Potty Page

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Let’s Get This Potty Started!



The thought of teaching a small child to put their poopy in the potty can strike fear into the heart of even a seasoned parent. One thing is for sure: the advice and support you get along the way can make the difference between laughter and tears (and not just your child’s!).

There’s no better guide to this major parenting rite of passage than Dr. Heather Wittenberg. Dr. Heather is a hands-on mom of four who also happens to be a psychologist and nationally recognized parenting expert—she’s someone who really gets why you need to step outside and breathe, but also has an arsenal of research-backed tips, tricks, and words of encouragement to help you keep your eye on the diaper-free prize.

Let’s Get This Potty Started offers a full complement of potty-training tools, from common readiness signs, to tailored strategies for different kid-personalities and different sexes, to secret-weapon parenting scripts for tricky moments. It also gives parents answers to common questions they’re sometimes afraid to ask: Do potty bribes really work? What about potty boot camps? And: Help! My son has to be potty trained by the time he enters preschool—what now?

This clearly organized, easy-to-read potty-training road map is the first in a series of “Dr. Heather” e-books that combines developmental research and the know-how of a mom-in-the-trenches to help you sail over parenting’s most common hurdles. Remember, they don’t call them milestones for nothing!
“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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Post your questions in the comment field below and I’ll answer them!

58 comments on “Potty Page
  1. Dr. Heather says:

    Emily, this will require an all-out effort on your part, but you CAN stop this, as long as your child is healthy and developing normally. First, do everything you can to ensure she poops BEFORE her nap. Ask her doctor what can be done to ensure she CANNOT hold her poops late in the morning — that way, she will be empty before nap time. Then, monitor her until she goes to sleep by checking on her and getting her onto the potty if she looks like she is having another poop. Also, talk with her about the problem, since she is old enough (given that she is developing typically). Remind her where poop belongs. Ask her about the smearing to find out more about it. You can offer her “messy” toys — finger paints etc — and tell her THIS is how she can be messy instead. Try these things and let us know!

  2. Dr. Heather says:


    As long as he’s developing normally — language, social skills, etc — you can feel comfortable moving forward. But DO make sure there are no delays. Sometimes, kiddos with sensory processing issues have difficulty — you would see a pediatric occupational therapist if you had concerns about that. Also, ensure there is no constipation, which is often the secret enemy of potty training, because even slightly hard poops can really hurt a little one’s bum. Otherwise, tell him HE can choose where and how to get the poop out — but it must come out somehow, somewhere. If he is good with the pull-up, go for it. Then wait until he is willing to make a tiny step — let him choose the step. Also, have him explain, draw, act out his fears. What scares him about the potty? About poops? Let him express it. Humor can also be a big help — my kids loved to make up silly stories with us about poops and bums and what happens to poops. Also, give him “messy” toys — finger paints, mud, play doh — to get him more comfy with the idea of messes. Also, watch your own emotional reaction to the issue — make sure he is not absorbing YOUR stress about it. Good luck!

  3. Dr. Heather says:

    Julie, I’ve been so busy with other BabyShrink happenings that I’ve been remiss in replying to comments. Sorry! I’m wondering what your update is at this point — has any progress been made? My initial thought is to go with your daughter’s excellent verbal skills — discuss how poop is made in the body, how good food gets used up and turned into garbage in the body, and then needs to get put out like the garbage. Make up little stories about the poops — how they want to get out and swim in the potty with their friends. Goofy, verbal things to engage her strengths and interest. Also try to get her to talk about her fantasies about the poop — is she wishing away the poop? Is she afraid of a painful poop? What’s going on inside that little mind of hers? If you like, reply back, and let me know where things stand now.

  4. emily says:

    dear dr. heather, i have a 3 year old who will be 4 in september who is smearing poop all over her room and has been for about a year now, i am at my wits end on this and need some help big time, she does it only during nap time and that is kinda on a schedual. we are in the prosess of potty training agin and she will pee in the potty but not poop, the poop she it seams like will hold it in until nap time then after she goes in her pull up will take it out and all over the wall it goes latley she has been putting it in the plug in as well, what can i do to make this stop? PLEASE HELP!!!

  5. Jenny says:

    Hi Dr. Heather,
    My 3.5 year old son refuses to poop in the potty. He had a really difficult time learning to pee in the potty and it took us probably 6 months for him to finally do it. He was scared of the pee coming out and would scream terribly and pinch himself to stop the pee from coming when we tried to make him go bare bottom one time. Then we took away pull ups and he started peeing in underwear which we took as a small success as he was at least letting it go not in a pull up. Then we got him to pee outside and he did that for a while (it literally felt like we had another dog bc he’d tell us he needed to pee and we’d let him out back). Then he all of a sudden peed in the potty one day 4 days after his baby brother was born (5 months ago). Since then we have been working on getting him to poop in the potty. It is very traumatic for him and he says he’s scared of the potty. We have tried everything from different kinds of training potties to rewards. About a month ago we stopped giving him pull ups to poop in (told him we were out) and he just started pooping in his underwear, without any notice that he needed to go. This went on for a week or so (we were hoping he wouldn’t like messing his underwear but it didn’t faze him and just caused more clean up for us). We called his Pediatrician who told us to back off for a month or two and then try again. So for a month we said nothing of the potty and always gave him a pull up when he told us he needed to poop. Now we are trying again and he’s still not having it. Refuses to even sit on the potty (which he used to do in a pull up). What else can we try? We are at our wits end and feel completely hopeless. He is seriously so smart but just refuses to do this. Please help!

  6. Julie says:

    Hi there!
    We’ve got a 3-way problem on #2 here. Control / Potty Fear / One Painful Poop

    Our 3.75 girl was very resistant to potty training at 3-3.25. We were relaxed until she began holding her pee…for HOURS. After picking her up from daycare with a dry diaper from the morning (including through a nap) I got her home and on the pot and with some tears she peed. She never looked back.

