How to Stop Toddlers From Pooping in Their Pants

toddler girl sitting on toilet
Heather Weekly/Moment/Getty Images

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

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

It is common for toddlers to withhold pooping, which can lead to hard to pass stool, constipation, and other health conditions, such as encopresis. It helps to ensure your child drinks enough water and gets enough fiber.

A little detective work—and a lot of patience—will go a long way toward eliminating accidents for your toddler. Here are a few common problems and solutions to consider.

What to Do If Your Child Poops in The Car

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

When you arrive at preschool, greet your child lovingly, then shuffle her off to the bathroom. Be prepared for it to take as much time as necessary and give your child privacy if needed. It may be helpful to use a different bathroom in a less-busy part of the building if possible.

Taking your child to use the daycare toilet every day before you leave can help her to become more comfortable and after some time, she may start pooping before you pick her up.

You may also 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 her poop all day, this may be the reason.

What to Do If Your Child Won't Stop Playing to Poop

Toddlers can get so wrapped up in what they are doing, they forget to stop to poop. If your child realizes it is time to use the toilet midway through soiling her 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 her to the bathroom 15 to 30 minutes before her regularly scheduled accident. It may help to set an alarm or reminder on your phone so you can be consistent.

What to Do If Your Child Leaves Skid Marks

Poop-streaked underwear is often a sign that your child just isn't wiping well and still needs practice in learning. Some children 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. Many children do not master this skill until about age five.

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 backed up, so 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 may be 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.

More Tips for Stopping Poop Accidents

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

  • Act casual. 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.
  • Use discipline. If you keep your composure, but your child throws a fit about using the toilet or cleaning up afterward, it may help to give a time-out. Warn your child that she'll go to time out if she doesn't cooperate, then follow through. When the time-out ends, resume the task at hand.
  • Promote independence. Give your child the tools to take care of as much of the task as possible. Avoid placing toddlers on the changing table or laying down for cleaning, because this feels more like a diaper change for a baby than cleanup time for a toddler. Instead, help your child in the bathroom while standing up. Offer instruction, assistance, and, most importantly, praise and encouragement. 
  • Make her clean up. Some children get the hint best when they are made to wash their soiled underwear themselves, not as a punishment but as a part of life. First, have her dump any solid stool into the toilet and flush. Then take the soiled underwear to the tub and have her clean the stain under cold water. It may help for your child to wear disposable gloves. Always have her wash hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward. Many parents find after trying this just once or twice, their child quickly catches on that poop belongs in the potty.
Was this page helpful?
Article 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.