What to Do When Your Toddler Is Afraid to Poop in the Potty

Is your toddler afraid to poop in the potty, or will sit but still not poop? These tricks will get him to stop holding it in and finally poop.

Toddler Afraid to Poop in the PottyMy son had been potty trained for months, with hardly any pee accidents. But, despite his strides, he wouldn’t use the potty to poop, and instead would simply go in his undies and pants.

“I don’t want to,” he’d respond when I asked about using the potty.

He didn’t have constipation, nor did he have a bad experience in the toilet. And it’s not like he liked feeling poop in his underwear, either. Instead, he felt afraid to poop in the potty, even though he’d been peeing like a champ in one.

So, how do you get your toddler to poop in the potty, especially after months of having been potty-trained? I wanted to be empathetic toward his feelings, but also encourage him to stop having accidents once and for all. Washing poop-smudged undies every day was no easy task.

You’re likely here because you’re out of ideas. Your toddler simply refuses to poop in the potty, asking for a diaper instead. Even if he sits on the potty, he still won’t poop in it. He won’t tell you when he needs to potty, even if he clearly knows.

And without a diaper, he’ll either hold his poop the whole day and get constipated, or have an accident in his undies.

The thing is, this behavior isn’t mere stubbornness—your toddler is afraid to poop in the potty. He says he’s scared of going and doesn’t like “the hole.” Seeing and feeling poo coming out of him can feel overwhelming. He may even be too young to communicate why he won’t poop.

So, you find yourself in a conundrum: How can you address his feelings while helping him poop in the potty? Thankfully, there is a way to be gentle with his fears while also reassuring him about the potty.

The first place to get answers is with your pediatrician, of course. Then, these tricks can also help him feel relaxed and safe, while respecting his own timeline and readiness. Take a look at these tips to handling a toddler afraid to poop in the potty:

Blow bubbles

A fellow mom suggested this fantastic trick to help your toddler ease his fears, especially if he tends to hold his poop. You see, he’s less likely to squeeze his muscles when he’s blowing bubbles at the same time. Blowing bubbles in general also relaxes his body and makes him feel less anxious.

If he’s too young to manage bubbles on his own, hold the bottle and wand for him as he blows. It helps that you’re already in the bathroom, making clean up even easier.

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Come up with a plan together

Coming up with a plan can be an effective way to ease your toddler’s fears and anxieties. The trick is to come up with it together, putting the two of you on the same side.

Before coming up with a plan, acknowledge how she feels. You might say, “It can feel scary to try different things, especially if you’re not used to it. I know I would be scared, too.”

Then, come up with a “plan” and brainstorm a few ideas she can try. Gather a sheet of paper and pens to make it “official.” Write them down, even if she can’t read them just yet.

For instance, one idea could be that she wears diapers until the last second before she sits on the potty. Maybe she brings books to read in the bathroom, or drinks prune juice or plenty of water in the morning. Or you plan to eat lots of fruits and vegetables to increase her fiber. And be open to her ideas, no matter how farfetched or silly they might be.

Even a toddler who is potty trained might still poop in their pants. Coming up with a plan together can erase the fears she might have about pooping in the potty.

Avoid dangling legs

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Pooping in a toilet seat attachment makes clean up much easier than a floor potty, but it does make for a few hassles as well. For instance, you likely have to carry your toddler onto the potty seat because he can’t reach it on its own.

But a bigger downside is that the toilet doesn’t make for a good pooping position, especially when his legs are dangling.

After all, can you imagine pooping in a tall toilet with your legs dangling below? Doesn’t exactly make for an effective way to pass bowel movements.

Instead, make sure to prop a step stool in front of the toilet so his feet are planted firmly on them. His knees should also be above hip level, which will help him bear down easier.

Help your toddler relax

Like many adults, your toddler can feel apprehensive about new experiences, especially with pooping in the potty. Understandably so, considering that she’d spent years pooping in diapers, anywhere and anytime.

Address her fears by helping her relax on the potty. Show her videos about using the potty, sing favorite songs, and read potty training books. Make the environment calm and relaxing so that she doesn’t associate it with fear and trepidation.