    Poop. No dice. She was a pull-up pooper only. She would initiate, poop in the bathroom and tell us she’d use the toilet for #2 when she was 4. Since she was regular and never had a pee accident (dry overnight almost immediately too) we let it be. The 2-3 times we tried, she bucked and screamed and freaked out. So there seems to be some fear thing there and we likely exacerbated it this summer by talking about how big kids poop on the potty. She’s desperate to be a big kid, desperate to avoid the potty and there’s a conflict there.The whole “have her sit on the potty in her pull up” gradual approach was a bust. She’s stand in the bathroom in a pull up but never sit on the pot.

    SO…cue a harder than usual BM on Christmas Eve. We though encouraging her like we always had (we could say “Hey, wanna poop?” before and she would) would work to get her back in the groove. It backfired, we pushed too hard one day. She has begun withholding. She’s always been a clock work kid and now sits on her foot.

    She’s also a stubborn kid (like her folks) and there is some control stuff going on here too. If she held her pee for hours I can only imagine the control she needs over her bathroom life. It seems like she doesn’t want to poop in the potty (too scary) OR a pull up (she’s a ‘big kid’) and just wants it to go away (if only it could!).

    We’re currently almost 2 weeks into a Miralax routine. We’ve told her a pull up or the potty is AOK and that big kids can do either. Once last week she asked for a pull up but otherwise holds until she poops her pants. She was pooping her pants daily, now it’s every other day. I am terrified of it getting worse or encopresis starting.

    How do handle this? Can we fix this? There’s conflicting information: Don’t talk about it at all EXCEPT to remind them, etc. We’ve trying ceasing talking about it minus a single reminder when she’s visibly holding. She’s mad as heck if we say “There are pull ups or a potty if you need it.”

    We’re not sure what to do first….Do we not talk about it for the control thing? Wait it out….that seems to work for so many parents but we’d made zero progress in 6 months in working her towards the potty. If we give it a month or two do we risk encopresis? Can we still remind her to pee (she’s started holding that again). Do we put an incentive out there (they never worked before but maybe chocolate?) to help her get over a hump? Hire a consultant (want to come to Chicago in the dead of winter?)

    We love our pediatrician but realize MIralax for months/years can sometimes be their best suggestion. When do you decide Miralax isn’t working and, goodness, what’s next?

    How do we break the cycle of withholding if it started with a painful poop but morphs into a control thing? Or is maybe both at once?

    She’s a RAD kid. Vebal, funny, etc. Thus far the holding is more discrete but I don’t want to loose our kid to a chronic poop battle.

  7. Dr. Heather says:


    Is there any male role model he can imitate in the bathroom? Can his Dad, brother, cousin, or uncle help him out here? You might also want to let him go naked for a bit so that when he DOES pee, you can immediately point and say “See that? Next time you have to do that, do it in the potty!” Try those things and let us know if you have any progress! In the meantime, keep it positive and encouraging for him.

  8. Amy says:

    Dear Doctor:
    My son is 3.5 years old. He has been interested in the potty for a while but just doesn’t seem to get how to release his urine in it. He has sat on it several times. (He is quite big, so we use an insert on top of the big potty rather than a potty chair). He has successfully peed in it twice (after 20 minutes of sitting on the potty while playing/listening to stories and drinking water). But the two most recent attempts have been unsuccessful. He seems disappointed and puzzled about it, so I don’t think he is purposely resisting. But I noticed that he’ll pee in the diaper as soon as I put it on again. Could he be unconsciously holding it in while on the potty? Is there a way to explain how to “let it go” while on the potty? I’m not sure how to proceed with potty training from here. Thanks so much for your help.

  9. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Karol,

    Toddlers very frequently backtrack in potty training. WE are the ones who see forward movement in one direction — THEY see it as more of an experiment to be tried, abandoned, and tried again. Patience is the key — and preventing constipation is the #! job at this point (so to speak!)

  10. Melissa B says:

    Dr. Heather,

    My son has been withholding his BMs since he was 18 months old, he’s about 3 years old now. We’ve tried everything, he’s on a very high fiber diet and miralax daily. It’s come to the point where he’ll hold so for long that we have to give him an enema that he hates but it’s the only way to give him comfort. He’ll withhold up to 7 days. Now he’s at the point where he’ll only go with an enema, we’re trying not to do it, but after days 5, 6, 7 we have no choice and he’s asking for the “special medicine”. He’s pee potty-trained so he doesn’t want to go poop in a diaper, he wants to go on the potty but he wont. His poop is practically falling out of him but he’s really good at holding it in. We’re at a loss, we don’t know what to do to break this cycle. It’s running our lives at this point and we have a 9 month old to worry about too, please help!!

  11. Karol says:

    Hi Rachel! I have a question regarding my son who is 39 months now. He is fully pee trained. We put him in underwear about 2 months ago and told him to just ask us for a diaper if he didn’t feel comfortable pooping on the potty. For whatever reason, he just didn’t want to poop on it. On January 1 of this year he spontaneously said he was going to poop while sitting on the potty to pee. I was amazed! He did it! All by himself without me ever even asking him to! He was doing great up until Jan 16th. For whatever reason, he just started asking for the diaper again. Reluctantly, we gave in because we are deathly afraid that he will start holding his poop again. (He is currently on miralax daily which makes his poop like applesauce). We are at a loss. Should we do something? Or should we just continue as is and wait for him to “decide” to poop on the potty again?

  12. Dr. Heather says:


    This is one of my pet peeves — mandatory potty training for young children. This is such an individual thing and many children naturally will potty train after the typical 3-year-old age cutoff at many schools. Plus the fact that pressured potty training only causes stress and even can trigger training regressions. I recommend you talk with the teacher ahead of time for ideas. Often, the school’s rule is not hard and fast — but they usually don’t advertise that fact. I discuss this in my book, as well. Talk privately with the school so they know you’re working on it, and to recruit them as a support. Then follow your son’s lead in potty interest — there is no way you can “force” a child to potty train, and if they feel your pressure, they will often balk. Let me know what happens!

  13. Dr. Heather says:


    How frustrating. I’m so sorry you’re having difficulty. At the age of 5, we definitely recommend you seek an experienced behavioral specialist who works with toileting issues. You might want to start with a developmental pediatrician and go from there. This is an unusual specialty so it might take some time to find the right person, but it’s important that you do. Let me know if you need more ideas on how to seek support. Good luck!

