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.
Changing 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.
He gets the peeing part, but still poops in his underwear or pull-ups. You’ve tried offering stickers, candy, and toys as a “reward,” but to no avail. It doesn’t help when he’s actually fine with having poop in his undies or pants.
And while he can’t seem to push anything out on the potty, he has no problem doing so the minute the pull-up is back on.
Every mom has faced this dilemma when her 3 year old won’t poop on potty. We just want to know what to do in this situation. Do we back off? Go back to pull-ups? And at its worst, we question our potty training and even parenting skills.
In other words, we’re at our wit’s end with potty training.
Because just when you thought your 3 year old should get it by now—especially since he 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 from pooping. He sure knew when to use the potty 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 tips to help when your 3 year old won’t poop on the potty:
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 him 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.
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 in order 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 actually 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 to make sure her knees are level or higher than her hips. You can imagine how uncomfortable it is to poop with your legs dangling and your body sliding forward.
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 actually poop in the potty.
Does she tend to poop in her pull-ups at certain times, like first thing in the morning or after eating? 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.
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. And avoid food that can be contributing to constipation.
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 pooping 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.
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.
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:
- What to Do When Your Toddler Won’t Poop on the Potty
- How to Respond to Your Toddler’s Poop Anxiety
- How to Get Your Toddler to (Finally) Poop in the Potty
- Your Toddler Refuses to Sit on the Potty? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry
- Secrets to Fixing Potty Training Accidents
Don’t forget: Join the FREE 5-day email course, Peaceful Potty Training and potty train without frustrating power struggles: