Potty training poop anxiety is common with kids. Learn what to do when your toddler won’t poop on the potty, even when she holds it in.
I 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 in the toilet 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, but he’d hold it in. I’d even find him clearly needing to poop, but no amount of encouraging 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.
When your toddler won’t poop on the potty
As frustrated as I was, I knew I couldn’t be the only one, either.
Maybe your toddler actually tells you when she needs to poop, but freaks out when it’s time to push and actually 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 her 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.
Why do toddlers not want to poop in the potty?
But first, let’s talk about a few key reasons many toddlers don’t want to poop in the potty. By keeping these reasons in mind, you’re more likely to be mindful, patient, and compassionate during this process:
- Your toddler would rather do something else. If you’ve got an active little one, she may not be as interested in sitting on potty, waiting for poop to come out. She’d rather be on the go, which pull-ups and diapers make all the more convenient.
- She has had constipation and is afraid to poop. An initial fear of the potty may have made her hold her poop, which led to constipation. By the time she finally had to poop, the experience may have been painful, tainting the experience.
- She’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, she’s had years of pooping in a diaper or pull-up.
As you can see, she isn’t out to make your life miserable. She truly is struggling with pooping in the potty. Let’s take a look at a few ways to help her do that:
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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’ll 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 undies, clean the mess without saying a word.
The less “pain” you associate with the experience, the more likely he’ll be to give it a try.
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 will poop in the potty at some point.
Check out these potty training books for toddlers to read with your child.
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. In fact, expect accidents to happen by having extra sheets ready or clearing the bed. The more committed you are to undies, the more she’ll get the idea.
Learn what to do when your toddler is potty trained but poops in pants.
3. Make your toddler responsible for her choices
If your toddler insists on pull-ups, another strategy is to make her responsible for using it. Make it her issue to handle, not yours.
For instance, if she says she has to poop and asks for a pull-up, have her fetch her own pull-up, put it on, and let you know when she’s done. After she is, have her watch as you dump the poop in the toilet and get cleaned up. Make her responsible for fetching a new pair of undies.
In other words, allow her to experience the inconvenience of pooping in a pull-up. It will help her realize that the hassle of learning to poop in the potty isn’t as bad in comparison.
Learn how to get your toddler to tell you when they need to potty.
4. Praise your toddler for any progress he makes
Just because your toddler won’t poop on the potty, doesn’t mean he hasn’t made progress thus far. Praise him for 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’ll be to keep going with his progress.
Learn how to potty train a toddler right here.
5. Help your toddler face his 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.
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.
Get more tips:
- The Real Reasons Your 4 Year Old Won’t Poop on the Potty
- How to Handle Potty Training Poop Anxiety
- How to Get Your Toddler to (Finally) Poop in the Potty
- Your Toddler Refuses to Sit on the Potty? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry
- Potty Trained Toddler Having Accidents on Purpose
Don’t forget: Join my FREE 5-day email mini course, Peaceful Potty Training and potty train without frustrating power struggles:
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?
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.