  14. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Raminder,

    Yes, I think the book will give you lots of ideas. She is still quite young so don’t worry — you want to restore her natural feeling of interest in the potty. Check out the book and let me know what you think!

  15. Rachel says:

    My sons school requires potty training for the upcoming school year. I am worried he won’t be ready for potty training. Sending him to another school isn’t an option and staying home from work isn’t an option. Any suggestions how to get him ready before he is ready?

  16. gemma says:

    Dear doctor,
    me and my partner been trying to toilet train my 5 yr old since the age of 3, we have tried everything charts,rewards, giving him money etc. we have took him to the doctor to see if it was anything medical, they tested him and gave him the whole clear. Every 30mins etc we take him to the toilet but he shouts and gets on/ off, if u ask him if he pooed he just smiles or founds it funny. We talked to the school nurse and his teacher they are puzzled of what to do.
    It got to the point now that our life is all about toilet training and its starting to get us down bec we dont know which way to go any help would be greatful

  17. Raminder says:

    Same withholding issue with daughter. She started around 22 months with a hard stool. On miralax which helps but I can’t get her to go back on Toilet consistently. She us 25 months now.
    She cries a lot when she goes on her diaper as she has been pooping on Toilet since 7 months old. Hates the feeling but jumps off Toilet as soon as she gets the feeling. I’m frustrated as I don’t know what to do to help her over come this . Will your book help with this?

  18. Dr. Heather says:


    Unfortunately, letting nature run it’s course when there is poop-withholding going on can often make things worse. Talk to the parents about getting the child to her pediatrician, and ask about giving her MiraLax to help soften the poops and make them more difficult to hold in. This is important because compacted poop gets more and more painful and of course backs up the whole system. The cause of withholding is often fear of a poop that hurt, or even a wish to not have to poop at all. Helping her with her anxiety is important too — poor thing has a lot to contend with, 2 little brothers! So, lots of reassurance is in order, let her use the potty chair (and get her a bigger one if needed) for now if she prefers that, and understand that the developmental task of her age is to begin to feel in more control of her life and her body. So give her choices and options as much as is reasonable. But DO get help from a good doctor on this — and ask about the Mira Lax! Come back and check in here if you need more advice — good luck, and good thing they have a good nanny helping them out! 🙂

  19. Dr. Heather says:


    YES, potty training out of the house is often a very different process than training at home. Young children are completely out of their elements — often, they don’t even realize there ARE toilets outside their homes! And just by nature, some children are easier to train than others. You might try using a pull-up when you go out, just for convenience — but talk with your son about how one day, he will be able to hold it when you are out too. Make a point of showing him the potties at the store or wherever you are going. And have you read my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started”? I have lots more suggestions for you there as well. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  20. Dr. Heather says:


    Thanks so much for your kind words, and I’m sorry time doesn’t permit me to answer all these questions immediately. But I DO get to them 🙂 🙂

    Please don’t give up on the MiraLax — it often takes quite a bit of tinkering to get the correct dose. Families often go through too little/too much cycles for weeks until they get it just right — but it IS worth the effort and diligence. Because your primary goal is to prevent painful poops, which usually cause the withholding in the first place. So once he sees that his poops won’t hurt anymore, you have a better chance of progress. But you MUST keep at it.

    In the meantime, YES, urge him to poop in the diaper or pull-up if it helps. You really do want to encourage him to get the poops out, even if in the diaper, because long term withholding causes the colon to stretch out and messes up the signal to “go” from the colon to the brain. But also know that the suppositories and enemas often do feel invasive and scary to a young child, so walking that fine line is difficult. You only want to use them if completely necessary. Another reason why that correct MiraLax dose is so important.

    As far as the exact amount of time you can allow him to withhold without using the more invasive treatments, that’s up to his doctor to say. Let us know what happens!

  21. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Karol,

    SO, on to your second question — don’t stop the pee training unless it’s upsetting HIM. Since he seems fine with it, go ahead and continue — unless you see that he does better with the poops if he just always stays in diapers, even for pee, and then just tell him he’s not ready for the potty quite yet. Talk to him about the fact that it is HIS body, and if he doesn’t want to poop on the potty, that is his choice. But the poops DO need to come out, so encourage him to go in his diaper if he prefers. Also, have him accompany family members to the potty to see how they do the deed and get him interested.

    Don’t beat yourself up about losing your temper, but DO realize that it is the developmental job of a toddler to start to assert his independence. Strangely, this is one way they do it — by trying to control their own bodies. So look for any opportunity you can to give HIM power and control — within reason — and also, read my other comments and suggestions here in the comments section for other tips you might try. Good luck!

  22. Kelly Targett says:

    Dear Doctor: I am a nanny for three children: a girl 3, a boy 20 months, a baby boy 3 months. She has recently started holding her poop to the extreme of waking up in pain screaming for daddy. The parents have tried everything and have decided to back off and let nature run her course. No diary or carbs are to be given, except for yogurt. The children eat no junk food. High fiber is what they eat every day. Fluids are pushed to the max. There has not been one instance the parents or I know of that has caused her to stop pooping. She makes healthy stools. I have been here for a while and she was pooping when I was here already. She also has a lot of anxiety. She bites her nails. She is in no way spoiled, so bribery is not an issue. We just don’t know what to do. I am putting her on the potty at scheduled times. She is afraid of the big toilet and prefers to use a potty chair, which is getting quite small. What can we do?