And be mindful of your own body language and tone of voice, as well. Stay calm and patient, even as she throws a fit or refuses to sit on the potty. The more relaxed you can be, the more she’ll follow suit.

Toddler Refuses to Sit on the Potty

Dump poop in the toilet

One of the benefits of wearing diapers is the ease of tossing a soiled one into the trash. No need to wash undies or wince too much at the mess.

But instead of simply tossing the diaper, try this trick: dump the poop in the toilet.

Letting your toddler see you dump poop in the toilet shows him where poop belongs. After all, up until now, he’d only known that poop goes into diapers. Now he can see that poop actually gets discarded in the toilet. Even better: let him flush the toilet so he can see the poop disappear.

Move in phases

Some toddlers need a more gradual approach to overcoming their fears about pooping in the potty. Rather than doing it all at once, see if you can move in phases:

  • The first phase could mean pooping in her diaper, but to do so in the bathroom. This gives her the familiarity of the diaper while reinforcing the idea that the bathroom is the place to poop.
  • The second phase could be for her to sit on the potty with her diaper to poop. She’s still pooping in the diaper, but will now become familiar with a new sitting position.
  • The third phase could then be to wear diapers, but to remove them to poop in the potty. The diapers can still catch any accidents throughout the day, with the expectation that she should try to poop in the potty.
  • And finally, the fourth phase is to do away with diapers completely and wear undies. Having had practice with diapers and pull-ups, she can now advance to wearing undies during the day.

Learn more about gradual potty training.

gradual potty training

Call a relative after each successful poop

Reinforcing positive behavior starts with praising the behavior you want to see, than admonishing the ones you don’t. Encourage your toddler to keep pooping in the potty by allowing him to call a relative after each milestone he reaches.

Let’s say he finally pooped in the potty. Use that as an opportunity to call grandma and have him tell her what he had just done. Not only is he able to share the good news, he’s also allowed to use your phone, which he may not always be allowed to do.

Celebrate smaller steps, too. Success isn’t only the final outcome, but the progress to get there. Let’s say he agreed to even sit on the potty in the first place instead of fighting it. Give grandma or another relative a call so he can relay his progress.

Ease your child’s constipation

Your child might refuse to poop on the potty because the constipation that she may have felt in the past has now scared her from going again.

If so, focus on softening her bowel movements so that when she does go, the experience is less painful and scary. Start with offering high-fiber food like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Give plenty of water as well.

Then, try to avoid food that can cause constipation. These can include processed foods, fried food, or excess dairy and meat.

Lastly, consider giving supplements or over-the-counter medicine (though check with your pediatrician first). For instance, fiber gummies can give an extra boost, or a stool softener can change the texture of her bowel movements.

By easing her constipation, you can hopefully make the pooping experience less painful, giving her one less reason to refuse to poop on the potty.

Create a daily habit

Think about the times you use the bathroom and how you go at regular times of the day. That might be right when you wake up, after coming home, and right before bed.

The same can be said for your child. Create a daily habit of regular times he should sit on the potty. Instead of asking him if he needs to go, guide him to the potty at set times, depending on the flow and rhythm of your day.

This can be right when he wakes up, after meals, or before taking a bath. The consistency of a daily habit makes using the potty more “automatic” to the point where he doesn’t even question whether to use it or not. The frequent use also means more chances of him passing a bowel movement.

Highlight the incentives

Offer an incentive for being on the potty, particularly activities or items your child can only use while sitting. For instance, sitting on the potty means he can watch a few minutes of a movie, read a book, or play with certain toys.

Offering incentives can make him want to sit longer on the potty, increasing the chances of passing bowel movements. He’s also relaxed and distracted, which can make pooping easier (it’s unlikely to happen if he’s stressed or upset). And he ties potty use with positive activities instead of a task he dreads.

Don’t use typical rewards

Has your child stopped pooping in the potty because she’s bored with the rewards you had been giving? You may have started potty training by offering a sticker, candy, or toy each time she peed or pooped in the potty. And while this may have delighted her at first, she has now lost interest and even had accidents.

You see, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t reward kids. For one thing, external rewards like tangible items lose their fizzle after a while, forcing you to up the ante. Instead, nurture a sense of internal pride.

