Kids can pee in the potty but struggle with pooping. Learn how to get your toddler to poop in the potty, handle anxiety, and avoid accidents.
Despite his success with potty training in just three days, my toddler wouldn’t poop in the potty.
After several months, it seemed like he had a poop accident in his underwear every day. I knew rewards were ineffective, but even praising him for his progress didn’t seem to work.
In fact, he knew when he needed to poop, but rather than sit on the potty, he’d hide in a corner and squat.
It didn’t help that poop accidents are much harder to clean than pee. The fact that he peed in the potty so consistently made it worse, as I’d think, Why are you still having poop accidents after all this time?
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you’ve tried bribing your toddler with toys and stickers so he’d poop in the potty, or flashed new big kid underwear. You might have even sent him to timeout each time he’d poop in his pants.
But still, nothing works.
Thankfully, you have little to worry about (other than the inconvenience of cleaning poop accidents). Our pediatrician reassured us that pooping in the potty can take up to a year to fully master. That means a child can still have poop accidents months down the line, long after he’d been peeing well.
Now, before you worry about cleaning poop for a whole year, rest assured you won’t be stuck with daily accidents. Instead, your toddler will gradually have fewer poop accidents throughout the coming year.
How to get your toddler to poop in the potty
Still, how can you get your child to poop in the potty? And is there anything you can do to help him along?
You’re not stuck waiting for this magic moment to arrive. I dug into several tactics that help kids poop in the potty and avoided those that didn’t seem to do the trick. In fact, one of the most common strategies—offering rewards—turned out especially ineffective in the long run.
So, what does work, then? Check out how to get your toddler to poop in the potty:
1. Have set times for your toddler to sit on the potty
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Asking my son, “Do you want to go poop?” always elicited the same response: “No.”
Then I began walking him to the bathroom to sit on the potty, all without asking. I did this in a polite, matter-of-fact way, never forcing him to go. I would simply say in a natural way, “It’s time to sit on the potty,” or “Let’s sit you down on the potty now.”
Try this every 1.5 to 2 hours so your toddler gets used to sitting on the potty. Pooping won’t be a source of conflict between the two of you, but something that happens, like a nap or a snack.
In other words, don’t give him a choice or ask him whether he wants to go or not.
Make sure to get him a comfortable potty as well. A floor potty makes it easier for him to sit on his own, but it does make for messier clean ups. A toilet attachment makes clean up easier, but you’d need to either carry him onto the seat, or teach him how to use a step.
I’m a fan of the BabyBjorn potty training gear and used these for all my kids:
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2. Make sitting on the potty part of your routine
Another option besides sitting your toddler on the potty at set times is to make the potty a regular part of your routine.
Routines remove resistance, especially when it’s part of the day.
But instead of sitting on the potty at set times, do so before or after regular parts of his day. For instance, you can sit him on the potty after he eats a meal, or before taking a bath. Whether he goes or not isn’t important so much as helping him develop a routine of sitting.
The best way to know when to sit him down for the potty? Track when he usually poops, whether on the potty or in his undies. See if you can find a pattern, like pooping first thing in the morning or right after he wakes up after a nap. You can then integrate sitting on the potty during these times.
Tip: Offer plenty of water (and the occasional prune juice) to help make poop pass easier.
3. Give your toddler privacy with the potty
Your toddler won’t be able to poop if she feels like she’s under pressure. Her body needs to relax and bear down enough to pass poop.
Unfortunately, we can add pressure when we stand nearby, expecting and hoping that they’ll poop this time.
Instead, give her plenty of time alone to sit on the potty. Stack the bathroom with books or simple toys she can play with as she sits. You might even set a timer for a few minutes and let her know she can play sitting down until she hears the beep.
Tip: Encourage bowel movements by making sure her knees are above her hips. This will help her bear down easier.
Learn what to do when your 4 year old won’t poop on potty.
4. Talk about your toddler’s fears
We forget how overwhelming pooping in the potty can be for toddlers. We’re prone to get frustrated, especially when they poop in their undies right after we sat them down on the potty.
But this is a new experience for them, both physically and mentally.
It’s strange to go from years of pooping whenever and wherever, to sitting on a potty. Some kids even believe that they’re losing a part of themselves when they poop. Others find the new position awkward, feel scared they’ll fall inside and get flushed, or dread potential constipation.
Rather than brush aside these fears, talk about them. Show your toddler it’s okay to feel hesitant, and that you understand this is a new experience that would feel overwhelming to anyone. Having his emotions acknowledged helps him feel better about pooping.
Learn how to handle your child’s potty training poop anxiety.
5. Discard your toddler’s poop accidents in the toilet
Whether with pull ups or undies, you might find yourself tossing the whole thing away in the trash after a poop accident. But use the accident as a learning moment and discard the poop in the toilet, with your toddler nearby to watch.
