This Is What to Do When Your 3 Year Old Won’t Poop on the Potty

Can’t get your child to poop in the toilet? Learn how to handle the anxiety and defiance when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty.

3 Year Old Won't Poop on PottyChanging a baby’s diaper is one thing, but when you’ve been doing it for years, you start to lose your patience. And of course, it doesn’t help when your 3 year old absolutely refuses to poop on the potty.

She gets the peeing part but still poops in her underwear or pull-ups. You’ve tried offering stickers, candy, and toys as a “reward,” but to no avail. It doesn’t help when she’s fine with having poop in her undies or pants.

And while she can’t seem to push anything out on the potty, she has no problem doing so the minute the pull-up is back on.

Every parent has faced this dilemma when her 3 year old won’t poop on the potty. We just want to know what to do in this situation. Do we back off? Go back to pull-ups? At its worst, we even question our parenting skills.

In other words, we’re at our wit’s end with potty training.

Because just when you thought your kiddo should get it by now—especially since she pees in the potty—pooping brought its own set of challenges.

What to do when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty

I can certainly understand. I had potty-trained my 3 year old over a weekend, and miraculously, it worked. Barring the occasional accident here and there, we were able to ditch diapers for good.

Except… those accidents? Over time, they became less about peeing accidents and more about pooping. He sure knew when to use the potty seat to pee, but still had the same accidents when it came to poop.

Anxious, I mentioned it to his pediatrician, who then reassured me: “Getting the hang of pooping in the potty can take up to a year.”

While I didn’t like the thought of cleaning poop accidents for the next year, I felt less stressed knowing that this was normal. And by a year, she didn’t mean that it’d be this messy for an entire year before he’d finally stop. Instead, the accidents will get fewer as the year progresses, before they eventually stop completely.

And she was right.

The thing is, my husband and I also tried several techniques to make pooping in the potty much easier on our 3 year old. These strategies reduced those accidents as the year went by, so much so that I had almost forgotten we had these problems just a few short months ago.

Take a look at these potty training tips to help when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty. As one parent said about the article:

“Thank you so much. This was so helpful and I totally have a different outlook now on how to handle, and more importantly, on how to treat my son.”

1. Manage your emotions

In hindsight, it’s almost comical to think about the range of emotions we feel—outright anger, hints of failure—all because of potty training. All this even as we know that they absolutely will learn to poop in the potty (you’ve never seen a college kid still potty training, right?).

Still, when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty, all the feelings start to come up, so it becomes even more important to manage them during these moments.

For instance, talk about pooping in the potty as a positive thing—something he gets to do—rather than a drag or point of contention between you two. Or at least, keep your emotions neutral, especially after yet another accident. This way, he won’t feel discouraged, defeated, or ready to argue back.

And it’s not just anger, either. If you’re like me, the sight and especially the smell of poop instantly makes your nose curl in disgust. Understandably so, but try not to act disgusted when you’re dealing with poop, from cleaning accidents to scooping poop into the toilet.

Managing your emotions reminds him that pooping in the potty doesn’t have to be stressful and that it shouldn’t be cause for arguments. Consider this the hardest part of potty training—staying calm even when all you want to do is cry.

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2. Address your child’s anxieties and fears

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We often get frustrated, annoyed, or downright angry when kids refuse to use the potty or have accidents. “Another accident?!” we say in exasperation. Or we crinkle our noses at yet another poop mess to clean up, building our anger and even resentment.

But for many kids, the refusal to use the potty stems not from defiance, but from legitimate anxieties and fears. They’re not equipped to express these emotions, much less understand why they feel the way they do. Instead, they cry, refuse, and melt down.

Your child might dread the physical pain of pushing, feel awkward sitting on a huge toilet, or feel confused and anxious about this new way of pooping. These are all valid concerns that can get brushed aside when you focus only on his behavior, and not the root cause of it.

Address these anxieties to help him feel comfortable. Read books like It Hurts When I Poop! by Howard Bennett to talk about his fears. Show empathy and share how other kids have felt scared, too. And let him know that however different pooping in the potty is, it’ll eventually feel normal.

Get more tips on how to respond to your child’s potty training poop anxiety.

Potty Training Poop Anxiety

3. Help your child relax and feel comfortable

Sometimes the pressure to poop in the potty is so strong that your child feels too wound up to make it happen.

The thing is, her body needs to relax for poop to pass—even if she does eventually have to push, she still needs to relax to get to that point. As frustrating as it is when your 3 year old won’t poop on potty, added stress won’t help her feel comfortable to poop in the first place.

Instead, help her relax by offering something to look at. Books to read, a tablet to play with—anything to keep her focus away from the pressure to poop. You might even designate certain toys that she can only play with in the bathroom to keep her distracted and enjoy sitting on the potty.

And don’t forget to prop her feet with a step stool to make sure her knees are level with or higher than her hips. You can imagine how uncomfortable it is to poop with your legs dangling and your body sliding forward.

Here are 52 books for 3 year olds to read.

4. Make potty time a regular part of your routine

We’ve all done it: brushed our teeth even though we’ve already done it, turned left at the intersection like we usually do even though we needed to go right. We’re creatures of habit, and usually for the better.

