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!!!

 

Stephanie

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!

Aloha,

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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250 comments on “Potty Training Solutions: Tips for Poop Withholding In Toddlers
  1. 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.

  2. Dr. Heather says:

    Samantha,

    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 :)

  3. Dr. Heather says:

    Mel,

    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!

  4. Dr. Heather says:

    Brenna,

    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!

  5. 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…
    Thanks,
    Beth

  6. 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!

  7. 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…

  8. Dr. Heather says:

    Beth,

    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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. Dr. Heather says:

    Renee,

    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!

  12. Dr. Heather says:

    Lindsey,

    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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

    Thanks!

  15. Dr. Heather says:

    Jen,

    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!

  16. Dr. Heather says:

    Trish,

    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

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. 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?

  22. Dr. Heather says:

    Gloria,

    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!

  23. Dr. Heather says:

    Tiffany,

    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!

  24. Dr. Heather says:

    Maria,

    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.

  25. Dr. Heather says:

    Karla,

    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!

  26. Dr. Heather says:

    Linnea,

    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 :)

  27. 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.

  28. Rucha says:

    Hi,

    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).

  29. 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

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. Dr. Heather says:

    Kate,

    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!

  33. Dr. Heather says:

    Rucha,

    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!

  34. Dr. Heather says:

    Heidi,

    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.

  35. Dr. Heather says:

    Darlene,

    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!

  36. Dr. Heather says:

    Sarah,

    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!

  37. 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!

  38. 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!

  39. 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?!?!?

  40. 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!

    -Steph

  41. 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

  42. Dr. Heather says:

    Karol,

    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!

  43. Dr. Heather says:

    John,

    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:

    Molly,

    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!

  45. Dr. Heather says:

    Steph,

    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!

  46. Dr. Heather says:

    Nicole,

    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!

  47. 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.

  48. 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

  49. 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.

  50. 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!

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Potty Training Solutions: Tips for Poop Withholding In Toddlers"
  1. [...] You can also read about another toddler’s poop-withholding in this BabyShrink post. [...]

  2. 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 [...]

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"Calling all parents who are about to embark on the wild adventure of potty training their child -- this is your must-read! With authoritative practical advice, playful tips, and a spirit of connection and love, Dr. Wittenberg gives us an easy-to-read gem of a resource that can lead your family to a diaper-free finish line with minimal fuss -- and a big helping of laughter. Enthusiastically recommended."

- Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD, co-author of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It


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About Dr. Heather
About Dr. Heather
I'm Dr. Heather Wittenberg, child psychologist and mom of four. I specialize in the development of babies, toddlers, preschoolers -- and parents! Here, we solve your child's most difficult sleeping, pooping, crying, and eating challenges. My advice is based in neuroscience, but written in grab-and-go terms you can use immediately. I've been featured in national parenting magazines, as a television guest expert, and as a parenting writer. Welcome!

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