What to Do When Your Toddler Won’t Poop on the Potty

Potty training poop anxiety is a common issue with kids. Learn what to do when your toddler won’t poop on potty, even when they hold it in.

Toddler Won't Poop on PottyI didn’t know what I was more tired of: buying pull-ups or cleaning accidents.

I couldn’t for the life of me get my toddler to poop on the potty. He’d go days without pooping. Or he’d poop in his pull-ups before naps or bedtime—and not tell anyone he was sleeping in poop.

The thing is, he was already peeing on the toilet seat for a year, all without accidents. He knew exactly what to do—he refused to poop in the potty.

I tried sitting him on the potty for a length of time in the bathroom, but he’d hold his bowel movements in. I’d even find him clearly needing to poo, but no amount of encouragement helped. He’d instead hide from me and poop in his pants.

And that’s on a good day—many times his refusal erupted in full out crying and yelling.

Why do toddlers not want to poop in the potty?

But first, let’s talk about a few common reasons many toddlers don’t want to poop in the potty. By keeping these reasons in mind, you’re more likely to have patience, empathy, and compassion during this process:

  • Your toddler would rather do something else. If you’ve got an active little one, he may not be as interested in sitting on a potty, waiting for poop to come out. He’d rather be on the go, which pull-ups and diapers make all the more convenient.
  • He has had constipation and is afraid to poop. An initial fear of the potty may have contributed to withholding his poop, which led to constipation. By the time he finally had to poop, the experience may have been painful, tainting the experience.
  • He’s adjusting to a new way to poop. Keep in mind that even the physical sensations—from an exposed bottom sitting in a hole to feeling poop come out—can feel overwhelming. After all, he’s had years of pooping in a diaper or pull-up.

toddler afraid to poop in the potty

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When your toddler won’t poop on the potty

As you can see, kids usually aren’t out to make our lives miserable. They may be truly struggling with pooping in the potty. And as frustrated as I was, I knew I couldn’t be the only one, either.

Maybe your toddler tells you when he needs to poop, but freaks out when it’s time to push and sit on the potty. Perhaps you’ve explained, bribed, even begged… but nothing. Instead, you’re left feeling unsure of everything.

Don’t worry, friend. I can reassure you that this too will pass. You can learn how to encourage him without making the experience traumatic (for either of you!). We’ll go over what worked for me and many others, as well as a few shifts to make and behaviors to avoid.

How to Get Toddler to Tell You When They Need to Potty

1. Don’t make a big deal out of it

Have you noticed that the minute you stop freaking out, getting upset, or making a big deal out of something, your toddler suddenly complies?

Kids sense our mood and energy. If we’re high-strung and stressed because they won’t poop in the potty, they hear the message loud and clear: this poop thing is not a good thing.

But imagine instead responding casually (or at least neutrally). If your toddler doesn’t want to poop in the potty, shrug your shoulders and say, “Okay.” If he has an accident in his underwear, clean the mess without saying a word.

The less “pain” you associate with the experience, the more likely he can give it a try. More importantly, the less shame and guilt he feels.

How do you not stress out? One simple reminder is to remember that he won’t wear diapers in college (or even in kindergarten, for that matter). He can poop in the potty at some point.

Check out these potty training books for toddlers to read with your child.

Potty Training Books for Toddlers

2. Ditch the diapers and pull-ups

Have you tried losing weight knowing you had ice cream in the freezer and cookies in the cupboard? As you can imagine, willpower can only get you so far before you cave into your cravings.

The same is true with diapers and pull-ups. The more you make them available, the more you enable the very behavior you’re trying to get rid of. Think of it as helping your toddler make the switch by ditching any temptations or fallback that could be keeping her stuck in her comfort zone.

Plus, alternating between using the potty and pooping in diapers sends mixed messages. She’s less likely to give the potty a chance when you continue to relent and hand her a diaper.

Of course, many toddlers still rely on pull-ups for sleep, especially at night, so you may not be able to ditch them completely.

But do as much as you can to encourage her to use undies—yep, even for naps. Expect accidents to happen by having extra sheets ready or clearing the bed. The more committed you are to undies, the more she can get the idea.

Learn what to do when your toddler is potty trained but poops in pants.

