Potty Training Solutions: Tips for Poop Withholding In Toddlers

Potty-training complications are pretty common topics of discussion around here. Stephanie’s question about one of the more common complications — poop withholding — comes up at a time when many of us are frantically trying to get our toddlers ready for preschool in the Fall. The frantic pressure parents feel to get their toddler trained — at any cost — so that they can start school — can be a major impediment to the natural process of potty training.

You can’t PUSH them to poop!

Here’s Stephanie’s question:

Dear Dr. Heather,

I am sure I have fallen victim to what many moms before me have, and it’s the sense that we have to have our toddlers potty trained for preschool. My eldest, just turned 3, advanced to his new classroom where all the kiddos were “poop-potty-trained”, and mine was not. They said they would work with him. We had been talking about it and reading funny books about it at home. But with this new classroom I upped the ante at home, and disaster has resulted!

He pooped in the potty 2 times and I rewarded him HUGE with toys and praise. He then pooped at school and everyone got super excited for him. And that is where my story ends. Prior to his successes he has pooped hit and miss, not consistently in the potty. And I am embarrassed to say if I caught him pushing in his underwear I would walk/run him into the potty and tell him to poop here and say things like “I know you can poop in the potty, I have seen you do it before. If you poop in your pants Mommy will not be happy. You are a big boy and need to poop in the potty.” I thought I was motivating him and he knew he would get toys/rewards for pooping.

So now we have a withholder. He dances around on tip toes and is trying to hold it in. I see him trying. I try to encourage him and still nothing. After 4 days we used a glycerin suppository and he got relief. Then another 4 days goes by with this same behavior. Another glycerin suppository with positive results. Now we have these frequent (20+) smears a day in his pull up. I am encouraging him to poop-even if it is in his pull up. He won’t sit on the potty anymore, but will still pee in the potty standing up-no problem! I realize now we and school have stressed him out. But now what??? How do I get him back to normal bm’s?

I took him to the pedi and they said he wasn’t impacted and his “tone” was normal. So now this is a control deal, right?

Advice please!!!



Hi Stephanie,

Yes, unfortunately now this IS a “control deal”. And your little guy is proving to you that HE is in control — and he IS — of his pooping.

The common preschool policy of “toilet independence” by age 3 is completely ridiculous, in my opinion. It puts too much pressure on at a time that can easily lead to the complications you’re experiencing. What’s wrong with a few more months of diapers or Pull-Ups? Many schools do understand this, and although they may not advertise it, WILL work with each child on an individual basis. Each child’s timeline is a little different. Giving your child control over the issue is the secret to simplified potty training. The more parental interference, the more complications.

The only thing to do now, Stephanie, is to back off, completely. And by that I mean NO mention of the potty or toileting behaviors, at least for a couple of weeks.

But first, explain to him that “I can see we pushed you too hard to poop in the potty, but YOU are in charge of your pooping. You decide where and when you want to poop.” At this age, he can’t understand the rationale that “poop is inside of you and needs to come out, for your health”. So quit any attempts to reason with him about this. In his preschooler’s mind, he believes that he can WISH away the poop with the FORCE OF HIS MIND. Don’t argue with his fantasy wishes. Rather, back off completely from all pressure to go in the potty. You can still rescue him from long-term withholding by taking the pressure off, and eventually letting nature take it’s course.

Go back to the old way, before Pull-Ups. Try diapers and act like the old way is normal. “It’s OK, let’s go back to diapers.” Or use whatever he prefers; let him choose. Don’t pay attention if he dances around and tries to hold it in. Force yourself to ignore it, but not in a frustrated way. If he poops in his diaper, don’t reward or praise him, just act very matter-of-fact. You want to unload all the emotion out of this issue. You want him to feel comfortable pooping, first of all, since withholding can really cause problems, in the long-run. Then, make sure EVERYONE is on the same page; parents, sitters, teachers, grandparents. You are all on a 2-week-hiatus from potty training.

In the meantime, I suggest doing a major fiber-loading of his diet (of course, with his pediatrician’s approval and direction). The doctor might also suggest something like Miralax to add to his juice in order to “speed things along”, and to minimize the chance of withholding and constipation. (Sneak it in to his drink, so he doesn’t feel manipulated by you.) And make sure to pretend not to notice any accidents or staining, or clean them up without commenting negatively. “Oops, here, let me clean this up,” is enough.

Huge rewards can also complicate matters. Over-doing it with the toys and praise takes away from the child’s own internal sense of satisfaction with mastering this important skill. A huge response, positive or negative, tells the child that he’s doing it for YOU, not for himself. So when you do use rewards, keep them low-key. Stickers, token rewards, and simply stated praise shows your approval for his progress. But it’s HIS progress. You’re just a supportive observer to the process.

And about the suppositories: While effective, they can be rather harsh, from a psychological perspective. It tells the child, “I am forcing you to poop. I am in charge of your body, by forcing this inside of you….YOU are not in charge.” Ideally, we want to reinforce the notion that the child is in charge of his OWN body. Suppositories and enemas can be experienced by the child as a violation of his own fragile sense of bodily control. And while they MAY be necessary if, later on, he has a more severe problem with this, right now I do think it’s premature to resort to that degree of intervention.

After a couple of weeks, it will become clear whether this has already settled into a negative, long-term pattern, or whether he is willing to turn this around. Try this approach and let us know what happens. Good luck!


Dr. Heather
The BabyShrink

Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Hey, parents! Make sure you scroll through the comments below. There are lots of interesting questions, with my answers, below — this is one of my most “googled” posts! (Oh, I’m so proud.)

Welcome to BabyShrink.com, where parents turn for open, honest and direct answers to questions regarding their babies, toddlers and children up to age seven. Dr. Heather, the author of BabyShrink, is a licensed psychologist specializing in child development. She's also the mother of four young children, which gives her the unique ability to respond to parents' inquiries about the social, emotional and behavioral development of your children from both clinical and practical points of view.

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285 comments on “Potty Training Solutions: Tips for Poop Withholding In Toddlers
  1. Dr. Heather says:

    Yew — children often potty train at other locations much after they potty train at home. This is very common. Good teachers have nice ways of encouraging this. Do not scold, and do not shame her. Simply encourage her patiently, and make sure her teachers do the same. Children are often fearful outside the home so patience is important. Good luck!

  2. Dr. Heather says:

    Connie — This is a medical decision, to be made by his healthcare provider. But generally, YES, it’s important to have the child “cleaned out” to prevent painful constipation. This can be accomplished pretty simply by standard methods. But it is important to get to the bottom, so to speak, of the child’s fears so that this doesn’t recur. It sounds as if your son might be afraid of a painful poop. Let him know you and his doctor will do what it takes so that the poops do NOT hurt, but that it is his job to make sure the poops get out, so that he doesn’t get sick from it. Use humor and encouragement. Good luck!

  3. Dr. Heather says:


    It sounds like she is making progress — allow your daughter to decide how she wants to go forward. If she wants to stick with underwear, great. If not, fine. Urge her in the general right direction, but let her take charge. Good luck!

  4. Dr. Heather says:

    Thanks for the update Kathleen, and congrats!!

  5. Yew says:

    Dear Dr Heather

    my girl is 30 months old soon, she has no problem to poo in the potty at home however, she is not doing so when she was in the child care centre though according to the teacher, they brought her to toilet. She poo on her panty instead. when asked, she is able to tell that she needs to poo in the toilet and not her panty. what shall i do in order to get her to poo in toilet when she is at the child care centre.

    Appreciate your advise, thanks.


  6. Connie says:

    It’s 4am and my 3.5yr old finally sleeps after having to get a dose of lactulose from our health centre, i don’t know why he’s doing it but he does say he wants to go in his pull ups so he’s had one one for a week. He let me put a suppository in but it came out because I used Vaseline. He did have a poop 6 days ago on his own and he was very happy and he said it didnt hurt, I was so happy and I praised him up and I thought this was over till 2days after when he had to go again but started to fight it. He did manage to get it out on his own but it hurt a bit and it broke but there was more in there and nothing since. For this past week all I have been doing is reading and worry about this and it’s affecting me more than him. I don’t let him know that. I’ve changed his diet to lots of fibre and fruits n veggies and water n prune juice. What do I do? I’m thinking he needs to be cleaned out. Or do I wait for him?

  7. Angela says:

    Dr. Heather,

    September 1st my 2 year old (27 months) daughter asked to go on the big girl potty. She continued to pee and poop all by herself, without underwear on. 5 days later, we tried big girl underwear. When she had to poop she sat on her potty but didn’t take her underwear off. My husband, very gently, asked her why she went in her underwear and told her that he knows she can go in the potty by herself. Since then we’ve had a withholder. No poops Monday, painful poops on the potty Tuesday while holding on to me and shaking, no poops Wednesday, painful poops on the potty Thursday while holding on to me and shaking and again no poops Friday. I called our pediatrician and she said to try 1/4 capful of MiraLax two times a day. We started the MiraLax Friday morning as well as a few changes to her diet and immediately she had to poop. However, she withheld it all day. She laid around with a belly ache or wanted to be held all while clenching her bottom and crossing her legs. No poops Friday but by late morning Saturday she had a non-painful poop, in her underwear. We congratulated her for getting her poops out. We read the book “It Hurts When I Poop” Sunday morning and she related to the character, Ryan. In addition, we told her every poop she gets out we’d give her 2 M&M’s. She had 4 painful poops within an hour span (1 on the potty and 3 in her big girl panties – curled on the floor in pain and sweating). Do you suggest we go back to diapers or should we keep her in her big girl underwear and stick through it? Any further advise on how to get her back to pooping without question on the potty?

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hi Dr. Heather, thank you for your response. I’m happy to report that these issues are a thing of the past in our house! After the potty training disaster we figured that letting him have the diaper to poop was a lot better than having him withhold. So, for 4 months after he was 100% urine trained, we allowed him to use the diaper to poop. Ultimately what got him going in the potty was simply having him choose a date! In late April he asked us if he could visit the Crayola factory. We told him that would be a great reward for starting to poop on the potty and he agreed. We pulled out the calendar, chose June 14th as the date, and told him he’d have to start pooping in the potty on June 1st to earn his reward. All throughout the month of May when he needed to go I’d ask if he wanted the diaper or to try the potty and he’d say “Is it June yet?” and then choose the diaper when he learned it wasn’t. Much to my delight on June 1st he went and has never looked back!!!! My sympathies to all the moms who are still going through this. It was a long 15 month ordeal for us but ultimately the only thing that worked was patience and letting him have all the control.

  9. Dr. Heather says:


    Somehow your comment only now pooped up on my screen — sorry for the delay! Yes, toddlers often do make progress — and then backtrack, making us fear that they have lost all forward movement. But don’t be afraid — he HAS made progress, but simply trying out the old ways of coping that are familiar to him when under pressure. USE WHAT WORKED in the past. Talk about how he used to be afraid, and then made great progress. And he WILL do that again. Be reassuring. Reinforce how good it feels after a nice poop. Have him place his hand on his tummy after and close his eyes and think of how good it feels. Also, you might offer him some crayons and have him color out what he is afraid of. Is he afraid of the pain? A monster? Once he gets it out on paper, it might help him feel in control of it and not so overwhelmed. Also, allow him to make messes in appropriate ways, since this often helps the withholding toddler (finger paints, mud pies, etc all help him make acceptable messes instead of fearing making unacceptable messes). Let us know what happens!

  10. Dr. Heather says:


    Please read Dr. Hodges book “It’s No Accident” for how important it is to avoid this kind of chronic withholding. He has lots of great ideas for how to approach this. I also recommend that you explain to your boy — AFTER he has had a poop, when he is finally experiencing the relief that follows a good poop — that pooping is GOOD and IMPORTANT and it FEELS GOOD when you are done. Have him touch his tummy and really experience the good feeling of relief that comes after. And that even though it is HIS BODY, Mom and Dad know that his HEALTH depends on POOPING each day. And so even though he is the boss of his body, he cannot be as healthy as he needs to be if he does not poop. And that in fact it HURTS to hold back the poop. So Mom and Dad DO need to make sure he poops until he can do it himself. You see, in his little mind, he does believe he can wish away the poop, because eventually, the urge to go dies down. And logic does not make much of an impact. But if you can use humor in any way (potty humor goes a long way) PLUS maybe encourage him to accompany you and his Dad when YOU go, PLUS explain that his health DOES depend on getting the poop out — so if HE does not push it out, YOU do need eventually to use the suppository or enema. His choice.

    Another seemingly strange suggestion — give him lots of opportunity to make messes in good ways — finger painting, mud pies etc — Toddlers are often in great conflict over making messes, as they are trying to AVOID making them. Making acceptable messes sometimes encourages them and lets them know messes are OK — in the right place and time. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  11. Dr. Heather says:


    So sorry you’re having this trouble. It’s difficult to see your little one in so much agony! Try talking to him about the process — make it silly, if you can — those nutty little poops just bang on his tummy because they want to get out and PLAY in the potty water! And go for a swim! Also, have you tried petroleum jelly on his bum opening? If his pediatrician OKs it, explain that this is to make it NOT hurt. Tell him you guess that one time it DID hurt to push out the poops, and that it’s Mom and Dad’s job for it NOT to hurt, and so this will make it feel better. Then practice relaxing. If he is anxious, he will withhold, and it can make it hurt. Have him relax in the bath, take him through a little exercise of making his whole body from head to toe all soft and mushy — do this when he does NOT have to poop, so that when you think he might have to poop, you can try the relaxation skills you taught him. In the meantime, DO make sure his poops are as soft as possible! Because any pain with pooping will surely be remembered for a long time. Good luck!

  12. Dr. Heather says:

    Erica, please read Dr. Hodges book “It’s No Accident”. It’s super important you get a handle on this or else he can develop a very serious problem. Dr. Hodges book is an easy read and very practical. You can also read lots of comments here about working with your pediatrician to use MiraLax or something similar to help the poops become too soft to hold. It’s very important this pattern does not continue — and equally important that you get your son to collaborate with you to get the poops out each day, hopefully. Good luck!

  13. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, toddlers know how to please us in the moment to get away from negative consequences — but figure out how to gain control in the long run. I hear that it’s frustrating to you, but it’s actually his JOB to gain control over his body! And toddler fears aren’t something you can rationally talk a 3-year-old out of. Children don’t become rational in any sense of the word until at least age 7. Until then, they DO understand punishments, but we know that in the long run that is just a recipe for more oppositional behavior.

    You really want him to feel in control of his body, and you really do want to help him feel that his fears and feelings are respected by you. Toddler fears, underneath, are actually often about the child’s own fears of his own aggression and sense of control. It’s not really about monsters per se. So supporting his fledgling sense of power and control will help in the long run. Because after all, he is nicely demonstrating what I’ve always said — you can’t “force” a child to eat, sleep, poop, or pee. you have to work together with him to gain progress.

    This will continue to be a problem until he feels he is working together with you, and not against you. Find a way to harness his own internal desire to be a Big Boy — because he naturally DOES want to be a Big Boy — and see if you can make better progress that way. Incentives and praise work much better than punishments. Good luck!!

  14. Lisa says:

    I don’t know where to turn or what to try next to help my 3 1/2 year old boy, to voluntarily go poo. He is not potty trained yet by any means. Have been gently trying for past year, but he chooses ‘not to want to’….for the last 6 months he’s been withholding his poo by choice. I’ve been to the Dr twice, followed her advice on fibering him up, given him prescription jelly stuff, natural remedies (corn syrup and water), forced him to eat prunes daily, veggies, you name it, i’ve tried it. However, our son is an extreme expert at holding his poo in. He usually can do so for up to 7 days, but 5 is more the norm. No matter what we feed him, he manages to hold it in against the odds. Once 6 or 7 days pass, we are faced with the horrible task of giving him a glycerin suppository…it sounds like we are torturing him by the way he reacts to this…we are all in tears during this process (myself, husband, son and 1 year old daughter – as she can’t escape his volume in our small home no matter how we try to shelter her from his ‘issue’)…I see signs daily that he needs to go, and it is so frustrating and heartbreaking to see him in pain and yet refusing to even try going/pushing…he won’t try the potty or his diaper. Nothing! He just yells, ”I don’t want to go!!! i don’t want to go”…he gets to the point where he cannot sit down for meals or anytime, as it is so uncomfortable for him….he gets sweaty and frantic to the point where it’s disturbing and uncomfortable to have company over….he ends up beside himself crying and screaming…can’t eat can’t concentrate etc…gets so backed up but won’t give in to his body’s urges….We backed off all of our efforts for 3 whole months…(didn’t mention anything in regards to going pee or poo, on the potty or in his diaper)….but that was as long as I could handle it….and nothing changed! Now I try but fail each day to remind him to at least try to go pee or poo once a day….and am hoping something, anything changes very soon….help

  15. leslie says:

    I have a 2.10 mo old son. He has been withholding for 11 mos. He even went 14 days without pooping once. We were following dr. advice and giving miralax daily and fiber and water. Nothing worked, not even a suppository after 10 days. I switched to my own remedy of aloe vera juice, probiotics and flax oil in small amounts which eventually worked, but in the meantime, the doc had to do a rectal. Since then, he just won’t poop without running through the house screaming and crying and asking to be held and walked. His poop is soft and comes out in his diaper easily, so it’s not hard. Ive never pushed him to poop on a toilet, so no pressure there. The trauma of seeing him so traumatized is horrible. Every day is like this and I worry if he’ll ever be able to have a BM without trauma now. Is there anything else I can do? I;ve read all the above.

  16. Erica says:

    Hi Dr. Heather. My almost 4 year old is withholding poop. Won’t poop on the potty, won’t poop in diapers. He only wants to wear underwear (not pull ups). He will poop in his underwear though if he holds it for too long and then say that we were too late getting him to the bathroom so it’s our fault. If I put him on the potty he’ll cry and scream saying “ouch” and hold the poop in with all his might. I get extremely frustrated with him and it shows. I really don’t want to be cleaning up poopy underwear or to have him think that it’s okay for him to poop in his underwear. I literally have to force a diaper on him at night so that he can go in the privacy of his own room. He’ll also say he is scared of the potty and scared of diapers and that he is NEVER pooping again. Ever. I would load him up with fiber, but he is a VERY picky eater. What am I supposed to do?

  17. Heather says:

    Dr. Heather, my 3 1/2 yr old has been wearing big boy underwear for a couple months now and tells us when he has to pee. But, For a long time he wouldn’t poop in the potty and would only go in his pull up. He said that there were monsters in the potty. Of course, I went into depth of how there were no monsters and mommy and daddy wouldn’t go in the potty, if there were monsters in there. Anyway, I would put him in a pull up when it was about time for him to go poop, since I’m with him almost all the time and know about when he goes. Then, against the advice of most pediatricians but recommended by some moms, I forced him to stay on the potty, even held him down. I told him that he just had to sit on the potty for a few minutes and see what happened. I was hoping he would realize that there are no monsters in the potty. I told him that after he sat on the potty, he could put on a pull up and do it under the table like he likes to. Eventually, he became more and more comfortable with the toilet and finally went poop in the potty. We rushed him right to Target to get a potty present. Now, he pees and poos in the potty, right? Not exactly..Actually, he goes poop in the potty, in his pull up AND now his underwear! When I ask him why, he says I don’t know….We’ve taken toys and TV away but he just keeps doing it every once in awhile….please HELP!

  18. Dr. Heather says:


    YES, you still want to encourage him to try — and do everything you can to keep his poops soft and difficult to hold. Also, keep a conversation going about his poops — how they want to go for a swim in the potty, how they bang on the inside of his tummy to get out, and so that’s why it sometimes hurts — see if he is interested in accompanying you or his Dad or cousins to the toilet — all while letting him know HE is really wanting to be in charge of his body. and you understand that. Also please look at Dr Steve Hodges book “It’s No Accident” for how pee and poop problems are intertwined, and why it is so important to prevent constipation. Also, think about your son’s best motivators — some children like candy or sticker rewards, others like praise, others want TV or iPad time — what would motivate him to sit and poop? Present those rewards to him as options and see how he responds — include HIM in the process. Good luck!

  19. Kathy says:

    Hello again !!
    Thank You for you reply my son was the one I thought might be withholding his poop , my name is Kathy.
    He seems a bit better , he is on a stool softener everyday , this was recommended by the pediatritian , although both poop and pee seem to sometimes be a battle , even with the softener ……. Or he waits and hides …..still goes np for the babysitter but it is scattered for us. I just leave him and tell him he is in control it his body and his poop and pee and that seems to work ,
    Has had the last two poops on the potty . We praise and reward and he seems so proud , cross fingers he wants to do it again. It’s hard I don’t want to push him , I know tho will all come together .thank you for your help

  20. Emily says:

    Hi Dr Heather, I’m so glad to have stumbled across your website! Finally someone who can help us and a myriad of other parents who know my pain! My almost 4 year old has been potty trained for almost 6 months but we struggle with him with holding his poop. We decided to implement the method you suggested above, backing off entirely for a couple of weeks. My question is: do we encourage him to sit on the potty at all? And do we keep up his routine of doing his wee on the potty or back off from that too? I’m finding that ever since we’ve started backing off he is exerting more control over his wees as well, with one time not going all day until he got in the shower that night!
    Please help us, my husband and I feel completely out of our depth!

  21. Dr. Heather says:

    Melissa, is he willing to talk about it? What are his fears of pooping on the potty? Is this a control thing? Open up the conversation casually, and keep your ears open. Let him know by your words and attitude that you aren’t judging him. Toddlers have all kinds of wacky ideas about why they refuse to poop, and often, talking about it and being supported in and of itself can help. Obviously, there is a side to him that WANTS to poop like a big boy — but also a side that resists. What is that side saying? Is that side mad? Scared? Also, remind him that HE has control over the enemas — if he poops, NO ENEMAS. Just like that. The control is in him. Other things to try include humor (lots of potty humor is often very effective with this age group) 🙂 ALSO encourage him to spend lots of time in the potty with parents, older siblings, or cousins to normalize the process. ANd even though his poop is soft, perhaps making it even softer using Mira Lax might help — ask his doctor. Try these things and let us know!

  22. Dr. Heather says:

    Rachel — he may be too young for a psychologist, but he’s not too young for a healthcare provider who specializes in toileting issues. Ask around — I guarantee there will be a doctor or nurse around who knows their way around these issues. But I AM concerned about what you’re telling me, and believe your effort to keep looking for help will be worthwhile. You should also re-try the medication you tried before (we call it Mira Lax) — if the doctor recommends it — knowing it DOES take a lot of experimentation to find the correct dose. Keep with it! It might take 3 weeks or so to get the right dose, and for his body to adjust! Hang in there and don’t give up. Also keep asking for help from a counselor or social worker or psychologist who specialises in mental health in young children, in case there truly is an emotional component.

  23. Dr. Heather says:

    Yes Kathy, I agree, it seems like he is on the road to poop withholding. We are starting to understand that a distended colon can interfere even with the urge to pee! So it’s super important to keep the poops coming regularly every day. See Dr Hodges great book, “It’s No Accident” for excellent review of this issue and great info. In the meantime, keep talking about how important it is to get the poops out, use humor if that works for him, and encourage time trying on the potty — with rewards, if it helps. Also, check with your babysitter for how she handles it — perhaps she has a different approach that works better for him. Let me know what happens!

  24. Dr. Heather says:

    Bravo to you for being sensitive to his feelings and fears! Many parents miss the very real fears that toddlers have about the potty. The fact that you empathize with him WILL help. Stay open, ask about his feelings and fears, and also know that the big boy inside of him wants to grow up and poop on the potty too. Support his natural drive, make sure constipation does not happen, and give him encouragement (as much encouragement as he can handle without pushing back). Let us know how it goes!

  25. Dr. Heather says:

    Open up the conversation with him — “What are you feeling when you are screaming and on the potty? It seems to scare you.” Ask him in a quiet time, not when it’s happening, so he can have some perspective. Some toddlers fear “giving up control” of their bodies, or fear they are giving away an important part of their bodies, or simply fear the “newness” of pooping somewhere new (the potty vs the diaper). Stay open to listening and discussing his fears, allow him to make choices of where he poops, but DO insist he stays regular by giving him enough fiber and liquids so that his poops are the consistency of peanut butter — much more difficult to hold in. Once he lets his fears air out, he might get more used to the idea. YOUR attitude of acceptance and curiosity and support of his feelings will be key. Let us know how it goes.

  26. Dr. Heather says:

    Poor guy! This is a classic description of encopresis. I can’t diagnose from afar, but PLEASE talk to a specialist about this — a healthcare provider who has lots of experience with potty problems in toddlers. This is a problem that WON’T go away on it’s own! He needs to be “cleaned out” by a specialist — let us know what happens!

  27. Dr. Heather says:

    LOVE the suggestion! Thanks for sharing!!

  28. Melissa B says:

    Dr. Heather – I really need some advice. My son has been withholding since he was 18 months old, he’s almost 3 now. It’s been a daily battle, somedays no problem and than a week where he won’t go. It’s become so bad that he’ll withhold for a week at a time until we give him an enema. It’s the only way he’ll go now and it’s becoming a problem, he hates the enema, screams and kicks but he’s in so much pain by day 5,6,7 that we have no choice. We give him every opportunity to go on his own and he won’t. He also “pee potty-trained” himself about 2 months ago. So he doesn’t want to make a mess in his pants even if we put a diaper on him. He wants to poop in the toilet but somedays we sit with him for over 2 hours and he won’t go. He’s on such a high fiber diet that the poop is practically falling out at this point and he’s doing everything to keep it in, he’s really good at it. Please help, we’re at our wits end!

  29. RK says:

    Dr Heather,

    I hope you’re still reading comments! My son is 3 in July and started refusing to wear a diaper during the day at Christmas. The problem is that he’s been withholding since just before his 1st birthday. We weaned him off Movicol (sorry don’t know the US word) once he refused to wear a diaper as the mess was unbearable. He’s never done a bm on a potty and refuses to sit on a toilet. His poo is soft but he still withholds and only passes small nipped off pieces until he can no longer hold it, usually once a week. He takes off his pants if he feels anything so smears poo everywhere (or goes on the floor), occasionally plays with it or hides it. He has always hidden to do a bm but at least he no longer goes in a cupboard.

    I’ve tried reward charts, treat, praise etc but these only work for weeing for 24 hours and never pooing. (He is dry during the day but 2 months ago started wetting himself unless I made him go every few hours.) When we have visitors he will wee without being told so I know he can do it. If I don’t give him all my attention (I also have a 17 month old) or tell him off for being naughty he wets himself or goes on the floor. I have asked why he does this and he said “because it make Mummy sad”.

    I’m at my wits end and all the health professionals say he too young to be refered to a psychologist.

  30. Hello, our son I am afraid might be going down the road where withholding might be a pattern.

    A bit of history
    He does well with peeing, and does it more for his babysitter, seems to fight me, we were doing good , then it was after he did a poop on the potty at home he started holding it,
    The poop seemed fine not hard, but it still must have scared him, from then he went 5 days , finally he did go after getting some prune juice and other fibre into him , and I think that is key too.
    I need to really bump up his fibre and what ever to help him.
    Continued , again doing good at the babysitter, not for me, I finally said no more pull ups let s try the underware and see what happens, we had two great days af peeing asking to go to the potty , he was a champ, we have been doing stickers and then a toy when he reaches so many , but as I just read , that sounds likea whim and something that just dosn’t work.

    This past sunday he complained of a sore tummy , but he also had a fever.
    This went on all the next day , but seemed up and down , Tuesday we were very concerned, so we took him to emerge, and he still had tummy ache, and fever, they tried an ultra sound and it was inconclusive….Wednesday we went again and had bloodwork, ultra sound x ray, he still had the same symtoms, and fever was 39.7.

    They came back and said all test were fine, even the bloodwork, he had a congested nose so they think it was something he was fighting,
    BUT ultra sound showed he was full of POOP!! ok, so get home they perscribed stool softener, by Thurday night the poop came, and last night he had another one but it was runny and burned his bum, The pediatritian said to keep him on this indefinatly…. but also we have lost the urge to go pee on the potty , and he seems frustrated, fighting me, so I know I need to back off, so where do I go from here :(…. The Thursday before this all happened he was at babysitters and he went himelf, and he even had a poop, first time in two months he did a poop on the potty , then this all happened , so I think it scared him,

    any advice would be fantastic, I really see a frustration for not going, when we were peeing on the potty those two days , he was much less frustrated, and the terrible threes were not present, the pooping I know will come, but I am afraid and want to avoind him holding it!

    Thank You ,

  31. suhlizi says:

    Hello, I know this article is over a year old so my question may not be answered, but in case you are still responding…

    My son (3.5) has been pee-trained for almost a year. He wears undies during the day and rarely if ever has accidents. He refuses to poop in the potty and, up until today, was telling us that “poopy goes in diapers, not the potty.” About six months ago he DID start going poop in the potty on his own. We were visiting my parents house for Thanksgiving and he was in a bedroom that had an adjoining bathroom. He used that potty the entire time we were there. We were so excited. But when we got home? He stopped completely and went back into his “poopy goes in diapers, not the potty” routine. He holds his poop until naptime and then lets us know he has pooped.

    We are trying to be gentle and not push too hard and make it an issue…figuring he will do it in his own time. But today, after reading a few books and a little prodding on my end, he told me that he was scared because he once lost a toy in the potty (about six months ago he flushed a toy car down the toilet by accident and was devastated). It all makes a little more sense now.

    The question is: how do I get him to not be scared of the actual potty after having lost a toy. We talk about how it is safe, we let him see us use it, we read books and stories about big boys and potties. What else can we do?

  32. marilyn says:

    I have a 2.5 year old son who has recently learned to pee in the potty which he is doing 3 wks now with great success. I had no intentions of him pooping on the potty, just thought that would naturally follow, however by day 3 of peeing in the potty, he asked to poop on the potty. He had one relativity firm poop day 2 of pooping and now will come to me “mom, poop is coming” we hurry to the potty and he cries and squirms, trying to keep the poop from coming. Sometimes he is successful, and the urge is gone and he goes n plays. He will come running within 10 min needing to go again and we repeat. Usually this goes on for 30 min to 1 hour when he finally poops. not without crying and holding onto me the entire time. He acts afraid and in pain, although he doesn’t say it hurts. This is a daily routine, Before potty training, he pooped twice a day usually, now its once a day only. He usually has to start the pooop like he did once in diapers, playing while crouched, and once it is coming out, he runs to the bathroom and finishes. He ususally doesnt have a mess, he holds it in his checks. How can I help him not be afraid of starting the process on the toilet?

  33. lanapatrick says:

    Hi Dr Heather,

    My son (2.5 years) has been having problems BM for about a year now. We’ve been to the doctor 3 times because sometimes he passes 7-8 small BM in the space of a few hours and gets really bad nappy rash to the point where it bleeds. This results in him running away to hide to do his small movements because he is in pain when we have to wipe. He seems to have one good week every couple of a months (passing a decent BM every day) and then it happens again. Whenever he poops he stands in an awkward position where he crosses his legs and I’m wondering if he is trying to hold it in. We have been prescribed lactulose which doesn’t seem to make a difference. He also sometimes oozes liquid into his nappy but no poop.

    How can we get him to have a comfortable BM and continue to feel ok doing so? I don’t think he would understand an explanation that his body wants to get rid of the poop; whenever we say anything about BM he simply says “I can’t”.

  34. Erika says:

    I just had this problem for a week and googled EVERYTHING there is about the issue! But what I ended up doing was make a smoothie of strawberries, mango, spinach and apple juice! It was actually delicious and she pooped in 15 mins!! I took the extra and made popsicles for if the problem ever happens again! I did not find this info online so i figured Id share!! 🙂

  35. Katlheen says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    Our nearly 3 1/2 son started withholding his poop in March of 2013. The behavior started a couple of months after two long (5 day) bouts of constipation that resulted in him passing softball-sized stools in his diaper while asleep. (This also happened to be around the time we told him I was pregnant with his brother but I believe this to be coincidental.) Immediately after the constipation bouts we started him on daily Miralax and he has never had hard stools again but despite this the withholding behavior began. He consistently expressed fear that the poopy would hurt and despite repeated proclamations after he went of “mommy and daddy, it didn’t hurt a bit!” he remained fearful. After confirming with his pediatrician that the issue was not physical we waited the behavior out as patiently as possible. We removed the preschool pressure by moving him from a 3 year old class to a 2 1/2 year old room where he was permitted to wear diapers. Finally, after seven excruciating months, all signs of it disappeared and he was again pooping regularly in his diaper sans “drama” as we coined it. Approximately one month later his baby brother was born and the behavior reappeared immediately (as anticipated) but only for three weeks and then it again ceased. For the past eight weeks my son has been quite willing to “push out the poopy”. Mostly we had to remind him why his tummy was hurting but there were multiple instances where he said, “mommy, maybe I have to go poopy” and run to the bathroom to do it in private. I was feeling very confident going into last weekend’s attempt at potty training that he was finally ready. The urine training has been quite successful but much to my dismay the withholding behavior has come back with a vengeance. After recognizing how genuinely fearful he is of pooping on the potty we offered diapers for poop but it has been of little comfort to him. He will start the day peeing willingly on the potty but as soon as I start seeing him doing his poopy dance I know our day is about to go downhill. Despite the daily Miralax he can hold onto it for days and never soils. I’m at my wits end and can’t quite believe we’re back to this point after believing those days were behind us. I don’t even care if he poops on the potty at this point, I know not to pressure him and to let him tell me when he’s ready for that (though I thought that’s exactly what he was doing). Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  36. Dr. Heather says:

    Aloha to another Heather W! And believe it or not, I have been in the exact same parenting dilemma as you with the toddler who prefers to poop in a diaper. It is very common for children to be afraid of the potty. It’s VERY important that she not start on a cycle of withholding — which is a much more difficult problem to solve. For now, allow her to use the diaper. Let her know she is in charge. But encourage the potty. Some children respond well to rewards and such, some don’t. (See my book for more on the potty training personality types.) Her terror will decrease the more she knows SHE is in charge. Her natural desire to potty train will push her in the right direction. In the meantime, have her spend time in the bathroom with you and her potty training friends to get used to the idea of pooping there. Let us know what happens and good luck!

  37. Dr. Heather says:

    Rachel, young children sometimes have ideas that they can “wish away” their poos, or they are trying to avoid having a painful one. You want to try to get her mind on a different track about it. Have you tried humor? Some children love to joke about their poops, and it helps them relax and push, as well. Try this one: “Your poos want to come out and play in the potty with their friends! And you won’t push them out into the water! Can they come out to play? All the poopy friends want to have a party in the potty. Isn’t that silly? Can you let them out to play?” …or some version of a silly story about poops. Also, reinforce to her how happy she feels, and how GOOD her tummy feels, AFTER she’s gone. See if that helps and come back and let us know.

  38. Heather says:

    Dr. Heather,
    Our daughter has been potty trained with pee for 6 months for daytime. She never has a BM “accident”, but rather requests a diaper to go in. This Christmas vacation, we have tried the BM training again after a break. Rather than allowing her to have the diaper, we help her sit on the potty. She is terrified, and we are not sure why? We’ve had no BM trauma, and pee was so smooth. She seems to think the poo will hurt or get on her skin, which is confusing since a diaper smears it on her body. She has success when we withhold the diapers, but it feels wrong to see her so upset. She can withhold her BM all day if necessary and then relieves herself In Her night time diaper. We worry that allowing her permission to return to requesting diapers will undo any progress we’ve made. Won’t her terror be there still when we try again in a few weeks, only this time with her knowledge that if she protests enough that she will get her diapers? She is almost 3, and we know she can feel her BM coming, and successfully push out in a diaper when she feels safe. How can we help her transition to a toilet? Should we help her transition? She is our first, and we are so worried about her stress and terror. Yet, it seems like with support that she can do this once and for all. Please let us know some tips for how to deal with her terror, how to help her move past it.
    Heather W

  39. Rachel Campbell says:

    Please help, my daughter has been potty trained for approximately 9 months (she’s just turned 3), she goes to the toilet no problem for a wee but with holds her poos. This can be upto 5 days but normally it’s 3/4 days (she was everyday when in nappies), she waits until the last second then rushes to the loo. Her poos font seem particularly hard but she just dislikes pushing, however once it’s out she’s very pleased with herself. Her moods change drastically when she’s needs one (which is almost all of the time), I’ve tried encouraging, watching me and her friends go, rewards etc but nothing is working. She rarely has accidents it’s just that she holds it in for days and is miserable most of the time. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  40. Dr. Heather says:


    Ask his pediatrician about prescribing MiraLax. This will make his poops so soft that he will have difficulty holding them. You can also explain to your son that for sure this will make his poops soft, so you are doing all you can to make sure they don’t hurt. Do be aware that it can often take weeks to get the right dose, but well worth it.

    And please tell his Dad that it’s the job of a young child to learn to control his own body, and your son is not trying to be obstinate — just learning how his own body works. Getting into a power struggle will surely make it WORSE. You might download my book “Let’s Get This Potty Started” and have your hubby look at it (it’s not too long and has lots of potty jokes, so he may even enjoy it) — to help get a better idea of how to handle the issue. Let me know how it goes!

  41. Dr. Heather says:


    First of all, she does understand more than you realize. She especially understands your tone and attitude. So if you are calm and reassuring and encouraging — that will help. You can also have her accompany you to the potty and watch how the pros do their business — she may get more interested that way, too. As for the MiraLax, don’t beat yourself up about it — welcome to parenting, you can’t always know what’s best in every situation 🙂 But DO consider perhaps a higher dose of MiraLax, because the softer her poops are, the more difficult they are to hold. It’s also possible that she has a plug of poop in there, which only allows a little to squeeze out — ask her doctor if that is a possibility, because she can prescribe a more rigorous treatment to get that plug out. Important, because things can’t really get back to normal if there’s a blockage in there. Let us know what happens!

  42. Dr. Heather says:


    Poor thing — you AND your son! What a complicated mess. I’m sure you’re right — the rash sounds so painful, I bet he is withholding to prevent it. However, as you said, this compounds the problem in the long run.

    It does not sound like the rash has had the proper treatment yet. It really needs a second opinion, I would suggest — perhaps a pediatric dermatologist even. There are both bacterial and fungal causes of rashes — even viral. And sometimes, the bugs are resistant to certain treatments, so many types may be needed for trial to see what works.

    Then, the MiraLax — at the right dose (which is sometimes difficult to find, but worth the effort) — will help to keep his poops soft along the way.

    The good news is, your little guy sounds like he has a positive little personality about the whole thing, given the challenges, and you can reassure him that once you get his rash all healed up, this will get BETTER. Keep trying and don’t give up until you get the right medical help here — then let us know what happens!

  43. Dr. Heather says:


    At the age of 4, it’s time to call in a specialist. Ask his pediatrician for a referral to someone who can help — often, a pediatric gastroenterologist, or a regular pediatrician with a specialty in potty training. I CAN say that the Mira Lax usually takes several weeks of tinkering to get the correct dose — but it is worth the effort. But DO talk to your son’s doctor about how to get him started back on the right potty training path — often, this involves a period of getting the child “cleaned out” with the use of stronger laxatives, so that the colon can heal and regain it’s sensitivity and functioning, plus a behavioral plan to motivate the child. Good luck!

  44. Dr. Heather says:


    Have you checked out my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started”? In it, I talk about the different potty training personality styles, and give suggestions as to how to approach each one. For instance, if your child is a “Mule”, you shouldn’t push too hard. But if your child is a “Hippie”, you should perhaps wait to start potty training until a little later — but then, it might not be so difficult. SO part of the answer to your question depends on what personality style your son has. The other piece of advice I’d offer right now is that pooping in general trumps potty training, so if you have a withholder on your hands and he’d rather poop in a diaper — allow him to poop in the diaper until he shows more interest and willingness. He is still on the young side (I don’t usually worry really until they are closer to 4), so you have some time, but DO make sure he gets his poops out one way or another. Then check back in and let us know how he’s doing!

  45. Nicole says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    I have a similar issue with my son except he has been poop and pee potty trained since age 1.5. He is extremely intelligent and had a few BM’s that were a little on the painful side. Since then he has decided he is not going to poop until he is a big boy because his bum will be bigger and then it won’t hurt as bad. He is dancing around all day long and can’t enjoy anything. If i put him on the potty he screams bloody murder and kicks his legs.I used a glycerin enema a few days ago atop prove to him that his poopy won’t always hurt and that was an isolated incident. He said he felt so much better and told everyone the next day how the special water made his poop soft and he felt so much better. However he is still holding it in fear that it will hurt. My husband thinks this behavior is unacceptable and we should make him stay in the bathroom until he goes poop or he can’t come out. I feel as though this is harsh. He isn’t having accidents, he’s just extremely good at holding it. He has never had this problem until that one painful one. What is the best route here

  46. Steph says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    First, thank you for the information you have given in responses to the other moms and dads. My daughter is a lot younger than those mentioned in the other questions. My daughter is 15 months. She started withholding BM about a month ago, after a few painful poop experiences with tearing/blood. Before that, she was even able to go on toilet if I caught her straining. Now, everyday we are hoping that she will poop. Her doctor has instructed us to give her Miralax to make her stool soft so she will get over the pain because it is more of a behavior that we are trying to change. But even with the miralax, she still holds it in and we get these frequent diaper changes of small amt of poop. We’ve tried getting her to the changing pad or to sit on the toilet to coach her to poop when we see her tip toeing/trying to hold it in. It only worked once or twice. We eat very healthy, almost everything is whole wheat and she eats plenty of vegetable and fruits. We are just so tired of this and wished it will go back to normal. Or if I had known better, maybe I should have given her Miralax a long time ago, I am kind of kicking myself about that.

    I know this is probably just a phase…but, how long will this last and what can we do to help her know it’s not going to hurt and it’s okay to poop? She’s only 15 months old and cannot understand what we are saying….

    Thank you for listening!


  47. Molly says:

    My 18 has started withholding his poop recently. I’m so happy to have come across this website Dr.Heather! This is the most intense and stressful thing I have ever gone through which seems so silly when I tell people. It’s hard to do any daily activities and enjoy my sweet baby boy especially since I know this hurts him and must be confusing to him as well!. A month ago he was completely fine, going in his diaper 2-3 times a day typically five/ten minutes after each meal, he’d go squat and do his buisness. He has been interested in me & his daddy going to the potty, watches and loves flushing the toilet for sometime. we have a potty book which he loves to read. Then all of a sudden he didn’t go one day or the next, then he went but it wasn’t his normal size bm and he started getting a diaper rash as he has sensitive skin and prone to diaper rashes even though he is always changed quickly. The diaper rash got worse and he began withholding. At first we thought he was constipated and that he was having trouble pushing it out so as we had never witnesed our child lock his legs and get red faced before. Our peditrician recommended mirlax. We did this for a week untill the diaper rash became such an issue we needed compound cream. A week still of screaming crying diaper changing because of his daily smears every 15-20 min and no succesful bm we went back to doc. An ex ray did show a few hard stools. At 3 weeks we had tried 3 suppositories with little help, 2 rounds of magnesium citrate with one decent but not normal bm, and went through two compound creams with little help. Yesterday we gave him an enema and he passed a large BM and was great all day, no tears or pain at diaper changes. His diaper rash looked to be clearing up since we have been going diaper less to let it air out as much as possible. This morning was back to the withholding and smearing which flared up his diaper rash again after just one withholding/diaper change. We are not using wipes but just damp tissue paper. we do place him on the potty as soon as we see him withholding. He is crying and we have to force his legs apart to do so but it is the only way I am able to get a gentle complete wipe as he clenches his legs and bottom together so hard and i cant seem to wrangle him down otherwise without us both covered in poop ointment and tears. He has been able to produce a few bm this way as well. Afterwards he is fine and is fascinated with the potty and the “pee pee and poo poo in potty” and wanting to flush. At this point we feel like its just a cycle, his diaper rash will not heal properly with the smears caused by the back-to-back multiple withholdings which in turn will cause him to get constipated/hard stools. Ultimately we feel like its the diaper rash that is the cause, any advice, please, HELP?!?!?

  48. John Kilbury says:

    I have a 4 year old who refuses to poop on the potty. He has been pee trained since 3 with no issues, however poop is a completely different story. We have tried rewards, bribes, force, miralax, praise etc…He will hold it in for days, and will be clearly in pain and cry but will refuse to go on the tolilet. Even when I can get him on the toilet he will just sit there and nothing will come out. We have gone back to diapers many times, and this what he prefers. He will tell us when he has to poop, we will give him a diaper he will put it on his self do his business and tell us when he is done. When we tell him that there are no more diapers, this is when he begins to hold it in for days. This is very frustrating and sad. He goes to a pre-k where he is supposed to be potty trained and i fear the teachers will soon find out and not allow my son to attend until he is fully trained. Please help!

  49. Karol says:

    My son will turn 3 on Nov 9th and has a history (one year) of withholding. He will go fine for a few weeks and then reverts back to holding for whatever reason. It’s usually bc of a change in his routine. He is on two tsp of miralax. He was doing really well for a few months and was showing signs of potty interest. He even pooped on the potty a few times. So I started talking about it and he got the hang of peeing on it but wouldn’t poop. Now he’s started to hold again however he will pee on the potty but only when I ask if he needs to. My question is, should I stop talking about the potty all together since he’s holding or should I continue with pee training? I’m so confused!

  50. Dr. Heather says:


    Even a poop that was hard months ago can be enough to trigger withholding. The Mira Lax can help because it prevents the possibility of even a little bit of hard, painful poop. Have you tried a little reward for pooping? See if you can’t get him to help you on what he might like as a reward — iPad time? His fave show? A little candy? Some children respond very well to rewards. Others might need more time in the bathroom with Mom or Dad or Cousin to see how the pros do their business. You can also try joking about how the poops want to come out for a swim — and you can give each poop a little name when it comes out. Some kids LOVE the silly approach. Read up on all the comments here, try these I’ve mentioned, and let me know!

  51. Dr. Heather says:


    At the age of 4, we start to call in for specialists to help. First, start with his pediatrician, and see if all his developmental milestones are being met. He may want to refer your grandson for a full developmental check. He should also receive a complete physical, because there are MANY medical issues that can prevent toilet training. The time is now to call in for extra help — good luck and let us know how it goes!

  52. Dr. Heather says:


    I can relate. Luckily for you, she is still quite young, so I would advise you to take the pressure off potty training for now. Tell her she is in charge of her body — but that it is important for the poops to come out, so her tummy feels better, and that you want to help her. Would she do better if you just had her go in Pull-Ups all the time? It would be worth the diaper back-tracking if she could get off the withholding cycle. A good solid few weeks or months back in diapers would be worth it in the long run (but make sure everyone is on the same page, including grandparents and teachers). Another question — when did you start the laxative? You say you’ve tried several things that all worked, for awhile — I wonder if you tried any of those AFTER she was on the regular laxative? Because it’s a good sign that those things worked (even for awhile), and perhaps she got a tiny bit constipated again, and this threw her back into a withholding pattern. Try these things and let me know how it goes.

  53. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, it’s important you encourage him NOT to hold his poops — but you must also be careful to help him feel that he is in control. Are there other rewards that he might enjoy better? If not, he may just not be ready ot be potty trained yet — if he is willing to poop — and NOT hold it — in his diaper, then take away the potty for now, and tell him he can go in his diaper. Have him accompany you and his Dad to the bathroom and see how you do it. Talk with him about how good his tummy feels, after he has made a poop. And try to take the pressure of potty training for now — preventing constipation is key to future success. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  54. Dr. Heather says:


    What a challenge! 2 little ones, with the oldest consumed by this terrible fear. (Or at least — it sounds like fear.) Of course you can’t be totally “hands off” when the diaper rash is such a problem — you must prevent the rash. And you also need to prevent this terrible withholding, because it can have very negative effects over time. But of course you must also give him the idea that HE is in charge. But he doesn’t yet know what’s best for him — so it sounds to me like a bit more “coaching” is the way to go here. Talk with him about how the poops need to come out. Try a little humor — “The poops want to go swimming in the potty and have so much fun in there! Isn’t that silly? Some children are afraid of the poops — are you afraid? Mommy will hold your hand while you try to push them out. Let’s watch Daddy as HE makes his big Daddy poops. Aren’t they wonderful?” I’m also not against the use of children’s programs, iPad, etc — anything like that to appropriately use as an incentive/reward/reinforcer. For instance, ask him what he would like as a fun treat after getting the yucky poops out. His favorite show? A couple of little candies? Don’t push too hard, but do explore whether this might work for him. Well worth it. Then you can talk with him about that as part of his daily schedule — once he gets the poops out, a nice show or treat.

    Also, try to give him some opportunity to make messes. Toddlers, developmentally, are trying to exert control over themselves and their worlds for the first time, and some get too caught up in “keeping order”. So it can help to give him finger paints, play doh, messy kitchen projects, even mud pies to show him that messes CAN be fun and good — as long as they are at the right place and time. Then, talk about how his poops are messes, too — and they belong in the diaper or the toilet.

    About the stool softener — ask his doctor for sure, but I would recommend considering it on an ongoing basis in order to prevent any possibility of constipation, which causes pain and really worsens the problem immediately.

    About his diet — different children have different dietary issues with poops, so I must direct you to his doctor there, and also do keep an eye on whether certain foods seem to help or hurt the problem.

    Try those ideas and let me know what happens!

  55. Sarah says:

    We’re in a similar situation to all the parents on here. Frustrated, sad, annoyed, all of the above. We have a 3-year old who withholds. We cannot pinpoint anything that happened that made him start withholding. He can hold it in for 7-10 days easily. He’ll fuss here or there that his “tummy hurts” and do the Poop Riverdance (as I call it) and then go another day or two or four. When he finally poops, it can be 5-7 Pull Ups worth with the first few smelling like mothballs. We’ve done MiraLax, but his poops (when they finally come) are never hard. They are always peanut butter consistency. Other than time and patience, what can we do?? We’re at our wits end.

  56. Darlene says:

    Hello, my grandson who is 4 continues to poop his pants.
    My daughter has tried everything to help him understand going potty in the toilet. Do you have any advice on what more we can do to help him understand. It is very frustrating and day care is thinking of refusing to allow him to attend. He know what potty is, he say’s he is sorry and will not do it, and then will ask are you mad at me? It is sad, is he totally confused. HELP PLEASE!

  57. Heidi says:

    Hi Dr. Heather

    I’m really in need of some advice. My 2.5yr old withholds her poops and can go for days and days without pooping. I have her on a daily laxative (as per her doctors request), and although this makes her poops very soft, she will still do her best to hold them in. I’ve tried everything from encouragement, rewards, disapline, ingoring it, no pressure, back in pull ups, all of which worked to an extent for short periods but then will no longer work. She has been withholding for about 8 months around the time we started potty training. She is dry during the day and has no problems peeing on the potty. I think this is the result of her passing a hard stool months and months ago and now we have a with holder. I felt we were making some progress a fews back, but since then she came down with a virus and we are right back to the beginning. Would love to hear your advice on this as feel I’ve tried everything and want to break her from this horrible vicious cycle.

    Thank you

  58. Rucha says:


    I’m trying to potty train my 27 month old for pooping only. He seems to realize when he has to poop infact he also tells me, but when I ask him – tell him to go to his potty he runs away and controls his poop. He wont poop at that time. This cycle continues several times during the day till he can no longer control. I reward him by playing his favourite cartoon after he has done poop in potty. This however doesnt seem to have motivated him and its the same cycle for the past 4-5 days. It seems he has some kind of phobia of his potty. Please help I’m afraid he’s going to have constipation problem (during this time 2 days went without pooping).

  59. Kate says:

    My two and a half year old has been having problems for the last three weeks and I’m keen to break the cycle before we get into more complicated issues. I think it may have started with a slightly hard poop which could have caused a fissure. Prior to this, he had always had one or two normal BMs per day which he sometimes strained to do. After around a week of him saying ‘poop hurts’ and refusing to go (lying on the sofa, not eating much, refusing baths) I took him to the Dr who prescribed Movicol (we’re in the UK). However, he HAD been doing a BM at least every or every other day, so I’m not sure that he was actually constipated that badly.

    Over the next week we gave him the Movicol and plenty of fiber but he developed VERY bad and raw diaper rash. He was prescribed Canesten cream to clear up the thrush and Sudacrem (a zinc based cream) to slather on over the Canesten. After a week, the diaper rash was gone. During that third week, he did manage to do a couple of BMs standing up by himself, but the majority of the last three weeks it has taken two people to change his diaper. He kicks and cries even though I *think* this is now more about fear than pain.

    That said, after a harder stool last week, we decided to give him the Movicol sachets again to keep his poop soft. This has led to very soft stools and having to change his diaper every 30 minutes as he poops a small amount which is quite soft. This is leading to his bottom getting sore again.

    I really want to:
    a) stop his bottom getting sore again
    b) keep his poop soft enough to pass without pain
    c) get him eating well and drinking plenty
    d) stop witholding the poop
    e) get back to normal and my fun loving, busy toddler!

    I know my story doesn’t compare to some other poor parents on here, but I feel at my wits end. We have spent the majority of the past three weeks glued to the couch (often) with the TV on because every attempt to do anything else results in my son screaming that he wants to go home/get into the buggy etc. all to avoid doing a BM.

    I have mostly managed to be very calm and let my son have control over his diaper change etc, but the very sore bottom issue meant we were having to be more hands in than we’d have liked (eg my husband picking him up so that I could make sure his bottom was clean, dry and cream applied).

    One other thing to mention, which may not be inconsequential is that we have a 4 month old baby. I mention this primarily because it’s adding to the difficulty of dealing with my son – one of them is invariably screaming as I deal with the other. From a psychological perspective, my eldest son seems to have adjusted very well to his little brother. He regularly asks to hold him, which we let him do, and is generally incredibly sweet and gently towards him. I am BFing the baby and in case jealousy about this was the root of the issue, I even offered my older son the opportunity to BF. He took a look but didn’t show any interest, so I’ve let that lie. Obviously, being so young still, I am holding his little brother quite a lot of the day, but I make a conscious effort – and do – put his brother down a lot to play trains, read stories etc just with my 2 year old. Long story short, it *could* be a factor, but it’s one we’re conscious of and try to minimize.

    Another dimension is that I have had to enlist my parents on two occasions to help me cope. He loves my mom and she’s great with him. However, her style with him is one of encouraging coach. It means he gets a lot of attention the whole day over the poop issue – I really don’t think he was short of attention before this all started, so I don’t think this is purely an attention-seeking device. I had wanted to give your tip of completely backing off a go for a week or two, but the diaper rash meant this wasn’t feasible.

    We coming to the States for Thanksgiving and I REALLY would like this resolved by then, if not way before.

    What I would really like your advice about is:
    a) whether he sounds like he needs the stool softener (Movicol)
    b) how I can get him to understand that pooping doesn’t hurt (even though I don’t know if it does hurt him or not)
    c) if I should be giving him lots of fiber, cutting back on dairy etc (as we currently are)
    d) how much we should ignore him when he’s going through his witholding routine – it feels cruel but we also have a better day if he manages to poop, so being more hands on is hard to resist.

    By the way, we’re not and have not been trying to potty train. We do have two potties which we have simply offered him to use if he wants to. We only bought these as he started telling us when he was about to or had just done a pee or a poop and began being interested in the toilet. So pretty sure this is not about potty training pressure.

    This a currently controlling our lives and I would really love it to end. Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer us.

  60. Dr. Heather says:


    I can hear how much you’re all suffering over this! I’m in the process of writing the follow-up book for all those common complications like the one you’re experiencing, which will be called “Potty Rescue!”, but here are some tips for now.

    First, I do discourage suppositories, for just the reason you’ve experienced. Children can really feel “invaded” by the suppository experience, and it’s hard for them to forget. There ARE pediatricians out there who are sensitive to the issue. You don’t necessarily need a specialist, if you can find a pediatrician who is sensitive and experienced in the problem. Ask around. It would be worth it for even a one-time consult with a good pediatrician — even if you had to drive for the appointment. Ask other doctors, nurses, and parents, and look for reviews online.

    In the time being, see if you’re allowed to use MiraLax. Finding the right dose can be tricky, but the goal is for the poops to get so soft that they can’t be held in easily. This process may need to go on for months while the colon heals up from all that withholding. But the cycle can be vicious: Painful poops lead to withholding. Withholding leads to a distended colon, which leads to loss of sensation of “needing to go”, which results in impaction and encopresis, which is the constant leakage you’re seeing. Using the right dose of MiraLax for several months is often a big part of the solution.

    Don’t give up on the idea of a second opinion, even if you have to devote some time to the process. This is a problem that IS fixable! Please let us know what happens, and come back and check in for more ideas if you need them 🙂

  61. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, this is a very common reaction — painful poops are really memorable to little ones, and they withhold to prevent the pain. Your goal is to make pooping completely pain free. Talk with his doctor for tips, like MiraLax as a possibility, and make it a daily priority to soften up those poops. Once the poops are soft, you can encourage him by explaining how you know the poops USED TO hurt, but you and his doctor made sure they won’t anymore. Then, offer rewards and incentives to encourage him to try again.

    I have lots of additional tips in my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training Your Toddler”. Let us know how it goes!

  62. Dr. Heather says:


    First, make sure her dose of MiraLax is adequate. You are striving to make her poops very soft, but not diarrhea. Give her the same dose regularly, once you establish it. You are trying to ensure there is NO pain on pooping. Next, make sure she has enough opportunity to make messes — acceptable messes. Toddlers usually LOVE to make messes, and sometimes experiment with poop in the process! Show her how she CAN make a mess — with finger paints, Play-Doh, in the kitchen helping with something messy, or outside with mud. Really encourage the messy play. Explain you know she likes the mess — and that it’s OK! But only with certain stuff that you show her. Then, reassure her that her poops want to come out — and that you WON’T be angry at her anymore. You will be so happy, and she can even get a reward. Keep trying, and let me know how it goes.

  63. Dr. Heather says:


    It sounds like you have started on the right track — Mira Lax — but need some fine tuning. MiraLax often needs close medical monitoring until you have found the correct dose. And it needs to be given faithfully, daily, for sometimes many months. So don’t give up — go back to his doctor and explain the situation and say you need more support and help — or find another doctor if you feel you need more. You are working towards many weeks of soft poops — and no withholding — so the colon can get back down to normal size and sensation can be restored by that healing process. Be patient and diligent — don’t give up!

  64. Dr. Heather says:


    It’s important to get some progress on the situation since your poor little guy is in so much pain, and this is a cycle that won’t likely improve on it’s own. Have you talked with his pediatrician about this? If not, do so. If you have and you’re not getting enough support, please ask around for a doctor who has a stronger track record with helping these kinds of constipation/impaction issues. Often, doctors will prescribe something like MiraLax — daily — to get the poops very soft. The dose must be monitored and managed daily until it’s correct. Your goal is to eliminate the pain that comes with pooping. Once the poops are regularly soft again, talk with your son about how you know he is afraid of them hurting — but that you and his doctor have made sure they WON’T hurt any more. Sit with him and hold his hand as he poops, give him rewards, let him watch his favorite program — anything to get his mind off the pooping process so that he can get into a more consistent pain-free pooping process. Also tell him that you won’t use the suppositories once he stops withholding, and he can be in charge of his own body again. Try these things and let me know what happens!

  65. Linnea says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    My son will be 4 in February. I’ve read your book and definitely think he’s a mule. Around his 3rd birthday, I got out the little potty and let him sit on it. He peed a little here and there, but he never pooped. I swear we didn’t pressure him at all to use the potty, but somehow about that time he started holding in his poop, even though he was still wearing diapers. At one point he held it for 10 days straight! We took him to the pediatrician, who told us to use a children’s suppository. We did the suppository and it was awful. My husband had to hold our son down while he screamed to put it in and I was hysterically crying. He eventually went in his diaper, but immediately began to hold it again the next day.

    The next time he went two full weeks without pooping. Just tiny, soft bits in his diaper while he tried to hold it. We called the doctor and they said to start him on mirilax and do another suppository. We didn’t want to give him another suppository, but the dr said to do it or take him to the ER. We did the suppository, but he was STILL trying to hold it. My husband finally took off his diaper and held him on the potty. My son was screaming and kicking, but he wasn’t able to hold it in and finally he pooped it all out. We felt so, so bad, but it was either hold him on the potty or take him to the hospital, which seemed like the more traumatic option. Now I’m not so sure we made the right choice… 🙁 He is obviously scarred from that experience.

    It’s been 9 months since then. He will now pee on the potty no problem, but he holds his poop in ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter if he’s in a diaper, a pull-up, or underwear. He never, ever chooses to go. He constantly tries to hold it in and poops small, soft amounts all day long. He doesn’t care if he has poop in his underwear. He is just terrified to poop on the potty and it doesn’t matter what we say or do, there is no changing his mind.

    We have tried hard to keep it positive and tell him he’ll do it when he’s ready. We tell him the poop is like trash in his body and he just needs to get it out. We are fine if he goes in a pull-up or a diaper, but he refuses. I’m either changing pull-ups or rinsing out underwear all day long and I’m losing my mind.

    I begged the dr for a referral to get professional help (since they don’t seem to offer it there) and she said she knew of no one in our town. She said I could try to find someone in Orlando, but that’s 90 min. away from home and we are on a very tight budget. I also have a 5 yr old, a 19 month old, and baby #4 is due in February. It’s all so overwhelming. This situation has dominated our family for almost all of 2013 and we have no idea what to do.

    Any ideas?

  66. Karla says:

    Hi Dr. Heather, my son had some problems with constipation and now he withholds his BM. I think it’s fear that it will hurt when he goes. At first he was going every 3 days but now he can go up to almost a week without a Bm. This scares me, what can i do to help him with hisfear?

  67. Maria says:

    Hello Dr Heather,

    My 2 and 1/2 started to go to the potty and bathroom as soon as I bought her one. One day she poop on the way to the potty, took it off, started rubbing it all over, and when I got to her I explained her she should not touch it, and she started eating it, it wasn’t the first time, so I overreacted. And after that day the problem started. She is withholding, and I see her fighting every time she wants to go. I felt bad with suppositories, but if I back off how many days should I let pass before doing something? I am giving her lots of fiber every day, miralax and my doctor also recommended milk of magnesia. Help! Every time she gets the urge she wants me to hold her, and starts to cry a lot, after four days one again I don’t know what to do.

  68. Tiffany says:

    My son at 2 1/2 started hiding his poop and on the
    7 day we had to give an enema. It got so bad he would
    Hold for so long we ended up in ER throwing up
    He is in mirlalax and things got a little better
    But now bad again where over the days we have to give
    Him so much mirlalax to give him diaherra that he
    Cannot hold it . We are 3 1/2 now need toilet training but he
    Still has no interest . I have to give enemas to get it out
    Of him.. It’s like he forgets to push . I heard when
    They hold it for so long after time it stretches them
    Out and takes longer for there body to signal to go.
    What else can I do to overcome this withholding
    Him being so young you cannot give stool softners
    To them . Please advice thank you

  69. Gloria Smolik says:

    I am hoping for some advice. My son is 2 years old. I have not started potty training him yet. My dilemna is this: He sits down on the floor every time he needs to poop. It gets compacted and then i have to give him a suppository to help him poop after 2-3 days of watching him try and poop sitting down. I have tried and tried to get him to squat, stand up, sit maybe on the bed or couch where there is come give, but he refuses. When he does finally poop after the suppository, he cries in pain because its a large amount that comes out. I am giving him a childrens liquid laxitive, fruit, lots of water, no milk (goats milk only) very little cheese. I just don’t know what to do to get him to stop sitting down and compacting the poop. HELP. Any advice would great. I have tried a laxative gel pill form, but he throws up every time i try and give it to him, and the childrens liquid does not seem to work at all.

  70. Dr. Heather says:


    That’s a great idea. Right now, I’m actually working on a follow-up book to “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training Your Toddler”. It’s called, “Potty Rescue! The BabyShrink Tackles Your Ickiest, Stickiest Potty Training Problems”. Because as you know — you’re not alone in having this challenge! But I love your idea and will keep it in mind as I continue on with the book.

    In the meantime, I bet you can find a kid’s printable online of the digestive system — something to review with her, like the doctor did — or even ask the doc if you can get a copy of what she/he drew those months ago!

    Good luck and keep me updated,

    Dr. Heather

  71. Dr. Heather says:


    It sounds as if he has the tendency to become easily constipated. Ask his doctor if something like MiraLax can be started — daily — to help get his poops soft all the time. It may take awhile to get the dose adjusted properly but it’s worth the effort (if the doc says it’s OK). MiraLax is often used for months with no ill effects. Suppositories and enemas provide immediate relief, but not soften poops over time. They also are scary to many little ones, who can feel “invaded” by them. The overall goal is to get his poops so soft that he forgets they were ever painful — the hard poops hurt, and he is likely withholding because pooping hurts. So you want to do whatever you can to eliminate the pain — with his doctor’s help. Good luck and keep me posted!

  72. Trish says:

    Hi Dr. Heather. This all seems like great advice. Even though this is what I’ve been doing for a YEAR with my almost 4YO and she continues to withhold. I’m just hoping she grows out of it. Soon.

    The one thing that seemed helpful to her, and worked for months was I took her to the doctor and the doctor drew pictures of the digestive system and what happens when you hold poop in. I wish there was some sort of video on youtube or powerpoint presentation I could show her, each time she goes back to this withholding.

    Would you ever consider putting something like this together for your readers?


  73. Jen says:

    Hi Dr. Heather, I am in desperate need of advice!

    My 2 1/2 year old son has been having issues for about 6 months now. He has always been constipated even as a baby. He doesn’t eat much he drinks a ton and he hasn’t been gaining much weight. I am worried for him. He has very small poops almost nothing every 30 minutes or so and I finally took him to the doctor after talking with them on the phone about it. The doctor told me he was withholding poops. I never imagined this was the problem he is so little. We have not started potty training yet because of the problems he has been having. He will scream and run into the other room and is in a lot of distress every time he try and poops. This can be every 30 minutes all day long. Some days are worse then others. Most of his poops are soft when he finally does have a normal one about once a week. The amount of diapers I go through is crazy having to change him every 30 minutes. He is in a lot of pain. They told me to try mineral oil that hasn’t been helping. He did have a really bad case of contipation prior to this starting. I have tried suppositories and Enema’s but the problems start right back up again. I am at a loss what to do.

  74. Dr. Heather says:


    Poor little guy. It sounds as if he had a poop that hurt, and he’s decided to “wish it away”. And he’s too young for you to explain all the mechanics of the situation. All you can do is appeal to his natural, innate drive to learn to master his body — as well as the sense that it actually feels good to get all the poop out of your body, once you’re done. PLUS his desire to be like you — his parents — and/or siblings. Try these things: See if you can interest him in what happens in the bathroom. Let him stay with you/his Dad/siblings etc if he’s interested. Talk with him — frequently — about the basics: Poop is in our bodies. It wants to come out. If feels good once it comes out. It gets yucky inside our bodies. One time it hurt his bum when it was too hard. But now you and his doctor are making sure it will NOT hurt, it’s not too hard anymore. So when he lets it out, his tummy will feel so good! You really don’t want him to get too set in his ways, since poop withholding can be really difficult to change once it’s settled in. See if he will “let go” if you let him watch his favorite program. This problem is worth using distraction like that. Also, don’t worry about starting potty training until you have a good handle on this issue — potty training can make this worse. Let us know what happens!

  75. Dr. Heather says:


    I can hear your desperation! It seems endless — but I promise, it’s not. First, back up a little bit and tell me some more of the history here. When did the withholding start? Was there any identifiable triggering situation — a painful poop? Chronic constipation? A scary dream about the potty? What do you think CAUSED the problem? Next, are there any possible MEDICAL issues? Any indication of pain upon pooping, even intermittent pain, or lingering diaper rash, etc? Also, think about personality style. Does she seem to need to be in control? Is she having a hard time psychologically in any way? How is her relationship with her sister, and what is the family situation — any possible stressors there? I also want you to carefully analyze the days when she DOES want to go. Is there anything different? Does she poop well with one caregiver, and not another? Does she respond positively — or negatively — to pressure? Or to rewards?

    Think like a parent detective — I promise, there are some clues here. And don’t be upset that she CAN poop, when she wants to — this is the hallmark of this age. It’s not about CAN she — it’s about whether she WANTS to — because this developmental stage is all about the child learning to master her body. So it’s important to her, this struggle. You can’t force a child to eat, poop, or sleep — all we can do is to support them while they begin to master their own bodies. And that’s a good thing — we want HER to be in control of her body. Get back to me with more information and we can take it from there!

  76. Lindsey Alexander says:

    My two year old has been withholding poo for about 6 months now. He has been given lactulose liquid and Pico sulphate which he takes every day but he still contorts himself into awkward positions to stop himself from pooping. We haven’t even started potty training! This started when he was only 18 months old after a bout of constipation. No idea what to do for him. We just ignore when he is trying to hold onto it and carry on as normal and when he does poo we change him with minimum fuss. Help!

  77. Renee says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    I have 3 year old twin girls. One of them withholds her poop. We have been on Miralax (per Dr’s orders) for months. I’d have to look, but we are definitely more then 6 months. She gets it every day, yet still occasionally will withhold. Then I have to give her more to make it almost impossible to hold it in, although she still manages somehow.

    There are days she is TOTALLY fine “trying” to go… and then she does and she gets very excited. Then there are days she just refuses to even try. At all.

    They are in preschool. The school has a very firm “no pull ups” policy. I have discussed the potty issues with their teacher and we have decided if necessary we can take them out for a couple of weeks.

    She LIKES wearing big girl panties. She LIKES going to preschool. I’m just at my wits end trying to get this child regular. We have tried everything. We tried backing off and not pushing the potty. We’ve tried rewards. Nothing seems to break this horrid horrid cycle we are in.

    I don’t know what to do.

  78. Dr. Heather says:


    I totally get how frustrating this can be. But from what you say, it sounds like your son is giving you a strong message — he’s not ready. He’s just not ready yet. And the more you push and have higher expectations, the more he is going to push back (or NOT, as is the case).

    I know it feels like he “should” be ready for this. And the truth is, he CAN do all the things necessary to poop in the potty. But it’s not a question of “CAN HE”. It’s a question of “WILL HE?” and if he doesn’t WANT to, he’s NOT GONNA DO IT. That is the nature of many parenting issues — we can’t force them the eat, poop, or sleep — and so we have no choice but to back off and let them learn to be in charge of their own physical processes. YES, we can (and should) be there to guide them, but we always need to stay one step “behind” them. (Why does everything I say about potty training sound like a pun?!)

    So it really is time to back off. Get him back into diapers or pull-ups full-time. His choice. Get ALL of his caregivers on the same page. Don’t compare him to other kiddos. Let him decide when he wants to wear undies — but he is ONLY allowed to wear them after he poops fully for the day. But don’t even bring up undies — AT ALL — unless HE brings up undies. Stay one step behind.

    I have lots of other tips on this in my book if you want more. Let me know how it goes!

  79. Beth says:

    Thank you Dr. Heather…

    I’ll keep him on the 1/4 cap Miralax as he once was. I just feel terrible, as though I’m pumping him full of meds. And, I LOVE your idea for an increase in ‘plops’ for rewards.

    While in diapers and on 1/4 cap of miralax he was having a BM once per day. Once in underwear, he started with holding it for several days, then started with leaking little bursts 6-7x per day.

    That was when I tried pull-ups. Telling him he can wear them only for a BM, I gave him 15min to have a BM (in hopes this would show him he is the one in charge of the poop), as soon as it came off, there was no poop and them 30-45 min later there was a BM in his underwear. After this went on for 4 or so days, I went right into diapers starting all over again. This happened 2 times. Over night he wears a diaper, each morning I’m hoping for a BM, but there are only his little squirts of BM (as he does when he has an accident).

    This afternoon I had a Crazy Mom Moment with the whole potty training… We were out at a playdate and he had 3 BM accidents (throwing away underwear accidents), just as I mentioned above he was saying he needed to pee, then coming back stating there was no pee to come out (he did not want to miss out on playtime). after the 2nd one I checked him bottom each time he ran back… then he had the third one, he refused to finish on the potty. So I cleaned him up, put on a pull-up and told him we needed to leave, that having a little accident once a while was OK, but this was too many accidents to be out with friends.

    He was furious with me, screaming as I collected him and his baby sister (who is 2 and mirroring his behavior now). when I asked him why he was mad, he said it was because he had to leave his friend because he had too many accidents.

    Since getting home, I had him sit on the potty, he had calmed down, he has had 2 medium BMs and he is still sitting there pushing. I told him he can come down when all his poop are finished coming out. Because he will not have a BM in the diaper, is it OK to keep him on the potty until he finishes a full BM, otherwise he is just going to have another accident again.

    Sometimes I feel like I”m running backwards in circles with this process…

  80. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Beth,

    A couple of questions — how often did your son poop when he was in diapers? Could he do it once per day? Has it changed now that he’s in undies? Because lots of kiddos prefer the feeling of doing it in diapers, and if he is willing to do that, you really want to go with it for now in order to prevent any further withholding. It does sound like he is on that path, and it can get really frustrating. I understand your concerns!

    Let me know about the diapers, and also I WOULD consider the additional prescribed MiraLax, if only because it will ensure that your son will not be constipated, and pain from constipation is the WORST thing that can happen to a potty training kid — especially one who has a history like yours. Plus it makes it so much more difficult to hold it in. Little bodies do often adjust to a higher dosage after some fine tuning, which helps with the runs, so don’t rule that out.

    And in terms of the potty rewards, when/if you decide to keep trying on the potty, why not consider slowly increasing the number of “plops” necessary to get a reward? So instead of just ONE plop, make it TWO for awhile…then THREE…. this might be an easier way for him to slowly increase the amount he is pushing out during each try.

    Let me know what you think!

  81. Beth says:

    Hi Dr. Heather… First, I’m sorry this is a long story and question…

    My Son is going to be 4 in October. My husband and I knew potty training him was going to be a rocky road due to severe constipation issues since about 2 yrs old (we worked with the dr. and he was on a daily dose of Miralax). Once preschool was out in June, we decided to start (he was interested and my husband was around to help, my son is addicted to his dad, lol) He is a champ with peeing, and to date has never had an accident.

    A BM is a completely different story… After starting, stopping and restarting BM training 3x since June, my husband and I have noticed our son has confused gas and the feeling of a BM. He was running to the potty, shouting he needs to go poopy, run out wo having done anything stating it was gas. Within a few minute we smell him and he has had a full BM in his underwear.

    The last 2 week we have been working on reversing this, but hitting a wall. As he is telling us he is pushing, he is really crunching his tummy and abs holding it in (you can see the pain on his face). We have tried calming him with distractions, etc. even allowing a DVD player to help calm and relax him, we have tried explaining ‘pushing’, he even tells us to leave him alone (which we do, he does great w/o us there), we have told him the poopy is trying to get out because his tummy doesn’t want it any more, basically every few days we try something new to calm, relax and distract him… with no change.

    Now, each day he get 6-7 tiny BMs in the potty, each one he originally thinks is gas, we ask him to ‘try to push one more time’ before he gets off the potty, this one instance (with repeated beggin to try again) can last about 30-45 minutes… I feel like he is basically sitting there waiting for it to fall out. Then, he is ‘shaking it off’; because he is pushing so little, his BM is getting ‘stuck’. resulting in him begging us to wipe his clean… then we do it all over again 20 minutes later. It is a vicious cycle of him “pushing” to get a tiny BM, us wiping it from his tush, and him running to the potty again 20 min later. He knows unless the ‘poopy plops’ in the water he will not get a reward (2 M & Ms and 1 gold coin – the kids get toy gold coins for rewards, good behavior and listening, etc).

    We have tried explaining if he pushes really hard he can get one big BM out, instead of 6-7 little ones, because “mommy and daddy do it 1x per day” and he is consistently stating “Oh no, I don’t want to do this again. The poopy will not come out.”

    I respect our dr. but he is continually stating to put diapers back on, start on a full dose of miralax (instead of his sm amt now) for a week (giving him the runs), slowly take it down and start all over again. I feel as though my son has come so far, he is a trooper, and he is so proud of himself when he even gets him tiny BM… starting over again would be frustrating on him and us.

    I’m not too sure what to try next, if we should just continue as we are now, or how to talk to him about ‘pushing’ out a BM, or do your suggestion above and completely back off (I’m leaning to this one)… I expected accidents with potty training, but sometimes I feel like this is worse than diapers.

    I feel like I’m walking into a wall…

  82. Dr. Heather says:


    That position doesn’t give her much “leverage”, does it? Does she seem to be trying to hold it in? Does she avoid pooping? I’m not a medical doctor so be sure to mention it to the pediatrician, but I’m thinking this MIGHT be an effort on her part to hold it in. See if you can’t try a silly game with her. Next time she gets into that position, joke about how you’re going to get into the “poop position”. Demonstrate a more squat-like position. Maybe it’s a “poop dance” that involves standing on your tippy toes, then alternating into a squat pose. See if she won’t follow along. Talk about how her poops want to get out and play, and this is how they do it! Squatting down makes it easy for them to come out.

    Also, include her in your trips to the bathroom to show her how YOU do it, and point out how other children (and even pets) do it. Over time, as she becomes more interested in using the potty, this exposure will help her take the next step. Hope this helps!

  83. Dr. Heather says:


    Please talk with his doctor about MiraLax, or something similar, to see if it might help. It’s added to his drink to make his poops very soft and much more difficult to hold in. At the same time, give him a lot of experience accompanying you into the bathroom, but take the pressure off by telling him that you’re sure that when HE is ready to poop in the potty like a big boy, he will do it. It’s a fine line to walk — let him know you DO want him to poop, but also that HE is the boss of his body. It’s not healthy to hold it in. It feels SO GOOD to get it all out. Perhaps it hurt his bum one time — but you and his doctor will make sure it won’t hurt next time. Yet — this is his decision. Encourage it by having a potty available after a bath, at the time of day he usually goes, give him a little reward/incentive if it seems it might help — but also back off when he seems to need space. Then please let me know how he’s doing — I’ve been offline for a bit but now I’m back and ready to help!

  84. Dr. Heather says:


    How are things going now? Is this a crisis that has passed, or do you still need some ideas? Sorry I was away for awhile, but I’d be happy to give you some suggestions if you update me on what is a very common potty training issue 🙂

  85. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Sierra,

    Sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to your comment — I’m upgrading my website and been on vacation! But I’d love to hear an update on how your daughter is now…what did you end up doing for her? Has she gotten past this terrible phase? Hopefully she has — I would have suggested putting her in the bath perhaps to relax her muscles and letting her poop in a diaper if she was willing — or trying anything else that seemed to make it easier for her in the past — watching TV even, or iPad, just to get through this stage and remind her what an easy poop feels like — let us know if you can.

  86. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Mike,

    I DO discuss it a bit, but your question is SO common that I’ve decided to write my follow-up book on “potty problems” such as yours. For now, I’m so glad you’ve got a good play therapist to help — and in the meantime, let your daughter grow and develop, with the idea that eventually her desire to be like the “big kids” will overtake her desire to control her poop so much. Hang in there!

  87. Brenna says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,
    I have seen this question posted before but didn’t see a direct answer to it. My 2.5 year old daughter is pee-trained on the potty, but we’re working on the pooping part. She has had constipation issues in the past, so we give her miralax daily (on the advice of our pediatrician). However, in general, she only poops standing up on her tip-toes, holding onto something (in her diaper). My question is this: What is the reason for this? Is needing to stand up due to a medical issue or is it just a preference? I am curious, based on your answer, how to proceed. Thank you.

  88. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, you of course want her to poop. Talk with her doctor and see what he/she recommends — making her poops very, very soft is important. Also, talk with your daughter about how important it is to poop — will she accept a diaper only to poop, and then switch back into panties? Explain that you know she wants to be a big girl by not wearing diapers anymore, but she cannot wear panties all the time until she shows she knows how to poop in the potty better. Preventing long-term poop-withholding is very important. Constipation is painful and makes with withholding worse. Avoid suppositories is also important, if you can — toddlers often feel a suppository is invasive — so try everything you can to soften up the poops. Come back and see me if you need more help!

  89. Dr. Heather says:


    Sounds like you need a consistent plan to help your daughter. If her poops are not extremely soft, she might benefit from an increase in MiraLax — ask her doctor. But make sure you follow her dose 100% of the time — that’s important.

    Next, talk with everyone who takes care of her. Parents, grandparents, teachers, anyone. Maybe someone has an idea of what has worked with her in the past? A certain reward? A nice tone of voice? A time of day? More MiraLax? Every child is different. Also, see what attitudes everyone is bringing to the situation. Is anyone talking harshly with her about it? Taking the pressure off her, from every side, is important. Try to get everyone on the same page.

    Next, talk a lot with your daughter about the poops that are lonely inside her tummy. They want to come out. Think of funny, toddler-specific language to use with her. They must come out one day. But SHE is in charge of how she does it. She may still wish she does not have to poop — you can tell her you understand she does not want to poop. But you all need to make sure she is healthy, and to find a way that SHE feels good about going. Give her as much control as you can, and let her know at the same time, Mom has to help her be healthy.

    See if she has any ideas. What does she say about it? What are her fears? Her wishes? Try to open up the conversation — over days or weeks — and see what insights you can get. What she says may give you ideas about what to try (and what not to try).

    Then, consider getting an expert opinion/second opinion about the situation. Try to find a doctor who specializes in this issue — AND has a nice, pleasant attitude toward toddlers. The doctor should get you on a consistent plan ASAP — the closer you get to age 4, the more complicated this will get. Come back and let us know how it’s going!

  90. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, the dreaded preschool potty training dilemma…. I wish ALL preschools understood child development — that 3-year-olds commonly have this issue, and can really be helped in the preschool setting to get it right!

    But don’t fear — many preschools require “fully potty trained” ON PAPER, but in reality, they DO help out to some extent with these challenges. Sit down privately with your daughter’s direct caregiver at school, and explain the situation. Experienced, good teachers will have good suggestions and ideas for this. Perhaps if they see your daughter’s foot routine start up, they can send her with a friend to the potty. Sometimes, preschool friends can make great potty companions. If you get a negative response from the teacher, you may have to reconsider your daughter’s school placement. Not what you want to hear, I know. But DO give the school the chance to see if they might work with you — many, many will!

    As for the foot issue — this is the time when your daughter needs to learn about her body’s signals, and what they are telling her. She has intentionally blocked out her signal to poop all this time, so instead of her listening to the “little poop voice”, she literally stuffs her foot into it so that it will be quiet. Help her understand that the foot is stepping on the little poop voice. “Your little poop voice is trying to be heard. What is it saying? I think it’s saying the poop needs to come out! Feel that hard feeling in your tummy? It’s the poops, banging on your tummy, trying to get out! Let them out to play! Come on, they want OUT!” Be silly if she enjoys it. But DO just try to get her to understand the real message her body is telling her — and remind her of the appropriate response. Don’t force her, but DO help her understand the struggle her mind and body are in.

    And yes, DO follow her doctor’s advice about the MiraLax, and don’t blame your MIL for coming up the the idea — her generation didn’t have great diapers like we do (nor understanding preschools). She’s just trying to help. And also consider small rewards for keeping your daughter on track with the progress she is already starting to show. Let us know what happens!

  91. Dr. Heather says:


    Lots of talking about the problem can help. Let her know the poop really wants to come out. Tell her how much better her tummy will feel after. Ask her if she is afraid it will hurt. Open up the conversation with her. Find out what her mental process is about pooping. Some children are afraid of the poop, or are wishing they could never poop. Try to understand it — this will give you ideas for how to process. This might take time — days or weeks — but stick with it.

    Meanwhile, have her accompany everyone who is willing into the bathroom. Having her watch you, her dad, other family members — is a good way of normalizing the poop process. Other preschoolers help a lot too.

    Also consider small rewards for poops. Nothing big, but some incentive (stickers, a tiny candy, TV time) may help. I’m not against placing the potty in front of the TV if it helps (and if she still has less than an hour each day total screen time). This is a problem that can quickly worsen and is worth your time and energy to explore the solutions that might help.

    Then come back here and let me know if you still need ideas!

  92. leah says:

    my daughter just turned 3 and she has been holding in her poop for half a year now. I’ve been using miralax and giving her lots of liquids and fiber but she still holds it in. the only time she uses the potty is sometimes when she needs to go pee, but as soon as she feel that poop coming she hates sitting on the potty. instead she cries and yells and rocks back and forth while sitting down to hold it in. we have tried to incourage her and told her she doesn’t need to be afraid to poop because it won’t hurt but still she holds it in. what should I do?

  93. Sandi says:

    I have a 3-year-old daughter who has been struggling with withholding her poop for about three months now. About a month into this, we actually ended up in the ER where she was diagnosed with anal fissures. Which would definitely explain her not wanting to go because it was painful. After several trips to her pediatrician and numerous phone calls and being on a daily dose of MiraLax we are slowly beginning to see some improvement in at least attempting to sit on the potty to poop but is still constantly sitting on her foot and rocking back and forth, putting pressure on herself in any way she can to try to keep from going. She will all but refuse to walk or move around at these times and beg you to hold her or carry her. We have recently changed the time of day we give her the MiraLax from the morning to late evening and it seems to be helping quite a bit. My concern is she is to start preschool next week and I’m just not sure how they will deal with her sitting on her foot like this. She stays with my mother and mother-in-law when I am working and it’s a common concern with us all because we know how stubborn she can be when she’s at this point in doing everything she can possibly do to keep from going. The MiraLax undoubtedly is helping, but you have to get to the point that she just absolutely can not hold it any longer before she’ll go. It was suggested by my mother-in-law that we back off and not give her the MiraLax on the days she is attending preschool (just three days a week). I was not in favor of this at all because I think we’d be undoing what progress we have made with her at this point, but did contact our pediatrician today just to get her opinion. She of course discouraged us doing so and said it was imperative that we keep her on a regular dose for it to work. I guess my question is, do you have any suggestions for how to best handle the sitting on the foot issue? I am really concerned that the other kids may make fun of her if this continues.

  94. Terra says:

    My daughter is 3 year 5 months old. She has contipation issues and has been compacted twice. We try to best to control the constipation with mirlax. She is withholding and will do it no matter what. We have talked to her, held her, tickled her, distracted her, ignored her, forces on the potty, and made her sit down so she will at least stop witholding her poo hoping that she would go but she continues to withold until she either poos in the middle of the night or a little poo is forced out no mater how much she tries to hold it all in. We have even given her mineral oil to help her go. The only time she wants to go on the potty is after a shower and then she will pee but other then that she refuses to go pee or poo on the potty. Her dr said that she will go on her own. I don’t understand why she is refusing to even go pee. I don’t know what I can do to get her to stop witholding because I don’t want it to hurt her. She we put her in regular underwear and ditch the pull ups and see if that works. We have not brought up going to the potty, we have taken her with us, with other kids her age, forced her, brided her, and letting her sit till she goes. And still nothing works. I am at a complete loss on what to do with her.

  95. cynthia orozco says:

    I have a almost 3 year old daughter, I started potty training her a little more than week ago she got the hold of it real quick, she would let me know when she had to pee and we would run fast to the bathroom, I would always praise her for using the toilet (by telling her yay you pee on toilet high five) she would get happy and go around telling everybody..I notice that she would only pee but she wouldn’t poop at all I started telling her that she needed to poop as well just like the way she went pee. The first time she pooped she freaked out and got off the toilet real quick since then she has only pooped once and twice she’s pooped little chunks, but I also notice that since she hasn’t pooped at all her stomach has being getting real hard (looks like a little hard bump)although she’s still using the toilet to pee. Since I’m worried about her not pooping at all I been telling her to pooped on her underwear that its okay because she needs to pooped but she just don’t do it :/ I even tell her if she wants me to put her a diaper on so she can poop, but she just doesn’t want to wear a diaper anymore at all. I don’t know what to do please help me !!!!!!! The thing that concerns me the most is her belly getting real hard and puffy it looks like its going to explode it also scares me :/

  96. Allgrownup32 says:

    I’ve just realised I accidentally typed SIX WEEKS as a length without going to the bathroom, I shouldn’t type and talk to people about the six week holiday at the same time!
    Clearing up it was NOT six weeks thank god but about 23 days with vomiting as well as symptoms already stated before, and only after consulting with my doctor after did I realise how long that is to not have a BM and that I was very lucky I got it out when I did!

  97. Allgrownup32 says:

    Hi Dr Heather,

    I’m currently 19 and had this problem from before I can remember and it wasn’t solved until I was about 13, with one bad batch at 17 after an finishing school and was too embarrassed to go since living with my boyfriend at the time.
    I have to say going through this for years and looking back now being able to remember it because I wasn’t to young I cannot agree with you giving the advice for parents to leave the child and they will go on their own.
    I remember how I felt doing this and would frequently hold it in for WEEKS at a time causing many trips to hospital some even including being put under general anaesthetic and cleaned out (my belly looked like I was heavily pregnant.)
    I know that at those times if I had been left to my own devices I would have left it until it would have caused serious damage for me and I would have had to go to the hospital with irreversible damage, because I couldn’t understand how serious it was.
    The only thing that got me through it was my parents urging me to go, I remember getting a reward once but it didn’t change my thoughts much on the subject. They were never mean or judgemental, just persistent in telling me my body needed to go and if I didn’t let it happen I would get very sick.
    My poor parents must have been so frustrated and I could tell they felt terrible after giving home enemas and when after a few weeks going would hurt so much Ide scream and cry. But with their help, persistence, and over all awesomeness I got better.

    They did let me try to figure it out once when I was about three for about a month and it became so bad I was flown to the city hospital because it got so large and hard it was impossible for me to pass even when I tried!

    I’m in no way criticising your work as everything else Is amazing and I definitely the ‘matter of fact’ approach!

    I just thought you would like to hear from a person who’s been in these kids situations and remembers it.
    The only time I have sorted it out on my own was when it stopped at 12/13, because I was starting high school and after two TEARS of being anxious every time I went did I go without a thought.

    My worst encounter was when I didn’t go for about 6Weeks (at 17) and I couldn’t walk properly that day and my body with shivering with cold sweats, I don’t want to be to graphic but I can easily say it came out in three literal balls about the width of my fist (sorry!!!)

    I now go without a thought, even with my boyfriend in the house after about two months of dating (now dating for three years) So please don’t despair parents! My parents and I have gone through the same horror with the only thing helping was benefibre and a small amount of laxative every two days… It will end!

    As I said not criticising, And your other ideas are AMAZING, but thought you might like to hear from the child’s view from someone who remembers and can articulate it instead of cute ‘toddler-speak.’


  98. Mel says:

    this is the same for me, my son is 44 months. Wees are fine no wetting or accidents so he hasn’t worn a nappy for months. I am so worried about the retention though and the size and shape of his stools ( very big, tennis ball sized and shaped). He squirms and holds his legs together, lets a bit out when he can’t hold it anymore, we are relieved when he does it and then it starts again, it’s like he doesn’t know how to empty his bowels. I have talked about putting a nappy back on as some days it’s 4 pairs of pants to changes but he hates the thought of nappies, so I am not sure what else to do. We give him lots of fruit and prune juice in his drink so the longest he has gone with out pooing is 4 days. I am so worried about what he is doing to his colon and if this will have last effects. Please help. Mel

  99. Samantha says:

    Hi Dr Heather, I have a similar story as the other mothers, i started toilet training my now 3 1/2 yr son just before his 3rd birthday. we started out well he was catching on going to the toilet to wee and he even managed to poop in the toilet a couple of times and then it stopped he would go wee in the toilet with no dramas and would let me know if he had to go, but he just wouldnt poop he would poop in his undies each day and there was some occasions when he would get the urge in the bath and would get out of the bath and go poop in the toilet, we tried everything praise rewards, even letting him pick out his toilet chair had his older brother show him but nothing worked and he continued to poop in his pants naturally we got a littler frustrated and this then led to him now holding his poop in I see him get the urge and he does all he can to withhold it he tries to push his undies up to try and push back in. i recently went back to putting him in pull ups as i thought this might help him but he still refuses to poop in the toilet and in the pull up. i do find poop smears in his pull up and on some occasions a little poop that is stuck to his bottom but that is it. he has a well balanced diet and his poop doesnt look constipated. I am worried I have made matters worse rather than better.

  100. Sierra says:

    Dear Dr. Heather,
    My 3-year-old daughter suddenly decided to hold her poop. It has been going on for 6 days now. I have been talking to her pediatrician and tried everything they suggested, pear juice, prune juice, plums, peaches, pears, baking soda bath, sticker rewards, pedialax. NOTHING works. She would curl up and lie down, sometimes cries whenever she had the urge to go. She has been peeing into the potty for sometime now but has not learned to use the potty for pooping. Now she even refuses to poop into her diaper. We tried encouraging her, tell her poo poo has to come out but she doesn’t seem to get the message. I think it may have started one day when she had a hard poop. I tried to convince her it won’t hurt this time since she has been eating fruits, but she would say she is still afraid of the poop.

    At this point, what can we do? I am desperately searching for an answer. Should we leave her alone? I am afraid she will be so “backed up” she won’t be able to poop on her own if this keeps going any longer.

  101. Mike says:

    Our story is like everyone else’s, our daughter is almost 3 and very stubborn. She was fully potty trained in January-February, then a bout of constipation got her withholding. Her withholding has been going on for about 4 months now. She is back in pull-ups because she is going 2-10 times a day due to her spears of Miralax and flax seed oil. We get her to sit on the potty 5 times a day and she sits for 3 minutes each time, but will only go pee in the potty, and will get down and poop in her pull-up immediately after. Unfortunately her withholding has become a pattern and apart of her behavior now and we are worried about how to get her back onto using the potty to go poop. We see a play therapist who is hopefully helping and we have backed off completely for over a month now. I’m afraid we are headed for a life of this. In your book, do you talk about what to do in this situation after it’s become a pattern and a habit to withhold?

  102. Dr. Heather says:


    I agree with his doctors and I promise you — he WILL go in the potty, eventually. Have you read my book yet? Perhaps your boy is the “Mule” type who resists new things. Or maybe this is his way of asserting independence. But as you say, it is important he poops — even if not in the potty. But you CAN put your foot down and insist her uses a diaper, not his underpants. “Listen, I love you, and I know you’re not ready for the potty yet. Maybe it hurt your bum once and you remember that. I’m here to help you so that pooping does not hurt. Please tell me if it does and we can help it NOT hurt. But anyway, it is important that all the poop comes out of your body so YOU tell ME how we can get it out and into a diaper.” Start the conversation that way. Will he respond to a reward/treat, or will he feel that’s too much pressure? Another thing to try is the humorous approach — my 3-year-old daughter LOVES this one….”The poops in your tummy are really excited they get to come out and play. They are banging on the inside of your tummy. Hey! They say. Let me out of here! We want to come out and play! Don’t keep the poops in your tummy — let them out!” And after he DOES poop, point out how much better his tummy feels, so he can start to connect the feeling of relief with actually pooping. Good luck and let me know!

  103. Dr. Heather says:


    Luckily, your daughter is still fairly young. Not a reason to panic, yet. Poor thing has been through a lot and we need to give her some time to move past the pain and fear — as your docs have said. Mainly she needs positive experience — first, without any pressure at all to use the potty. When she does poop, will she let you hold your hand? Or would she be distracted from her fear by watching a video? Or is she open to rewards for pooping — even in her diaper? When you DO go to wipe her, move slowly, be very reassuring, and have a soothing, slow, and calming tone of voice. Let her know you’re there to help and you’ll all get through this — even if it takes several minutes to get through wiping. Tell her how good her tummy will feel when all the poop is out. Remind her how much better her bum feels when she has ointment on it after a wipe. Think of small steps she can take to move forward. And, have you read my book yet? There are lots more ideas. Try these out and let me know if you still need more help.

  104. Dr. Heather says:


    I’m sorry, I know this can be worrisome and frustrating! First, I want you to try everything in my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started”. There are potty scripts and ways of approaching this conflict that might help. Second, I want you to start to ask around for a pediatrician or developmental pediatrician who specializes in potty issues. I can hear that you’re really concerned, and you can get some help for this for everyone’s peace of mind. I usually recommend asking for help at the age of 4, but from what you’re saying it would be great to reach out now. Let me know if you need more ideas!

  105. Yanni says:

    My almost 4 year old has been going to the toilet for wee’s for over a year with hardly any accidents. He didn’t do pops in the toilet for the first 6 months… Then did a few pops on the toilet but then took a turn for the worse. Now he screams every time I put him on the toilet. I have tried everything under the sun but nothing works. I tell him that he can do it in a nappy, but then he just screams again, he doesn’t want to do it in the nappy either. He wants to do pops in his jocks hiding under a table or bed… I can’t clean any more pooie jocks. I also want to mention that he stays at his dads house for 35% of the time, and I am not sure how this issue is handled there even tho we do talk about how to deal with this I can’t be sure of it. Please I really need help, have spoken to dr’s and all they say is that he will go when he is ready…. I don’t believe he ever will.

  106. Whitney says:

    My 2 y.o daughter has been suffering with chronic constipation since November. We learned of the issue when she was diagnosed with a febrile UTI. She is not potty trained, as both the GI and Urologist have said to not push her into potty training. We saw the GI and we ended up disimpacting her. She has been on miralax daily for 3 months along with taking in 7mg of fiber through gummies. She still has not regulated her BM’s. She now complains of yummy aches and refuses to poop. I know it hurts her and she is scared, but is there any advice to help her know its OK to poop? We are exhausting all our options and she barley lets me wipe her because she is afraid I will hurt her. 🙁 please help!!

  107. kristina says:

    Dear Doc,

    My 3 year old has been holding in her poops since about 1-year-old. I think it goes back to when she was severely constipated for a while and we had to give her many supossitories in addition to the many painful poops she had. However, she has been on Miralax for about 2 years now and her poops are on the loose side. I tried potty training on and off with little rewards to great big ones. I tried sticker charts, books, videos and went to a pediatric gastro a few times. We have also tried not even mentioning the potty for a few weeks. She is so excellent at holding in her ppops, she can even hold it in for days with full doses of Miralax. Overall, my daughter is a happy and healthy girl who attends a preschool 4 days a week. She loves going. She sees her friends that are now using the potty but she wants nothing to do with it and is now holding her pee in as well. It’s to the point that when she can no longer hold her pee, it goes through her diaper. She gets rashes from holding in so much and from the excessive wiping that occurs from so many smears. Admittedly, I have held her on the potty because it was the only way to make the poop come out after several days of holding and a huge distended stomach. I am desperate, worried and frustrated.

  108. Dr. Heather says:


    When you are not in charge, it’s much more complicated, because your suggestions might be different than her parents’. But you have the added bonus of being one step away from the immediate family, so sometimes you can provide a bit more objectivity to the situation.

    I have tons of ideas in my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started!” than you or your granddaughter’s parents can download onto your smartphone, or onto your desktop and print it out. But for starters, have your granddaughter join folks in the bathroom. Let her see how the pros do their business. And allow her to use her diaper — don’t pressure her to use the potty for awhile — because it seems that she is trying everything possible to hold her poops in. Try to find out why. Is she afraid of poop for some reason? Does she fear it might hurt? Is she trying to make the poop go away? See what you can find out, because that will give you a hint as to the direction that will work — and then come back and let me know if you need more ideas.

  109. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, toddlers often believe that their home potty is the ONLY potty they feel comfy with. Heck, I know a few adults that won’t poop anywhere but home, if they can help it! My suggestions to you depend on your child’s personality — see my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started!” for more specifics, but if he is an easy-going little guy, explain to him that when you are on vacation, he will only have two choices — to poop in the hotel potty (or wherever you will be), or in a diaper, like before. No big deal, no shame if he picks the diaper — lots of boys are at that same point at this age. But touch base with his doctor to see if there is anything you should take along in case he begins to get constipated — this can make things REALLY complicated.

    But if he’s more picky, you may need to get more creative. Start explaining to him now that the poop in his tummy needs to come out, and remind him how good he feels when he is done pooping. Or if he is a silly type, tell him the poops all want to come out and go for a swim in the potty! They’re saying hey, it’s hot in here! Push us out! Really get him laughing. He is old enough that these tricks might work.

    Potty training while on vacation CAN be challenging, but if you remember that lots of development regresses while on vacation — that is common and no big deal — then everyone can pick up where they left off when you return. And let me know what you think of the book, if you decide to getcha one!

  110. Mary Todd says:

    My 3 1/2 yr old granddaughter has the same situation as many above, except she doesn’t complain that it hurts, she just has to stand up on tiptoe to poop. She asks for a diaper and always knows when she has to go. She has always stood on toes to poop even before they tried to potty train her. She told her young friend who was going “I don’t know who to go poop in the potty. Could there be some physical reason she needs to be in standing position? Thanks.

  111. Mary Todd says:

    My 3 1/2 yr old granddaughter asks for a diaper and stands on tiptoe to poop. She has always stood on tiptoe, even before they ever tried to potty train her. She always knows when she has to go, but she holds onto something and stiffens her legs. She is on miralax for chronic constipation, so most times that is not a problem. Her friend of the same age was going in the potty, and she said to her “I don’t know how to poop in the potty”. Parents have used all the usual encouragement, rewards, etc. They have tried to teach her to squat, even with her diaper on, to no end. Help.

  112. Christina says:

    My son is almost 3 1/2 and has been completely potty trained by 18 months. Then two weeks ago, he started holding his poop when we are away from the house. We bought a portable potty seat that sits on the toilet like we use at home, however he is still holding it until he is crying in pain and yelling for home. There are many times we are away and unable to make it home for him to go and we are going away for a week soon. Any advice? I told him it was a magic seat and his poop all went to the same place when we flush it.

  113. Dr. Heather says:


    YES, this is very common. I address this toddler personality type in my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started”. You’re right to take the pressure off, and don’t despair! You can’t force potty use, you can only encourage your little guy’s own internal maturation and readiness process. Check out my book for more ideas! If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can even borrow my book for free. Click on the box at the top of this page showing info about my book — enjoy, and let me know what you think!

  114. Kim says:

    Dr. Heather,

    My hubby and I have been having terrible issues with our son who will be 3 years old next month. Potty training has been pretty inconsistent. Some weeks, he does very well… Other weeks are hell! Recently, he’s become very shy about pooping. We’ll notice that he’ll start straining or trying really hard to finally push it out, but when we ask if he needs to use the potty or ask if he’s ok, he just says “Go away Mommy/Daddy” or “Don’t touch me” It’s really sad and I feel awful for him! So we’ve tried to lay off things that can cause constipation (like cheese and bread) and give him apple juice to help things along, but it’s just not working. Also, he’ll have skid marks or poop very little and this causes terrible diaper rash… It’s gotten so bad that I had to take him to the pediatrician who prescribed us this special cream for diaper rash. She explained that he’s not constipated and at his age it’s really common and to lay off potty training for a while… Which we’ve done, but now, he’s even shy about going poop in his pull up! I understand (from what I’ve read) that this can be a control issue… We’ve even offered to leave the room or leave the bathroom so he can poop in peace, no judgement, and that’s not working! When he does finally poop, we give him praise “Thank you for telling me, now let’s go change you” or “Thank you for telling me, next time tell me before so we can sit on the potty together”… At this point, he’s lost all interest in the potty, won’t even go pee! I understand this can be pretty common for a boy who is almost 3, but I’m up for any and all suggestions… Please help!!!

  115. Dr. Heather says:


    I know it’s hard to de-escalate the emotion when he’s hurting, but take a deep breath and go slow and quiet when he’s panicking. Then try to prevent the crisis by seeing if he will “try” the potty before it gets painful. Talking to him when he’s in a panic won’t work, because he’s upset. You want to talk about it when he’s calm. Then talk — a lot — about how his body hurts because the poops want to come out. Try being silly — my toddler thinks it’s hilarious to say that the poops are pounding on her tummy, saying “Let us out! We want to go for a swim in the potty! Get us out of here!” And they won’t stop pounding until you push them out for a swim. THEN your tummy feels SO MUCH BETTER!” Follow his doctor’s advice, and try everything you can to encourage him to let it out. Hold his hand while he is trying, let him watch a video, give him rewards for going — see what seems to have traction for him, what really motivates him uniquely, and go with it. Try these things and check back in with me if you like!

  116. Trina says:

    My 2.5 year old son is in almost the same situation as Stephanie’s original post, the only difference is he cries when he is holding it in and keeps saying “it hurts” (we’ve had constipation issues in the past that have hurt a few times). We also have a 2 month old baby which has made my son more sensitive to the situation, and now when he cries he only wants mommy. Our ped has told us to increase his miralax dosage, my question is how do we try to remove all emotion from the issue but still try to reassure him that it won’t hurt when he is so upset?

  117. Dr. Heather says:


    She’s still fairly young, so you have some time here. Let her decide — the main thing is to AVOID CONSTIPATION. It really hurts, and she won’t forget. So if she’s more comfy with the pull-up, so be it. When she seems interested in the potty, try again, and support her — but let her know it’s her decision. You can offer and suggest — but let her decide. Check back in with me again if you don’t see any progress in a few months!

  118. Dr. Heather says:


    How old is he exactly? MANY boys master the pooping in the potty process sometime between 3 and 4. Something somehow kicks in that helps them make the choice themselves, and it often happens rather suddenly — as long as there is not undue pressure. You can try low-key small rewards, as long as the rewards don’t seem to trigger resistance in him. If he’s on the young side of 3, try again — gently. Suggest the potty at the time when he usually goes. Ask him where he would like the potty to be. See if he wants to try at the same time his brother goes. If he’s 4 or nearly there, make sure your pediatrician knows about the intermittent constipation, and see if there needs to be a behavioral or developmental evaluation — sometimes a speech/language delay can complicate things.

  119. Shannon says:

    Ok I have pretty much the same issue has everyone else, my DD will be 3 in a few weeks and has been “pee potty” trained for about 8 months but as for pooping no such luck. After a few very hard constipated/suppository situations she is now holding it for days on end. Miralax and pro-biotics help but still will not go on the potty. My question is doo we put her back in a pull up until this is under control or keep buying new panties?

  120. Jessica says:

    We have a similar situation to all of the others. Our 3 year old had some constipation problems before we even began potty training. We made sure that was all clear before we started. He has mastered peeing and wants to every time he sees a toliet. He pooped three times and then never again. He started withholding it again and we worried about going back to the problems before so we stayed with Miralax and backed off as you suggested. That was a few months ago. When should I try again to get him on the potty?

    He watches his older brother all the time, we have dumped the poo in the toliet when he goes in his pull up and he flushes. We have tried to explain that he will feel better when it is all out, almost all of the suggestions…But he shows no interest. Any suggestions?

  121. Katlin says:

    Heather I have let her wear a diaper when I noticed that she really has to go. I have given her miralax every morning and she is eating very good foods which will help her go also. Last night she fell alseep and then jumped out of bed and started pacing again ran into my room knowing she has to go. This morning she had a little poop in her diaper but just a little smear. I kepted telling her the poop needs to come out to keep her healthy and that it is not good to keep the poop inside our body but she is in control. my husband is getting frustrated and wants to give her something but I told him that if she relaxes then she will go. She is not contipated but just holding it in. Sooner or later she will not be able to keep it in and she will realize that she did it on her on without our help.

  122. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Katlin,

    Will she go if she has a diaper?If so, have her use that. Obviously it’s important she doesn’t hold it in indefinitely. Has her doctor suggested Miralax or something similar to really make her poops soft? This makes is difficult to keep in. Sometimes it takes a couple of weeks to get the dose right. Talk to the doctor.

    Also, I don’t think it’s realistic to hope that she will “want to go on her own” at this point. I think now that’s it’s gotten to this level, she needs to experience first hand that the poops will come out — and that it won’t hurt her or be too scary. Sometimes, toddlers just need to go through it a few times to see that it’s going to be OK when it comes out. So this becomes a process of encouragement and a building sense of inevitability — you as her parents want her to master this herself. If she can’t, then you will have to take steps into your own hands via the suppository etc. Don’t use it as a threat, but instead a simple, matter-of-fact process of needing to monitor her health. The whole time, though, reassure her you want HER to take over this as her job — when she is ready.

    Other toddlers have the fantasy that they can “wish away the poops” — because in a way it’s true — if they ignore the urge long enough, the sensation does fade. Obviously not what we want either. Talk about how the garbage must go out of our bodies so we can stay healthy, even if she wishes the poop away. It still needs to come out.

    Try these things and give us your update! You can also bring this to my new Potty Page (the link is at the top of the page), where folks who buy my book “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training Your Toddler” come to discuss their potty questions. Join us!

  123. Katlin says:

    So I made an earlier post about my 3 1/2 who is scared to go poop. I have started your advice and she hasn’t gone poop in 8 days, she has been showing signs of having to go, she paces around the house and wants me to hold her and then when that feeling passes she is fine. This has been going on for a couple of days and it still is holding it in. My husband and I have done good about not sayi g anything to her but 8 days it a long time to not poop and we don’t think it’s good for her to not go that long but we want to make her want to go on her own. Is there something we can do to maybe help her to go without pressuring her? I tell her she can go whenever she wants but I know she has to really go.

  124. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Pinky2,

    I know it’s hard, but don’t let outside pressures like preschool lead you to push your girls before they are ready. This can really backfire and make it more difficult in the long run. You don’t mention how old your girls are, but many children often aren’t day-trained until 3 or even 3 1/2. Follow THEIR interest and willingness to potty train — and please come back soon, because my NEW potty training book — “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training Your Toddler” is coming out THIS MONTH. In the meantime, check out all the other comments in this post for lots of tips and ideas! Good luck, busy mama! It WILL happen, hang in there — and look for a preschool that will help you with the potty learning process.

  125. Pinky2 says:

    Hi dr.heather this is pinky2 I have the similar problem like others.actually I have 3 kids twin toddler girls & a infant boy I really want my girls to potty train soon but they don’t want to sit on potty iam trying & trying my elder one holds the poop and afterwards when I make her wear diaper she poops in diaper but not at all in potty but my younger one gives me signs & she even doesn’t want to wear diaper but when I force her to sit on potty she refuses & sometimes cry I want them to go to pre-school.shall I try potty training in 3 days or u think I have to wait further plz let me know your suggestions I’ll really appreciate your help thank you.

  126. Dr. Heather says:

    Dear Unique,

    This sounds like it could be a medical issue, because you’re saying that is always in pain. Eliminating the source of the pain is the #1 priority. Work on that with his doctor, and if his doctor can’t help, ask around to find one who specializes in a kind, expert approach to toilet training. Then come back and see if we can help more!

  127. Dr. Heather says:

    Dear Frustrated,

    First, check with her pediatrician about what is recommended, to see if there is a medical issue, and also to ask your questions about “how many days: etc. Then, check out the comments section in this post — at last check, there were 156 — so there are lots of ideas here that might help. Then, adopt a “fresh start” approach with your daughter. Tell her you’re there to help her, and you promise to work with her to find a solution that will help. Try some of these ideas and let us know what happens.

  128. Dr. Heather says:


    This is a complex case, and I really recommend you reach out to your son’s treatment team for a referral to a behavioral specialist with expertise in this area. Not easy to find, I understand. But hopefully there is someone available who can get to know your son and family well enough to find the best ways he learns. Perhaps he responds best to PECS cards, or maybe to rewards and incentives, or maybe simple modeling. This will be an individualized process, and should be treated as part of his overall IEP/treatment plan. Good luck and let us know!

  129. unique says:

    My 3 year old son is peeing in the potty and he sleeps without a pamper for 2 months straight. He hasn’t sat to poop since never . Even as an infant he couldnt lay down or sit to have a bowel movement. He asks for a pamper to poop and when he does he looks like he is in pain. He stool isn’t hard and he isnt constipated can anyone help him?

  130. Frustrated says:

    I’m not going to do the same story all over again. Same issue 3 year old girl holding. How many days without poop until we should be worried? All the talk is about potty training but what if she won’t even go in diapers? How much fiber until its impossible for her to hold it? We also supplement with flax oil and prune juice. Please help!!!

  131. Aimee says:

    Any advice for a mother of a non-verbal autistic child? He autism really only affects his speech, so at 5 he has the same vocabulary as an 14 month old. He has been holding his poop since Thanksgiving, that’s right, about 5 months. He wiggles and screams randomly just as other parents have mentioned and we get so many poop smears everyday. He gets enemas every 7 days (per doctor recommendation) to keep him from getting too impacted. He fights like crazy and we’re all exhausted afterword. I don’t know what to try. He’s non-verbal so he won’t nderstand anything I try to tell him. Maybe we should try getting him on the toilet more? By the way, he is still in diapers, haven’t figured out how to potty train him yet since I can’t explain anything to him verbally. Any suggestions there would also be early appreciated

  132. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Katlin,

    Of course this should be decided by her doctor, but if the doc says it’s OK to forego the enema, that would be my vote. Some children feel very upset by enemas and suppositories. But yes, go ahead and remove the pressure, but DO talk with her about the process. Talk about how the body works, and why pooping helps us be strong and healthy. Let her watch you in the bathroom. Follow her interests, which often emerge after a potty training break. And please do read all of the comments in this and related posts for many other tips. But for now, back off, keep up the super high fiber diet, and tell her that SHE is the boss of her body. Come back and check in here if you need to!

  133. Dr. Heather says:


    Luckily, she is still quite young, so you have time to be relaxed about this. For now, start talking regularly about her body and how it works — how the food goes in her tummy, and she uses the good stuff to grow big and strong, and then has to “take out the garbage” — just like you put the garbage out for the trucks to take away. Otherwise it gets all stinky and yucky, just like garbage. Maybe even let her smell old garbage, just for impact. So pooping out the garbage is important. But she clearly got frightened by something — open up a path of dialogue about it. Ask her if her bum hurt from pooping before. Take her into the bathroom while you do your business, and explain what is going on. Talk about how good your tummy feels after you’ve gone. Follow her interests — if she likes puppies, let her watch them doing their business. Potty books and videos are good, too.

    Then, talk to her about how she seems scared of going on the potty, but reassure her that one day, she will feel like being a big girl, and want to try the potty. She will be allowed to try if she likes. But she will not be forced to go. Talk about it in a nonchalant way, letting her know it will happen when she’s ready. Be confident and reassuring about it, but no pressure.

    Don’t offer rewards again until she seems interested and asks about it. Clearly, she feels pressured, and rewards can sometimes backfire that way. Follow her lead, and I bet she will show you the way. Let me know!

  134. Dr. Heather says:

    Dear Jennifer,

    I can hear how upset you are. Please ditch the guilt, and instead try to use this as a learning experience. It certainly won’t be the last time you encounter a tricky situation in parenting — we often don’t know the “right” answer, and need to modify as we go along. That means this is an opportunity to demonstrate to your daughter — over and over, in a calm, reassuring way, that you are trying new things now to help her poop. Repeat your reassurances to her that you’re changing direction. Don’t feel you have to beg for forgiveness, but rather be matter-of-fact about it. You tried something that didn’t work. Now you will try something else that might work better. You’re modeling problem-solving for her.

    Let some time pass. Keep up the Miralax and whatever else her doctor recommends, and go over these issues with her again and again. Children often need to process complex issues a million times before they get past them. Try to be patient and reassuring. If your doctor says you are clear to wait and let the Miralax work, without the suppositories, go ahead and tell your daughter you will NOT use the suppositories. If you can avoid it, it really helps, because children often do feel very violated and upset by them. The Miralax often takes several weeks to work properly and for you to find the right dose, so do keep at it.

    Try this approach and then come back and let us know what happens in 3 weeks or so! Please ALSO read ALL the comments in this and other related posts here — you will find lots of other good tips. Good luck and go easy on yourselves :))

  135. Katlin says:

    I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter and I have dealing with her holding in her poop for some time now. We moved three weeks ago and she held it in for 7-8 days and finally we had to give her a enema. Now we are on day 7 again and we have been giving her flaxseed meal everyday and prune juice. Now I read you article and it makes sense and I really want to try what you said but I want to know should I go ahead and give her another enema or just start the process with no talking about pooping at all and see if the poop comes naturally?

  136. Mary says:

    Our daughter is almost three and we began potty training with her four months ago. All seemed to be going fairly well, and when she would pee in the potty we would give her small rewards, (1 tiny teddy graham cookie). She even had one successful poop in the potty for which she got an even bigger treat.

    After a few days of successful potty training, she came down with a very bad cold and had a high fever, and because she was too tired to get up and use the potty, we put her back in diapers. She didn’t want to go back to the potty after this, and also suddenly started holding in her poops for reasons unknown to me. This presented itself as her squirming around all day and leaking small amounts of poop in diapers all day long. One day, I counted 21 changes, and as a result she got a terrible rash.

    The doctor had us give her miralax, but the leaking did not stop. I changed her to benefiber, and the leaking / smearing got better, but she is still holding in her poop. After waiting many weeks, and out of frustration, I just put her in underwear, and she was almost instantly and easily pee-potty trained, to my surprise!

    She now wears diapers at nap and night, and poops in her sleep most nights, and the poop seems soft / regular. During the day, if she has an urge to poop, she screams, whines, cries and wiggles all day long, and it is unbearable for us all. What do I do to get her to poop on the potty during the day?

  137. jennifer couture says:

    Dear Dr. Heather, My daughte will be 4 in a couple of months. We potty trained her about 9 months ago and she was able to poop and pee in the potty with no problems. She wasn’t pee trained over night and we still used pull up’s for overnight. Recently 4-5 months ago she was constiptated and was having difficulties passing poop. We didn’t take action right away and things took a turn for the worse. She started holding it and my doc recommended Miralax. We tried the miralax which seemed to make the poop “gummy, sticky” it just would hang from her butt and she wouldn’t push it out. My husband and I tried everything from trying to scare her by saying if she held poop her tummy would explode to threatening suppositories. Looking back I know we screwed up really bad and both of us feel totally awful. I’m trying to be real here in that we are first time parents and have no background in child psychology and thought she would just go, but instead we made the poblem 1,000x worse. Now she is so scared to poop and constantly worried I’m going to give her a suppository. She cries and says “don’t put the medicine in my butt”. I have only given her 5 suppositories in her whole life, and none of them was easy and I felt awful afterwards. PLEASE help us. I feel so terrible and don’t know what to do. I read your article last night and my husband and I told our daughter we were so sorry, we pushed too hard and that we were going to let her choose when and where to go. Clearly she didnt understand. We were at the store that night and in the checkout she started screaming don’t put medicine in my butt and crying, shrieking and stiffening uncontrollably. We were just purchasing items no one was even looking at her or touching her. It was heartbreaking. I feel like a monster, although I know we didn’t do anything to hurt her. Please help. We are so saddened by this and just want to see our little girl happy and healthy, and feel awful and overwhelmed

  138. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, a complicated situation, but don’t lose hope. This is such a common problem! And very worth your continued patience. It’s not time to panic 🙂 Just because he is backtracking now in terms of pee doesn’t mean all is lost. He may make it up very quickly. It’s not that he CAN’T do it, but something is holding him back.

    Have you talked with him about it? Don’t be afraid to ask. He will pick up on your fear. Just don’t pressure him. What does he say? Can he express what is worrying him? Have an open mind and don’t pressure him, but ask him from time to time what is upsetting him about pooping. As his language develops, he may be able to explain his fears, giving you some hints as to how to reassure him. Follow his interests — does he accompany you or his Dad to the potty? Let him watch and inspect the whole process. Best yet is to watch an older cousin or friend he admires doing his business in the potty!

    Talk with him after he DOES poop about how good his tummy feels when he’s gotten the poop out. Point that out to him. Talk about how garbage trucks come and take away the trash, and how his body needs to do the same thing. See if any of this talk interests him. And always use an even, relaxed, matter-of-fact tone.

    You can also check to see if he might respond to a reward of some kind. Some children do very well with incentives. Consider a sticker or a single small candy like an M and M for potty success. You don’t want him to feel like it’s a big deal, but if a small reward helps — go for it.

    Finally, give him plenty of opportunities to have MESSY play. Strangely enough, many toddlers who are afraid of pooping are actually afraid of making a mess. If you give him some easy, fun experiences where he CAN make a mess, he may become less afraid of his own poop process. Good luck and please keep checking in so we can see what happens!

  139. Elizabeth says:

    My son will be 3 in a few days. In early January we tried to potty train him and the pee was under control in a few days. He pooped on the potty a few times but then started to hold it. He might have had a hard poop or been upset by an accident or 2 in his underwear? I tried putting him back in a diaper right away but he still would not go. We did see the Dr after having to use a suppository and were put on Miralax. I followed your 3 week advice about not mentioning it at all, using a diaper only(no pullup), high fiber diet and the daily miralax. I can still tell he is uncomfortable and holding it in. He was always a daily pooper and now routinely goes 2 days without. I can tell that he has to poop (runs in circle, can not sit down to play, makes huffing noises, says bottom hurts) and is very sad. There are many days when a tiny bit will come out several times .

    So where to go from here? It did not resolve itself and now his progress with the pee is all gone and I am scared to even start talking about the potty again. Thanks for your continued advice.

  140. Dr. Heather says:


    He’s telling you he still needs his diaper to poop. Many kiddos hang on for awhile to them — my upcoming book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training” — will offer you LOTS of ideas. Stay tuned until the big launch in April! In the meantime, read ALL the comments before yours in this post and the other Poop Withholding posts here — lots of good ideas!

  141. Dr. Heather says:


    If he never pooped much, I’m wondering if there is something medical going on. I’m glad he will be seeing a specialist soon — please make sure he gets a THOROUGH evaluation, and be sure to write down ALL your concerns ahead of time so you can refer to your notes during the appointment.

    Until then, talk with him — without pressure — about the fact that holding in his poops is bad for his body. Support him in pooping, but don’t pressure. Then, check back in after his appointment and let us know what the doctor says!

  142. Diana says:

    I’ve been having problems with my 3 yr old he just won’t go poopy but as soon as i put his diaper he goes ive tried so many things toys books candies even money im in desperate need of advice 🙁

  143. Kam says:

    My little boy is almost 3 and a half. He always seems to have had poop problems. He would have a routine of 3 days of pooping and then withholding for another 4-5 days. He’s been to the docs a few times but has now been referred to a paediatrician which we are due to go to next week. He has a very up and down approach. He seems to do so well and then suddenly withholds again. He can last out 6-7 days. He was potty trained when he turned 3 but for poops we juat had splat after splat. we bought kids underpant pads which meant he could still feel like a big boy but we could keep him clean easily. He’s in pain but manages to maintain a reasonably happy exterior. We’ve tried everything. Being positive. Being firm. Treats. Rewards. Not paying any attention. He has a healthy diet. We are currently giving him latulose and where we can some ground flaxseed. We’ve even seen a cranial Osteo which did prove useful but hasn’t had any lasting results. Perhaps it was just coincidental that after a couple of sessions he was due his poop. Anyway….this entire process is so stressful. We have no idea what to do. We ask ourselves why? How has this happened? He was breastfed for 14 months so perhaps that played a part? He didn’t poop much during that period but I was told that was due to him keeping the breast milk goodness and there wasn’t much excess. The main thing now is that we do the right thing going forward. We can’t work out what it is that makes him go. We are just about to order the dog that poops play doh! Lets see if that helps! Any advice would be welcome.

  144. Dr. Heather says:

    Dear Nancy,

    Ask him if he is afraid. Try to explore his feelings without jumping in to urge him back to the potty. Is he afraid something bad will happen? What scares him? Does he watch others go in the potty? Will he allow you to sit with him and hold his hand as he tries? Or to watch his favorite show if he tries? Allow him to use a pull up — EVERY DAY — in order to get in the habit of daily pooping. But have him use his pull-up next to the toilet, to at least strengthen the association. Keep talking with him about his fears. How long has he been getting the Miralax? That should eventually make it more difficult for him to hold. Try these steps and let us know if 3 weeks or so how it’s going — of course, coordinated with his doctor!

  145. Dr. Heather says:


    You’re in a difficult spot, and I understand your concerns. It is important for your grandson to learn how to use the potty in a “standard” fashion. The other grandma surely just wants to relieve him of the constipation — I assume she means well — but she really should follow the pediatrician’s directions. You might mention that with the parents involved in Child Welfare Services, all the grandparents should be especially mindful of the children’s living conditions and your childcare approaches. Anything unusual could be misinterpreted. In the meantime, go with the pediatrician’s plan for decreasing the constipation, and increase your contact with her so you both can collaborate as much as possible, in the best interests of your grandson. Good luck!

  146. Nancy says:

    I am very relieved to not be alone in this, but I am also starting to become quite worried. My son is nearly 4. He withholds for 4 days. I have no idea how he can hold it so long. By day 3, he wants to laze around because he knows it calms the ‘urge’ to go down. He’ll play for a bit, then just want to lay down. I try to encourage him to be active with fun things, without stressing the fact that he needs to poo. He knows he does, he knows what that feeling is, and he knows how much better he feels when he goes. We will “practice” on the toilet – and then he says it’s not working I need a pull-up. I am so stressed out that he is holding it for so long that I am willing to do whatever it takes for him to go, so we let him use a pull-up. We are “practicing” on the potty, but he won’t go. He’s actually even scared to go at all, but only will grudgingly go in a pull-up every 4 days. We are now giving him miralax every night (without him knowing).
    We did stress the issue around 3, much like the stories above. Told him he’s a big boy and it’s time to go on the potty. He did once. At his granny’s. He got rewards and praise. Never since.
    I cannot believe he can hold it so long. I know it hurts him. I’m scared.
    Help please!

  147. Tanya says:

    My grandson is 4 and has been taken out of his parent’s home for neglect. He has recently made great strides in potty training, except for the bowel movements. His pediatrician has put him on the Miralax to soften his stools but I need some clarity on a situation that has recently developed with the other grandmother. About a week ago, she told me that when he was trying to go, she laid a towel down on the floor and had him lay on his back while she rocked his legs. He was able to pass the stool. Then a couple of days later, she told me that he was having trouble again and she offered up the towel but he didn’t take her up on it. Yesterday, she did offer up the towel and he did have his bowel movement while laying down. Am I crazy to be concerned about this? If not, how can I convince her that although her intentions are good, she is teaching him that the only way to go is by laying down?

  148. Dr. Heather says:


    Poor thing! It sounds like he is afraid the poops will hurt again. You can’t blame him. If he still is having hard stools, perhaps it’s time for the doctor to try a different stool softener instead. Ask if something like MiraLax would work. It should make his poops so soft that it’s really not possible for him to hold it in when he needs to go. It may take some time to find the right medication and dose, so don’t despair, and hang in there. Along the way, talk about how you’re sorry his poops hurt. You and the doctor will help him with that. Poops are not supposed to hurt. You will make sure. Lots of talk can help, as his language develops more and more. Show him how everyone in the house poops without pain, and show him the results in the toilet. Talk about how good it feels when the poop is all out.

    Let us know what happens and good luck! (And thank you for the nice compliments!) 🙂

  149. Dr. Heather says:


    At the age of 4, I always recommend parents take their children to the pediatrician to get specialized help. This may involve a medical evaluation, and perhaps a behavioral specialist as well. If he DOES have IBS or some similar medical issue, THAT needs to be addressed first. If your pediatrician doesn’t seem to have answers, try another one who specializes in potty training issues. Good luck and let me know what happens!

  150. Dr. Heather says:


    Luckily, he is still fairly young, so you have time. But I understand your concern. It sounds like he may be experimenting with whether he is (or is not) able to “will away” his poops. Because if he tries long enough, the nerves in his colon DO get de-sensitized, and the sensation to go disappears for awhile. Many toddlers do this as a way of exploring their newfound sense of control over their bodies.

    Of course it’s not something we want them to hang on to, though. Show him — in person — how people in your house poop. Show him the process, and the results in the toilet. Talk about how good your tummy feels when the poop is all out. When he does poop, make a pointed (but understated) comment about how good HIS tummy feels, now that “the garbage has been taken out”. And if he likes the “garbage” metaphor, show him more about how we make garbage in the house. It goes into the trash can. Then the garbage guys come in a big truck to take it away, or else it would get all stinky and yucky in the house. Maybe let him see (and smell) stinky garbage to drive home the point. Then talk about how he needs to take the garbage out in his own body.

    When he does need to go but is trying to hold it in, comment on what he is doing. “You’re holding in your poops, I see. It is hard to do that. What if I hold your hand while you get the garbage out of your body?” Or some similar supportive comment. If he refuses, don’t insist. But don’t give up, either.

    All of this will benefit by the explosion in language development that happens in typically developing children at this age. Each day, he understands more and more about what you say, and what he’s supposed to do with his poops. Encourage, talk about it, remind, and try new things. Over time, most children begin to let go a little bit as their own sense of control over the world grows as they do. Let me know what happens!

  151. Emily says:

    Thank you for such a fabulous article and feedback in the comments. My 24 month-old son is not potty trained and only sits on his training potty for fun when he wants too. We do not push it at all. For most of his life, he had 1-4 bowel movements a day, but a few months ago got sick with very bad diarrhea and ever since then he has not had as regular of stools. Lately, it has been getting to be very bad, going 3-5 days in between movements and then having a painful bowel movement that makes him afraid to poop again. We’ve tried ignoring it, praising him, and even withholding things until he goes, but it seems to be hit-or-miss on working. I’m very worried that he’ll get permanent damage from holding his poop in and, of course, the more he holds it, the more it will hurt when it comes. The doctor has him on Milk of Magnesia and I have him on an extremely high fiber diet, but he still will hold his bottom, struggle to keep it in, and then get distracted with something. Do I let him go several days and keep ignoring it? I tried that for months and it didn’t work, now I’m worried about damage to his system. Any advice on how to help him have regular, daily bowel movements would be greatly appreciated. Thank you”!

  152. Crystal says:

    My son is turned 4 in November I am having the worst time potty training him when it comes to number 2. He has peeing down hes great at it but when it comes to pooping its a no go. Tonight he has really bad diarrhea and he always holds it he has been doing this for months I keep telling him to use the toilet you will feel so much better but he doesn’t want to. I do believe he has IBS and hes afraid but now its so bad that his body isn’t allowing him to withhold anymore and now its exploding in his pullup and on the floor. I had to clean the bathroom twice today. I saw him go pee and poop at the same time all over the toilet I wanted to cry.

    Please give me some advice I can’t take this anymore. .

  153. Candice says:

    Hi Dr Heather

    My Son is 26 months old. He has always had a bit of a tricky tummy, but for the last 8 months we have had issues with him trying not to poop. We have him on Restorolax which does tend to help, but the problem is he can go for 4 or 5 days without pooping, and then he has a splurge of 6 to 10 movements in 24 hours (and then the cycle repeats). As you can imagine his daycare mom is not too chuffed with this when it happens. His stool is soft so getting it out is not the issue. it just seems like he really, really does not want to poop. He hides in corners and we can see him bending and contorting trying to hold it in. When he does poop he doesnt want anyone to see him (he hides in the closet if he can). We have tried the whole “you are amazing and wonderful and well done good boy when he does go”. We try and make it fun and seem like a wonderful thing that he has done, but this doesnt work. We are not even going down the route of potty training until we can get him regulated. We have a potty at home that he can see and look at but we dont push the issue. Other than keeping him on stool softeners and using sapositories (which we really dont want to do) we are not sure what else to do

  154. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, MANY cultures train their babies at very young ages. Even Americans did it in the past — but disposable diapers and modern conveniences have made it possible to wait to toilet train until our toddlers can help with undressing, dressing, hand-washing, etc. But yes, even tiny babies can be trained to go without diapers! I discuss this in my upcoming book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training”.

    For now, tell her she can go in her diaper if she wants. She is young enough that you have time — don’t worry. The Pedialax should help ensure her poops are soft. Talk with her pediatrician to make sure this is OK — Let her go where and when she wants, but do talk about how good her tummy feels when she does get it all out. Once she forgets about the fear — and it’s soft and easy to go — and maybe she sees a cousin or you going on the potty and she wants to be like a “Big Girl” — you can try again. But back off for now and try again in a few weeks. And let me know what happens!

  155. Dr. Heather says:


    Sorry she’s having so much trouble! Have you tried sitting with her while she is on the potty? Holding her hand and talking her through it? Difficult with a crawling baby, I realize 🙂 Talking with her about the fact that the poop needs to come out “for a swim”? That you will make sure it doesn’t hurt? Or maybe she is the kind of child who responds well to rewards or incentives? Basically, my overall approach is to try everything in a NON-coercive way for as long as possible before resorting to the more coercive method of suppositories. But if you do need to use one (and it sounds like you may need to, ask your pediatrician) — don’t feel guilty, and explain why you need to do it, using a soothing and reassuring tone. Also talk about what you all can do together (like trying sitting on the potty to poop after every meal for a few minutes, or whatever has the best chance of working) — so that her tummy and bum can start working together so she’ll feel better. Please keep me updated!

  156. Myriam says:

    Hello, my baby girl is 25 months old in my family and culture kids get potty train at 10 to 12 months old (crazy i know but it works for them) anyways, two weeks ago i started potty training, by the 3rd day she started having fears with the pee, and not even trying to go poop. Then in a week she was over her fear of going pee and goes pee everywhere we go in toilets. The problem is that she will not get over the pooping fear or i dont know what it is. I changed her diet big time with more fiber in it. Gave her by dr orders pedialax, but she still doest want to go and she holds it. When she feels she has to go she tells us and we all run to the potty but when is time to push she cries and stands up. We have been keeping her in the bathroom with shower on and reading books but she will not go. The only way she does is with a suppository that she hates. But im just so afraid of her getting hard stools again if i just ignore her. It make sense what you said about forcing kids to do anything but im very concern and stress out.
    thank u.

  157. Kayla says:

    Dr. Heather,
    My daughter will be 3 in March. A year ago she was fully potty trained, however I had a baby 7 months ago and she will not go poop in the potty. When the new baby was first born, she had a stool so hard that it made her bleed, poor thing. Since then she refuses to go. She holds it continuously for an entire week without a hint of poop in her pull-ups and we give her Miralax every day. She would hold it for so long that her tummy would stick out. We would have to do suppositories to make her go. She would be so backed up and miserable. How long should I wait to give her a suppository? I seriously think she probably could have held it for another week, which I know is not healthy but she is miserable. I want her to be in control of her own body, but I also do not want her to get sick from holding it back too much. What should I do?

  158. Aimee says:

    Hi Dr Heather,

    I wrote at the beginning of the year about my daughter who had a very difficult poo around New Year and since then has continued to withhold her poo on and off. She recently had a week of withholding, which finally was resolved with using lots of movicol. She did a big poo (but not an uncomfortable one, as in she didn’t get upset) last Friday, and then 3 really nice soft ones on Saturday (again without a problem, she was in such a good mood), one one Sunday but she has started to get her fear back again, getting upset when she can feel the poo coming and holding on to it – she didn’t do any yesterday or today (so far). It’s so upsetting for me as I just want her to be happy (she is so happy when she gets them out) but she just won’t give up – I try to explain why the poo needs to come out, we have various kids books on the subject now which we read together – she does know that poo needs to come out but when she is in the ‘throws’ of the panic about the poo she won’t listen to me and I am at a loss as to what to say to her. She is upset and seems to want me to ‘fix it’ but of course won’t let me intervene to actually physically help her. I just need some advice on how to react when she is withholding – ignore her? Sympathise? Keep telling her she has to push it out to feel better? At what point should a child psychologist get involved? I don’t want us to have to deal with this for years and years…. 🙁 Thank you.

  159. Dr. Heather says:


    It sounds like she might have a problem with constipation and pain? Perhaps she had a hard poop that hurt. Ask her doctor if something like Miralax might help. (Sometimes it takes awhile to get the right dose and the right effect. Keep trying.) Talk to your daughter, too, about how maybe she had a poop that hurt and she wants to try to make it go away so she won’t have to hurt. But she is old enough to understand that poop is like the garbage — it needs to go out of our bodies, or else is gets yucky and hurts our bodies. She can make the feeling go away by holding it, but the poop still wants to come out. Or maybe you can joke with her about how to poop is really excited to get out of her body so it can take a swim in the potty! Kids love gross jokes like that 😉

    Don’t make a HUGE reward for success, either, because you can’t sustain that. Have her help select a small rewards, and don’t over-do it. Try that and let me know how it’s going.

  160. Dr. Heather says:


    This is only one of the FIRST times that you’ll have to cope with someone else “tut-tutting” your decisions as a parent! YOU know your child better than anyone else. If you feel you and he are working out a way forward together, that’s what matters. Now if he gets a bad rash, you want to avoid any pain associated with pooping, so think about putting a thick ointment on his bum before he goes to protect his skin (if that’s OK with the doctor). Otherwise, take all the other steps — let him watch you in the bathroom, follow his interest, show him other children and/or books doing it — and let him know HE is in charge of his body. Good luck!

  161. Brittney says:

    My daughter was potty trained as of a 6 months ago. She is now almost 4 and has after 6 months of regular pooping in the potty with no issue reverted to withholding it. It has been 4 days and she is still not going. We have been encouraging her by sitting and talking with her while she is going but leaving when she asks us too. We have always kept a diet rich in cranberry and light on the cheeses and bananas for her since her regular poop seemed difficult for her to push out. We have tried children’s stool softener and still no results. She will tell us that she has to go but does not want to try to go. We have gone back to the potty training methods that worked with her so easily last time but it feels like we are constantly back tracking. She is still in her underwear and wants to stay in underwear but won’t go poop. She went one time last week but not much, just a little droplet. She was very excited about that and we rewarded her by a special book and her favorite activity with daddy. But that was the end of the success. Now what?

  162. Lisa says:

    Dr heather, I am getting very stressed about my son, 3 and 3 months, and I am afraid I am making it worse by being so stressed. He trained within a week to do his wee in the potty and then the toilet with no problem, but he has only ever done about two poos in the potty and none in the toilet. He holds on to it until night time or nap time when the nappy goes on and then he goes. The poos are quite soft, and he has always had a big problem with nappy rash, so even if the poo is only in the nappy for a short time he gets a bad rash. I was relaxed about it and thought it would sort itself out eventually, but the public health nurse at his last developmental was tut tutting and my childminder is making noises about it as well, so I got the potty back out and I’m trying to get him to sit on it every evening. He has so much self-control he doesn’t respond to bribes or promises of a treat etc, and he doesn’t get tv or chocolate or anything like that anyway so these would be real treats. Now I’m afraid I’m making it worse by forcing him to sit on the potty, cause he just sits there for as long as he has to, then does it in his nappy anyway. Help!!

  163. Dr. Heather says:


    Sounds like you have done a great job handling his ambivalence about pooping. It’s understandable that he’s still a little mixed up about the process — he’s pooped in his diaper his whole life until just a few days ago! But you’re right, he IS old enough now to push him a bit. Talk with him about how good he felt after pooping like a big boy, and tell him you understand he’s scared again — but you will be with him, hold his hand, and even though he may be scared, he WILL be OK. At this point, going back to a pull-up might send him the message that he can’t handle it, so I wouldn’t do that. Just keep on the same path, steady and reassuring. Let us know!

  164. Dr. Heather says:


    He is on the young side for being poop trained, so this is good progress overall. Your son’s struggles are very common, and a likely scenario is that his bum did get sore once, and now he’s trying to avoid that. Now, he’s discovered that he can temporarily “wish the poop away”, since if he holds it long enough, the urge to go will dissipate.

    Really focus on making his poops so soft that he has difficulty holding it in. If his poops are still hard, talk to his doctor. Talk with your son about how his poop hurt him once, and you will help make sure that doesn’t happen. Also talk about how his body needs to get the poop out to be healthy — and how GOOD his tummy will feel when it is all out. Don’t worry about it if he wants you to wipe him after every bit comes out — anything that encourages him to stay on the potty and get it all out is worth the effort. After he gets more comfortable with regular pooping on the potty, you can start to encourage him to wait until the end to wipe.

    You can also offer little rewards if he DOES poop, if that helps him, but don’t put on too much pressure. Try all these things for a few weeks (maybe 3) — along with your no-pressure, supportive approach — and let me (and your doctor) know if it still isn’t working.

  165. Dr. Heather says:


    Did she have a painful poop recently? Perhaps that has her scared to go. Does she want to do it in a diaper, or does she just try to keep it in completely? Talk with her about how the poop needs to get out of her body, like her body “taking out the garbage”. But don’t expect her to understand the logic too much — she still thinks she can “wish away” the poop. The main thing is to be reassuring about pooping — hold her hand while she poops, think if a small reward might motivate her to get over her fear, and give her lots of attention and time together when you ARE together. Schedule special “big girl time” together every week. Give her a few weeks in this time of transition and let me know if you still need ideas. Good luck!

  166. Sally says:

    My son will be 4 in June and has been pee-trained since he was 2.5 with practically no accidents. Since then he has asked for a pull up to poop in and refused to poop in the toilet. We respected that he wasnt ready and didnt push it but now that its been over a year it seemed like it was time he needed a push. He isn’t scared of the toilet and will sit there watching the iPad butnwhen he feels the poop about to come out he freaks out and hops off the toilet. We tried toys treats etc but he said he doesn’t need toys treats etc! Finally we said no more pull ups and he held it in for 3 days during which we gave him lots of fiber and water. On the 3rd day he freaked out but finally pooped a LOT in the toilet. He was scared but I calmed him down and when he was done he was so happy and proud of himself. He was surprised and said it didn’t hurt and we got him a toy. I thought we had turned a corner but now it’s 2 days later and no poop. He usually goes daily but yesterday he said he wanted to poop, sat down on the toilet and then changed his mind. It looks like he is withholding again. I thought he’d be ok after a successful poop I the toilet so I’m kind of distressed. Any advice on what I should do going forward? Thank you!

  167. Justine says:

    My son is 26 mths old. He is pee trained during the day and has some success with bowel movements either on the potty or in his bedtime diaper.
    He recently got constipated and is now holding because I assume the poop hurt when it came out. I do not dicipline for accidents and he refuses diapers unless its sleeptime.
    He tells me he needs to “go potty” but won’t go. He’ll hold his bum with his hand and go off and play. This usually goes on for 3 days before he can no longer hold and it hurts coming out again.
    I have tried going back to diapers or pull ups just so he would poop. I don’t want him to get sick. He doesn’t want them and asks for underwear. What do I do? I know I can’t win a “power struggle” with this as its hs body.
    Also when he is pooping he wants me to keep wiping him after each poop til he’s done. Could he just not like he feel of being dirty? How do I stop his holding and when do I go to a dr about this?

  168. Patti says:

    My daughter is 3 1/2. She has been Potty trained since last June, pooping by her 3 rd Birthday in August. Just recently, Jan 1st or so? She is holding her poop in and refuses to poop. The pediatrician has her on Miralax. She is still holding it in. She cries when I put her on the Potty. I don’t know what to do? I just returned to work Jan 13, and her sister just turned 1. I think it has to do with both jealousy and mad that i am leaving? Help!! Patti

  169. Dr. Heather says:


    This is a very common problem, and one that usually works itself out. I will be addressing it in my upcoming potty training book, actually! For now, remember that pooping in the potty can be scary or strange for toddlers. Let her see YOU doing your business in the potty, talk about it, but let her know that SHE is in charge. If she wants a diaper to poop for now, so be it. Encourage her use of the potty — but don’t push. You can really risk constipation and other complications if you push. Let us know how it goes!

  170. Roopa says:

    My daughter was 3 in november and i have a issue
    With her poo in the potty. She is out of diapers
    for pee even in the night time. But she wants
    me to put her on diaper if she gets a poo. She
    sits on the potty for good time saying “am trying” but
    nothing happens, eventually she will ask me to put the diapers on
    and she wants to stand and go. But after lot of stickers / rewards
    she did a lil bit of poo in the potty 2 days back n now again back to normal – holding poo for 2-3 days. I have tried all those thats been mentioned
    In the above replies but i dont kno what to do now. Left it for
    2 weeks and started but no positive results. She is a very matured girl and understands everything. Am really getting frustrated as to what to do. But my mom told me that even i was like that as a kid that i never used to sit on the potty seat, and started going to between 3-4 yrs of age. Is it heriditary? Do u want me it leave it to her and take her own time. Pls advice.

  171. Dr. Heather says:

    At the age of 4, it’s time to take her to a specialist. Look for someone with training, expertise, and experience in working positively with young children. Also, make sure you and your daughter feel comfortable with the specialist. In the meantime, let her use a diaper until you get some professional help in moving forward with this. Please let us know what happens!

  172. Dr. Heather says:


    I know it’s frustrating, but toddlers have their own timelines in this issue (and many others). Is your daughter resistant in general? Have there been big changes in the family? What DOES work to motivate her in other areas? Think about these things as hints for how to move forward. Let me know and I can try to help further, if you like.

  173. Dr. Heather says:

    Pam! I’m so sorry. What a mess. You must be exhausted! YES, you do need help with this — what else can be done to ease his rash? Is there a stronger cream? Can he sit in the tub, maybe with an oatmeal solution? If it is easier for your son to poop in the tub, go ahead and let your husband keep up the bathing duties — the tub is like a little jacuzzi, soothing and relaxing his poor tummy. Tell your son that if it makes it hurt less to poop in the tub, by all means, go for it — and be ready when he does. Explain that when he poops, Dad will take him out of the tub to clean it, and he can sit in a towel while Dad cleans it up. Dad should NOT express frustration — just be matter of fact. Then re-pour the bath and get clean. Yes, it’s more cleaning and laundry, but all for the best in he long run. When your son is relaxed, talk about how poop belongs in the toilet water, not the bath water, and when he is ready and his tushie feels better, you can help him poop there. But until then, you want his bum to feel better so it doesn’t hurt.