Showing him where poop should go cements the idea of pooping in the toilet, rather than in his pull ups or undies.
If it’s a huge, sticky mess, then go ahead and toss it in the trash. But whenever you can, use accidents to show him where poop needs to go—in the toilet, not his undies.
Get more tips on handling potty training accidents.
6. Stay positive about potty training
As helpful as it is to discard your toddler’s poop in the toilet, it’s tempting to act disgusted as you do. You might scrunch up your noise, make a face, or blurt, “Eww, stinky!”
Avoid acting disgusted with his poop, even though it can be an outright mess. He might find your reaction to be further “proof” that pooping in the potty is a negative experience.
Instead, toss the poop, clean up the mess, and talk about it in a positive—or at least neutral—way. Avoid overreacting, and instead treat pooping in the potty as a natural process he’ll learn to do on his own.
7. Put your foot down
Does your child misbehave in the potty, from flushing the toilet multiple times to unrolling the toilet paper? He’s likely resorting to these behaviors to get a rise out of you or to stall and buy time.
While you can’t force him to actually poop, you can set boundaries on how he behaves while he’s sitting on the potty. Reading books and holding a small toy are okay—flushing the toilet over and over and making a mess are not.
First, try to prevent the behavior, like removing the toilet paper out of reach or having him sit on a floor potty. Then, remain calm as you redirect his behavior so he sees that it won’t get a reaction from you.
And finally, focus on creating a positive (or at least neutral) experience and praise him for progress or good choices he made.
Convincing your toddler to poop in the potty can be exhausting, especially when you’re cleaning accidents every day. Rest assured, poop accidents, even long after he’s mastered peeing in the potty, are normal. With time and practice, he’ll eventually poop in the potty.
In the meantime, you can help him along by having set times for him to use the potty and incorporating potty use into your routine. When you do, give him plenty of time alone to relax his body and not feel pressured to poop.
When he poops in his undies or diapers, discard the poop into the toilet so he knows that’s where it goes. Talk about his fears and show empathy for what he must be feeling. Stay positive, or at least not disgusted, with using the potty, and put your foot down on inappropriate behavior.
My son did learn to poop in the potty, even after months of accidents. And when his brothers came along, I knew better than to stress about poop accidents. I knew it could take some time—even up to a year—for kids to finally poop in the potty.
p.s. Check out Where’s the Poop? by Julie Markes and Susan Kathleen Hartung for more on how to get your toddler to poop in the potty:
Get more tips:
- Your Toddler Refuses to Sit on the Potty? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry
- How to Potty Train a Toddler (Without the Power Struggles)
- Potty Training Books to Ease Your Toddler’s Anxiety
- How to Potty Train Gradually
- What to Do When Your Toddler Won’t Poop on the Potty
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and sign up for the FREE 5-day email mini course, Peaceful Potty Training:
It’s so hard to get my daughter to poop in the potty. She likes to keep flushing the toilet, waisting toilet paper, and just likes to be stubborn. Any help?
Nina Garcia says
Hi Craig! It can definitely be rough when they do anything else but poop in the potty! I’d put my foot down with what she can and can’t do, including flushing the toilet multiple times or having access to the toilet paper, at least for now, while she’s learning. She might be doing these things to get a reaction, so eliminating those choices to begin with can help focus it back into being a positive experience. Good luck!
Karen Tierney says
Help! My 3.5 year old Began his toilet training journey 6 weeks ago but still hasn’t in the toilet!
At my wits end at the stage – tried reward charts, reward toy box, praise, punishment …. nothing has worked!
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Karen! Have you tried the tips in the article? Hopefully those will help. I’ve found that rewards, toys, punishment, etc don’t work in the long run. Praise is good as well, so long as it’s not too over the top and that you also praise the effort even if he didn’t get the ultimate result (praise for even sitting on the potty even if he didn’t actually poop). Also, it takes a while (our pediatrician told us up to a year!) before they 100% master pooping. Once I knew that, I was more patient, which also helped them relax and not feel bad for not pooping in the toilet.
My son will be 4 next week. We has been potty trained for peeing since July….in 3 days it was no issue.
However, all this time later he still poops in his underwear or pull up without a care in the world.
When he has dirty underwear I had him help me clean it, we have done rewards small and big. He attends daycare and they are working with us and him. He does not appear to constipated which was an issue when he was younger and why we waited until he was almost 3.5 to start training.
we are at a lost…when I say we tired everything that you have mentioned….we have done everything.
I just do not know how to help him.
Nina Garcia says
Hi Liz, do you think that he has improved with pooping since July? If yes, then it might just take some time. Our pediatrician said that it can take up to a year before they’re fully poop-trained, so that would be this coming July.