When Your Toddler Isn't Pooping When Potty Training

Girl reading a book on a potty chair
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A very common situation for potty training children is to learn to urinate in the potty, but then to become hesitant to make a bowel movement there. Instead of thinking about it as a problem, though, it is better to consider it to be a normal part of potty training.

Before potty training, a child needs to master several important skills, such as being able to sense that they need to poop and then hold it until they reach the toilet; being able to verbalize the need to go to the bathroom to an adult; and being able to undress and redress in order to use the bathroom. If your child is not ready yet, it is best to wait until they are.

Make Pooping on the Potty Easier

Most children become potty trained sometime between the ages of 18 months and three years. But remember that three years isn't a magic age where everyone is potty trained. There are some steps you can take to help your child.

It is estimated that at least 25% of children aren't fully potty trained until they are 3 1/2 or 4 years old.

Provide a Footrest

Make sure your child can put their feet on something while sitting on the toilet to poop, as it is difficult to poop when they can not bear down (which requires having your feet on the floor or a step of some kind). This is why kids will often squat in a corner to poop in a diaper, as squatting is a very effective position for getting poop out of the body.

Create a Routine

Have your child sit on the toilet at about the same time every day. If there is a time of day that they have typically been pooping in their diaper, choose this time to have them sit on the toilet.

The introduction of food into the stomach sends signals to the colon that make you want to poop (this is called the gastro-colic reflex). So having your child sit on the toilet right after breakfast every day is often a good idea, as the body is primed for pooping then.

Prevent Constipation

If your child has bowel movements that are sometimes big, hard and painful to pass, then they may just be afraid to use the potty to have BMs. Constipation often leads to potty training problems.

Make sure your child is drinking plenty of water and has enough fiber in their diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 7 grams of fiber per day for 2-year-olds and 8 grams for 3-year-olds: their age plus 5. This, along with regular exercise, can help make bowel movements softer and easier to pass. If you have any concerns about constipation in your child, contact your pediatrician for advice.

Reduce Stress

Other issues that can lead to potty training issues can include sudden changes at home or daycare, a recent illness, or other stressors. For example, a recent move or new baby in the home can often lead to problems with potty training. If this is happening with your child, be patient as they adjust to changes in their life.

Help Your Child Learn to Poop on the Potty

If constipation isn't a problem, and there haven't been any recent changes at home, then the following tips may help your child to have regular bowel movements on the potty.

  • Continue to let them have bowel movements in a pull-up, but then empty the poop into the potty to show your child where it goes. You can then remind them that "poop goes in the potty."
  • Encourage them to have bowel movements in the bathroom, even if that means going in their pull-up. Once they get used to that, then have them sit on the potty in a pull-up when they have to go. Eventually, they may be ready to take it off.
  • Offer lots of praise when your child makes progress, whether it is emptying their pull-up in the potty or simply being in the bathroom while they poop in a pull-up. And never scold or punish your child when they don't poop how or where you want them to.
  • Read children's storybooks about potty training, such as Everyone Poops or The Princess and the Potty, to help get your child used to the idea of pooping in the potty.

If your child is resistant to all of these methods, continue to give them a pull-up. Let them know that they can tell you when they are ready to start going in the bathroom or on the potty.

Most importantly, don't shame or punish your child for not having bowel movements on the potty. This can quickly turn into a big power struggle, which will make training more difficult.

Ask for Help

Can you get extra help potty training your child? It likely depends on what exactly is causing the problems potty training. The first step is to discuss the situation with your child's pediatrician. They can offer suggestions and direct you to a specialist, such as a psychologist or occupational therapist, on the rare occasions when that is necessary.

Parents of children with special needs, like Down syndrome or autism, might also look for help from support groups of parents that have had to deal with the same issues.

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3 Sources
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  1. Kiddoo DA. Toilet training children: when to start and how to train. CMAJ. 2012;184(5):511-2. doi:10.1503/cmaj.110830

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Constipation in children. Updated February 28, 2017.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Emotional issues and bathroom problems. Updated November 2, 2009.