Potty Trained Except for Pooping

Archived Q&A and Reviews


3-year-old 100% potty trained for pee, but not poop

June 2007

My 3 yo old son is almost 100% potty trained for pee, except at night (he is even dry after naps). However, we are REALLY struggling with poop. It is clear he is aware of his poop and ''knows what to do,'' so to speak. He has had a couple of times that he actually pooped in the potty. Most of the time he just repeatidly says 'no he does not have to go' (we frequently try to get him on the potty at the times we know he usually poops), then typically just a few minutes later when out of site, he poops in his underwear. It seems very deliberate/intentional, but I know very little about this. We have tried a timer, going naked, trying to get him to sit on the potty every 20 minutes etc. and nothing seems to work. If we try to force him to get on the potty, he freaks out/screams no and we are not successful. He will even hold it 1-2 days just to do it 'his way.' Any advice on how to be successful with pooping in the potty given our situation would be much appreciated! Potty challenged

hi, my just turned 4-year-old started going pee in the potty a little before turning 3, but refused to go poop anywhere but a diaper. we tried treats and toys as rewards, told him all the diapers were gone, read him books, etc.--nothing worked. and when we put too much pressure on, he started withholding.

so we backed way off. he knew when he had to go and was pretty regular, so he would just ask for a diaper when he needed one. i can't remember now if we or he came up with the idea that he'd go poop in the potty when he turned four, but that became the plan. and we talked about it a lot for a lot of months (we tried to suggest 3 1/2 be the age, but he was having none of it).

anyway, the night after his fourth birthday party earlier this month, he told us he had to go poop and went in the potty. it's been less than a month, but so far so good. i think letting him use a diaper until he was ready really took the pressure off and helped him be ready when he turned four. and since he knew when he had to go, it wasn't too terrible for us--lots of diaper changing but at least no poop in underwear or other yucky places. there's a lot of advice in the archives saying that kids will train when they're ready--just wanted to add our recent two cents. and as a bonus, he's now dry at night too so i think his diaper days are really over! good luck and hang in there! potty trained at last

We had the same issues with both of our daughters (our almost 3 yr old is not potty trained for poop yet). With our elder daughter (now almost 5) she was potty trained for pee during the day time for quite awhile before being potty trained for poop. She did similar things you describe your son doing. She obviously knew when she had to go but would NOT go in the potty - would go in her underwear etc. We finally just let it go and had her put on a diaper when she wanted to poop, and soon she was pooping in the potty. He's obviously not ready, I would ignore it totally, and let him poop in a diaper. He'll let you know when he's ready. I'm sure you'll get a lot of responses that say the same thing. FYI my older daughter didn't sleep thru the night without a pullup until she was over 4. Now she is fully potty trained. My younger daughter is almost always dry in the AM and she isn't even 3 - they're all different. He will be potty trained, it will happen. Good luck. anon

I hear ya, sister. We just went through this, and am happy to report that within a week or two of us dropping all the bribery, encouragement, discussion, and harassment about him pooping in the potty, he went and did it himself! STOP TALKING ABOUT IT with him. He'll do it on his own, I promise. Robin

2.5-year-old won't tell us when she needs to poop

November 2005

I've checked the archives and not found anything quite like our situation. We started potty training with our daughter in the spring and it started out great. She was so excited to pee in her chair and wanted to do it all the time. She got sick (pnuemonia) soon after this, which seemed to derail the whole process completely. I don't know if the first time was just a fluke, or if the stopping of the process really influenced things. But she's never shown the same interest. She's now getting close to 2 and a half. She is extremely intelligent and communicative, so she is definitely able to speak to her need to go, and knows what it feels like to go. She used to tell us ''poop'' when she had gone, but now she won't even do that. If we ask her if she's pooped she always says no, even if she has gone. Sometimes,she hides when she has to go (which I know isn't uncommon) and gets upset if you catch her while she's pooping and look at her. She says, ''No, no, no, go away!'' My husband says she'll train when she's ready and that we haven't really tried to train her (he's not home as often as I am). But I have tried: reading books about potty training, letting her sit on her chair, letting her sit on the big toilet, talking to her about wearing underwear, asking her to tell us when she goes so she doesn't get ''butt ow-ies'', going back to using cloth diapers so she feels wetness, letting her flush her poop down the toilet after changes,etc. I wouldn't mind if she was in diapers for longer, it's the fact that she won't say anything about being poopy and sometimes puts up a fight about being changed that I don't like. I've even lost my cool a few times and yelled at her when she's not told me she's gone, which I'm afraid probably compounds the issue further. I'm beginning to wonder if part of this dilemma is a privacy issue? How do you give a child privacy when you have to be there to help? Frustrated

I think this is totally normal, the hiding to poop thing. I really would try not to get mad at her for lying about pooping, you don't want her to get a complex and have to poop in her diaper til she's xx years old, which so does happen. I think it's more of a not wanting to be bugged and changed and my toddler just doesn't like to not do anything that isn't her idea! Maybe she does just need privacy and you could try leaving her alone on her potty to poop?

