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.

Common Potty Training Problems

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.

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

There are a few common issues that you may confront that can lead to problems pooping. Consider these issues and solutions and as always, consult your child's pediatrician if you become concerned.

Constipation

To help your child learn to poop on the potty, you should first make sure that she isn't constipated. If she has bowel movements that are sometimes big, hard and painful to pass, then she may just be afraid to use the potty to have her BMs. Constipation often leads to potty training problems.

Increasing the amount of fluid and fiber in her diet, and perhaps using a stool softener, can help make her bowel movements softer and easier to pass if this is a problem. That's also a good reminder to not let a toddler or preschooler get constipated while potty training.

Stress From Changes

Other issues that can lead to potty training issues can include sudden changes at home or daycare, a recent illness, or other stressors, etc. For example, a recent move or new baby in the home can often lead to problems with potty training.

Tips and Solutions

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

  • Continue to let her have bowel movements in her pull-up, but then empty her poop into the potty to show her where it goes. You can then remind her that "poop goes in the potty."
  • Encourage her to have her bowel movements in the bathroom, even if that means having her sit in the corner of the bathroom and going in her pull-up. Once she gets used to that, then have her sit on the potty in her pull-up when she has to go. The next step might be to undo the pull-up and then eventually take it off. Some people also cut a hole in the pull-up, so that she is still going while wearing it, but her poop falls in the potty.
  • Offer lots of praise when she does make some progress, whether it is emptying her pull-up in the potty or simply going in the bathroom.
  • Read children's storybooks about potty training to her, such as Everyone Poops or The Princess and the Potty, to help get her used to the idea of pooping in the potty.

If she is resistant to all of these methods, then you should likely continue to give her a pull-up and let her go where she wants. Let her know each time that she should tell you when she is ready to start going in the bathroom or on the potty.

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

If she isn't ready to go on the potty and doesn't have a pull-up, then she may hold it until she becomes constipated. She may also begins to have accidents in her underwear. She is also likely too young to be given responsibility for cleaning out her underwear and washing up on her own, a method that sometimes works for older children.

Keep in mind that there are some alternative methods for addressing this issue, although many pediatricians might think that they are a bit invasive. They typically involve the use of suppositories and enemas for when your child won't have a BM on the potty. Again, unless your child is constipated, this likely isn't a good strategy.

When to Ask for Help

Can you get extra help potty training your child? It likely depends on what exactly is causing the problems potty training. Among the professionals that could help you with potty training problems include:

  • A child psychologist, especially if your child is simply resistant to potty training
  • A developmental pediatrician
  • An occupational therapist, especially if your child has some motor delays causing the potty training difficulty
  • Your pediatrician

If you are having trouble potty training your child and need help, you could also call some of these types of specialists, describe your problem, and ask if they have experience helping or treating that type of problem.

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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  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. Emotional Issues and Bathroom Problems. Updated November 2, 2009.