    And yes, go ahead and see a developmental pediatrician who is comfortable working with toddler poop issues — any tips and help would be great for you all! Hang in there, and please give us an update!

  174. Dr. Heather says:

    I know it’s hard to be patient. but you must let him control the process. Let him know that you are ready and willing to discuss pooping. Tell him in an offhand way that the poop wants to come out — maybe to take a swim in the potty, maybe to make his tummy feel better, maybe because his body needs to “take out the trash”. But don’t pressure him. When is is ready to talk about it and try next steps, he will. If not, come back and see me here!

  175. Sridhar says:

    Our daughter is 4 years old. She wont go poop in the toilet bowl and needs a diaper. She does it standing. She can hold it for over 2 days – that is the maximum duration we refused to give her a diaber. She always insists on a diaper to go. We’ve tried many things but she cant over come this problem. Any suggestions what we should do ?

  176. Lianne Harvey says:

    My daughter was three in September and we had a real fight to potty train her but we did win with her pees eventually. She will happily take herself off and poo her pants but will not ask for the potty or toilet. When we get her to regularly sit on the potty or toilet she holds it in but can fill her pants five minutes later. She has been put on movicol but this has up just led to very loose stools in her pants which don’t bother her but are having a real impact on family life. I don’t feel it is necessarily best way forward but frustrated at her lack of interest at soiling. Help please.

  177. Pam says:

    Please help!

    This has been going on since around Thanksgiving. I think it was a combination of new wipes = rash, more people around then usual (to help me with bedrest), that let a poop or two hurt. Now, he does everything in his power to hold it in, and we are all miserable because of it. The dr said Miralax, which we do, but he still holds it in so only a little comes out at a time causing another rash. Sigh. He eventually goes when he can’t hold it anymore and goes multiple times for a few days in a row making rash worse. I really don’t know what to do. I just want him to feel better but he’s still too young to understand. He sits on the couch and holds on and whines to hold it in. He’s totally ready to be potty trained cause he tells us when he pees, but there is no way we should even try it while we’re dealing with this. (Potty training didn’t cause this, we hadn’t tried cause he wasn’t ready at that point.) Dr’s said next step was to see the developmental doctor which I’m not opposed to, but I’m 8 months pregnant with twins and about to lose my mind. I just want my little guy to feel better. Husband is currently giving him a bath because son has been miserable holding in poop today and it just seems to slip out in the tub. Please help.

    I’m 8 months pregnant with twins and need a solution, My husband and I are exhausted from this.

  178. Katie says:

    We are having a similar issue. We have been potty training my son (who will be 3 in may) since a little after his second birthday. We had some early success with both peeing and pooping but then months of a lot of accidents – both kinds. During this time we had a baby and we moved, so we weren’t surprised and just rolled with it. Now, he is pee trained for the most part (no accidents in a couple of weeks) but we are still struggling with the poop. At this point he is only comfortable pooping in a diaper (but will poop in his underpants in a pinch, no problem :\). We’ve tried stickers and candy, nothing has worked yet. He poops regularly (every day/every other day) and his bowel movements are really soft, so i know he’s not constipated. BUT, he definitely tries to hold the poop in. I can see when he’s doing it and he will often poop a little bit in his underwear. I am guessing it is a control thing, because the whole process (and just about everything else these days) is a struggle with him. Due to what I have read about this topic, I have relaxed about the poop and let him poop in his diaper at nap time (he wears underpants the rest of the time), trying not to react one way or the other. But I am wondering what the next step is – if anything. I am happy to back off of poop training and just have him poop in his diaper at nap time (with the occasional accident), but I’d hate to put him back in diapers full time after he has just made huge progress with the pee training. I should also mention that he wont communicate with us about it. He is very verbal but on this subject refuses to discuss it. Can you offer me any advice? Thanks!

  179. Laura says:

    My son is 16 months old and I feel he has been withholding his poops for a few months now, although I am wondering if he is too young to be able to or know how to do this. He will go several days between bowel movements, often having large ones in the bathtub. He has had a few painful ones. Several times a day, he will sit in a corner or under a chair and looks as though he’s fighting, trying not to let it out. At first I thought he was trying to push the bowel movement out, but I don’t think that is the case now.
    The other reason I think this is because I had the same problem around potty training time. I have many early memories and I remember doing the same thing. I remember that the reason I started withholding my poops was because I thought they would just go away. It started when I was playing and was too busy to use the bathroom and when I discovered I had the ability to hold them in, I did it all the time, thinking the poop would just go away. I remember drinking tons of Senekot, castor oil, and eventually moved on to enemas which were absolutely awful. I feel like no one talked to me about what was going on, and if they had, it might have made things easier.
    So, I don’t want to get to this point with my son. Thank you for the suggestions.

  180. Dr. Heather says:


    Sorry this is so tough on you all! By all means, yes, DO start talking with her about the poo process — more of it will sink in than you think. Try these: “Your tummy hurts because the poop wants to come out. It will feel SO much better when it does.” “Poop hurts when it stays in your tummy. It feels good when it is all out of there.” “When you are ready to try, I will hold your hand and you can try to push it out. Only when you want to.” Also, take her into the bathroom with you if she is willing. Let her see you going (I know, parenting is so glamorous), and tell her what you are doing. “My tummy hurts because the poo is wanting to come out. Now I am pushing it out. Watch! See? Now it is all out of my tunny. I feel SO much better.” The most important thing is the tone in your voice and the attitude you convey — that you sympathize, want to help her, and yet are centered and confident that it will all work out when she is ready to try.

    In the meantime, stay in close touch with her doctor and make sure there is nothing medically amiss. Staying calm and focused on a good outcome will help. And please keep us posted!

  181. Aimee says:

    Hi Dr Heather,

    My daughter who is 3 in March, has had problems on and off for several months now with constipation/holding poo in. She has been on Movicol (which I think is the UK version of Miralax) for a couple of months now, but we have reduced/removed it from time to time when it seemed to have been working for a while. She was doing easy-ish poos here and there and it seemed to be going OK, albeit with the odd difficult few days here and there. We took her off movicol for a few days just before Christmas and it flared up again, she went about 3 days without anything at all, and although she would run off and try to go (I should mention here that she isn’t potty trained – has shown absolutely no interest in it yet for either pooing or peeing and obviously while she has this problem I’m not pushing it!) nothing would come out. I knew we would have a big poo on our hands eventually but a couple of days ago it came to a head where she was literally screaming the house down, shaking, yelling at us like something out of the Exorcist and as a last resort I sneaked a glycerin suppository in her under the disguise of rubbing a bit of vaseline on there which we have done from time to time. After a short time this did produce a very large, solid but not terribly hard poo. She was understandably upset and I knew this would then result in more withholding – but in the meantime we had been giving her as much fibre rich foods as we could plus giving her her normal Movicol in her water. For the last 24 hours or so she has been withholding still, a tiny bit of poo has come out a couple of times and she has been so upset, and struggling so much I thought at one point she must have gone properly but when I checked there was nothing but a tiny smudge on her nappy. What was there was very very soft indeed and should not be painful to pass but she is so strong and is trying her best not to let any go past her bum. Anyway, I have been trying my hardest to follow your rules in your arcticle above, trying to ignore her obvious attempts at holding it in, not talking about pooing, trying to be laid back and not stressing ourselves or her out, but what I am concerned about is when she is clearly upset and coming to me crying, what do I do? She keeps saying ‘hurting bum bum’ and I just don’t know what to say to her. I could ignore if it didn’t really appear to upset her, but do you have any advice on how I can deal with comforting her through her tears but not talking about it etc. And also at what age can I start talking to her about the pooing process (as I notice that some of your responses above for slightly older children you mention taking them to behavioural therapists or discussing the situation with them). When should I say stuff like ‘you are in charge of your poo’ etc. I hope you can help, it’s so stressful for me and my family, she is such a happy little girl when the urge to go isn’t there, it just breaks my heart.

    Sorry for such a long post.


  182. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Trisha,

    1) If your daughter chooses to use the potty, be matter-of-fact – don’t make a big deal. A simple observation — “Oh! You are using the potty. OK, would you like me to help wipe you?” is the best approach.

    2) Don’t look at the 2-week break as a magical amount of time. Give everyone 2-3 weeks off of even thinking about potty training. After that time, watch your daughter for signs of readiness and respond in a minimal but supportive way.

    3) Don’t let her sit in a poopy diaper, even if she resists. Say,”I know you’d rather poop in your diaper, and that’s fine. That’s your choice. But I can’t let you sit in the poop, because it will hurt your skin and make you sick.” Then give her some time to get ready. “I will set the timer for 1 minute, and when it goes off, it will be time to get you clean. You can choose where to get changed. Do you want to be changed on the bed or on the mat on the rug? You decide.” Giving her some choice and control will help her share it with you. — And most importantly, make sure your own reactions are positive and low-key. Fake it if you don’t feel it! It will get easier.

    Good luck and keep me posted!

  183. TRISHA says:


    I just finished reading your article on toddlers withholding poop and have a few questions (our 2.5 year old daughter is having “poop” issues with the potty):

    #1 While taking a break from the potty for a couple of weeks, how should we react if she chooses to use the potty (and is successful)?

    #2 After a two-week break, do we bring up the issue of the potty again or do we wait for her to initiate it?

    #3 If she chooses to poop in her diaper/pull up and we go to change her bum (she often fights us on this too)…how should we handle that? Do I just let her sit in a soiled diaper until she decides she wants it changed?

    Thanks in advance for any insight you might be able to offer!
    Trisha =)

  184. Dr. Heather says:


    Try not to worry, but do take steps to help her poops get soft so that it doesn’t hurt her. Our typical diet often causes a lot of constipation, but making sure she has enough of the good nutrition to help her poop well is important. Talk with her doctor for help, and give your daughter a lot of reassurance about how you’ll help. Let us know!

  185. Dr. Heather says:


    Sounds like he is afraid it might hurt, so he holds it in and that DOES make it hurt. Ask your doctor about the Miralax, and in the meantime provide plenty of hand-holding and support while he tries on the potty. Praise him for even a few minutes of trying, and reassure him that you’re there to help pooping NOT hurt. Good luck!

  186. Dr. Heather says:

    After the age of 4, your son’s problems warrant the help of a trained behavioral specialist. Find someone who specializes in working with potty training problems, and someone who understands the medical issues as well. Perhaps there is a pediatrician or pediatric gastroenterologist who can help — or give you a referral. In the meantime, explain that the poop needs to get out, and that you will sit with him and hold his hand while he tries. Have him try at the time of day when he is most likely to go. Ask him if there is a small reward he might enjoy for trying — 5 minutes of trying gets a sticker or 5 minutes of screen time, or producing a poop gets him a TV show to watch or trip to the park — depending on what HE really likes and finds motivating. Good luck and let us know what happens!

  187. pen says:

    My son is 4 and 3 months like many other kids described above he became constipated around age two when we started him on cow’s milk. He experienced some hard poops and became increasingly afraid of pooping. He basically trained himself to withhold all day and poops every night but only when he is asleep and unaware. He is on miralax and has soft stools for the past year but he withholds during the day so he doesn’t know that it doesn’t hurt. We attempted to potty train but he only got the peeing down so we decided to let him do it at his own pace. However, the doctor recommended in his 4 year old check up that we should ask him to sit on the toilet after every meal. the problem is that he really doesn’t want too despite explenations and encouragements and we don’t want it to become a struggle… what are your recommendations?

  188. Lettie says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,
    My son will be 3 in November. We made the mistake of giving him Cheetos and all the other foods that would constipated a kid when he turned 6 month, we where excited he could have those kinds if foods. When he would get constipated I would do everything I could to help him. It finally got to a point he would hide to poop. He has been with holding poop since he was probably around 1 1/2. I have tried cranberry juice mixed with another flavor so it’s not so strong, apple juice and anything I thought would help him go. We are now working on potty training and he pees in the potty just fine but when he can’t hold it in any longer he will go to the potty and get up there and start saying ow and insist on getting down. I am about to contact his doctor and see about how much miralax to give him. We have tried the suppositories but I just didn’t feel right using them. I want to make it to where he doesn’t have a choice to hold it in and make it not hurt so he knows its ok to go. He is still in pull ups for nap, bed time, and when we go places. I just don’t know what to do. It will be around 4-5 days between his poops, when he goes its not a hard turd like if he was constipated. It’s soft and comes out easy. So to me it’s a choice to not go. Please help.

  189. amber says:

    I am the mother of a 3 yr old little girl. We have just begun to potty train her and she has been doing wonderful. She is able to tee tee but has a hard time pooping. Today makes a week that she has not pooped. I gave her a glycerin suppository and she only pooped a little afterwards. I’m so worried that she will get sick or have chronic constipation after all this. She has been regular since day one and now this happens. At my wits end and all I want to do is cry bc I’m worried. What should I do?

  190. Dr. Heather says:


    Often, kiddos feel the suppository approach is very invasive. It is a short term fix, in many cases. The challenge of potty training — for your child — is for her to learn how to be in control of her own body. This is a super important lesson, right? And suppositories take that control away. So now she is over-doing the control. I suggest you work closely with a pediatrician who specializes in these issues — either a developmental pediatrician or a pediatric gastroenterologist, or a regular pediatrician who specializes in potty training. Usually, this involves a 2-step process designed to first “clean out” your child (in a non-invasive way), which will increase her ability to sense and control her bowels properly. Then, there needs to be a sensitive plan created to allow your daughter the power to learn to control her body — her way. Your own stress and worry is bound to be adding to her stress, so it’s important you take a step back while you’re going through this process together. A therapist can’t make your child learn to use the potty, anyway — a good child therapist will work with the whole family to see where the stress is, and to help coordinate a child-appropriate plan for progress. Try this out and please let me know how it goes!

  191. Dr. Heather says:

    Dear frustrated Mom,

    Keep working with your pediatrician, and ask about daily MiraLax — which can take several days to work. Ask your son where and how HE wants to poop. Right now, the priority is to get him away from holding his poop — so he needs to be comfortable doing that. The suppositories can be felt as intrusive to little ones and should be avoided if possible. Constipation hurts, and it’s understandable that little ones hold their poop to avoid it hurting when it comes out. The more his poops are soft, and the less he (AND YOU) worries, the better.

  192. Dr. Heather says:


    Sounds like you’re right — your daughter decided pooping was to be avoided even before you started training her. This can be for several reasons. One could be that she once experienced pain with pooping, and she’s trying to avoid it. Another is she’s regressing a bit because of the twins. Another is that she might have a funny idea in her mind about pooping — is she able to magically wish away the poop with the power of her mind? Toddlers and preschoolers live in a fantasy world, by nature. I’d suggest you let her decide how, when, and where to poop. If she has accidents, let her choose between Pull-Ups and diapers. Let her accompany you to the bathroom every day (ah, parenting. I know.) Let her ease into it slowly and without pressure. Eventually she’ll see a Big Kid she wants to emulate, or she’ll have an easy poop, or some other “A-HA” moment. Until then, support her and give her space. Good luck!

  193. Dr. Heather says:


    I suggest backing off completely from potty training. Ask her where she’d prefer to poop. Diaper? Pull-Up? Potty? Up to her, even if it changes day to day. Watch her to see if there’s a time when she may actually poop — what triggers it? Is she relaxed? Afraid? What can you do to encourage her during those times? Keep your distance? Hold her? Also, let her accompany YOU to the potty — but don’t talk about it. Just make it a regular daily activity — no pressure. After she does poop, ask how her tummy feels. Better? Still hurting? You’re trying to establish a connection in her mind between how her tummy feels, and how and where she goes. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

  194. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,
    I am not sure if you are still following this post but I wanted to see if you had any advice for us. Our almost-3-year-old daughter withholds her poops. It started a few months ago and has progressively gotten worse – most recently after we gave her a suppository. She is on Miralax and is not potty trained at all – has never even peed in the potty. We haven’t tried to just “let it go” as you suggest. I guess I am worried about what will happen if she doesn’t go poop for a long time! Also, it is impacting her days – a lot of the time she doesn’t even get off the couch her tummy hurts so much. Do you think she needs a therapist? Something else? This is stressing everyone out in our family. Oh, and I should mention that we just had another baby this past summer and our daughter also started preschool this year! Thanks for any advice you can give me.

  195. Taz says:

    Just read this and I currently having the same issues with my 4yo
    He refuses to go and will hold it in for days resulting in many changes of soiled underwear a day
    I’m going to give your methods a try and hopefully get some results

  196. frustratedmom says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    I find your article very helpful and informative. I, too, am a problematic mother of a 3 year old boy. His bm problem started two weeks after I enrolled him in a supplementary school. Though, he really showed interest in coming to school (his class schedule is only 30 minutes twice a week), I think he became stressed out about his homework. He began holding in his poop for 3-4 days until it becomes hard and difficult for him to get out of his body. I decided to temporarily withdraw my child from school until he gets back to his normal bm.

    After the first 2 weeks of constipation, we went to his pedia and we were advised to increase fiber and fluid intake and she prescribed pedia suppository. Brought him back after a month and still got the same prescription. I even asked for a second opinion from a different pedia. He just prescribed protexin but still nothing happened. I’m a work-at-home-mom but could hardly get to work everyday because of this dillemma. I feel like I have already exhausted all information available in the net about toddler constipation. I switched his diet to more fibrous foods and lessen dairy intake. I also switched from formula milk to full cream milk and he’s only drinking 3-4 times a day (4-5oz per serving). My son is also a little finicky about food. He would eat the “normal way” (meaning, breakfast, lunch and dinner) on the first 2-3 days that he’s holding in the poop. But, comes the 4th day (doomsday) his food intake decreases and he would start demanding for more milk. The cycle has been going on for 3 months now and I’m starting to get more anxious (panicking inside!!!) about my son’s health condition. I understand that this is somewhat “normal” for kids at his age but like I said, I have tried every single approach I read or was advised and yet the result is still the same.

    I badly need your advice. Pleaseeeee….

    Big thanks,

    P.S. I’m planning to bring him back tomorrow to his first pedia and see what she’ll advise this time. 🙁

  197. Cathleen says:

    Help please – Our daughter is 2 years 10 months old. Last fall (when she was about to turn 2) we noticed her “doing the poop stance” about 10 times a day and only a little bit was coming out. We assumed she was having trouble pushing it out, so we finally took her to the pediatric GI a few months later. He said she is not having trouble getting it out, but is “hoarding it” and he suggested Miralax. we did Miralax until June, and it was almost worse, because she continued to go 10 plus times a day but now it was runny all the time. We had x rays and she was fine. So, we decided to wean her off the Miralax. Then I had twins on June 18. Two weeks after we were home we decided three in diapers was a lot and decided to potty train her. She got the pee immediately, but was scared of pooping in the potty and would poop in her underwear 10 plus times a day. So, we called the GI again and he said we never should have potty trained her and to restart the Miralax and put her back in diapers until we could figure it out. We went back to the GI and they did several blood tests thinking she may have Celiac disease and he said he thought Miralax was not helping and to do Milk of Magnesia every afternoon after nap and then have her sit on the potty after dinner. . All tests came back normal. The Milk of Magnesia was just making her have diarrhea several times a day and we just feel bad for her (she is also in preschool and that is no way to have to spend pre-school) so we took her off the Milk of Magnesia. She is still in diapers and we have not been pressuring her to go potty. My frustration is that it is not necessarily a potty training issue because it was all going on way before we ever even mentioned the potty. What should we do now? Please help!

  198. Mandie says:

    My little girl is 2 years and 3 months. She is not potty trained at all
    And holds her poop for days even with miralax and prune juice. She works so hard to hold it she strains and grunts. I know it is psychological but I don’t know how to help her understand she needs to go even in her diaper. And of course she can’t fight a suppository but I hate giving it to her b/c it’s not teaching her to go….she has no choice when she is given a suppository. Help!

  199. Dr. Heather says:

    @CJ’s Mom: I agree, it’s ridiculous to expect children this be to be uniformly potty trained. First, you need to deal with the constipation issue, which may be nutritional. His doctor may add medications for it as well. Once that is cleared up, let him know that he can take a break from potty training until he feels comfortable moving forward. In the meantime, ask his teachers for help and support. Good teachers of young children understand that this is a common problem and will have ideas.

  200. Dr. Heather says:

    This sounds like constipation, and really needs to be treated by a pediatric specialist who understands and works well with young children’s toileting issues. Keep asking around for referrals until you find one who can understand and has the experience in this sensitive area. Let your daughter know that pain when pooping can really complicate the potty training process and make it last much longer, with complications. Good luck!

  201. Debbe says:

    I have a granddaughter that just turned 3 on July 8th and for the last few months she cries when she has to poop and when she finally does poop it’s more like a wet fart or like a thumbnail of soft poop. Her bum is really really red as she poops like this 7 maybe 10 times a day. She has been to the pediatrician and the advise was a laxativ which my daughter did however it didn’t solve the problem. I’m concerned that when she attempts to poop it hurts and that’s why she cries. I’m worried and my daughter isn’t, any advice?

  202. CJ's mom says:

    Dear dr Heather,

    I’m desperate my son 3.5 year old it’s having a hard time pooping in the toilet or potty chair we start potty training few months ago he master peeing he’s doing great to the point he goes by himself now but he yet to poop in potty now the las two weeks he has been withholding and just little bit comes out he’s butt got raw so its painful when I clean him I put on diapers and tell him is ok to poop in diapers I just want him to relax and poop I been giving him prune juice but it haven’t work that much it have help but still he’s having a hard time he always had BM until we start potty training it’s that I notices he’s not pooping daily but the last two weeks have got bad and painful for him I want him to poop in the potty but right now I just want him to go back to having daily BM and of course be great if he can poop on toilet too. I think it’s ridiculous pre- school expect toddlers poop and clean there self in such an early age , eventually he would do it but if he’s not by age 4 he won’t be able to attend he’s preschool not more 🙁 so frustrating since we specially him loves he’s academy please help…..

  203. Brian says:


    Our son who is also 4 and has a soy allergy has had chronic constipation for about as long as we’ve know about his soy allergy. We’ve wondered if there is a link between soy exposure (it’s in literally everything and impossible to avoid completely). We had assumed that our son had a milk allergy because he reacted to milk formula. It wasn’t until later that we realized there is soybean oil in milk based formula (even the hypoallergenic ones) which is probably what he was reacting to all along. He is fine with milk now. Hope this helps!

  204. Lenora Lynch says:

    Hello Dr. Heather

    I am the mother of a four in a half year old son who has been withholding stool for quite some time. My story is very similar to the other parents who have replied here. After performing tons of research online I began trying everything, including but not limited to Pedia-Lax, Miralax, Flax seed oil, Mineral oil, adding fiber to his diet, and glycerin suppositories (regular and liquid).

    I must admit, I probably did not use the remedies which are taken orally (like Miralax) for enough time to cause his stool to be soft enough to pass while he sat on his feet, because I was very concerned with possible side effects. Additionally, when I tried suppositories it was extremely traumatic for both of us (he began running around the house, screaming, etc.), and only the first couple times actually produced a bowel movement. By the third attempt he was able to sit on his foot and withhold that as well.

    I was amazed, distraught, and everything seemed to start getting worse quickly; including pressure from both my family and friends towards me and my son. During that time, my son went from having a bowel movement once a week, to being able to hold it in for up to three weeks.
    As a nurse, I knew this was not very healthy, so I began searching the internet again and ran across your blog. What hit me the hardest was your advice to take the pressure off of my son. I advised everyone in my household to back off and fortunately they did. I backed off as well. I stopped trying to have him sit on the potty (which he absolutely refused to do) and stopped trying to reason with him or even mentioning anything about it. Unfortunately, he was still withholding and ended up going a month without pooping! I was aware that this is a process and was not expecting a magical cure to happen over night, but I was also aware that he HAD TO POOP. So I thought of something else to try, and finally it worked!

    What I did was waited until he went to bed for the night and had been sleeping for about an hour, then I gave him a liquid suppository. He slept through the administration but woke up within 30 seconds. At that time, he immediately sat up and attempted to sit on his feet like he normally did. So I picked him up, cradled him in my arms in a slight sitting position to keep his feet away from his bottom, rocked him back and forth, patted his back and tummy lightly, and calmly repeated, its okay, its okay. He cried a little bit, but was too tired to fight like he did during the daytime. As a result he had a huge bowel movement within one to two minutes, and immediately fell right back to sleep. I was so relieved and of course he was too!

    I have been repeating the process every other night since then and have been obtaining the same results. There is no more stool leakage and no more daily power struggle either!!!
    I know this is just the first step, but I wanted to share my success in an attempt to help anyone else who may be hopelessly struggling with this problem.

    I also wanted to thank you Dr. Heather for this article and all your wonderful advice!


  205. Dr. Heather says:

    Gillian, What does your pediatrician say? Make sure you are working with a pediatrics specialist who understands potty training issues. Often, medications, dietary, or behavioral changes can help. Aloha and let us know!

  206. Dr. Heather says:

    Yvette: A clinician who specializes in working with potty training issues sounds like an important next step. Make sure you find one with excellent credentials and experience. Ask around at pediatricians’ offices and at preschools, and among friends. Don’t make the mistake of waiting — in this situation, expert help can be very helpful, very quickly. Let us know what happens and good luck.

  207. Gillian MacNamra says:

    Hi i am a mother of 5 daughters and our youngest is having a nightmare with going for a poo she was great at the start but now its turned into her making about ten marbles a day in her underwear im at my wits ends with it now what can i do she is a very fussy eater so i suppose that has alot got to do with it



  208. Yvette Ortiz says:

    I have a 3yr old going on 4 in a couple of months meaning she starts preschool in the fall. She has been withholding her poop for almost a year now. There was a circumstance when all the withholding of pooping got her stomach to be overloaded and mini surgery was done to wash out the waste in her. Ever since she has been on Miralax and Mineral Oil. Every now and then she gets flushed out and poops but because she withholds she tends to get a bad rash leading to probably the reason she holds her poop we keep up with putting on prescribed cream on her but still she holds her poop. Sometimes when she needs to poop she hides in a dark place and holds it in. Does she need to see a therapist?

  209. Dr. Heather says:

    Please contact your pediatrician about your concerns — this may be a symptom of impaction, and needs medical evaluation. Let us know!

  210. Anand says:

    Dear Dr. Heather,

    I have a 3 year old son who goes to preschool. My son has had a constipation problem for a pretty long time, and he has been on Dupahalac on and off. For the last 1 month now, he has been off Duphalac and was doing ok. Till this week. Since the beginning of this week, he has not been urinating for 4-5 hours, when he’s in school. Till last week, he was OK, going pee in the school regularly, but this week, he just hasn’t been. Once h’s home, we ask him whether he urinated and he says no he didnt. Even once he’s home he’s unable to go pee immediately, everyday a big lock of poo has to first come out before he’s able to pee. Today he passed a really big stool after returning from school, and only after that was he able to pee. Nothing’s changed in his diet over the last one week. Any ideas why this could have suddenly happened? We are really worried!

  211. melanie says:

    Just about to start potty traing my 29 month old daughter again, tried a few months ago but would not poop so health visitor recommened stopping it as she may not of been ready and we had an holiday coming up, so going to try again this week, tip i was give from hv was when i know she needs to poop to get her to sit on her potty and blow bubbles with those little pots of washing up liquid, blowing stops her holding on to it. so going to try that plus reward charts and toys, problem is there is no way she will poop in front of anyone, she will only poop when noone is around so not sure how this is going to work. not looking forward to it!

  212. Amanda says:

    Reading all this helps me so much! Im going to try all of this. Im a single mom living at home with parents and a brother who happen to think they are her parents as well. Its very frustrating because my instincts as her mom tell me to do everything you have said to do. They however suggest making her sit on the toilet for so long and she cries and my mother suggested glycerin and an enema and sternly said they werent putting anything in her butt. She is getting older and is soon going to realize I have no real authority or disciplinary abilities. Im worried she will not respect me when she is older, do you possibly know a way around this issue as well?

  213. Loris says:

    please I need your help, my daughter is 2 years and 3 months now, we started potty training at 2 years and she doesn’t have much problem with number 1 but when it comes to have a bowel movement she almost everyday has an accident…or 2 like today since she has a bit of a runny tummy, when we started she told me for few days she needed but then she just goes on her pantys and I am going insane. what is your advice? its beeing 2 months of cleaning poo. she tells me when she did it in her pantys.