  23. Serena says:

    My questian is my youngest(of 3) is 3 and a half and since just after summer has been doing well on the potty and has started running to sit when he needs to, he won’t however go number 2 and he also will not hold it while we are out, I have only attempted a few times of taking him out in undies but we are almost in winter(switzerland winter) and he pees almost right after leaving and has to walk around wet, I don’t know what to do while out, I don’t remember at all what I did with my two oldest 6 and 8 they pretty much potty trained themselves but my youngest is proving to be a challenge

  24. Anna says:

    Dr. Heather,
    Your advice on here is really amazing! Thank you for taking the time to respond to everyone’s questions personally, it really means a lot to those that write in. 🙂 I have a 3 year old boy who has been doing very well with urinating in the potty for a few months now, hasn’t had any accidents (not even overnight!) but as far as pooping….not so good. He withholds his poop until it’s so painful and “scary” for him to go that he cries and cries. I feel so bad for him. There has been a couple times that I’ve had to give him a suppository and once had to use an enema. I cried while trying to hold him down and give him these because I just feel so horrible for him. I really hate seeing him hurting. I have spoken with a doctor and she did suggest using MiraLax so we’ve been using that (only about 1/4 capful) for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. I try to sit him on the potty and sing songs, talk, read, play games, etc so he feels more relaxed but he just won’t go. This time around, it’s been 4 days since he had a real BM. I really don’t want to have to do another suppository or enema, but I’m not sure what else to do to make him go. And I REALLY don’t want to have to take him to the doctor, he already doesn’t like doctors and this will make him dislike it even more. I plan on getting him some pull ups this evening and letting him go back to those for now (even though he says he doesn’t want to), but how much longer do I wait for him to go before I do something for him? Thanks in advance!!

  25. Karol says:

    My son turns 3 on November 9th and has been holding his poop for a year now. We put him on Miralax in Feb 2012 and he’ll have about 2-3 good weeks where he won’t hold it and then BAM! He’ll start holding for an unknown reason. His withholding began because of a few back to back constipated poos. Since the Miralax, his poop has been like applesauce….everyday. It’s been VERY hard to find the right dose but we’re doing pretty good on it and I do believe it helps. Although, it’s definitely not a fix for the behavioral part of this issue. Most recently, I believe he started to hold it because we started potty training him. He did really well with the pee and poop at first but wanted to do it all by himself which I didnt allow because I needed to help him wipe since his poops were so mushy. He will usually pee if I ask him to but he will not poop on the potty, and in fact now holds it even when wearing a diaper. He rarely pees on his own and will pee in his pull up from time to time. My question is, should I abandon the pee training while he figures out the poop stuff? I feel like it’s stressing him out even though he seems very happy to pee on the potty (I give him a sticker each time he goes). I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve yelled at him once for holding it. I just don’t want stop the pee training if I don’t have to….but then again, will using the potty for pee just make him think about pooping in the potty?

  26. Dr. Heather says:


    I totally agree with you that it’s best to follow the child’s lead in potty training — but this is a different issue. Poop withholding is the result of a bad experience with painful poops, and it causes the colon to distend over time, with loss of the sensation of needing to poop — and impaction, plus the constant small poops you describe. It IS important that you help her with the withholding, even if she stays in diapers for now. Because this situation rarely corrects itself — and often gets much worse, with medical complications.

    Ask her doctor about it, and see if MiraLax is recommended. It’s often used in these situations — and it’s NOT a “laxative” — just meant to really soften up the poops. But watch out — it can be difficult to find the right dose, and easy to over-do it. But finding that right dose is ESSENTIAL to helping your daughter get all that poop out — because it will make it very difficult to hold in. You also then want to talk with her about how you know her poops can be painful — but that you and her doctor are helping make sure that will NOT happen. Then give her little incentives or rewards for pushing it out instead of withholding. But DO stick with the MiraLax, even if it takes awhile to find the right dose — and faithfully follow the doctor’s suggestions on it. You want to get all that poop out, soften up everything else for the future, and encourage her to poop daily without withholding.

    You can try introducing the potty once you have a better handle on the poop withholding. Let me know how it goes!

  27. Kate says:

    Dr. Heather,
    My daughter Coral, who will be 3 in 2 months, has been retentive since she was 1 1/2. When she first started holding it back I talked to the doctor right away, thinking she might be blocked or something else was wrong. He explained that she’s trying to hold it in, not push it out. We went through a period where she would get constipated and not go for 2-3 days. We gave her mineral oil and fruit juice at the suggestion of the doctor, for a few weeks at least. She was no longer getting constipated, so I stopped the mineral oil and just made sure she gets plenty of fiber to keep her stool soft.
    So nearly a year and a half later, she still holds it in. She poops daily, but in very small amounts, some days constantly. Sometimes she gets rashes from the constant pooping and fights when I change her. Sure, I would like her to be potty trained, but even more importantly right now I just want her to be able to have a complete poop. Her poop is rarely significant in size, so I don’t think she ever gets a good evacuation. To make matters worse, my in-laws just watched her for a weekend and all of a sudden they think she has a problem and now they’re experts because they did some reading about it and they’ve got my husband all worked up about it! I’ve done a lot of reading, and haven’t found any good advice, just she’ll outgrow it when she’s ready. Yes, changing poppy diapers all day long is annoying, and it’s not good for her skin or digestion, but is now really the time to start stool softeners or laxatives to try to break her of the holding habit? I’ve trained 2 others successfully by letting them decide when they were ready, will that not work with a child who is retentive? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  28. Dr. Heather says:


    I know it’s painful to watch your child go through this. Try these things: First, talk about how SHE is in charge of her body, and that SHE can decide where and when she wants to poop. But also explain how important it is to get the poop out of her body. Let her accompany you and other willing family members to the bathroom, continue to let her use a diaper, and also please ask her doctor for help — often, a powder called MiraLax (other names in other countries) can be added to the child’s drink every day to make poops very soft — ask if something like this might be appropriate. Also, see whether a small reward might interest her. For a perfectionistic child, you need to walk a fine line — TOO much pressure can make them balk, but of course you want to continue to encourage her to poop, as well. Try these things and let me know!

  29. Jayne says:

    Hi Dr Heather,
    I have an almost 3 yr old girl who we started toilet training about a month ago. She loved it at first & after only 2 accidents went every time on her own for a wee for a couple of days. However she refused to poo & is scared to do so on the toilet. We put her back in nappies & she started pooing again. Just started with the training again last week & same thing she didn’t want to poo on toilet. After a couple of days of no poo we started putting nappies on her in the evening when she normally does her poo, however she is holding it in now even with the nappies on! She is fully back in nappies now & refusing to poo to the point of constipation! I’m giving her hi fibre foods, however struggling to get her to drink much water. She is quite a perfectionist & finds it hard to cope with anything out of the ordinary. She used to poo 1-2 times a day, now it’s turned into every 3 or so days & that’s with forcing her & many tears & frustration from me. So pooing which used to become so easy for her has become a nightmare. The poor thing squeezes her bottom together & sits down to stop herself from pooing. How do I handle the constipation & the holding it in?