Please don't stress, it sounds like she's doing great! Maybe someone can suggest some good books to deal with it? Good luck, don't worry it will happen, just on her time frame instead of yours. good luck!

Your message is all too familiar for me. My daughter, also 2&1/2, intelligent, and definitely verbal, won't tell me when she has to poop either. We've been potty training her forever; we actually infant potty trained her since 4 mo's, however that obviously didn't work. She's been using the big toilet for some time and will actually hold her pee so we've opted for big girl pants, but the poo! I don't understand it. We reward her w/ stamps, stickers and games, but she still just doesn't seem to get it that she needs to poo in the potty. So, You are not alone. I presume they'll eventually get it and in the mean time, we deal w/ it. Tracie

I'm sure you will get lots of different opinions on this--only you know what is right for you and your daughter. I was in a similiar situation with my son and decided instead of waiting for him to say he was ready to put in some effort to get over the initial disinterest in the potty. We used a timer and it only took him a day or so to get the peeing on the potty figured out. But pooping wasn't working until I realized that he, too, wanted privacy--after I put him on the pot, I would close the door or go in the other room. He let me know when he was done and we would wipe, flush, and wash hands together. It seems obvious now but he had to tell me to close the door the first time! Likes privacy too.

Preschool wants me to put 2.5-y-o back in diapers

October 2004

My 2 1/2 year old son started attending preschool this summer a few mornings a week. We started potty training him a few weeks ago because he showed a lot of initiative in going to the potty himself. I would say that he's now potty trained except for the pooping (which I know takes time). Since we started the traiing, he's been wearing ''big boy undies'' during the day and training pants (Pull-Ups) at night, even though he's been able to keep dry during sleep. However, his preschool has asked that we put him in Pull-Ups when he's in school because it gets too messy for them to change poopy underwear. I'm wondering, though, if the Pull-Ups during the day will slow down progress in the pooping department. I understand that it's messy to clean up, but since we're paying a diapering fee, I almost feel that they should deal with it regardless of what he is wearing. Any thoughts? What are other policies at preschools for potty training?
Just wondering

I know you don't want to do anything to cause your child to backslide when it comes to potty training, but changing poopy undies and a poopy diaper or pull-up are not the same thing. It is a lot messier, you can't tear undies at the side but have to pull them and the slime down their legs, and underpants don't hold the stuff in like pull-ups do. These are overworked, underpaid, very busy teachers who are also trying to attend to a handfull of other children and the extra work involved is probably more than they can handle especially if it happens regularly. I saw an add for pants that help the child feel when they are wet (don't know the brand or if they are any different than the other pull-up type pants on the market) but it might be your next best bet. I don't think it's fair to expect the teachers to deal with the mess involved with poopy undies. Good luck CB

3-year-old trained but won't poop in potty - panties or diapers?

April 2003

My nearly 3 year-old daughter has been self-initiating going pee into the potty for 6 months now. She has NEVER pooped into the potty. Many of her same age friends are in ''big-kid underwear.'' She really wants to wear them, too. We tried it for a while and she was still having quite a few accidents (both pee and poop). I was not reacting well to having to clean the accidents and told her that we were going to switch back to diapers for a while. I told her that when she starts using the potty for poop then we'll try again. Now, several months later, she is always telling us when she has to pee and is staying dry all day, except during her nap when she usually poops and she usually wakes up in the morning with a poop, too. Still no poop in the potty. She has finally stopped asking to wear the underwear and I haven't mentioned them. She is wearing disposable diapers all the time. When she has to use the potty, she can take everything off on her own and asks for help to wipe and put her diaper back on. After taking off and putting on the disposable diaper many times throughout the day, it begins to break down and the velcro tabs wear out. We are often throwing out disposable diapers that have never seen pee or poop! I know this is wasteful. But there is still no poop in the potty! Now that I told her that we would use diapers until she poops in the potty, I don't want to go back on my word. But, this is getting ridiculous. We have used lots of positive reinforcement for all of the desirable potty habits and nonchalantly changed the poop diapers. Once I asked her if she wanted to talk about pooping in the potty and she told me, ''Poop in the potty is scary, Mommy. It's not going to happen.'' I want her to use the potty for pooping when she feels ready and not a moment before, but what should I do about the attire? Keep doing what I'm doing, pull-ups, underwear during non-sleep times?!?! Thanks. Tiffany

