Q&A: How to Deal With Poop Potty Training

Potty training in itself is frustrating enough as it is. Take a load off and use these expert tips to make going number two less daunting of a process for you and your tot.

Boy Poop Potty Training
Photo: Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock

I've been trying to get my 4-year-old to poop in the potty for a year, and preschool won't take him if he hasn't learned. What can I do?

There's enormous pressure to teach kids early, but bodily functions like breathing, eating, and—unfortunately—bowel movements are simply not things you can make a child do. Pressuring your son is bound to turn into a power struggle. Instead, let him know that you're going to back off by apologizing to him. (You might say, "I'm sorry for bugging you about pooping in the potty. We know this is something only you can do.") However, you should also see your pediatrician to check out any physical cause for the problem, such as constipation. Once that's been ruled out, there are ways to help without making him anxious. For instance, encourage him to sit on his potty while you or his dad use the toilet, even if he's fully clothed. Also let him empty the contents of his diaper into the potty. If you let him set the pace, there's a good chance he'll be ready in time for preschool. —Sally Lee

My child pees in the potty but refuses to poop there. What should I do?

There could be a few things going on. Could she be constipated? If she had a painful pooping experience on the potty, she may think that sitting there is what caused it. Consult with your pediatrician. Does she have unrealistic fears? Some kids view poop as a part of themselves and watching it get flushed can be disturbing. In this case, take a gradual approach. When she needs to poop, keep her in her diaper but have her go into the bathroom. Next, have her sit on the potty in a diaper. Finally, cut a hole in the diaper before she sits on the potty. Is she more comfortable standing to poop, like she did in diapers? Encourage her to sit on the potty, explaining that it makes pooping easier. —Nancy Rones

At what age does a toddler have the hand strength and manual dexterity to wipe his own bottom? His pre-school expects my 3-year-old to wipe his own bottom and he can't really get up "in there" to get it all.

Ah, yes, the very common problem of "complete potty independence" required by many preschools. You're right—many, if not most, preschoolers don't have the dexterity (or desire) to really give themselves a complete wipe. And many parents silently (and with great embarrassment) accept the fact of their preschoolers coming home with "skid marks" on their underwear, since they NEED their child to be able to stay in school—for work reasons, or otherwise. Shame, constipation, and "poop withholding" are the common outcomes of these preschool rules.

I'm strongly against these stringent requirements. I know that licensing issues are often a problem for schools, but GOOD programs will do their best to work with their toddlers and preschoolers to help them along at this stage. Experienced teachers and administrators have seen this all before, and will have good, workable solutions to help your child. But if you don't get the support your child needs at school, I'd suggest you look elsewhere for a program that understands and supports the developmental progress of young children. Dr. Heather Wittenberg

My 3 1/2-year-old son has been happily potty trained since 1 years old. However, about eight months to one year ago, he decided that he did not "know" how to wipe his bottom. He refuses to try. We've tried every trick that many publications give about potty training help, but I haven't seen any information on how to handle this particular issue and I can't seem to find a solution. Any suggestions?

Toddlers and preschoolers may not be the best at wiping, and they may leave some soiled areas that get itchy and uncomfortable. I am a big fan of disposable "diaper" wipes--wet, soapy cloths that help make wiping a bit more successful for a young child. It's ok for your 3 year old to feel like he needs help, so after he finishes going to the potty, encourage him to participate in the experience of wiping himself and then check to see if he does ok. Eventually, after some praise from you, he will graduate to wiping on his own going forward. —Dr. Ari Brown

I have a daughter who will be 3 in April. She's mastered going number 1 in the potty, but she refuses to go number 2 in the toilet. If we push her too much to go in the potty, she holds it for days and gets constipated. This has been going on way too long. Do you have any suggestions?

Your little one is still very young, so it's not unusual to be experiencing some potty-training difficulty. Personally, I'm a big believer in waiting to potty-train for as long as possible. (Frankly, I love diapers—I hate being someplace where I have to take my son to a nasty public bathroom because he has to go!) Once you start training, though, it's hard to go backwards. My advice: Pick a time each day to make a trip to the bathroom—say, right after breakfast—to try to go poop. Make this daily bathroom trip relaxing; distract her from the task at hand and keep her in there a little longer by reading a story or telling a funny one from your childhood (my kids love when I share something naughty I did). If it doesn't happen, don't sweat it—you'll try again tomorrow. Be sure her diet includes plenty of fluids and high-fiber foods like apples, beans, bran muffins, and whole-grain pasta. If constipation persists, though, consult your child's pediatrician; a stool softener may be recommended. But with this low-key routine, it's most likely she will get there on her own. —Rosie Pope

My son is 3yrs & 4mos and is 100% potty trained but not poopie trained. He refuses to go poopie in the toilet. I can tell when he has to go #2 because of the way he acts but when I ask him, he tells me NO and when I try to take him to the toilet, it's a HUGE battle...And if he does go #2 in his underwear, he tells me he has to go AFTER he has gone. HELP!!!

This IS a huge battle, and you can't win it. I know it's frustrating when you know your child CAN do something, but WON'T—but taking responsibility for his own bodily functions is an important learning and development step that only he can take. You can't force a child to eat, sleep, or poop—right? He's giving you a strong signal to "back off"—and if you think about it, you really have no other options. But I'm here to tell you that, long term, the outcome will be BETTER if you let this happen at his own pace. It's not at all unusual for a boy of his age to resist pooping in the potty. And forcing a child to poop when he's not ready can result in serious constipation and other complications.

Here's what to do: Apologize for giving him a hard time. Tell him that when he's ready to poop in the potty, he will be ready. But tell him he MUST poop in a diaper or Pull Up, because it's too messy to poop in his undies. Allow him to keep a stack of Pull Ups, and let him pull one on when he's ready. But most importantly, try to release all the stress and pressure you've been feeling about it -- this isn't a battle you have to fight. He can certainly feel your stress and pressure, and it's not helping him get over this hurdle. It's also important for all the other caregivers in his life to be informed about your new style of handling potty training now, so he's getting a consistent message. Good luck! —Dr. Heather Wittenberg

My little girl is 2 1/2 years old and she has a little trouble pooping, but when she gets in the pool, it seems to always happen. It could be within the first 15 minutes or 2 hours later. She will not tell me soon enough or she me she doesn't have to go. What to do?

The water, especially if it is warm, may be relaxing muscles that normally keep her stool in, so the accidents may be totally out of her control. I would relax if she is potty trained the rest of the time and not having issues with constipation or avoiding stooling in the toilet. In the meantime, try having regular potty breaks before she gets into the pool. Set a timer and have her sit on the toilet for 5 minutes while you read a story or entertain her in some way. You can also keep her in a swim diaper that will contain the stool, and wait for her body to mature and gain more control. By next summer, this problem should fix itself. —Dr. Carrie M. Brown

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