  30. Dr. Heather says:


    What an imaginative (and persistent) little guy you’ve got on your hands! I’d love to know why he wants the poop back. Many toddlers have very active imaginations about what the poop is and what it means to them (and all totally normal, by the way). Often, the idea is that the poop is a PART OF THEM, like a body part — and somehow, it’s scary, bad, wrong, or will hurt to give it up. You can’t blame him — it really is a part of him (in a way) — and because his sense of logic won’t kick in until first or second grade, you can’t quite talk him out of this problem.

    I do talk about this a lot in my book, but here are some quick ideas…..When he’s calm (and not about to poop), talk to him about the problem. Ask what he wants to do with the poop. Be curious in his interesting imaginative ideas about the poop. See if there are other options you can give him. “The poop is dirty, but how about finger paints instead?” or some such. Ask for his advice on how to handle the poop. “I know you want it — but since the doctor says we MUST flush it down the potty to be safe, what can we give you instead?” See what he says.

    Also, have him accompany you, his dad, cousins, anyone whom you trust and whom he likes to the toilet. Let him be surrounded by poopers who happily flush it away. Let him see how the pros do it, and perhaps this will give him more exposure to it and let him see how it CAN be ok.

    Try these things and please let me know how it goes!

  31. Dr. Heather says:


    Sorry for the delay in responding. How is she doing now? What I recommend in situations like yours is to assume your child is simply not at the point developmentally where dry undies are preferred. Nearly all kiddos get there — and usually it happens in the blink of an eye — one day, they could not care less, and the next day — they’re dry. No rhyme or reason, just the incredible power of child development. (I had a couple of kiddos like this myself.) And there’s very little you can do to speed up that process. Trusting in Mother Nature when you have a preschool deadline is difficult I know, but there’s really no better way. You want your daughter to feel like she “owns” her body, right? Letting it emerge in it’s own time is the way.

    Now, that’s not to say you can’t make your preferences known, or that you can’t give a little incentive here and there. Just make sure you’re following HER lead, not the other way around. I do discuss this quite a bit more in my book if you’d like more 🙂

  32. Dr. Heather says:


    Yes, refusing to pee can often happen in poop-withholders. This whole process can cause many complications along the way. Is your daughter still taking the iron? Please look into whether that is necessary — it very commonly causes the problems you describe, and often dietary sources might work better (ask the doctor).

    I do appreciate your reluctance to use suppositories. If you can get progress with the Miralax, I would keep trying that, and maybe ask about a higher dose. Do you have the opportunity to consult with a different doctor or specialist? The pee withholding can raise her chances of infection — ideally I’d like you to see a kind, gentle pediatric gastrenterologist (digestion specialist) or a general pediatrician who specializes in toileting issues to create a plan for you and your daughter. Perhaps an increase in Miralax might be considered. You need to work with a doctor who can approach this in a way that helps (and respects) your daughter. Perhaps a second or third opinion to find the right one.

    Also, please talk with your daughter — when she is calm — and explain they you understand her fears, and why she does not like the suppositories. Use the same words she uses to show her you understand. Also explain how the poop and pee really, really want to get out — they can make her tummy hurt. You can also try humor — explain that the poop and pee want to go for a swim, want to come out and play, etc.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  33. Tina says:

    P.s she has been using a potty to pee for some months, now, but i think its the ide of the potty and the pressure that comes with peeing that is making her hold back, yesterday she did what she used to with poo,she told me she wanted to pee so i tild her to do it and she said no. i asked her many times to pee she refused, even in the shower where she normally pees she refused to, from the earlier paragragh she pooed over the basin from 4 months.

  34. Tina says:

    My daughter is 26 months old, i live in India, i used diapers through the day and night only till she was 4 weeks old , the cloth nappies through the day till 9 month, and since then she wears cotton panties, we do put diapers on her at night till now and when she goes to playschool. my daughter was peeing assited over a basin from 6 weeks old and pooing held over the basin from months old she could tell me by touch her tummy she wanted poo by 9 months and by a year she would say poopoo… at 16 months the ped advised iron supplements for her they gave her very bad constipation she went a week later passing golf ball size poo 4 times in the day ever since she has become a witholder. it got really bad by the time she was 20 months, she was passing poo every 12 days m suppositories stopped worked we had do a anema for 3 times in 2 months, the suppositories and anemas had the worst pschycololigal effect on her she used to tremble in fear, i used to try and explain to the dr but they just wouldnt understand that she was holding it in, binding her legs, at 21 months the doc prescribed lexopeg indian version of miralax it has helped to some extent, for the first 2 months it worked really well, then since 2 months we seem to be slowly going back to a fear and blocking happening again. I have been at my wits end … but my biggest fear is since 2 days she is now refusing to pee… pleaes can you help me… she is a super intelligent child for her age, with a very determined will, i dont want use suppositories on her ….its like she feels violated.

  35. Ruthie says:


    Every evening when my 2.5 year old son poops a major fight and tantrum ensue inclusive of at least 45 minutes of the tears and snot chorus of “I WANT MY POOP BACK!!!” It doesn’t matter if he poops in his pull up or big boy underwear he still wants his poop back. It usually takes two adults to change him because he fights so hard to keep the diaper, pull up or poop filled underwear on. After we get the poop off of him there’s ALWAYS a big mess to clean up off of him and the surrounding area. He has no problem using the potty for peeing but pooping – he wants no part of that. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve even considered giving him his poopie diaper back just to see what he’ll try to do with it!