I got my daughter potty trained about 6 months ago and like yours, she had no problem with peeing in the toilet. The first time she pooped in the toilet, however, she screamed and cried for 5 minutes and wouldn't do it again. I put her in big girl underwear during the day, a pull-up for naps, and a night diaper at night. She would wait until she got on a pull-up or a night diaper to poop. I finally realized I wasn't going to talk her out of being scared to poop in the toilet: she needed to get used to seeing the poop go down the toilet. So every time I cleaned up her poop, I'd make her come to the toilet with me, we would flush it together and I would tell her that poop belongs in the toilet. I had also put up a potty sticker page in the bathroom and told her that when she was ready to poop in the toilet, she could put 5 stickers on it (she was getting 1 per pee). It took about 3 weeks (and a lot of patience!) but she finally came around. Now if I could only get her to stop announcing to our dinner guests that she's pooped and peed in the toilet.... Joan

My 2 3/4 daughter did her pooping last, and only after I whisked her onto the little potty seat when she obviously was going to make a poop. She resisted for awhile I think because she wasn't sure where it was going to go - this, even though she saw my poops after I went. When she went for the 1st time, she said ''Oh wow there it is - it's so big!'', and never pooped in her pants again. I would suggest Pull-ups for attire. We never had a problem with her really consistently using it as a diaper - we use it for night-times only now. I think the change from pull- ups to underwear makes more sense than to continue to use the diapers. Anon

OMIGOSH! My daughter is going through a similar thing, and I thought we were the only ones! At 2.5 my daughter potty trained in a day and a half by wearing thick cotton training pants. She was dry all day and during naps and at night. Wow, how easy, I thought, and we gave away all our diapers. However, she was still not pooping in the potty. I expected it would take a few more weeks, and she'd get the hang of it. NOPE! It's been 3.5 months, and she still won't poop in the potty, only in her pants. For the first 3 months, I kept her in underwear--I didn't want to undermine her self-esteem. BUT every night when I would pick her up at daycare, there'd be a plastic bag filled with 3-4 pairs of poopy underpants (and the same on Sa-Su). When we went away for a long weekend I decided to put her in pull-ups--which I hate--but I didn't want to wash out underwear on our vacation. I was worried she might start peeing in them, but that didn't happen. Since then, she's stayed in pull-ups. I've told her she can wear her big girl underwear again when she starts to poop in the potty because Mama doesn't like to clean out yucky underwear. (FYI, I'm a single mom, so I can't share this duty with another parent.) I feel like I'm being a little mean, but I can't take it anymore, and dealing with the pull-ups improves my attitude!

Good luck! This inspires me to ask the community for potty training ideas! Can't take it anymore, either!

My daughters (twins)didnot get ''trained'' until 3 1/2 years old. And even then, there were many mornings or afternoons of ''drills''-setting the timer for 30 minute intervals to use the potty. We only used pull-ups for special circumstances: a long car trip or an evening out at someone else's house. This led to the understanding that pull-ups were only for accidents. Now (3y9m)we use pull-ups at night and they understand that they can get up at night to use the potty themselves (tho they always call for help) whereas with diapers they never bothered. As for pooping, one daughter has always had constipation and holding problems so we always offered her a diaper when we saw her holding. But on her own she started to poop in the toilet and now she doesn't hold at all (dare I say she even seems to be proud of the process and/or control to do it herself). So, I recommend giving your daughter time to feel comfortable herself and give her diapers at her pooping times. Also, I always hated dealing with poop in the pull-ups - it's not as easy as with diapers. Best wishes with this learning curve!

