How to Stop Toddlers From Pooping in Their Pants

toddler girl sitting on toilet
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Few things are more frustrating for parents—and toddlers—than difficulty with potty training, especially toileting regression. When your child has been successfully pooping in the potty and then starts having accidents, a number of things may be going on.

Reasons Kids Poop Their Pants

The solution to your child's toileting problem will depend on its cause. Passing stool can sometimes take time, and many toddlers simply lack patience. Others get busy playing and ignore the urge to go.

It is also common for toddlers to withhold pooping, which can lead to hard-to-pass stool, constipation, and other health conditions. Here are a few common problems and solutions to consider.

Not Pooping at Daycare

If your child goes without accidents all day at daycare but then poops in the car on the drive home, they are not alone. In this common situation, the solution is to encourage them to poop before leaving daycare.

When you arrive, greet your child lovingly, then shuffle them off to the bathroom. Be prepared to allow your child as much time as necessary and give them privacy if needed. If possible, use a different bathroom in a less busy part of the building.

You also may want to check with the daycare provider to ensure your child is comfortable using their toilet during the day. Some children have difficulty pooping in toilets away from home. If your child holds their poop all day, this may be the reason they're having accidents in the car.

Taking your child to use the daycare toilet every day before you leave can help them become more comfortable with the idea. After some time, they may start pooping before you pick them up.

Ignoring the Urge to Go

Toddlers can get so wrapped up in what they are doing that they forget to stop to poop. If your child realizes it is time to use the toilet midway through soiling their pants, the solution is to schedule potty breaks.

The frequency of bowel movements varies among individuals. Some toddlers poop every day, some every other day, and some poop three times a day or more. Most people are on their own regular schedule and poop at roughly the same times every day.

If your child is having accidents at about the same time each day, take them to the bathroom 15 to 30 minutes before an anticipated accident. It may help to set an alarm or reminder on your phone so you can be consistent.

Poor Wiping

Poop-streaked underwear is often a sign that your child just isn't wiping well. Some children just do not like cleaning up poop, while others aren't doing a good job of it yet.

Remind your child to ask for help after using the toilet, continue to work on their technique, and offer lots of praise for trying.

Nightly baths or showers can help keep your child clean as they work on developing independence in the bathroom.

Chronic Constipation

If you are confident that your child is wiping correctly, but you are still seeing skid marks, it could be a common medical condition known as encopresis. Encopresis occurs when a child is chronically constipated. Stool becomes hard and backs up, and liquid stool travels around the blockage and leaks out.

Parents often mistake these leaks for laziness or stubbornness, but encopresis requires medical attention. If your child is constipated and having accidents, talk to your child's healthcare provider. The first step is typically treating the child's constipation with diet and medication.

Encourage Healthy Bowel Movements

Sometimes you can help encourage your child to poop in the potty by addressing issues that could be contributing to potty hesitation and troubles.

  • Teach kids that going to the bathroom is normal: Kids need to know that everyone poops and that they shouldn't worry or be embarrassed about using the bathroom wherever they are. Reading the book "Everyone Poops" by Taro Gomi can help reinforce that there is no shame in pooping.
  • Make sure kids drink plenty of water: When kids are dehydrated, it makes going to the bathroom more difficult.
  • Provide a healthy diet: Includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your child's diet. A fiber-rich diet helps keep things in the body functioning properly.
  • Notice when kids are constipated: Use remedies such as fruit juices and talk to your doctor about what other remedies might be appropriate for your child such as stool softeners. But avoid over-using these supplements, because you could exacerbate the problem by putting too much focus on pooping.

Help Prevent Poop Accidents

Regardless of the cause of your child's accidents, there are several things you can do to help them along. Different tactics will work for different children, and it is important not to shame your child for accidents.

Enlist Their Help

If your child is regularly pooping in their pants, it's important that they take some responsibility in the clean-up. First, have them dump any solid stool into the toilet and flush. Then, take the soiled underwear to the tub and have them clean the stain (as much as they can) under cold water. It may help for your child to wear disposable gloves.

Always have them wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water afterward. Many parents find after trying this just once or twice, their child quickly catches on that poop belongs in the potty.

When kids have to wash their soiled underwear themselves, not as a punishment but as a learning exercise and part of life, they realize that it is much easier and less time-consuming if they go in the potty.

Avoid Anger

While it's normal to feel frustrated that your child keeps pooping in their pants, it's important to keep your frustrations about potty accidents in check so your child realizes accidents are just a part of life.

Expressing anger or negativity about it may cause your child to also react with negativity. One study found that children who had symptoms of incontinence were more likely to have been punished during toilet training.

If you do find yourself feeling angry or overwhelmed, take a few minutes to calm down. Deep breathing or counting to 10 can be helpful techniques. Don't begin the clean up until you are calm and can do so without expressing anger or shaming.

Use Discipline

If you keep your composure, but your child throws a fit about cleaning up afterward, it may help to give a time-out. Warn your child that they'll go to time out if they don't cooperate, then follow through if they persist.

As long as it's practical, resist the urge to finish the clean up on your own while they're sitting out, as that just reinforces the negative behavior. When the time-out ends, resume the task at hand.

It's also important not to discipline your child for the accident but for the misbehavior surrounding the refusal to clean up.

Try positive discipline techniques like a sticker chart or behavior chart to reward your child for pooping in the potty. You know what interests or excites your child, so choose something that will motivate them. Sometimes a high-five and praise from you is all they need.

You also should consistently communicate that pooping in the potty is a normal, big-kid activity. It may take some time, but eventually your child will decide that going in their pants is uncomfortable and bothersome.

Promote Independence

Give your child the tools to take care of as much of the task as possible on their own. For instance, think about what they might need to make them comfortable in the bathroom like a potty seat, step stool, comfy clothes, and even a fun soap dispenser.

Avoid using the changing table for cleaning, if you can, because this is where you place a baby for cleaning up, not a toddler or preschooler. You don't want to confuse your child when you are asking them to be a "big kid."

When they're finished going potty, offer instruction on how to clean up, including how to wash their hands. But, allow them the opportunity to clean up first. Then, you can offer assistance afterwards to get what they missed. And, most importantly, offer praise and encouragement.

Make sure your child wears clothing that they can remove and put back on easily, quickly, and independently. Elastic waistbands and dresses are great options; avoid buttons, hard-to-use zippers, belts, tights, overalls, and jumpers. Remember, you want them to feel confident when going to the bathroom.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to potty training, and pooping in general, setbacks are normal. They are especially common when there has been a life change such as a family pet's death, the birth of a new sibling, a family move, a divorce, or starting a new school.

With time and consistency, your child will start pooping in the potty. However, if you're experiencing a number of challenges or if your child is chronically constipated, reach out to your child's pediatrician. They can offer advice as well as medications that can help alleviate some of your child's bathroom issues.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Regression.

  2. Cincinnati Children's. Encopresis in children.

  3. Kiddoo DA. Toilet training children: when to start and how to trainCMAJ. 2012;184(5):511-512. doi:10.1503/cmaj.110830

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.