Why Your Toddler Won’t Poop on the Potty (And How To Fix It)
Is your toddler afraid to poop? It’s all good. No-fear Number Twos are within reach.
“I love a good colonoscopy. I go twice a week.”
… said no one ever.
Most of my friends schedule in time for spin class, hot yoga, or pilates. They go bicycling and rock climbing. Some take cooking and painting classes.
But a colonoscopy? Not so much. Everyone knows how important it is to get screened. But most people still avoid it.
And the number one reason? Fear.
Fear of how horrible the pain will be. Fear of the fasting process leading up to the procedure. Fear of what you might find out.
Fear is a powerful deterrent. It’s human nature. If you think something will be unpleasant, you avoid it.
And if you’ve got a reluctant pooper on your hands, you’re watching your toddler go through the same thing. All that delaying and stalling? All that straining to hold it in?
And that’s where you come in. Your child doesn’t know it yet. But he’s missing out on one of the greatest pleasures we get to experience in this life. And you get to show him how to push past the fear and poop with confidence.
It’s time for bountiful bowel movements. Let’s go.
Understanding the issue: pooping has become a punishment
Let’s look at the world through your toddler’s eyes.
Your toddler is exploring the world and having all kinds of new experiences. Finger painting. Playing doctor. Using your smartphone. He’s always doing something fun and exciting.
But if your toddler refuses to poop, there’s something negative about the experience for him… enough that he’ll try to avoid it in the future. In behavioral terms, it’s a punishment.
To help your kid crush it on the can, you’ll need to figure out why it’s a negative experience.
Look at things through your toddler’s eyes
Far and away, the most common cause of stool withholding is physical pain. Many toddlers start withholding after their first uncomfortable bowel movement.
They don’t want to experience that again… so they start holding in their stool. And a large, hard, dry mass begins to build — so that the next time they poop, it’s even more painful.
“Wow. Pooping hurts a LOT. Definitely not doing that again.” And now we’re off to the races.
But sometimes the cause of stool withholding is psychological.
The toilet is intimidating to many toddlers. It’s huge. It makes strange noises. And the idea that it whisks things away forever can be frightening. If your toddler started toilet training before she was ready, she may be especially uncomfortable around a toilet.
Your toddler may be afraid to poop in the potty because he views his poops as a part of himself. So releasing that in the potty can be very scary for your little one. He feels as if he is losing a limb!
If you’re not sure why your child is afraid to use the potty, ask her. Take time when you’re both comfortable and relaxed to talk about her worries. Knowing how things look through her eyes will make it much easier to drill down to the root of the problem.
Make the potty fun again
The good news is, you’ve got a great shot at getting the issue under control if you go back to basics. “Parents can usually get most stool withholding issues under control as long as there’s no underlying cause or medical condition,” says Dr. Deborah Goldman, pediatric gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Brush up on your potty training fundamentals. Don’t start before your toddler is ready. Make it a fun, positive experience. Build excitement about the process. And steer clear of jokes or comments that could play into your toddler’s fears and anxieties.
Making sure your child feels comfortable will ensure success and prevent further issues. Check to make sure that toilet seats are secure and there’s a stool in every bathroom.
Reading books that make pooping fun is a great way to help your child reclaim their confidence on the potty. Two of our favorites are Everyone Poops and It Hurts When I Poop.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide to all the potty training fundamentals, consider my Potty Training Plan™ !
Break it down into baby steps
If your child needs a little more support, going back to the diapers is an effective strategy. The tension your child feels around the toilet disappears. His mood relaxes. His stools soften. The poop flows.
It’s everything you ever wanted… except you’re changing diapers again.
One of the best ways to make progress at this point is to take small steps forward, one at a time.
First, get your toddler comfortable around the toilet. Encourage him to just come into the bathroom with you while you’re pooping. From there, you can invite him to poop in the bathroom, the same way you do. Don’t worry about where he is in the bathroom, as long as he’s in the room.
Next, invite him to sit down when he poops, wherever he wants to in the room. This is also a good time to start encouraging your child to sit on the potty once or twice a day. He doesn’t need to poop yet — just get relaxed and comfortable being on the potty.
From here, you can keep taking baby steps. Have him poop in his diaper while he sits on the on the potty. Have him poop in his diaper on the potty, and then dump it out and flush it with you.
And finally… have him go in the potty!
Breaking the process down into easy steps can make it go a lot faster. But sometimes, you still need a little something… extra… to move things along.
Remember, pooping can be irresistible
Got a committed withholder on your hands? It’s time to break out the big guns. Laxatives.
Toddlers who withhold repeatedly often develop hard, dry stools. And that makes it even more difficult and unpleasant to poop the next time. If you’re caught in that vicious circle, a laxative can be the easiest way to get things flowing again.
Check with your pediatrician before you use any laxative to make sure it’s right for your child. They can also advise you on the proper dosage.
Once your child’s stool is unclogged, you won’t need to continue with a strong laxative. But it’s a good idea to add more high-fiber foods to your meal rotation to avoid future issues. Kid-friendly choices include apples, bananas, pears, carrots, berries, sweet potatoes, grapes, and pineapples.
In the end, it’s all worth it
Some days, working with a reluctant pooper can be about as much fun as a colonoscopy.
But it’s about more than just poop.
You’re teaching your child that he can overcome challenges, master scary things, and do things on his own.
When it’s all over, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit back on the couch, and enjoy your child’s excitement because I DID IT ALL BY MYSELF.
You’ve earned it.