  214. Kelly says:

    Dr. Heather-
    My son, Owen, is almost 4 (in August). What is so ironic about this post is that 1. I didn’t see your reply until just now… almost 2 months later because 2. we had actually been successful with the ‘poop’ part of the potty training!!! And now, I find myself back into the deep-dark belly of the ‘with-holding’ beast. Per your suggestions to other parents, I just dropped the subject of pooping altogether. I said “ok, buddy… I’m never going to talk about pooping again. Just know that I love you, you are a big boy, and YOU are in charge of your poo-poos”. And, honestly. that night he started pooping on the toilet!!! I cried tears of joy… did the “I’m so proud of you’ song and dance and gave him his toy.
    Over the last 2 months we had worked from getting a toy (matchbox car) each time he pooped to earning a sticker each poop and a toy every 10 poops. He totally bought in— until last week when I saw the “I’m not going to let this out” face and body clench. Now, he says he is scared and that he ‘will try poopin’ later… after daddy comes home from work’. But, it has been 3 days and he still hasn’t gone.
    I’m at the end of my rope. He is still on the miralax, drinks water/juice combo (3 oz of juice + 7 oz of water) 2x per day and about 24oz (sometimes 30oz) of milk (almond- he is allergic to milk and soy). He has fruit at snack each day and then at home after school. We try to get him to eat a bowl of cheerios just to keep things moving.
    But, alas, I am here… again… up in the middle of the night… trying to figure out how to get my little buddy to poop.
    Thanks so much in advance! (I I promise to scroll all the way down the page to see your response this time!!!)
    Many mahalos 🙂

  215. PKarin says:

    Dear Heather, I am heartbroken as i read this. i got very angry at my 3y.o. child for having a poo accident in her knickers. This was 2 days ago. I got so angry that when i realised that she was upset i became so upset i began crying. i said sorry to her, and I tried to explain that i was wrong to be angry and that i was too tired (my 1 year old baby threw up that night and broke a glass…it wasn’t a good night and my husband was travelling). But I have no excuse for such anger, i am ashamed.

    Anyway, she used to have a BM twice or even three times a day. Since i told her off (2 days ago) she has not had a BM. Today she had a small bit, but would not let me change her or even see the poo…she asked for her babysitter to do it. I think i might have made her scared of pooing. she still wears her knickers as she loves to wear them, but she is only peeing in the potty…no poo. I deeply regret having gotten so angry because i can see the huge stress i have caused her. i am very upset as i write this and the only thing that i would like to hear is that i haven’t caused her a trauma for life…but maybe that is not possible.
    A very sad mum

  216. Dr. Heather says:

    @Trista, @Ursula, and @Rasheeda:

    I’m so sorry you are having a tough time with this — unfortunately common complication of potty training. All 3 of you have more complex issues that truly need medical support. I am happy to help via Parent Coaching as well.

    And please, all, remember that your little ones can’t really explain to you WHY they are having these problems — and they can’t really understand your rationale. The combination approach I’ve described above — having medical help getting them “cleaned out” — in as non-threatening a way possible — PLUS kind, gentle, slow steps forward — with no pressure — will help as well. Try to get second opinions until you find a physician who has a good way of approaching little ones with this problem. Keep us posted and let me know via email if you want some additional Coaching. Aloha!

  217. Rasheeda says:

    Hi Dr Heather,

    I’m desperate for ANY advice you can give. My son is three years old and has been have complications with passing his stool from a early age. Once he was about one he had became traumatized and refused to go poop. The Dr (overseas) prescribed him latulose and it worked GREAT! Now, we have been back in the US for almost two years. The drs refuse to give me latulose and say keep using the miralax. The problem is he cries still every time he goes. He holds it sometimes for four days. He’s now getting potty trained. At first he was still scared but he’ll go. But now when he goes as usual it’s a hassle. It likes coaching a woman give birth. He has accidents in his underwear, clinches his buttocks, paste back and forth, rock back and forth..etc..just to keep from going. When he does go, its not hard. Sometimes its slush or like a snake and it’s A LOT! However, these last few weeks have been ruff. He’s been doing more then just streaks. I’m talking more like a small bowel movement. I’ve EVERYTHING I know how. From rewards with treats, toys or being forceful. I feel like I’m failing my child because I just don’t know what to do. When I ask him why won’t he go, he replies because the Poo Poo is going to hurt me. I refuse to take him back to the ER. He’s had a finger up his rectum, enema, and I’ve given him a suppository. Now, I don’t give him anything, but the Miralax. He’s terrified of any and everything that goes near his rectum. He just now started trusting me again with cleaning him, because he thinks I’m going to give him a suppository. Sometimes, I think he’s being lazy and stubborn, but when I see him on th e potty crying from FEAR, it just breaks my heart into a million of pieces. What do I do? Now, also he’s a child who had severe persistent asthma. This past year has been ruff. Ambulance rides and a hospital stay. Since then he’s starting chewing the inside of his mouth and rubbing his ears more. I think I’m stressing him out.

  218. Ursula says:

    Dr Heather,
    I have a 4 year old boy who has been holding in his stool for almost a year now. We have tried everything including Miralax. We talked to his peditricain about it he says to keep giving the Miralax. We have been giving liquid suppositories once or twice a week but he can even hold back from them now. I have no idea what to do at this point. His father is always telling him to push it out and that irritates the little guy even more. He is starting throw up and gag at the slightest stimuli. I am an ICU RN and used to stress but a year of this is starting to take me over the edge. What can I do?

  219. trista says:

    my son 2years,5months he has had a poo issues since he was switch over to cows milk. i am reading but i just don’t understand how he could be holding it back. he says i poop mommy i poop and he will poop no problem he is on restoralax everyday but every now and then he will hold it in and scream loud his butt will be raw and sensitive. one min its clean and fine the next he has a horrible looking butt that is raw and sensitive and looks bused, this is all real close to the hole how is it that this can all happen with in one hour?. he had dire-aha and next min the same thing happen and when it dose end up coming out its something i don’t think i would want to push out my self and real hard too . now the doctors tell me he is holding it in and to keep him on restoralax (even know the bottle says not for every day usage hard on belly ) every day and keep him so he is not so backed up, but how is he backed up if he goes every day some times 3 per day ? and why dose his butt get sore so fast ???(after he poops the hard one the butt goes back to normal not sore or brused)

  220. Dr. Heather says:


    How old is your little guy? That will help me give you some ideas.

  221. Kelly says:

    Aloha Dr. Heather!
    First, thank you so much for this article! I have been struggling with the ‘poop part’ of potty training for 9 months now; and I have to admit, I am at the end of my rope. My son, O, has been potty trained (pee) since August, when he initiated it. We went rouge: naked for 1 full week (living in Hawaii helped) and by day 3 we had no accidents and made it through an adventure to the park without a single drop leaking out. Fast forward to now: I have a little boy who withholds but sometimes poops on the toilet. I know that he is scared that his poop will hurt- he had some serious constipation during the summer because of change in diet (weening of rice milk because of arsenic poisoning). And will say “I don’t want the poop-poo to be an ouch”.

    I have done everything I can think of: he is on a 1/2 teaspoon of Miralax to keep with ‘squishy’, we took a month long hiatus from poop-training, We just let him poop wherever. I created a sticker chart, which involved him earning a sticker each time he tried to poop, 4 times a day, and then he could earn a toy when he pooped on the toilet. I have tried to take all emotion out of the ‘underwear smear’ while cleaning up, and usually just say: “Ok… let me wipe your bum”. I have bought him his own toilet that he picked out so he could feel like he owned the poop-part of his potty training. But none of these seem to work- he just won’t poop consistently/regularly on the toilet.

    Honestly, I don’t know what to do. When he poops on the toilet he so excited, so I match his excitement- dancing around, clapping and hugging… and then give him his toy (usually a matchbox car). But, there is no consistency with the pooping. He constantly has little poops in his underwear and I think it is because he just can’t hold it in anymore.
    Please help!
    Thank you (mahalo!!) so much!

  222. Jamie says:

    Hi- update on my daughter. I posted in January & did end up just putting the diaper back on. We still use the potty for pee although she will go in the diaper too if she feels like it and the poop withholding has totally resolved itself. She goes in her diaper when she feels the urge, just like she used to with no problem at all. I think putting the diaper back on was the right choice, even if it is delaying our potty training. Hope this helps. Btw my daughter is 2 yrs 8 months.

  223. gabi says:

    and should i give him laxative when i put back on his nappy for the 2 weeks?

  224. gabi says:

    its now feb 2012. I dont know how old this post is. We live in the UK, Yorkshire. Having terrible problems with Oliver witholding. We are taking your advice and stopping all training for 2 weeks and putting his nappy back on.
    He is 3 and 4 months. He is fully trained with wees and at night.
    Its just the poohs we are having trouble with. I have spoke with health visitors here who suggest not putting the nappy on again, as will confusse him. But i seem to want to follow your advice.
    I wondered also, he does do small pooh in nappy for a small bit at a time throughtout the day. But when i want to change him he causes such a fuss crying and saying he doesnt want to be changed it ends up in me making him change his nappy
    what do you suggest to act like and do when he wont let me change him?
    and do you think its good to put nappy on for 2 weeks, i am so worried.

  225. Ashley says:

    Dr. Heather,

    I am at my whitts end and do not know what to do anymore. My son when he was almost 2 became very sick. He started vomited and crying alot. We took him to the Dr. and after many test we found out that he was impacted. He was hospitalized for four days. They had to do two enamas and iv’s and ng tubes. This was something that has affected his potty habits every since. He just turned 4 and we are STILL having MAJOR problems. We have been to many Dr.’s and ruled out any health concerns causing these problems. He just associates having a bowel movement w something very painful. He has been on mirolax for 2 years now and gets a cap daily. We have tryed everything and let him take control and he will do good for several months and then start withholding again for no apparent reason. We try to explain to him if he does not go that he will become sick. I don’t think that he truly understands what he is doing to his body. Right now we are having problems again and have been having to do MagCitrate and mirolax for 3days to get him cleaned out. He can manage to even hold it during all this, he goes to corner and crosses his legs. Dr. told me today he has hard stool down low and to do a enama.
    PLEASE PLEASE any help would be greatly appreciated! He starts school this next yr and it scares me not to be able to see if he is pottying or not and being able to take his word. It just breaks my heart and i don’t know what i can do anymore to help him move past this for good.

  226. Jamie says:

    Dear Dr. Heather,

    My 2 1/2 yr old daughter initiated potty training a week ago by asking to wear underwear. She was very excited and proud of herself when she used the potty. The first two days she had a couple accidents but after that no accidents. She runs to the potty and says she has to pee. No reminders now. She pooped those first two days too, although she seemed unsure about it and was very happy to show it off. On the third day she didn’t go poo at all which was unusual because she has always gone once a day. Four days later she is clearly holding and saying her poop hole hurts and she doesn’t like poopy anymore. Just like that my regular once a day daughter has turned into a with holder. I put a diaper on her that 4th day and some came out against her will and she said she felt better but the next day it was the same thing-running,crying, saying it hurts when the urge hits and visibly trying to hold it. I’ve tried putting a diaper on her to take the pressure off but she takes it off and says she wants to wear underwear. She keeps screaming ‘mom help me’ when she has to go and it’s killing me! What do I do?? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

  227. Gary says:

    Hi, Dr. Heather,
    I’m a frustrated Mr. Mom to an adorable 2 year and 8 month-old boy. My problem is that he holds his poop only when sitting on his potty. He will sit there and pee, and sit another 15 minutes while I read to him and try to encourage him to let the poop come out, with no success. Then, 10 minutes after putting him in his bed for a nap or bedtime, he will let himself poop literally within 2 minutes of me leaving his room. About 5 months ago he pooped in his potty successfully, but not since. Nothing traumatic happened since then that I know of to have created this avoidance of potty pooping. Can you please give any insight or advice? I’m at a lost. Thanks!

  228. Twin MoM says:

    My three year old son has been holding for two years now. We tried it all. His belly is always impacted
    The other day he was holding and I ran over to him and pulled his pullup down, held his butt cheeks like a pimple and his poop came right out. I was able to do this twice in one week. At first he was thankful and said it didn’t hurt. The next time I saw him holding again I approached him and he ran. Tonight I asked him why do you hold in your poop? He said, because I can… And I don’t like poopy. Help!!!

  229. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Yaneth,

    I think Lansoyl is just jellied mineral oil, and as such not really a “drug”. The problem is avoiding having the stool get compacted, which causes pain, and then more withholding. So getting him “cleaned out” (the gentlest way possible) is important, and hopefully the Lansoyl, if used properly, should help. Make regular contact with the doctor to ensure you are using it correctly, frequently enough, etc. Don’t be tempted to use less of it than prescribed.

    Then: there’s the psychological component, which is the most important (and most difficult). At age 2 it is easier, though, to allow a regression to the diaper days. Let your son know in a casual way that “you can use the diaper, we are putting the potty away.” Make sure all his caregivers and the whole family stop talking about the potty. Just take the pressure off — and hopefully, nature will take it’s course. Allow a few weeks for his body to get cleaned out and his internal signals to get re-set.

    Then, when he starts to show renewed interest in the potty, don’t jump in with excitement. Follow his lead and take it slow. Good luck and let us know!!

  230. yaneth says:

    Hi Dr. Heather, i have a 2 year old son who is withholding bowel movements. his pediatrician told me to give him lansoyl to get him to stop but its been a month and he is still fighting it. i am concerned about the side effects of this laxative, but the the pediatrician says its ok to give for up to 3 months. i dont know what else to do to help him go. i have fully changed his diet and everyday he drinks prune juice. also i live in cananda so i cannot get miralax, the only stool softer i could get here is docusate sodium and he hates the taste and therfore wont drink it. plz i need some advice, i am so stressed and feel like there is nothing i could do to help break this cycle.

  231. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Amber,

    Did you ask your ped for a referral? And have you had a heart-to-heart with your son, telling him that its HIS job to take care of his body — and you can’t force him? And that you will remind him perhaps only twice per day — maybe after breakfast and after lunch — to try to go potty? And had him transition back to PullUps fulltime, so that you don’t have to worry about the laundry?

    Also, it sounds as if he has encopresis — which means only a little poop leaks out around solid, impacted poops. The first goal is really to get him cleaned out, and the enemas are maybe too invasive. MiraLax often takes 2-3 or more weeks to fully work. Other peds suggest a mineral oil based clean-out first. Ask you doc for what to use to get him cleaned out — that’s non-invasive, and then try the other suggestions, with the docs approval. Then visit my Parent Coaching page for how to sign up to talk to me directly, if you need more help. Good luck!

  232. Amber says:

    Update: my son has been laying on the couch, complaining that his tummy hurts. I have heating pad on him to help the cramps; however, I know that it’s because he needs to go poop. I haven’t said anything to him about HAVING to go poop. I asked if he wanted to. He said ‘no’, so I left it at that. He does have skidmarks in his underwear today, and he really needs to go. What can I do? Thank you for your help!

  233. Dr. Heather says:


    Sounds like you could use some help from an early childhood behavior specialist. Can you ask your pediatrician’s office for a referral? In the meantime, remember that we can’t force a child to sleep, eat, or poop. We need to work together with them to come to solutions. Enemas and suppositories feel invasive to anyone, especially young children. Additional withholding often results as an after-effect. I suggest going back to a PullUp after telling him that you want to give him some space to work this out. Think back to what was working back in September and try to re-create that. If nothing works, I’m here for Parent Coaching sessions. Good luck and let us know!

  234. Amber says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    I have a son who started withholding last November (he was 2; he will be 4 this February). We took him to the pediatrician several times, and we were told the same thing: give him Miralax. We tried the Miralax, but it didn’t help get things moving. Poop would leak out, but no solid BMs while on the Miralax. So then we tried suppositories, and that did work; however, he just doesn’t like going poop. We thought we had turned a corner in September. He was pooping on his own; still some resistance, but not too bad. Then, one weekend in October, he ate a bunch of pistachios. Ever since then, he does not want to poop. We’ve given him a suppository, but last weekend my husband sat with him for 3 hours while he was on the potty, waiting for him to go. He finally did, without the help of a suppository, but he hasn’t had a BM since then.

    I am at my wits end, and I don’t know what else to do. We’ve left him alone for the most part this week, and he knows that when we skidmarks in his underwear, that means he needs to go poop. He’s had 0 skidmarks this week! I am just at a loss, and I don’t what to do. Please help!

  235. Dr. Heather says:

    It sounds like there is a lot going on here. If there is a “name” that her pediatrician gave her toileting troubles, I assume there is a medical diagnosis? In that case, you really do need a specialist to work with you and your daughter together, in person — someone who can also coordinate with her doctor. Perhaps she even needs a pediatric gastroenterologist? That, plus an early childhood therapist can help you “go back in time” to try to re-work whatever it is in your relationship with your daughter that you would like to try to improve. Ask around — her doctor, nurses, at preschools — for a referral to an experienced, licensed early childhood therapist who will work with you both — and integrate the rest of the family when needed, too. Good luck — and please let us know how it goes!

  236. Mel says:

    I have a 4 year old girl that has had a lot of blatter infections as a baby and toddler, she has had a tough first year of her life getting sick and also getting colds. We have been trying to potty train her since at 2 1/2 or 3 years of age and it’s been a long journey of upsets and accidents. I finally got some help from a Peditrition, she told us to clean her out for four months with fiber and Lax A Day also with probiotic drops, after four months then we took her off and she went right back to having accidents and smears the doctor gave me a name of what she had. So now she is back on everything again but for six months, however she seems to do better with half of the dose of Lax A Day and fiber, but I’m not sure if she is being cleaned out then, still has the odd smear, however seems to be doing okay with only one accident at preschool so far. So I thought maybe this wasn’t going to work if I didn’t do the full dose that the doctore told me to, so for two days she now is on the full dose and now I have like ten accidents in one day, pee and poop, what is wrong and what can I do about this?
    I also have a two year old daughter and I thought it would help to potty train at the same time and she is now potty trained but not my 4 year old, should I just give up.
    My four year old daughter has also had eating problems, which have gotten a lot better, but she doesn’t seem to know what to do with some of her feelings and sometimes I don’t either in a melt down I just end her to her room till she is done then she can come out. In the past when I started potty trainer her then I wasn’t always encouraging and got frsutrated very easily, how do I start over with her, this has been a strain in our relationship, my 4 year old never seems to act out if she is with her daddy but as soon as she is with mommy then the melt downs.
    It is also been a struggle to get her to the potty when I think she needs to go, Should I just let her figure it out on her own, when we go to a public bathroom then she wants to go in the bathroom stall on her own?????

  237. Dr. Heather says:

    Learning to control our bodies in this way is a lot like learning to drive. At first, there is a lot of accidental stopping when you want to go, and going when you want to stop. You’ve gotta get the “feel” of the controls. Your son is still struggling with that part of the process. That’s normal.

    Talk to his doctor about adding something like MiraLax, or other softening agent, to your son’s diet. Explain to your son what you think happened — that his poops hurt him a couple of times, and so he tried to hold in the poop. But now it hurts to hold it in. Explain that you want it to feel better, and that you think the diaper is better for now. If YOU make the decision for him, he might feel “off the hook” and not be so hard on himself for “failing” the potty.

    Also, try anything that might have worked in the past to calm him when he feels the urge to poop. Some toddlers feel better if they are hiding out somewhere. Others want you to sit right there with them and hold their hand, saying reassuring things, the whole time. Others benefit by being distracted by TV or something else that takes their mind off their potty situation. (And I, for one, say GRACIAS! to Dora for helping us out on this one at my house with my now 2-year-old) 😉

    If everyone takes a collective deep breath, forgetting about the hoped-for “miracle” 3-day potty solution, and instead following his own natural process, he should eventually “let go”. If things don’t get on a better course over the next few weeks, let me (and his pediatrician) know!

  238. danielle says:

    I am so happy to have found this thread, but I am still unsure of how to handle my 2.5 year old who has started holding his poop. He was showing all the “signs” that he might be ready to potty train, so last week we decided to give it a try. We tried something called ‘The Three Day Potty Training Method’ which has you let your toddler throw all the diapers away and go automatically into underwear. Once they are in their undies, you just remind them to tell you when they have to go (never asking), and if they start to have an accident, you take them in so they can finish in the potty. Our son did great. A few accidents on the first morning and that was it until the third day. That morning he pooped in his underwear, and again the next day. We just told him that he needs to poop in his potty and try to keep his undies clean. He had pooped three times on his potty, so we didn’t think there would be any issues. The whole approach is to be positive and never reprimand for accidents. But, about half way through the week, we started to notice he would run around our apartment, whining and crying. It was clear that he needed to poop, but if we put him on the potty, he would just cry and scream and fight to get off. We bought different potty seats, we’ve tried any kind of reward you can think of. I don’t think he is afraid of the potty itself, though, because he won’t go in his underwear either. Eventually we told him that if he wasn’t going to poop in his potty we would put him back in a diaper. This worked one night, but he still whined and cried before pooping. Our conclusion is that he may have been a little constipated and had a bm that hurt, and now he is just afraid to go at all. We have tried fiber, juice, and just about anything else that would encourage him to go, but nothing is working. He used to go 2-3 times a day before we started potty training, and even then at first he still went once or twice a day. I am willing to stop fighting him to go on the potty (we pretty much already have). But he won’t go in his diaper either. This hasn’t even been going on for a full week yet, but he is obviously uncomfortable and it is causing stress among all of us. Is there anything else we can do to help him? I have read it can take weeks or months for them to overcome a fear of a painful poop, but when he is running around crying and whining and screaming it causes our 6 month old to become upset as well. So we are willing to do whatever it takes!

  239. Dr. Heather says:

    That’s a medical question for his doctor. But as to your approach — how long have you decided to “let it go” with him? At this age, it may take weeks (or months) for him to finally accept that you won’t be pressuring him any longer. I suggest you talk directly with him — in simple language — that it is HIS body, and that you will be letting him take care of it. I assume that his pediatrician will then allow you to use the most passive methods — Miralax, mineral oil etc — so that over time, he is “cleaned out”. Make sure you talk with his doc to get his OK, have a talk with your son, and BREATHE! Let us know how it goes.

  240. tb says:

    Hi my 3yr old son is also the king of withholding. We have been to the doctor and had x-rays taken to make sure there is nothing obstructed or medically wrong. We have done Miralax, suppositories and liquid enemas. Of course the enemas work but this is very traumatizing. We have decided to try to make this a non-issue and not bring it up to him. He is just as mentally and physically exhausted as we are. My only question is how long is to long to let them hold it in(# of days) before you HAVE to intervene? This is our 3rd kid with these issues so we are not newbies with this. Very frusturated!!!!

  241. Dr. Heather says:


    It sounds like she’s feeling ashamed about the situation. She may even LIKE the poop in her Pull Up — as weird as that sounds, it can be pretty common. But she’s too young for you to expect her to “come clean” about the situation. 4-year-olds really don’t totally understand the difference yet between truth and “lies”. She’s telling you by her behavior that she feels conflicted about it. So I recommend that you give up your wish for her to come tell you about the poop for now — and just, matter-of-fact, check her Pull Up every so often. No shame, no criticism — just like you would have when she was younger. If it’s time for a change, so be it — no drama. I think she has a better chance of growing past this situation if she knows that you will help her to monitor the poop situation — she’s saying she’s not ready to be 100% responsible for it just yet. Tell her that you understand that she’s not ready to tell you that she needs a change. Tell her that’s OK — Mommy will check for her and change when she needs it. No problem. Give her a few weeks to adjust to the “new rules” and see how she does — and let us know!!

  242. Marilou says:

    Hello! I am glad I found this thread. My daughter is turning 4 in a few days and for about 2 months, she’s been witholding her poop. There are many changes in our life right now: 1) i’m 38 weeks pregnant, 2) she’s not going to daycare anymore because, 3) she started pre-school this September. This summer, we rented a cottage and she refused to poop there. That’s when, for the first time in her short life, she intentionaly witheld her poop. And since then, she hides whenever she needs to go and witholds her poop. She’s not constipated because she does 1-2 small poop in her pull-up or underwear and it doesn’t hurt her. She’s been back to pull-ups for close to a month now (we let her decide) and it does not bother me.

    What bothers me is that she lies about having soiled her pull-out/underwear. If I don’t ask her to come with me so that I can change her diaper, she’ll stay in a soiled diaper all day long. It never bothered her to be in a soiled diaper. When I clean her up, I only ask her to let me know when she needs to be changed and then I clean her without saying a thing (as if this situation is ok). I need your advice about this. How can i make her comfortable to just say “mommy i need to be changed”?

    Thanks a lot.

  243. Dr. Heather says:

    Ericka, have you tried what I recommend in my posts — having a more relaxed attitude about potty training? Just take the pressure off him — and yourself. “It’s OK if the poop comes out, and it’s OK if it doesn’t. Mommy trusts that you can work this out, and I will help you, but I won’t be mad at you about it any more.”

    If it hurts, has the doctor suggested vaseline to ease any cracking? Sometimes that helps.

    The school is an important part of it too. If his preschool isn’t willing to work with you, maybe it’s not the right place? Have you tried to sit down with the teacher and administrator and share your concerns — and your plans? This isn’t such an unusual problem, and good schools are willing to work together with parents at this tricky age to help get a healthy, good resolution to the problem.

    Sounds like you are afraid that if he doesn’t resolve this NOW, he will have big problems LATER. But let me reinforce this: There truly is no good, healthy way to “force” potty training in a situation like this. The only way is to back off, and give the control back to him, with lots of loving support along the way. Good luck and keep us posted!

  244. Ericka says:

    This site is a blessing because I just want to cry. I have been so frustrated with my 4 year old son not pooping that it is driving me insane. I have tried everything enemas, miralax, mineral oil, fiber plus, and etc and to no avail. He is in pre-school and they do not allow pull-ups in his class which makes it very hard for me to give him medication during the week in fear of him having mistakes daily in his class. But when he has to go to the bathroom I know because he has smears in his underpants daily. When he does go to the bathroom and finally poops he is so happy that he screams “Mommy Daddy I got the poopies out” and we give him high fives and hugs and kisses. However, when we sit on the toilet for 1/2 hour trying to get the poopies out he is crying and screaming and shaking which hurts me to my heart to see him go through this type of pain. He says mommie I’m sorry I can’t get the poopies out” that makes me feel even worst because I feel like he can sense my frustration eventhough I’m being as cheerful as I can be. My daughter is 5 years old and never had this issue, so needless to say it I’m so confused. I’ve gone to my pedi several times to tell him about the issue but it doesn’t seem to bother him , and he’ll say it is just called with holding, but for a parent this is not something that I thought would be such a challenge, so a nonchalant attitude does not do me any good. Is there anything that can help my child pass his poop without making it so soft that it is hard for him to push out, or so messy? I’m afraid of giving him laxatives so I stick with high fiber foods, miralax and mineral oil. I just see that this is affecting my son in negative ways in school and at home and I don’t want him to be look at as being a problem all because he is in pain because he refuses to poop. PLEASE HELP!!

  245. Dr. Heather says:

    Candice, don’t give up if your intuition is telling you something is wrong. I can’t give specific referrals outside of Hawaii, so please keep asking your pediatrician, and if you don’t get satisfaction, ask the nurses in the office, friends, or family members. You can also call the public health nurse’s office in your area, as well as the Early Intervention department, as well as any University in your area that has services for young children. Don’t give up until you get the answers you need — and help for your little guy! And let us know what happens.

  246. candice says:

    Hi my oldest has had problems pooping since i want to say i noticed around 3 months .. He struggled to poop his little face turned red as a cherry so i took him to the doctor they recomended change of diet since he was a 9lb baby he was on cerel started about 3 to 4 months.. well i was getting prune juice and apple juice to mix into it. Thinking maybe it would help. He never did it has progressively gottin worse … when he turned one he was pooping so hard n pushing so hard he would bleed not all the time just sometimes… i would always turn to the doctors even switched his doctors around because they kept telling me there was nothing wroung with him… i have a horrible feeling its something wroung with his insides… now he has gottin older turned 3 in novemeber ive seen him trying to hold it in but i know its because i feel like he knows it hurts everytime he goes poop… ive tryed the dipositories he dreads them absolutely never wants them… liquid and the disolveable ones … i still try and balance his diet with how much milk and juice he drinks hopeing i can control some of the pooping.. it just never seems to get any better… doctors look at me like im crazy they tell me hes holding it in and he will out grow it… the thing is it could be hard poop or soft he screams n crys almost everytime he goes poop. is there a name u could give me to look up any possibilitys that he could have wroung with him..???

  247. Sibling says:

    My son was not holding his poop till we started encouraging him to use the potty. He was 2.5 years old then. He would sit on it but then start freaking out when the poop was about to come. We gave up and tried again two months later. I put him in big boy underwear and told him that he should only poop in the potty. He started holding it again, walking on tiptoes and clenching his bum. He got so stressed out about pooping that he starting holding it even if his diaper was on. So, we have backed off completely again and he is back to normal – i.e. pooping regularly in his diaper. My question is, when do we try again? How will we know he is ready? He will be 3 in October but we are afraid to mention the word potty!

  248. Dr. Heather says:

    I’m so glad to get an adult to comment on this very common issue! Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the discussion — I’m sure it will help others. Much aloha and good luck on your degree!

  249. confidential says:

    I found this thread in a random web search and I’m glad I did. I want to say that I’m so glad information like this is out there now for parents, since they weren’t for mine.

    I was a withholding toddler. My parents didn’t know how to handle it, and it became a serious control issue that overtook a lot of our lives. All the stories of suppositories, metamucil, enemas and doctors are all so familiar!

    I’d be happy to talk with anyone about this who wants to know what it feels like from the other side. I can give words to my young experiences now, which is something I couldn’t do then.

    I’ll start by echoing what Dr. Heather is saying here: don’t make this a control issue. Just don’t. The impact will be enormous. For me, this went on until high school, and still to this day I recognize my own resistance to being pushed into doing anything, something that I certainly own now and work on, but I can see its roots in this early potty issue.

    And by high school, I mean yes, I withheld until then. By then it was all I knew, and I didn’t know how to reverse things and just be normal again, especially still living with my mother, someone with a huge stake in how the issue turned out. The power part of the issue was never discussed (I don’t think she had the self-awareness or vocabulary, really), and so I never had any perspective on what was going on with me.