Toddler Is Potty Trained but Poops in Pants

3. Make them responsible for their choices

If your toddler insists on pull-ups, another strategy is to make him responsible for using them. Make it his issue to handle, not yours.

For instance, if he says he has to poop and asks for a pull-up, have him fetch a pull-up, put it on, and let you know when he’s done. After he is, have him watch as you dump the poop in the toilet and get cleaned up. Make him responsible for fetching a new pair of undies.

In other words, allow him to experience the inconvenience of pooping in a pull-up. It can help him realize that the hassle of learning to poop in the potty isn’t as bad in comparison.

4. Praise the progress they make

Just because your toddler won’t poop on the potty, doesn’t mean he hasn’t made progress thus far. Praise him for the baby steps he takes, however small.

Maybe it’s when he actually sat on the potty (even if he didn’t poop in it). He told you he needed to go, whereas in the past he’d sneak off without a word.

These are small but significant actions that deserve your attention. After all, the more positive reinforcement he ties to using the potty, the more likely he can keep going with his progress.

Learn how to potty train a toddler without power struggles.

How to Potty Train a Toddler

5. Help them face their fears

Helping kids use the potty is a fine balance. On one hand, you don’t want to pressure her when she’s not ready. But you also want to encourage her to face her fears and do it anyway. By shielding her from anything new and uncomfortable, you’re confirming her fears and suspicions.

One way to do this is to support her once she gives pooping in the potty a chance. Maybe you get children’s books about the potty and talk about her fears. Or you hug her while she sits on the potty and tries to poop.

With your support, she knows that however scary or uncomfortable pooping in the potty may be, you have confidence in her ability to do it.

Signs Your Child Is Not Ready for Potty Training

6. Set your toddler up for success

Some potty training issues have to do with the physical environment your toddler is in. For instance, make sure that his knees are higher than his hips. You can imagine how difficult it is to bear down when your legs are dangling. You can achieve this by placing a step tool he can rest his feet on while he poops.

Then, consider allow a few bathroom-safe toys to distract him while he poops. Focusing on other more enjoyable things can help him relax and poop.

Lastly, consult with his pediatrician about adding more fiber to his diet. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as well as plenty of water can make it easier for poop to pass through his body. The doctor might even suggest a stool softener if food and water aren’t enough.


Learning what to do when your toddler won’t poop on the potty can leave any mom feeling frustrated and discouraged. But with these simple tweaks and changes, you can make a world of a difference, not only for your toddler pooping but your interaction with her as well.

Respond calmly and matter-of-fact, remembering not to make a big deal out of pooping in the potty. Ditch the diapers so she has less to fall back on (not to mention sending a clear message). If diapers are a must, make her responsible for using them.

Praise her for both big and small steps toward progress. And help her face her fears—having you by her side (sometimes literally) can be all it takes for her to gain the confidence to give it a try.

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  1. My son is almost 4 and will sit on the toilet. I do need to get a routine and consistency, as well as making sure his knees are above his hips – thanks to reading your article. Any advice when a kiddo only wears a pull up for naps and nighttime and that is when they poop?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Brandy! I’m glad the article helped. Since he wears a pull up for sleep, I would try to have him sit before he takes a nap or goes to bed as part of your routine. Then, if he soils himself, have him “help” you clean it up somehow, or at least watch you toss the soiled materials into the toilet if possible. That way, he’s somewhat accountable for the messes he made, versus if he sat on the toilet and clean up would be much easier.

  2. My two year old is starting to have these terrible tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Also, right now he is potty training and he goes pee perfectly in the potty no issues but it’s the pooping that he has accidents in his underwear and when he’s playing. I’m a stay at home mother and I understand it’s my job to do all of these things but I get overwhelmed because I do it all day everyday. Thank you for your time, Nina.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Rest assured that pooping accidents can continue up to a year even if he’s already been potty trained for peeing. Not that it’ll always happen every day, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself seeing poop accidents even months down the line. After a year, he will hopefully be nearly poop trained completely.

      But I hear you—it’s not easy cleaning up messes, and it can seem like he makes mistakes over and over. Go easy on yourself and on him, knowing that this won’t last for the rest of his life, and that it’s perfectly normal. Hang in there, mama! <3

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