something disgusting (even if you are just being playful and silly). Instead, don't make a big deal over the dirty diapers at all right now. If you find him dirty, take your child to the bathroom gently and take off the diaper there. Then tell him, "We need to put this where it belongs." Drop the poop into the toilet and flush it with a cheer, "Yeah. Goodbye, poop."
  • Feels Scared. There are a number of things that toddlers find scary about pooping on the potty. From the loud noise of the toilet, to the isolation of the bathroom, to the scratchy toilet paper. The best approach is to make the bathroom a comfortable place. You might buy some special books, comics, or magazines that are just for the potty. Your toddler can read them whenever he wants to sit on the toilet seat to try and poop. Keep flushable wipes on hand so you don't need to struggle to clean your child with toilet paper (or take him to the changing table or wherever you usually go to change a diaper and clean him up there). Even if he doesn't go poop, praise your toddler's effort to sit still for 10 minutes or longer trying to go.

    As you try to identify factors that might be discouraging your child from using the potty for bowel movements, try to focus on encouraging your toddler versus punishing or getting angry when the inevitable mess occurs. Turning training into a struggle may only lead to constipation and frustration.

    Parents might also try reading some potty training books like Everybody Poops or watching videos such as Go, Potty, Go! These book can help your child become more comfortable with idea of pooping on the potty. 

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