Is your toddler afraid to poop in the potty? Discover how to ease his potty training poop anxiety, stop holding it in, and get him to poop.
The clenched butt, the closed legs, the funny poses your toddler does… all of it would be a lot cuter if you knew he wasn’t doing it because he was trying not to poop.
Because for the last several days (days!) he hasn’t poop at all, whether in a potty or even in diapers.
It started when he was constipated, and passing stool became painful. The problem? He has now burned this memory in his mind, so much so that he thinks any future poops will feel just as bad. And of course, the longer he holds his poop, the more constipated he does get… and the cycle continues.
Now, any time he feels the need to poop, he freaks out.
How to handle potty training poop anxiety
Every parent has felt that panic when she realizes that her child hasn’t pooped in days. In the newborn stage, this was a bit normal, given that we were reassured babies wouldn’t always poop every day.
But once your child is older and has been pooping regularly, realizing that it’s been days since he has pooped can feel alarming.
You might get into power struggles with him, whether because of his refusal to sit on the potty or for the accidents and soiled undies that happen.
How do you help him stop being afraid to poop in the potty and resolve his anxiety? Take a look at these tips to help him overcome his potty training poop anxiety and stop withholding his stool:
1. Combine sitting on the potty with a fun activity
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Encourage your child to sit on the as he does an activity. He’s able to relax and not think about pooping (which helps to actually pass stool). And he’s also more likely to sit for a longer time on the potty if he’s enjoying himself.
Activities can include reading books or doing art (these Melissa & Doug Water Wow notepads are small enough to hold and only needs water). You can set up your laptop or iPad and play a movie while he sits on the potty.
Make it even more fun by keeping him company. Sitting alone in the bathroom doesn’t exactly help with his poop anxiety, but if you’re with him and doing something fun, he might stay even longer.
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2. Put your toddler on the potty after a bath
You likely reserve baths for the end of the day, so that your child can be fresh for pajamas and a long night of sleep. That said, a warm bath can help relax him enough to poop, both emotionally and physically.
Once you’ve given him a bath, place a shirt over his top to keep him warm, then have him sit on the potty for a few minutes.
If anything, the novelty can help keep the pressure off of needing to use the potty, and actually encourage him to pass bowel movements.
3. Offer the “P” foods
Many parents swear by certain foods to help soften stool and make it easier to pass. One of the most popular are the “P” foods, or fruits and vegetables that happen to start with P, including:
You also want to avoid giving your child the “BRAT” diet, or the food people eat if they have diarrhea. These foods are said to make you even more constipated:
- Apples and applesauce
4. Make potty use part of the routine
Is there a task in your toddler’s day that he does automatically without a fight? Maybe it’s putting his dish in the sink or placing dirty clothes in the hamper. He doesn’t fight these chores because they’ve become so ingrained in his routine.
The same can be done with sitting on the potty.
Make sitting on the potty part of his routine by doing it—regularly and consistently—before or after another task. He can sit on the potty after having an afternoon snack, or right before you leave the house.
He might fight going to the potty the first few tries, but he’ll catch on. And the best part? By making potty use part of his day, he’ll fight it less and accept it as a given.
5. Read children’s books about the potty
Books are a fantastic way to ease your child’s poop anxiety, especially when she can see that this is normal.
Because nothing is worse than feeling like she’s alone, or that something is wrong with pooping. Reading about and seeing characters sitting on a potty and trying to poop reassures her that it’s okay to try it herself.
6. Consult with your toddler’s pediatrician
I’m a fan of giving our pediatrician a call whenever I’m not sure about an issue my kids are having. Better safe than sorry, right? Most of the time, the issues I called about weren’t serious, but I always feel better knowing I’ve double-checked.
If your toddler’s poop anxiety persists, it’s worth a call to his pediatrician to rule out more serious problems. The doctor can also take x-rays or prescribe medicine, things you and I can’t exactly do on our own.
Because if it is a medical issue, then it’s likely his refusal to poop goes beyond stubbornness or defiance.
7. Don’t make a big deal about it
Kids pick up on our energy, including the times when we’re stressed and anxious. Sure, knowing your toddler hasn’t pooped in days doesn’t help your nerves. But the more you pile on your worries, the more stressed he feels, and the less likely he is to poop.
And so, the cycle continues.
Put a stop to it by not making a big deal about it. Continue to sit him on the potty as part of your routine, but treat it as a normal thing, not a punishment or a thorn between the two of you. Watch your tone of voice and keep it casual and conversational, not the start of a power struggle.
I’m willing to bet the more you ease up on this issue, the more he’ll finally take to pooping in the potty.
Knowing how to respond to your toddler’s potty training poop anxiety is never easy. It’s tempting to lose your temper, use bribes, or threaten with consequences, except none of these are effective (nor respectful).
Instead, try other techniques like encouraging him to poop after a bath or doing fun activities while he sits on the potty. Sit him on the potty as part of your routine, and feed him food conducive to passing bowel movements.
Give your pediatrician a call to rule out more serious causes, and make pooping normal by reading children’s books about it. And finally, don’t make a big deal, lose your temper or add even more pressure—both will only worsen the situation, not improve it.
By easing his fears about pooping, you can stop the mental barriers that could be preventing him from using the potty. If anything, at least now he won’t resort to clenching his butt or squeezing his legs together.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Your Toddler to Poop in the Potty
- Secrets to Fix Potty Training Accidents
- What to Do when Your Child Is Scared of Restrooms
- How to Potty Train Your Toddler in 3 Days
- How to Potty Train a Toddler (Without the Power Struggles)
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