Praise her for taking initiative and going to the bathroom (even if she didn’t make it in time and had an accident). Talk about how much she has progressed with potty use and no longer using diapers like she used to. Acknowledge her with a “You did it!” for positive behavior.

Instead of stickers and candy, make your attention the reward. This can help develop a sense of internal pride that’s less likely to fizzle.

Praise the progress

One way to encourage your child to poop in the potty is to acknowledge the progress he’s making, not just perfection. It’s tempting to praise him only when he finally does poop, but that discounts all the other times he has made progress.

For instance, praise him for pulling his pants and undies down on his own or for telling you he has to pee or poop. Talk about how he sat on the potty five minutes longer than he did yesterday. And congratulate him for pooping, even if it involved plenty of tears and tantrums.

His potty training journey will likely have plenty of ups and downs, and he won’t reach perfection overnight. Instead, talking about the positive steps he’s taking along the way, even if they’re less than perfect.

Don’t use pull ups for sleep

See if this sounds familiar: Your toddler refuses to sit on the potty and holds her poop all day. But the minute you put a pull up on her for a nap or bedtime, she poops in it right away.

Pull ups during sleep are supposed to keep her clothes and sheets dry, especially since she can’t control her bowel movements during sleep. But if it seems like she’s pooping in her pull ups on purpose to avoid the potty, try ditching pull ups altogether. It’s one thing if you put a pull up on just in case she pees at night, but it’s another if she’s relying on it as a crutch to poop.

One way to dip your toe into ditching pull ups is to start with the nap, especially if she tends to stay dry. That way, she has less incentive to poop in her pull ups if she’s wearing nothing but undies.

Worried about accidents? Prepare yourself physically and mentally by expecting them to happen and having rags and clean sheets handy.

Keep your child bare bottom

One way to encourage your child to start pooping in the potty is to keep him bare bottom during the day. He can feel the urge of a bowel movement without the crutch of pooping in his undies or pull ups.

Yes, this can get messy, but it may not be as bad as you think. The minute he starts to pee or poop around the house, rush him to the toilet and encourage him to finish there. Even if he has accidents galore, he can start to tie the sensation to running to the bathroom.

Prepare yourself mentally and physically by blocking out a few days to keep him home and bare bottom. See the accidents and hassles as steps toward getting him to use the potty regularly. And keep plenty of rags and cleaning supplies handy.

Let it go (even for a long time)

At the end of the day, potty training should be easy. It really should. Any time you’re faced with a power struggle is a clear signal to take a break and try again later. Either your toddler isn’t physically or mentally ready, or power struggles are getting in the way.

Needless to say, fighting with her about pooping in the potty only leads to more unnecessary stress on everyone.

Instead, “give up” and let it go. Don’t say a word about pooping in the potty, and revert to old methods if need be.

Because more than likely, even months down the line, she’ll simply take off her diaper and poop in the potty. All the other times she resisted potty training was her way of saying she wasn’t ready or willing.


Any parent would lose her patience when her toddler is afraid to poop in the potty. What do you when your child holds his poop until bedtime, or is too afraid to even sit down?

Thankfully, you now have a few tricks to help with this common problem and get him to poop in the potty.

Start by blowing bubbles in the potty, not only to help him relax but to make potty use fun. Create a plan together on what he can do to overcome his fears. Make sure he’s sitting correctly on the potty, and help him relax through songs, videos, and books.

Dump his poop into the toilet so he knows where it should go, and move in phases to ease him into potty use. Allow him to use your phone to call a relative after hitting milestones, and finally, let it go if it means avoiding power struggles and frustration.

Rest assured, he will poop in the potty at some point, even if right now, he says he “doesn’t want to.”

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  1. Pooping is the main issue right now! Yes she had did it in the past so I don’t know what went wrong, but I’m at the no patience stage with it. She holds it for days till I give in with a pull up. Is that right to give in or no?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Kristina, Dealing with potty accidents and holding it in is definitely tough. I think it’s okay to offer a pull up, so long as you’re intentional about it. For instance, don’t cave in because she whined about it all day long. Instead, say, “It looks like you’re not ready to potty train just yet, so let’s hold off for two weeks. After that, we can try wearing undies again.”