    To be sure, she was a fine mother otherwise. I do know she was just reacting in desperation and lack of education, as many of you are. She wasn’t domineering in general, we were light and humorous with each other normally, she was loving and we were close. I think she/they just didn’t know what strategy to take with the potty issue and started it as a control thing, where I “had to” do it, and they used suppositories and enemas and other tactics to “force” the issue. And I think it taught me to absolutely refuse. They were never able to “make me” do it, and you wont be with your toddler, either. Don’t start fighting a war you will lose, and your child wont know how to end. Once I was refusing, that became my tactic, and I didn’t know how to reverse it and not “lose the war” we were clearly having. That I didn’t even understand beyond its rudimentary levels.

    I don’t have any memories of being a toddler, naturally. I suspect, but can only guess, that taking all focus off the issue would have nipped this in the bud, including taking focus off the successes. Being matter-of-fact when I finally did go, having no fanfare, would have let me change tactics and not feel I had lost whatever struggle was happening between us. No “see, don’t you feel better now?” and no “good girl, now we can have [whatever reward]!” It would have all slipped by unnoticed, possibly, once the attention was taken off the issue, and I wouldn’t have learned that there are winners and losers in this issue.

    Instead, they kept up the conversation, noticing everything, which kept me in my own strategy. Don’t make this mistake.

    Seriously, let it go. Respond compassionately when they ask for help or complain about it, but don’t take over, don’t tell them what to do, don’t imply, even in tone, that there is any more to this.

    And really, you *can* let it go. You’re worried when it’s been a week, two weeks, longer, that there will be serious medical consequences, and it starts to make you push again, raises the ante. Don’t let it. Check with a doctor that nothing is damaged, but after that, let it work out on any timeline and don’t respond to the time pressure. I withheld for months at a time (poop comes out creatively, and I’ll spare details unless someone asks), and nothing broke. Don’t let the time get to you. Your kid will see your mounting anxiety and respond.

    I don’t know. I have a lot to say about this. But the bottom line is that Dr. Heather is right (I also am finishing a PhD in child development myself, so I know she’s right from a number of angles), and you can trust that if you make this into a large issue, getting back out of it is much, much harder and the psychological impact could be much bigger.

    On a brighter side, things did work out fine for me, and while puberty was rough, once I realized that withholding was impacting my own life negatively, I just decided to change it. Once it was no longer about “them,” I could totally just fix it. I do think I was left with issues of control in general, but that’s not unusual, and there are tools I use.

    I’m long past this now, and am healthy and doing fine. I’m glad people know so much more than they did in the 70’s when this was happening to me (and my sister, by the way, who is much older than me but inherited the same issue).

  250. Dr. Heather says:

    Glad to help. Let us know how things develop 🙂

  251. So funny. I randomly came across this article from a link on Twitter but it is very applicable to us right now. My 2.5 y.o is starting to do this and I really appreciate the great tips.

  252. Emily says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,

    My daughter is almost 2 1/2 and we have been potty training for 2 weeks now. She is doing great with tee-tee, but is holding her poop like many of the other readers on this blog. I have tried offering her a diaper to go in because I just want her to go, but even when I put one on her she still wants to go sit on the potty when she needs to go. She usually only sits for 10 sec until she says “she can’t.” We have been giving her Miralax and I do think it helps a little bit. She is going about every other day, but we are usually running to the potty at least 20 times before she has success. I think she is scared of going, but I also think she doesn’t understand how to go. She waits until it is just coming out on its own basically.
    I am not quite sure where to go from here. I am okay that she goes every other day, but she complains constantly how her tummy and bottom hurt, and she is very clingy and whiny these days.
    How can I get her to go when she first needs to go? Instead of holding it hours/days while she is very umcomfortable? Should I increase the Miralax to get her going a lot, and then back off the dose when she is used to going more?

  253. Dr. Heather says:

    Terri — will your pediatrician allow you to try MiraLax? If the poop hurts it can start a vicious cycle. Making it smoother may help. Let us know. Good luck!

  254. Terri says:

    So…my son has been is not quite two but started pooping in the potty. Sometimes pee but not that much. Each day he will tell us he has to poop and so we go to the potty and read books and sing but then nothing. He starts crying and says no poop, all done. So we get up and put his diaper back on and go play and then 15ish minutes later it all starts again. It hurts him so now he is holding it in. When he finally goes he is on his tippy toes, crying poop, poop, mommy poop and shakes. So we go into the bathroom quickly and usually we are fine. They are super hard and most of the time they are little hard balls all stuck together. He only poops every other day or every three days. He is in soooo much pain that he hates pooping but still tells us every time he has to go. He usually goes at night while he is sleeping because he must relax enough. We have tried white corn syrup in his milk but that doesn’t seem to help much. Do you have any other ideas? I think we are going to try prune juice next.

  255. Dr. Heather says:

    I’m so sorry you’re having this problem! It does sound pretty severe. From what you describe, he really needs a couple of specialists — to 1) make a plan to help clean out his system, so it stops hurting (perhaps a consult with a pediatric gastroenterologist, or a pediatrician who works well with severe constipation and poop-refusal, plus 2) a behavioral plan to get him — and keep him — on the right path. It would likely be a psychologist or or counselor who specializes in young children to help the whole family get on the right path with this. This is likely to be a long-term solution, but you are right to tackle it NOW — poor little guy!

    Feel free to email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com to talk more about this — I’d be happy to help coach you through the process of finding a good team for your son, if that would help. Good luck and let us know how it develops!

  256. Brianne says:

    Dr. Heather! I am so glad I found this website. My son is 39 months old. He refuses to poop. It is getting so bad. He is on Miralax and has been for almost 18 months. He is up to a capful a day. Should he be able to hold it in with that much Miralax in his system? Also, I don’t like that he has been on Miralax this long. I stay at home with him since we moved four and half hours away from our family (my husband’s job). I am sure that has been stressful on my son. All he wants to do is lay on the couch. I hear “Mommy, my belly hurts” about 50 times a day. I have tried it all: stickers, rewards, Elmo Dvd, poop books. We have forced him to poop on the potty. He just says “I don’t like poop” and “I don’t want to poop.” We have tried the 2 week no pressure, but it seems there is no progress. He does go a little bit when he naps and there usually is some in his diaper when he wakes up in the morning. Last time I talked to my pediatrician I asked her about someone he could talk to, she said there is no one like that. I don’t think she understands how frustrating this is. My sons would rather lay on the couch than play with his toys. We can’t go anywhere, he just wants to go home if he feels his belly hurting. It takes an hour or so for him to fall asleep for nap because he just tosses and turns. He says he is trying to get comfortable, his poop is hurting him. Please help! Thanks!

  257. Dr. Heather says:


    I would first discuss it with his pediatrician. Sounds like a “no pressure” approach, combined with a reward system (he’s old enough to try) would be a good strategy. Ask the doc about MiraLax too. I’m available for Parent Coaching if these posts and comments are still not enough. Good luck!

  258. Keri says:

    I’m very glad I found this thread. My son is 4½ and while he will poop on the potty everyday, he holds it every time until a little poop comes out in his underwear. He’ll go possibly a week somtimes where this doesn’t happen, but then it starts again.

    When I ask him why he does it, I usually get “because” or “I don’t know”. I ask if it hurts, he says no. I ask if it scares him, he says no. Then just recently he told me likes to hold it because “it feels good”. I don’t know what to say to this. I don’t want to tell him it doesn’t feel good, maybe it does to him.

    I’ve tried explaining to him why he shouldn’t do it and he says he’s sorry and promises it will never happen again.

    It’s not that he doesn’t know he has to go and can’t make it to the toilet fast enough, because I’ve caught him many times holding it.

    I don’t know what else I should try. Do you think this no pressure approach would work?

  259. Dr. Heather says:


    I’m so sorry you’re having this problem! It sounds like he IS scared — and it’s hard for us to understand why. But the mind of a toddler doesn’t work like the mind of an adult — or even a kid. Maybe once he pooped and it hurt, and even though it hurts worse to hold it in, he’s just trying to prevent a repeat of the situation he’s remembering. Or maybe he had a weird dream of a monster coming out of his tushie. Really, they do think like that — it’s not rational, but very, very powerful.

    Managing YOUR stress is easily one of the most important aspects of all this, but very difficult, and given your pregnancy — makes it extra hard. Make a big formal statement to everyone in the family and sitters, friends etc that POTTY TRAINING IS SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY. No pressure, we’re going back to pullups, for as long as it takes to drain the stress out of this situation. Your efforts should be on minimizing his discomfort and fear, NOT achieving potty training. 3 1/2 years is NOT at all unusual to still need a diaper to poop, even less unusual for a boy.

    Anita, the degree of distress you are describing makes me suggest 2 things: 1) make sure he has been checked for other bowel problems, just in case — he needs a pediatrician who will take this seriously (but at the same time you want to manage your own worry about this — you don’t want him to absorb that you think something is “wrong” with him, thereby affirming his worries) — AND 2) a therapist who specializes in working with children his age, and who will include you in the process.

    Please let us all know what happens — your updates will help many others!!


    Dr. Heather

  260. Anita says:

    I happened along this site as I see so many others have, and althougha hard topic, I have to say I feel a little relieved and less stressed out after reading all the posts. My son is now 3 1/2. We CANNOT get him to potty train for whatever reason, and now, he too has become a KING OF WITHOLDING his poop. as of today it has been 6 days. Last night was one of pure “hell” for me and for him! for 2 hours he screamed and actually cried “whah whah” like a baby…he shook, kicked, screamed, cried, and withheld. On recommendation of the doc we’ve been giving him colace (a softener), added fiber suppliment (because he’s a fussy eater), and yesterday gave him a 1/2 piece of ex-lax chocolate (as he REFUSES ANY MEDICATION YOU CANT HIDE) he STILL managed to hold the poop in last night after all that!! the past 3 poops, usually at least a week apart, were HUGE, hard, and painful. We’ve had to lay him on a towel, and work his legs, massage his bum, and hold his cheeks apart in order for these monsters to pass! He usually fights so hard he ends up falling asleep right after they’re out. He’s cranky, tired, sometimes nasty with us..and I know it’s all because of this problem. It seems like all of us are so stressed by this problem..I know I’m at my wits end. I try so hard to hide the stress and anxiety I am feeling, knowing it will only make matters worse for him…but last night when I’m holding him tight and he was crying “I’m so scared” I swear my heart fell out of my body! I wanted to cry, and just be able to help him, but yet knew I was so helpless! We did EVERYTHING last night…laid him down, worked his legs, gave him a warm bath and rubbed him bum, stood him up and held him tight, then I sat on the floor and had him straddeling me trying to get him to poop, not caring where it landed honestly, as long as it came out. NOTHING!
    We’ve done softeners, laxatives, flax seed oil, more laxatives, suppositories, massage, activity, changed all breads to high fibre, tried so hard to get him to drink or eat more fruit and veggies (again soooo hard to get him to eat anything) changed to juices full of fibre (so expensive), tried to bribe him with books, toys, stickers, trips, candy, chocolate, etc etc etc…and honestly I am at a loss.
    I am now almost 8 months pregnant with our third baby, which he is so excited about, as is my 9 yr old daughter, but this is all really getting to me and wearing me out…please tell me there’s a magic remedy for this mess…My kids are my world, and I know it’s a common thing, but it’s breaking my heart..and breaking me!

  261. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Laurel ~

    It’s hard not to “push” a 3-year-old to go in the potty, I know. But he seems to be withholding for a reason, and if you get mixed up in his motivations, you’re bound to lose. All you can do is explain what you expect (which you have), and then “back off”. Of course, big praise and rewards when he makes progress, but try to be as neutral as possible about it otherwise. Because you can never “make” him push, just like you can never” make” him eat or sleep. You can only support his development in the right direction.

    And remember — the kids who develop major potty problems often either have true medical issues (which I don’t hear you say he has), or have parents who have stumbled into a “pushy” or controlling role. So try giving the control back to him for a few weeks and see what happens. Comment or email me again if you need more help!

  262. Laurel says:

    Hello Dr. Heather! What a relief to find this site. I am kind of in the same boat as the original question however my son Ryan is 3 and half years old. He mastered going pee pee in the potty at 2 but has always gone poop once a day in his diaper before bed time. We let it go on for a long time because it wasn’t a problem for us. It was always expected he would go poop before bed each night after we put him down. Lately we have decided to push him to go poop in the potty now. He wants to but I feel like he doesn’t know how push. After watching him go poopy in his diaper I noticed that he runs around in his room in circles and wants to keep it in but in the end lets it come out without really pushing it out. What can I do to help him learn how to “push”? I ask him to make a little toot but he doesn’t really get it. Every time he poops its because it literally busting out and he gives in and lets it come out. I am going to definitely try the ‘let it be’ technique you described above because I know he really wants to go on the toilet but he just doesn’t know the pushing part. Any suggestions? I’m thinking Miralax will help him have that sensation more times a day and that it would him with the opportunity to poop? I don’t know but its getting awfully old having him sit on the toilet when I know he needs to go and telling him to push over and over again. I think I am stressing him out and I am definitely stressed too. Thanks for your time in answering all these questions!

  263. Dr. Heather says:

    Ask your doc whether Miralax might help — sometimes some fine-tuning of the dose is needed — maybe a little less would work??

  264. tara says:

    she was on lax-a-day which worked but gave her alot of cramps so i was in a no win situation!!

  265. tara says:

    no what is that?

  266. Dr. Heather says:

    Tara ~
    Sounds like a medical problem. Has your doctor suggested Miralax yet?

  267. tara says:

    ok well thanks for everything anyway i hope you can recommend something !! it all started when she was an infant she was constipated since about 3 months old they changed her milk several time from good start to similac lactose free / isomil // perscription milk from public health … then it went on to giving supositories to stool softners to laxative ……then i tried fruit at 4 months still did not work then when she turned 1year when i was to put her on whole milk i did not i put her on 2% then the doctor suggested i try soya milk // then rice milk///nothing worked !! and since she was 6mnth i gave her a bottle of prunes everyday helped a bit // i then got her on a high fiber diet still nothing i am lost her symptoms are pain in belly all all all the time and hard hard small balls all the time and when i say all the time i meean all the time this child never never has a regular bowl movement…. she eats everything EXCELLENT eater and i know not many parents can say that ….she even tells me it hurts and it is to hard to poop she farts alot and her poor eyes water when she tries to poop can you HELP me i am going to see her pediatrician again next week they also did an ultrasound but said it did not show anything can a child have a scopre done would that determine if there is a problem ….. i think her food is not digesting right because with what she eats she should not have this problem… PLEASE PLEASE HELP

  268. tara says:

    Hi there thanks Heather, well it all started when she was an infant she was always constipated the Dr. changed her formula several times she was on good start / Similiac lactose free // then on isomil and then last but not least they gave her the perscription milk from public health… this did not do anything at 4 months old i had to give her a suppository and nothing ever got better.. And i am gonna say something this child eats everthing and i literally mean everything . So then i had her on a stool softner // laxative drops which of course laxative drops help but does anyone really want to give their child this everyday or even a couple times a week. No so i refused to keep her on this stuff because all it was doing was making her bowls lazy …. so then i started her on baby fruits at 5 months of age and she loved them but it still did not work … then i started giveing her a bottle of baby prunes every day that seemd to help a little ……so then when i started her on regular milk i started with 2% still the same i went to another doctor and he thought i should try something else… so itried soya milk // and rice milk nothing seems to work …..when she uses the bathroom they are small small round balls and are hard she says it is hard to poop and also complains all the time about a sore belly ….i just fell lost i keep telling them that this is not normal they say alot of toddlers are constipated …but are they constipated every every every day of their life like my little girl i doubt it … so they did an ultra sound but said they did not see anything…Can they do a scope. I know as a mother that this is Not normal and that there is something wrong and if in fact they find out when she is a teenager oh man will i be mad! this to me is not right i have another apptointment for her next week with the pedatrician again… Can you recomend anything!!! and i also give her lots of fiber // i took her off dairy products for 3 weeks nothing changed i will list the food my child loves to eat…

    ceral of everykind
    can pork and molasses beeans

    as you can probably tell my daughter loves everything i never have to cook a separate meal for her she eats everything served at the table PLEASE PLEASE give me some solutions or tell me what i can ask my pediatrician to do next week THANKS in advance…

  269. Dr. Heather says:

    Tara ~

    It sounds like a medical problem, and I’m a doctor, but not that kind of a doctor. If you give me some more information about your situation, I can try to make some recommendations. Either post another comment or email me by hitting the “Ask Dr. Heather” button. Aloha!

  270. Tara says:

    Hi there, i am writing because my child started having pooping problems since she was born she is now 3 and i have had her to the doctor and pediatrician several times.. the problem is that she complains about her belly all and i mean all the time. When she does poop which could be 1-3 times daily it looks like rabbit poop small small hard balls about 5 0r 6 each time and she never and i stress never has normal movements can you please help me and tell me what u think…this has started at 4 months of age with a suppository given WHAT CAN I DO i am so fustrated!!!!

  271. Anna Cunningham says:

    I posted on Nov 7th and thought I would follow up. Like Meredith’s son, my daughter developed a terrible, terrible rash from the Miralax. We were only giving her a quarter cup a day but she was leaking all day long. She feared diaper changes and I dreaded doing them because of the pain they caused. I tried every cream on the market, nothing helped. I put her in the tub to rinse her instead of using wipes, but even the water hurt her. After 2 months of this I had to take action. It was so heartbreaking watching her cross her legs, walk funny, cry out in pain etc. I knew I had to help her– not talking about poop wasn’t working. So I chose a time when i knew we could stay home a few days and took the diaper off her once and for all. I hid the ones I had in the house. I dressed her in a shirt and nothing on the bottom. At first she panicked, begging for a diaper. I told her I didn’t have one and told her that she knew where her potty was. She cried and had an accident. I cleaned it up, told her it was okay and in general didn’t draw too much attention to it. When it happened again, she did the same thing but this time she ran toward the potty. The third time I actually got her to sit on the potty. When she was finished I gave her a tiny handful of mini m&ms and told her she could have some everytime she used the potty. She was so pleased with herself and I was so very proud. My goal was to tackle the rash first, and then the poop issue. I felt the rash and the constant, painful diaper changes were contributing to her withholding. By the morning of the 3rd day, her rash was gone! And…she pooped on the potty! It was painful. She cried, poor thing. I had bought some presents at Target that I’d wrapped and put in a basket. I let her choose one. She was thrilled. I told her when she pooped again she could have another. I never went back to diapers. I bough a little $10 portable travel potty for the car on Amazon. It fits in your purse. I only use the pull-ups at nap and bedtime. I now call them her “sleep pants”. She’s not pooping every day. She’s afraid of the pain– her stool can be quite large and hurts to pass. But I feel like we’ve made progress. I started the Miralax again (I had stopped initially). Now I only give her a teaspoon a day. My goal is to soften her stool so it’s not so painful. The important thing is once you take the diapers off you can’t go back– even if they beg for them. Remain consistent for their sake. It was hard but I stayed strong. I believed that she could get through it and she did!

  272. meredith says:

    Thank goodness I’m not alone! One of my twin boys at 3 and 2 mos is holding in poop and I’ve been feeling like a failure that he and brother are not potty trained. I wish everyone else around me could let it go that it’s okay for them to be in diapers. I just need to keep reading that I need to relax as well and to not talk poop – it is so hard because it does seem to take up a lot of our time. We give him Metamucil and were giving him Miralax on dr’s rec but then over the last few days he’s going each and every time I change him so the sore tush that we got cleared up was getting sore once more (this seemed to be his original reason for holding). He doesn’t push anything out because he’s crossing legs, tip toeing and holding on not bearing down so I know that it’s just escaping him. I just fear that he will retrain himself and not know how to push again. I miss him telling me that he’s pooped and smiling about it because he “feels better”. He doesn’t say go away when he poops and he doesn’t seem to care that it’s there. But from reading here it seems I need to stop saying a word about it and just change without saying much…I hope it helps him. I want him to be confident about his body and that we all do this and that it is okay. I want to be reassured that they will us the potty even if they are not trained yet. I want to be told that not pressuring them if they are not showing interest in the potty is ok.

  273. Anna Cunningham says:

    Dr. Heather
    I don’t know if you’re still following this thread, but my daughter who is 2 1/2 is also withholding throughout the day and now, even in her sleep! She is taking Miralax, so I’m not worried about the physical problem– it’s psychological aspect I find so upsetting. She spends her day hiding in corners, visibly fighting the urge, crossing her legs, grunting. Poor thing. If I even mention the word “poop” she yells, “No, I don’t want to poop!” It is definitely a battle of wills, because this same sort of negativism is manifesting in other ways in our relationship. My pedi says not to worry– to continue not discussing the issue with her, but the issue has come to rule our lives. She struggles to hold it in all day long, wherever we are– the park, the store, playdates. I feel like she’s struggling emotionally and it’s breaking my heart.
    I’ve bought some potty dvds– like Elmo’s Potty Time and Potty Power. Can I let her watch those or is it too invasive? Can I try taking her out of pull-ups and putting her in Dora underwear as an incentive to use the potty? Or is this also doing too much at a time when I should be doing nothing in order to lessen the power struggle? Thank you!!!

  274. Laura Keevan says:

    Dr. Heather!
    I am SOOO glad that I happened upon your blog. I have a 3 1/2 year old son who is the KING of withholding. WOW. We just gave him a saline enemia this evening and he hopped around for an hour and still managed to hold the “big one” in. (little splashes or puddles of liquid come out-but he tells you that the big one is still in there)
    We have been to a GI specialist, so we know it is not physical. It’s all emotional and you are the first one i have seen who actually addresses the psychological factors of this pretty common issue.
    I am going to try the two week program of NO POOPY TALK (very very hard for mommie) and just pull-ups. he is already on miralax two times a day and has had supposetorys and the enema. i am worried about the “big one” he mentioned. will the miralax soften it to the point that it will pass? i am so afraid of him becoming compacted that it makes it very stressful for me..sigh.
    Anyhoo, thanks for being here at 9 o’clock on a saturday night after superpoopholding boy managed to hold in another poop and mommie is exhausted..i feel better

  275. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Leslie,

    I would first have her checked by her pediatrician to see if anything is going on physically. She’s still pretty young to be worrying about potty training, anyway….follow her lead. Check out some of my other posts on potty training and good luck! Let me know if you need more help.

  276. Leslie says:

    My little girl is two in a couple of days she has started to say I have to go potty but nothing yet on the potty. She has had some problems with pooping she is just going a very little bit alot during the day and it hurts her but it is very soft. what do I do?

  277. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Lynda,

    At his age, he can certainly appreciate the jelly bean approach. I think it can be very useful. They don’t need more than one; but it sure seems to do the trick for many kiddos. Or maybe 2-3 jelly beans for pooping in the potty, 1 for peeing. Rewarding his choice of the right behavior is bound to get you further than scolding or pressure for regressive behavior. Good luck!

  278. Lynda says:

    Hi Dr. Heather.
    We’re having the same issues here. My son is getting close to 4 and withholding and we’re becoming very frustrated with it! I’m also glad to know we’re not alone in this venture. He will say how much is hurts and that he’s afraid – but he is not constipated. I feel like this has been going on for too long. At some points he will be just fine with it, but then he will go through phases of holding it and it hurts to see him in such pain. My gut tells me that we should ignore this because it is a behavior and doesn’t seem to be physical. But I have a hard time getting my husband on board with this! Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! Also, he does pee in his pants as well – he will just go a little bit and then keep playing. We started to give him a jelly bean when he pees and has dry pants and that has helped tremendously!

  279. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Carolyn,

    At your daughter’s age (almost 5), it does seem to be time to have a professional medical evaluation. This doesn’t sound like the typical email I get of a 3-year-old being oppositional and striving for independence by withholding poop — it sounds like there are underlying medical causes (since you said she’s had problems since day 1). She’s withholding now maybe BECAUSE of the underlying problems — which would need to be addressed first. GOOD LUCK and don’t give up until you get a medical workup and treatment plan that WORKS for your daughter!!

  280. Carolyn says:

    Hi everyone! I am new here and was just browsing the web for pooping problems in toddlers. Here I am! My daughter will be 5 at the end of November. She has had pooping issues from day 1 of life. She has had molasses in her bottles with us “helping” the poop out with q tips….gross and graphic, I am sorry! Here I am now, going on day 5 of no poop again. She has had prunes today and warm apple juice which sometimes works. She gets Metamucil every other day to help with her fiber. She has poop stains every day in her undies. She has been poop and pee potty trained for well over a year and a half now. The longest that she has held it was 13 days. Too long in my opinion! Every night, she wakes us, crying that her belly hurts. I tell her it’s because she has to poop, to no avail……I wonder what I can do as diapers are no longer even in our house. I have a call into the doctors to see if maybe there is a problem internally with her. Any suggestions would be GREATLY appreciated!

  281. Dr. Heather says:


    I think he’s telling you what he needs…more time. 2 weeks clearly was a good start for him, and it helped. More pressure at this point isn’t helping. Can you try to go back to that mode where you let him “cruise”? I’d really try to follow his lead. What’s so bad about diapers? Lots of kids — especially boys — use a diaper until after age 3, nowadays. One of my kids pooped in a diaper until he was more than 3 1/2. He’s fabulous and awesome now at 6.

    Brazelton addresses this issue beautifully. Have you seen his “Touchpoints” book? I strongly recommend you take a look at that. He reinforces the fact that we can’t force an unwilling toddler to toilet train, and really risk some negative outcomes if we do…and that we have to learn to trust our kids’ unique developmental progress in the meantime.

    When you say it’s consuming so much of his day, is he able to enjoy other activities, when they are available? I would emphasize age-appropriate social activities — preschool is great, except for if they give him a hard time about the diapers — give him fun stuff to do and be engaged with. If he’s already consumed with toilet training, to the exclusion of other activities, even after YOU let it go, then it might be time to call in some expert help. But I would try going back to the “no pressure” approach, for at least several more weeks. FOLLOW HIS LEAD…and good luck! Let us know!

  282. Stephanie says:

    Although our 2 week hiatus went okay and the smears have stopped, we still are having issues. I don’t know what to do. I’m hesitant to run him to the pedi again and risk more “probing” into his personal issues. His smears are more like soft bms now and he has about 5-6/day, but they are far from his normal pattern. He acts like he has the urges to go and runs off to hid. I have followed him and what I see is him standing there with his legs crossed making stressed out faces. I asked him is he is pushing or holding, he tells me pushing, but let me just say it doesn’t look like it. And although some stool comes out, I think it is an accident. We watched a potty training video and after ward he sang the songs but told me he wants to be a baby and give his underwear to his little brother and take his diapers. GEEZ….what do I do? Is this a long term problem now? Should I take him to see someone?
    HELP please. I am so worried and upset to watch my little boy go through this. It is consuming so much of his day.
    Thank you.

  283. Stephanie says:

    THANK you soooo much Dr Heather! And Thank you Lori for your respose.
    I have been beating myself down these last 2 weeks thinking I was the only one going through this and wishing I could go back in time and undue the pressure we put on our boy! (Lesson learned at least we know better for little brother!)
    We’ve kinda been flying by this last week alleviating all pressure and just going with the flow. I will integrate this new advice today….as soon as he gets up from naptime and let you know how it goes.
    Thank you so much for your personal advice to our exact situation. I appreciate it!
    Wish me luck!

  284. Lori says:

    (edited to add that we started Miralax when she had just turned 3; she completely potty trained at about 3 and a half).

  285. Lori says:

    This was exactly our situation, and we did things almost exactly as Dr. Heather has described to great results. My daughter had been withholding since she was about 2 – we’d go a week or so without any poop, and then giant, blood-streaked poop would eventually happen. When my son was born (daughter was 2.5), she apparently put all of her emotional stress over the situation into withholding, with the result that (at the risk of being too graphic) we were ‘rewarded’ with the biggest turd I have ever seen in my life, once she had calmed down some.

    Our doctor advised that she might have lost the sensation of needing to poop, since she’d been waiting until the poop got unreasonably large to pass it, so he also recommended Miralax and/or Benefiber. We also backed off talk of pooping on the potty, and I went back to changing Pull-Ups for awhile. Once she was pooping on a fairly consistent basis, we cut back on the Miralax (actually, she never had much of it to begin with; with us, this turned out to be a relatively short process) and kept an eye on how often she was pooping. One day after she’d become pretty regular, my mom was watching her and told her there weren’t any Pull Ups that day, so she just pooped in the potty and that was that. She’s been doing it ever since, sans Miralax.

    I also agree that the suppositories (we used the liquid kind twice) are awfully traumatic; we also had a situation in which the first worked like a charm, but she managed to withhold the second time for much longer.

    Our preschool also told us that, all stated “completely potty-trained” rules aside, they’d work with her if needed. Our experience was that she was so good at withholding that there was no way in the world she was going to poop at school.

    Just my $0.02.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Potty Training Solutions: Tips for Poop Withholding In Toddlers"
  1. No Shit says:

    […] and emotionally. I worried that I would have to give her the suppository. But I read this one post by a child psychologist (Googling sometimes yields good results!) that made a lot of sense to me […]

  2. […] You can also read about another toddler’s poop-withholding in this BabyShrink post. […]

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