    I realize that he may feel like he’s being violated but come on it’s poop!!!! It belongs in the toilet not on his bottom. We’re all at our whits end and tired of cleaning up the messes.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  36. Staci says:

    We potty trained my daughter using the 3-day method between Christmas and New Year’s (6 months ago). At the time she was 2.25 yrs. After a couple days she did great. She was telling us, sometimes with a tiny bit of pee in her underwear, but I figured she’d get better. After a couple months she stopped telling us. I thought she would start again, and in the mean time started taking her to the potty ever 90 minutes when it mattered we didn’t have accidents. Lots of times she’d pee in her pants a significant amount, tell me, then finish in the potty. We’d talk about telling before she peed, and that pee goes in the potty, not the pants. We tried sticker charts and rewards for peeing in the potty with dry pants.
    Then In May she started resisting the trips to the potty. She wouldn’t go in the potty before nap and bedtime and then would pee in her diaper. She would tantrum if we told her it was time to sit. So, after reading your website and others, we went back to diapers the first of June.
    She is now 2.75 yrs. She was reading her potty book yesterday (she has it memorized), and there is a page in it: “Oops, I peed in my pants, but mom says that’s okay.” When she got to that page, she looked at me and said “It’s okay to pee in your pants.” I explained sometimes we have accidents, but that we need to try to get the pee in the potty and we shouldn’t pee in our pants.
    So, I’m wondering if that was part of the problem. It seldom bothered her when she peed in her pants. Following general advice, we would not punish her, we’d just clean her up and give her new clothes. (We’d get excited/reward when she peed in the potty.) When she did pee in the potty with dry pants, there were times she thought she should change clothes anyway.
    My question is, when we resume potty training, how do we show her that peeing in her pants is not okay without punishing her for it?
    How long do we wait before resuming potty training? Do we wait for her to initiate this time? On one hand, I’d like to do it now, since she is starting preschool the end August and it will be harder once school starts (she doesn’t need to be trained at school, but would probably need to wear pull-ups or diapers to school). On the other hand, I don’t want to create a lot of resistance again.
    Thanks for the advice,

  37. Dr. Heather says:


    Thanks for the great update! Some kiddos just need to wait until they can understand the process a bit better, and get used to the idea of going somewhere other than their diapers. Congrats and aloha!!!!

  38. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Marty,

    I’m glad my book helped. If your daughter is a part Mule, part Accountant, then you surely will need to be patient! I’d suggest a potty training break — let her know that SHE is in charge of going potty, that SHE can decide if/when she uses pull-ups or diapers, and that SHE is the boss of her own body. Then make sure everyone is on the same page — all her caregivers and teachers. Then give it at least 3-4 weeks without bringing up using the potty — let her have complete choice. Then, check in briefly to see where she’s at. Is she interested in the potty yet — or not? Let her decide — and try not to convey your worry. As sure as she got up and walked when she was ready, she’ll start to use the potty when she’s ready — as long as we respect her process. Later, perhaps she’ll respond to rewards or treats, but for now it sounds as if she feels too pressured. Try it out and let me know!

  39. Stacy Davis says:

    Hi Dr.Heather,
    I just wanted to give you an update on my daughter, chloe. I emailed you awhile ago and told you how she would not potty train. Well, my hippie/mule has decided touse the potty. We are dealing with some constipation right now, but she has only had one accident. I guess there are perks to waiting until almost 3 and a half! Thank you for your book and advise. Take care.

  40. Marty says:

    Okay, I’ll give this a try. I have a daughter, 3 years 3 months, who has been very interested in potty training. I finally decided to have a Potty Party and commit to training her. I did the treats, stickers, games, presents…. she sat on the potty through out the day and actually tinkled a few times but would stop herself from emptying her bladder. She would sit on the potty for 10-15 minutes reading and singing and talking to me. About 5 minutes after getting off the potty she would wet her panties. By afternoon she got in the habit of sitting on the potty for 5 minutes, getting off then tinkling in her panties, telling me, sitting on the potty for 5 minutes, then again tinkling in her panties She did this about 8 times in a row and I was concerned she was stopping herself from emptying her bladder and could get a bladder infection. I’m not sure if I should continue with her wearing panties during the day and see if she learns how to use the potty or just put her back in diapers. I’m not sure if we are moving forward or causing her harm? She has gone on the daycare potty so I thought this was a positive and seeing other kids doing it may influence her to be more interested.
    I have read your book. I appreciate your opinion on patience and allowing her to lead. I think she’s a bit of a Mule and an Accountant. She is also terrified of public toilets.

  41. Dr. Heather says:


    The issue isn’t whether he CAN use the potty. Of course he can — he has shown that at preschool. And I know it makes it all the more frustrating for you. But potty training is the signature achievement of this stage, because it involves physical AND emotional AND cognitive development, all rolled into one. Plus a big dose of burgeoning independence. So he CAN use the potty, but he’s clearly ambivalent about it. And this needs to be HIS achievement. You want him to feel in charge of his body, and this is the way to do it.

    You’re not alone. If the situation hasn’t sorted itself out by now, take a look at my new book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started!” on Amazon — I have tons of suggestions there for you. Let me know what you think, or feel free to stop back here to check in again.

  42. Dr. Heather says:


    It very well may be. This is tricky with developmental delays. Each child has her own idiosyncratic way of developing, especially in cases like your daughter. I assume she has an IEP and/or a treatment team? The best place to go for advice is her team, who know her best. But in general, all you can do is lots of demonstration — show her how you dump her poop in the potty, let her watch you in the bathroom — and perhaps offer her PECS or other types of picture communication supports to help her convey when she might need to go.

  43. Stephanie says:

    My daughter is 3 1/2 but is developmentally delayed so cognitively is more like 18 months. We tried a little potty training earlier this year, but I gave up because I was pregnant and it was getting too hard on me to try and physically get her on the potty. (she would go to the toilet, but freak out as soon as you tried to sit her on it) I’m never sure how much to push her and how much to let her go potty when she wants. Lately I have noticed that she only poops when she is sleeping. My husband and I were wondering if she doesn’t want to poop in her diaper and so she is holding it, but when she sleeps she can’t hold it anymore. Are we crazy? Is this a sign she wants to go on the potty and just doesn’t know how to ask because of her comminication delays?