Our daughter wore cloth diapers until she was two, at which point she had a very strong interest in potty training. I switched her to pull-ups which completely killed all of her interest in continuing to potty train because she could just go and not feel uncomfortable. She is over 3 1/2 now and has the physical ability to potty train but no interest. Had I to do it over again I would have switched to cloth training pants and never have used the pull-ups. Good luck! anon

How about a cloth diaper for naps and night, and underpants at other times? Anon

I think that since the diaper flaps are wearing out from over use, that you should just switch to pull-ups. They pull off and on like underwear, so nothing wears out, and she can still poop in them because the sides tear away when you pull hard to make them tear, so clean up of poop is just as if she were wearing a diaper. I'm actually glad to hear I'm not the only one with an almost 3 year old who's not fully potty trained. But I have a different problem. My daughter will pee and poop in the potty (although pooping is a big production), but only at home. I always ask her when we're out and I go to the potty if she wants to go to, but she always says no. How the heck do I get her to go potty in public places, and inspite of the fact that she has a pull-up on? Occasionally we get up the gumption to take her out with just regular underwear on, only for short outings, and she does pretty well. But she still doesn't use a public potty, she just holds it until we get home. And I thought girls were supposed to be easier! Good luck to you. Jennifer

It sounds like she is usually pooping while asleep, but is dry the rest of the time, so have her wear diapers for naps and nighttime and let her wear underwear other times. If she is always dry during the day and asks whenever she needs to pee, you don't need to deal with pull-ups. If she sometimes poops during the day, let her know that if she wants to poop in a diaper and feels a poop coming on, you will put a diaper on her just for that purpose. That way whe can relax and it won't be a power struggle for her.

Also, just stop talking about pooping in the potty with her for a while. I know with my son, I thought I was raising the issue in a no-pressure way, but he felt the pressure anyway and it made him more resistant. Once I resolved to stop asking about it, mentioning it and even went so far as to not talk about his toilet habits with anyone else-- incuding on the phone-- if he was in the house and there was ANY chance of him hearing me, he became more relaxed.

Eventually we had to resort to bribery (big time) (a piece of candy every day if he pooped in the potty, a toy if he pooped in the potty for seven days straight, a REALLY special toy or outing if he did it for two weeks straight. He got to choose the rewards and we made a chart with days to check off and pictures of the rewrads to come) to get him to poop in the potty, but this was after a one month moritorium of talking about potties, he expressed a desire to make it work and he was nearly four by then. I don't know if bribery works about potties, he expressed a desire to make it work and he was nearly four by then. I don't know if bribery works with younger kids. Good luck! Karen

My nearly 3 year old son was also afraid to use the potty for poop. I knew he could control it because he would run and hide, then come out with a poopy diaper. Like you, I got tired of cleaning up poopy underwear so I went back to diapers. But when I did that, he got lazy and didn't use the potty for anything. I told him the same thing you're telling your daughter. ''Mommy doesn't want to clean poopy underwear all the time. When you're ready to use the potty for poop and pee, you'll get to use big boy underwear.''

Just this week, a miracle happened. He was getting undressed for a bath and needed to go pee. I sat him down on the toilet (sometimes he wants to sit, other times he stands). When he pushed, a little bit of poop came out. I said, ''Look at that! You made poop in the toilet! See, you can do it!'' He said he was done, but I knew that couldn't be true, so I said, ''Can you pass gas for me?'' When he tried, low and behold, out came more poop. Then it became fun for him, and he finished the job. He's since used the toilet for poop 3 or 4 times.

Sounds like you're really stressed about the whole situation. Believe me, I understand. But I think your daughter picks up on the stress. If she can observe you (or a sibling) going poop, it may help her see that it's ok. She'll do it on her on soon. In your case I would have her use big girl underwear and offer to put a diaper or pull up on her when she needs to go poop. A friend of mine did just that. I thought it was really offer to put a diaper or pull up on her when she needs to go poop. A friend of mine did just that. I thought it was really strange at the time, but in hindsight, I think it's a great interim idea. My own son, wouldn't warn me ahead of time, but your daughter might. LD

3 year old glad to be back in diapers after pooping in underwear

Hi, I know a lot of questions about pottytraining have been raised, but I still haven't found the answer to mine. We have a 3 yr old girl who still poops in her underwear. We've tried everything, from rewards to punishment, from acknowledgement to saying nothing. Even letting her wash her own dirty stuff. We've been trying for almost a year now. She'll do ok for a week and then back to zero. This summer we moved and had a 2nd baby, but that didn't seem to bother her. Her new school doesn't want diapers so we hoped the shocktreatment would work. It did, for a week or so. She's currently back in pullups and loves it. She doesn't to use it as underwear and we're not really allowed to change her. We're kind of desperate and hope anyone has a suggestion we can use.

