How to Stop Toddlers From Pooping in Their Pants

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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, 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 lack patience. Others get busy playing and 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 child. 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.

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

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.

Ignoring the Urge to Go

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 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 their regularly scheduled 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 and still needs practice in learning proper technique. 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 age 5 or later. Nightly baths or showers also help to keep your child clean while developing independence in the bathroom.

Encopresis

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 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.

How to Encourage Bowel Control

Sometimes you can help encourage your child to poop in the potty by addressing issues that could be contributing to the accidents like dehydration, lack of fiber, or clothing that is difficult to remove. Here are a few things you can do to help your child master bowel control.

  • Make sure kids drink plenty of water. When kids are dehydrated it makes going to the bathroom more difficult.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A healthy diet helps keep things in the body functioning properly.
  • Teach kids that going to the bathroom is normal and not something to be embarrassed about. Kids need to know that everyone poops and that they shouldn't worry about using the bathroom even at daycare. You also could try reading the book Everyone Poops to help reinforce the message.
  • Dress kids in clothes that make going potty easier. Kids are less likely to have accidents when they can remove their clothes easily. Choose elastic waistbands and avoid buttons and hard-to-use zippers. Shorts and loose-fitting cotton pants also are helpful.
  • Notice when kids are constipated and use remedies such as juices. Talk to you 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.

Tips for Accident Prevention

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. Here are some techniques you may want to consider.

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 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.

You also want to avoid shaming your child for having an accident. Instead, calmly involve them in the clean-up process. 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. But don't begin the clean up until you are calm and can do so without expressing anger.

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. When the time-out ends, resume the task at hand. Don't finish the clean up on your own while they're in time-out because that just reinforces the negative behavior.

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

Try positive discipline techniques like a sticker chart or behavior chart to get your child to start 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, especially if they have to help with the clean up.

Promote Independence

Give your child the tools to take care of as much of the task as possible. Avoid placing them on the changing table for cleaning, because this feels more like a baby's diaper change than clean up time for a toddler or preschooler. Instead, help your child in the bathroom while they're standing up. Offer instruction, assistance, and, most importantly, praise and encouragement.

It's also important that your child is dressed for success. In other words, make sure they are in clothing that they can remove and put back on by themselves. Elastic waistbands, loose fitting cotton pants, and even dresses promote independence and make it easier for kids to go potty on their own, especially while at daycare or preschool.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to potty training, and pooping in general, setbacks are normal especially if something has changed in your child's life like a death of a family pet, a new sibling, a family move, divorce, or a new school. Focus on having a positive attitude and addressing your child's struggles with patience and compassion.

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.

In the meantime, rest assured that what you're going through is normal. Many parents are dealing with kids who continue to poop in their pants.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Regression.