  44. Tamara - mom of the part-time potty trained toddler! says:

    Hi Dr. Heather:

    I have a bit of a “unique” situation. My son is part-time potty trained toddler! hahaha Here’s his potty training story:

    November 2012 – asked for underwear. All his friends at preschool were wearing underwear – so he wanted to start potty training at school. I held off because of power struggles at home (new baby in Sept 2012) and he would never go to the bathroom at home. I gave in two weeks later, and decided to have the preschool start the potty training process in hopes that he would transition it eventually to home.

    January 2013 – “fully potty trained”…well at preschool. He has no accidents at school and while he went through a power struggle with the preschool for a week or two – emerged with no accidents. Tried to have him pee at home…unsuccessful. Would just pee all over the floor and request the diaper. Frustrating…but he was slightly constipated so I decided not to “push” it.

    February 2013 – constipation gone! Changed from full milk to 2% milk and now he was going every 2 days! Who hoo! I was out of diapers one day – and he went pee in the potty (just that day)…small progress…next day wanted the diapers and refused to go to the potty

    April 2013 – first poo in the potty (decided to go on his own)! Yay – thought we were over that fear…it was a fleeting success…we went on vacation and the poo in the potty was completely forgotten…sad

    April 2013 – came up with an idea…since it was a control issue – why not say they don’t make diapers for 3 years old? Then it wasn’t my decision! Prepped him for a month till his birthday…all the while patting myself for such a “brilliant” idea

    May 2013 – turned 3. Ah the struggles! We ask him if he has to go and you’d think I asked him to hand wash the floor. He is resisting – but when we ask and he really has to go (he can hold his pee for 4 hours!!!) he stomps to the bathrooms and goes pee. With respect to poo, his birthday was on Wed…he held his poo till his diaper went on for naptime (which happened at home on Sat)

    So, my question…should I just follow his lead and let him be a part-time pottier – diapers at home, underwear at school (I really didn’t like him holding the poo – he will never go poo at school)…should I continue with my fib or should I miraculously find diapers for 3 years old? Or should I play this out for another week and see if he’ll poo in the potty? It’s only been 4 days that he’s been 3….

    As another thought – of the toddlers that I’ve seen “decide” on their own to go potty – I’ve noticed that they go without the pull-ups at night and that they don’t need to be reminded…so I definitely could see the argument for waiting…but I know he can do it! So on the fence – do you help hold their hand through it – or just wait until they are ready?

    Thanks for your help!

    –Mom of the part-time potty trained toddler!

  45. Dr. Heather says:


    At age 4, this kind of regression is more of a problem. Has he talked about why he doesn’t want to poop on the potty? Has he had a bout of constipation that made him afraid of the pain? Getting to the root of the problem is important. And because he’s 4, you really should reach out to his pediatrician to ask for help and recommendations. Let me know what you learn, and let me know if you’d like more ideas.

  46. Dawn says:

    My son is 4, he was on a role of pooping in the toilet, but for some unknown reason he seems to have got off track and now prefers to poop in his pull up at night. He has toilet time in the evening. I have tried him with just underwear at night but that didn’t work he still poops in them. How can I get him back on a day schedule?

  47. Dr. Heather says:


    Is he a “Mule” type of personality? I talk about the different kid personality types in my book, “Let’s Get This Potty Started”. Each personality benefits from a different approach. If he tends to dig in and resists pressure, you really often need a good solid break from training. He needs to feel like he is in the driver’s seat, especially if he has that oppositional personality style. You also should make sure he is developmentally on track, as some kiddos who have speech/language or other delays can have potty training problems, because they have a hard time expressing their needs or being in touch with their body’s signals. You want to make sure there are no medical complications, too. But certainly, MANY, many 3 year olds have this problem, and can resolve it.

    If you decide to give him a break, give him at LEAST 3-4 weeks “off”, making sure all his caregivers are on the same page. Don’t even talk about it. Let him be the boss of his body. Then come back and let me know what he’s up to and we can go from there….check out my book for even more, too. Good luck!

  48. Anne Oloks says:

    Hello ladies.
    I have read every single post of the website and here. I have been trying to potty train my soon-to-be 4 yrs old son. From the get go, he didnt want to try anything. Wasnt interested at all. He’s very stubborn. lol…Tried the stickers. High fives. Look at mommy and Daddy and big brother. Explained what happens to his tummy. Every little thing i could read about this problem, i have tried. He pees in the toilet most of the time but sometimes he wants to control things and not go until last minute when he just has too. I have never forced him to do BM in toilet if he didnt want to but now he’s in a phase that he doesnt even want to do it in his diaper either. Been doing this game for more than 6 months Does the poo dance/cries because his tummy hurts. Breaks my heart. Tell him that his tummy hurts because he doesnt go poo. I give him ‘Lax-a-Day” (Canada) every day and he goes when he sleeps some times, once or twice a week when he used to go every day. He’s going to be 4 in September which he starts kindergarden n the school wont take kids that are not potty trained. i dont want to push him too much either but it has to be a limit….lol …

  49. Dr. Heather says:


    Go ahead and try! It doesn’t hurt to experiment. Just watch your daughter closely for signs of rebellion. At the first sign of major resistance, back off and let her take the lead. And be sure that YOU are in charge of the learning process — make sure to get your mom on the same page so that you’re all sending the same message to your daughter. Good luck — and have fun!

  50. Zeynep says:

    I read in your book that potty training should be held off if the family just had moved so the child can get used to the new environment. My toddler is 25 months and we’ll be visiting my parents oversees this summer for a month. My mom suggested that we potty train her there since her floors are hard wood and not carpeted like I have here. It won’t be a stressful environment for me,and my toddler usually adapts well to changes. Should I not start potty training her there? Thank you!

