How to Handle Potty Training Poop Anxiety

Is your toddler afraid to poop in the potty? Learn how to get kids to stop holding it in and ease their potty training poop anxiety.

Potty Training Poop AnxietyThe clenched butt, the closed legs, the funny poses your child 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 had constipation, 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 vicious cycle continues.

Now, any time he feels the need to poop, he freaks out.

How to handle potty training poop anxiety

Many parents have 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 peeing and pooping regularly, realizing that it’s been days since he has pooped can feel alarming. You might even get into power struggles with him, whether because of his refusal to sit on the toilet or because he pooped in his pants and doesn’t seem to care one bit.

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:

toddler afraid to poop in the potty

1. Combine sitting on the potty with a fun activity

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Encourage your child to sit on the potty as he does an activity (even with his underwear and pants on to start). 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 tablet and play a movie while he sits.

Make it even more fun by keeping him company. Sitting alone in the bathroom doesn’t exactly help with his poo 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 as a natural stool-softener that make bowel movements easier to pass. One of the most popular are the “P” foods, or fruits and vegetables rich in fiber that happen to start with P, including:

  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Peas

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:

  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Apples and applesauce
  • Toast

And of course, offer plenty of fluids, primarily water (although diluted prune juice might help).

4. Make potty use part of the routine

Is there a task in your child’s day that he does automatically without a fight? Maybe it’s putting her dish in the sink or placing dirty clothes in the hamper. She doesn’t fight these chores because they’ve become so ingrained as a habit.

The same can be done with sitting on the potty.

Make sitting on the potty part of her routine by doing it—regularly and consistently—before or after another task. She can sit on the potty after having an afternoon snack, or right before you leave the house.

She might fight going to the potty the first few tries, but she’ll likely catch on. And the best part? By making potty use part of the day, she might 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 he can see that this is normal.

Because nothing is worse than feeling like he’s alone, or that something is wrong with pooping. Reading about and seeing characters sitting on a potty and trying to poop reassures him that it’s okay to try it himself.

6. Consult with your child’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 child’s poop anxiety persists, it’s worth a call to the pediatrician to rule out more serious problems. The doctor can also take x-rays or prescribe medication, things you and I can’t exactly do on our own.

Because if it is a medical issue, then it’s likely that her refusal to poop goes beyond stubborn behavior or defiance.

Toddler Refuses to Poop on Potty

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, know that your 4 year old won’t poop on the potty for days on end doesn’t help your nerves. But the more you pile on your worries, the more stressed she feels, and the less likely she is to poop.

And so, the cycle continues.

Put a stop to it by not making a big deal about it. Continue to sit her 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.

The more you ease up on this issue, the more she can finally take to pooping in the potty.


Knowing how to respond to your child’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. 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—these might 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.

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  1. The biggest struggle with my 3.5 year old son is that he simply REFUSES to even sit on the potty. He did sit on it frequently and even peed on it a few times a few months ago, but he wasn’t completely ready developmentally so I didn’t push it then. I believe that he is ready now but I think it’s a total power struggle with him this time around. I’m going to back off completely for a few weeks from talking about the potty, and will just leave it where it’s been in our bathroom. He starts preschool next week (thankfully he doesn’t have to be potty trained to go) so I’m going to wait until that transition is complete before attempting to use the potty again. But when that time comes if he’s still resisting even sitting on it, do you have any advice?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Jenna! I agree that backing off potty training and even waiting until after he has transitioned to preschool is a great idea. You don’t want to compound the power struggles or add yet another major milestone while he’s adjusting to school.

      If he still resists using the potty, one thing that worked with one of my kiddos is doing the 3-day potty training method, where you leave them bare-bottom over a long weekend. Of course, they still have to be ready and willing, so if he still cries about this, then try again another time. But this might help condense the potty training method to a few days.