The same is true for your child. The more regularly she goes to the potty—even just to sit on it—the more normal and automatic it’ll feel for her. She doesn’t have to think about whether to sit on the potty or not—she’ll do so on her own.

The result? She has one less thing to focus on or argue about, freeing her up to poop in the potty.

Does she tend to poop in her pull-ups at certain times, like first thing in the morning or after a nap? Make it a routine to bring her to the potty every day during those times. Just as she washes her hands before meals or takes a bath before bed, going to the potty can be a regular part of her routine.

How many potty training accidents are normal? Find out here.

How Many Potty Training Accidents Are Normal

5. Ease your child’s constipation

Many kids resist pooping on the potty because of constipation. The physical strain can even traumatize them into thinking pooping will always be painful.

Ease your child’s constipation by adding more fiber to his meals, especially “P” fruits like pears, plums, peaches, and prunes, as well as vegetables and whole grains. And avoid food that can be contributing to constipation. As shared on Parents.com:

“This category includes pears, plums, peaches, and prunes, and any of their juices. Dr. Shu often recommends pear juice to parents; it works really well and kids think it’s delicious.”

Don’t forget to offer plenty of water as well. I’d give my kids a sippy cup of water around the house (something they don’t always do). Having water on hand nearly all the time helped them finally pass poop. Lastly, make sure your child gets plenty of exercise to help with his bowel movements.

6. Stop using diapers and pull-ups completely

Yes, dirty undies are horrible and inconvenient to clean compared to the ease of tossing a diaper or pull-up after an accident. But consider this: each time you relent to using diapers, you’re severing the commitment your child has to finally poop in the potty.

Staying consistent and removing diapers cold turkey sends the message that she’ll be wearing undies from now on—no question about it. This strengthens her resolve—and clears up any confusion—about whether she can still rely on diapers as a backup.

That said, diapers and pull-ups are fine to use for sleep. Our pediatrician reminded us that our bodies can’t be potty trained during sleep and that kids will eventually learn to stay dry at night. But for daytime use, ditch the diapers, especially if you told your child you would.

Learn how to potty train in just three days.

7. Give your child a pep talk

At the end of the day, you and your 3 year old are on the same team. Remembering this will help you change the way you talk to him, including offering more support and less judgment and arguments.

As his “coach,” remind him of the many things he can do once he can poop in the potty.

He can stay out longer during outings instead of coming home to avoid an accident. He can wear fun undies with his favorite characters. And he can even avoid the hassles of changing diapers by pooping directly in the toilet.

Praise him not just for the times he poops in the potty, but for any progress he has made, such as at least trying to poop or even unbuttoning his pants. And as always, let him know that mistakes and accidents will happen, but that you’ll help him learn from and manage them.

Is your 3 ½ year old not potty trained? Check out these 6 do’s and don’ts.

3 ½ Year Old Is Not Potty Trained


We can all agree that life can get challenging when your “threenager” won’t poop on potty. But as you can see, with small but significant changes, you can help her overcome her barriers, ditch the diapers, and stop having accidents.

Start by looking at her anxieties and fears—what we see as misbehavior often stems from deeper emotions and feelings. Help her relax by providing distractions and setting up her posture to poop easily. Make potty time a regular part of her day so it becomes less of a power struggle.

Address constipation issues by changing her diet, offering more water, and encouraging exercise. Ditch the diapers completely—consistency sends a strong message and avoids confusion.

Manage your emotions, from staying calm to avoiding being disgusted—doing so will help her see pooping as yet another challenge. And finally, give her a pep talk. Remind her of the positives of pooping in the potty as well as showing support regardless of what happens.

You may have been changing diapers for years at this point, but now you can rest assured that you won’t be doing so for much longer.

Get more tips:

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  1. Thank you so much. This was so helpful and I totally have a different outlook now on how to handle, and more importantly, on how to treat my son.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I’m so glad to hear that! Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  2. My son is 3 years old. He is pee-pee potty trained but not poop potty trained. He waits until he has a pull up on (which is only at nap and bedtime) but currently he is trying to get rid of naps which is causing him to poop every night! He refuses to poop on the potty. Even if we sit him on the potty he won’t go. We need help!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Poop training can definitely be more challenging than peeing. Our pediatrician told us that kids can take up to a year before they’ve fully mastered pooping in the toilet, and that has been the case with all my kids. Not to say that you’ll have the same struggles all year and it’ll magically disappear, but that you’ll still run into pooping issues even though he had been peeing just fine. Then, gradually, he’ll take to the potty during that time.

  3. My 3.5 years old daughter is half way there- she pees in the potty but asks for a diaper when she has to poop. This is going on for months now. There are no more peeing accidents even when we go out, though this is quite rare in this pandemic. However, pooping in potty is a concern. I think she is ready to ditch the diapers from way long ago but just doesn’t want to. I hope your emails help me to go through this tough time. I have bid farewell to all her diapers and she is in her underwear for the whole day and night.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      I agree and it sounds like she’s asking for a diaper more out of habit and not because she’s not ready for the toilet yet. By ditching the diapers completely, she’ll experience the sensations of a potty accident more so with undies, which will hopefully prompt her to be more open to using the toilet. She’ll likely have lots of accidents, so go easy on her when they happen. If she has a “hard” poop in her undies, show her how you dump it in the toilet so she understands that it can go there and not the undies.

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