  51. Stacy says:

    Thank you so much for your advice. I loved your book, and your advice makes me feel like I’m not alone:) I have a lot of friends and grandparents that had no problem with potty training, so of course I get all the looks. But that’s okay, at least now I feel like there are other people out there that can relate to my frustration. I love my little Hippie/Mule but sometimes I just wonder how she can like to have spoiled pants. I will keep you posted and just wait for the day she is ready. Thank you so much:)

  52. Dr. Heather says:


    Thanks for reading my book! Yes, “Hippies” couldn’t care less about the potty — they’ve got too much to do in life! But perhaps she has a little “Mule” in her as well? In any case, toddlers often have an oppositional streak. Plus, they KNOW you can’t “force” them to go in the potty, so often they test us out to see what will happen if they really push the envelope. The reality is — we can’t do much at all! So let her know you’re giving back the potty power to her — SHE is in charge of her body, and if she still needs the diaper to poop — so be it. Believe me, you want to do everything to prevent constipation, which will make your problem 100% worse.

    You can certainly try the “naked baby” approach, but I suspect she might ask for a diaper anyway. The key is this: Try whatever approach seems to make the most sense at the time, and feel free to change your approach as your daughter develops. Most Hippies decide all of a sudden they want to use the bog potty — so all you can do is be detached and amused from afar. Hang in there, and keep us posted!

  53. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Rachel,

    You’re not alone. This is so common! First, work closely with a pediatrician who has expertise in dealing with potty issues — and a good “toddler bedside manner”, too. The doc may prescribe something like MiraLax to really get the poop super soft and more difficult to withhold. (Be forewarned, though: it often takes a few weeks to get the dose of that kind of med “just right”.) It’s also important to make sure your son is developing properly. Speech/language delays or other problems can make it difficult to understand directions like those involved in potty training. That’s not to say there IS a delay — not at all. You just want to be sure that what you say is being understood by your son. And as I said, it’s common, and usually there is no delay involved.

    I think you’re right to take the pressure off completely for at least 3-4 weeks. Tell him that now you understand he really isn’t ready — that it’s his body, and he is in control of how he poops. Make sure all his caregivers are on the same page. It is ESSENTIAL that you get him back to regularly pooping — however he chooses to do it. Because impacted poops and constipation can wreak a lot of havoc here.

    Try that, and let us know how it goes!

  54. Stacy says:

    My daughter is 3 years old and 3 months. We have tried rewards, sticking to a time routine, all the tricks in your book, and nothing seems to work. She knows the process and can do everything on her own. She likes the big potty but holds it and will shortly go in her diaper right after being on the potty. She likes to make her babies go on the potty (She accidentally let her baby doll fall in today. Oops) I read your book, and she is a Hippie. I am still not sure how to guide her through this process. The pediatrician recommends letting her go naked over the summer, and maybe she won’t like it being on her. I don’t know how well she will do with the potty boot camp! I just don’t know what to try.

  55. Rachel S. says:

    My son is almost 3.5 and, yes, he is having some issues with pooping on the potty. He is completely potty trained when it comes to urinating, but just has a hang up about BMs. We’ve done the boot camp weekend, the no undies at home, commando in the shorts…he just holds it. He has pooped maybe four times when distracted with an iPad game…but those four times stretched over two months after LOTS of time playing the “potty game” with no results. We have him in underwear, but he just removes himself from others, hides in a corner and poops in his underwear. We’ve offered rewards, put together sticker charts, had him watch us, bought him books about the anatomy and what poop really is… we’ve bought him smaller potty seats and stools so his legs can reach…and NOTHING is working. I’m tempted to put him back in diapers so that the pressure is off, but nervous he will regress with the urine and will just continue to poop in his diapers. I’d love your thoughts or suggestions… my husband says we “missed the window” but he honestly has never shown ANY interest in pooping in the potty. I question if maybe he just isn’t ready — is that possible at almost 3.5? Seeking your advice-

  56. Heather says:

    Thank you Heather!!! I will back off again, I just sometimes feel, like will she EVER be potty trained? Do some kids do it past 4 years? Luckily we have a great preschool that does not push and will change diapers. She is so far ahead in other things – letters, numbers, art, etc – but won’t do this. Just hearing though its normal makes me feel better. I also have a 2 year old son (they are 14 months apart) – so I’m hoping he’s an “easy” personality! By the way, I did get your book and read it last night!

  57. Dr. Heather says:

    Hi Heather,

    Not only do we have the same name — we also have kiddos with similar personalities. One of mine was deeply suspicious of the potty until the age of 3 years and 10 months. Listen: Don’t get into a power struggle over this. Your daughter is already proving that she can — and will — win this battle. You want her to learn to be in charge of her body, correct? Let her be. Toilet training is the signature milestone for a 3-year-old, and it must be HERS. Pushing too hard will always backfire. And poop-withholding leads to painful constipation, which will REALLY delay her progress!

    Apologize for pushing her, and tell her it’s up to her. Tell her and her other caregivers that you’re all on a potty break — diapers only, or whatever she wishes. Give it 3 good weeks, then try again. But this time, follow HER lead. Perhaps she wants to accompany you to the bathroom, or maybe she’s interested in the kitty doing her business, or maybe there is a big kid or cousin she admires for using the potty. Stay one step behind her. Always let her take the lead. Otherwise she will rebel — again.

    I dare say this will also be her approach to MANY of the developmental challenges she meets, so pace yourself! Your little girl is giving you valuable information about how she best responds — and pressure isn’t on her short list.

    Come back and check in with me if you need more ideas, but for now, take a deep breath and give this a rest for now — and DO check out my new potty book — published just TODAY on Amazon! “Let’s Get This Potty Started! The BabyShrink’s Guide to Potty Training Your Toddler” is on Amazon here!


  58. Heather says:

    Hi… my 3 yr old daughter is scared of the potty – both chair & big. We first tried back in December, prior to her 3rd birthday and she was playful about it for the first day but the second day freaked out, cried hysterically & the pediatrician advised to hold off. On the second potty training attempt, I tried to be firmer but that ended hopelessly as well. Now here we are, 3 years old & she says she is still scared of the potty. Says “I can’t” when you ask her to try. She gets the concept but won’t sit on it. She wears pull ups but was asking for a diaper for poop. Now we ran out of diapers, I told her they don’t make her size anymore so she needs to go on the potty (I had been prepping her for this moment for weeks). She is on day 2 of not pooping & refuses the potty. What can I do? She is hysterical crying anytime you bring out the potty…. not to mention I know she has to go!

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