First: Don't punish or humiliate! Negative feedback will not give you a toilet-trained kid without hangups about elimination. I'm not even sure a 3-year old is capable of cleaning themselves after soiling his/her pull-ups. I wouldn't expect one to.

That said, I may have misunderstood the e-mail but if your daughter is pooping in her pull-ups and the school won't change her then I'd look for another school. That school sounds confused about its toilet-training policy. Either the school should have a policy about taking only toilet-trained kids, or it should clean the kids up after an accident. (Even if the child is toilet-trained, you can't expect them to never have an accident at that age.) My son's preschool wanted kids in its regular program to be pretty much toilet-trained but I'm certain they would have cleaned up a kid who had an accident. In its toddler program, one of the teacher's duties was changing the non-toilet-trained kids.

My suggestion to you is to relax and step down a bit. It seems to have turned into a power struggle. As long as you continue to show her that this is VERY important to you, she will resist. A friend of mine was having this problem with a 4 yr old. She tried everything in the book..bribery, rewards, logical reasoning, etc.. Nothing worked. She ended up taking my advice and within weeks her child voluntarily used the toilet. Kids need to feel their own power. Try telling her that you realize that perhaps she just isn't ready to use the potty, but that when she is she should let you know. And then, don't mention it....at all. When she poops, just matter -of-factly clean up the mess with no judgement or complaint. OFten when kids fail to elicit a dramatic response, it takes the wind out of their sails. No more use for that behavior. They love drama of any kind! This will be hard for you, but if you truly let go...she'll most likely come around, unless, of course, she's just not ready. I think that when they are ready, and if they feel like they are driving their own car they will just do it. Good Luck!

I have several reactions to the plea for help with 3 1/2 year old boy and toilet training. First, at least anecdotal evidence seems to support the idea that boys are much later than girls at getting this together. Second, to start at 2 1/2 is definitely not late, it may even be too early, depending on the child. If you pushed a lot at the beginning before he was ready, this may be the delayed reaction. My son pooped in his pants at school and didn't seem to care if others knew or not, although he didn't announce it, for probably a year or more between 3 and 4 1/2. Not every day, but frequently, and it was usually because he was desperately holding it in because he didn't want to go at school. We discovered that one of his issues was that there was no door on the bathroom at school, which was right in the classroom--pretty typical--and he just needed more privacy, he was just too self-conscious to go publicly like that, and it actually felt more private to him to go in his pants, if that's what it came down to. Another thing was that in his fairly large classroom of 16 or so kids, he was very popular and usually at the center of things. He just couldn't let go of what he was doing to go to the bathroom--perhaps some fear that he would lose his role in what was going on or lose his train of thought or that the game he was playing would fall apart. For him a little poop in his pants was no big deal compared to the importance of his play. He is 5 1/2 now and while he never poops in his pants any more, he still runs to the bathroom at the absolute last minute, and often pees in his pants because, he says, he's too busy and didn't notice he had to go. He'll often stand right in front of me dancing all around, asking me for markers or something that he needs and I have to tell him to go to the bathroom. Often he denies he has to go and I have to say I won't cooperate with what he wants till he goes. I'm just hoping some day he'll get sick of it (in fact, today, for the first time he was almost in tears when he changed his pants for the third time, saying he was so tired of having to change his pants, so maybe we're getting there). My advice, with hindsight, is DO NOT PUSH THIS ISSUE WITH YOUR CHILD (I did, of course, and regret it immensely) AS IT WILL ONLY GET WORSE AND STAY THAT WAY FOR A LONG TIME, IF YOU DO. Just quietly change his clothes and move on. Bring lots of underwear and changes of clothes to school for the teachers, ziplock plastic bags to put the mess in, and maybe some pull-ups too, if they think it will be easier on them to use those. Perhaps offer to your son to go back to using pull-ups at school until he gets more comfortable, and check out the privacy issue!

Problems in this area can be symptoms of an underlying power struggle between toddler and parent. The attitude which you approach this with your child can make a world of difference. I recommend two books regarding this subject:

- Rudolph Dreikurs, Children: the Challenge (esp. pp 148-149 on bowel control and toilet training)
- Spock's Baby and Child Care (esp. the section on Bowel Control).

I would also ask your son's pediatrician and preschool teacher (if any) for their thoughts. My suggestion would be to have him wear pull-ups day and night until he can control his bowel movements and otherwise not get too involved. Above all, don't show concern and don't let it turn into a power struggle (eg, you control him by taking him to the toilet during the day and he controls you by getting you up at night).

By the way, Dreikurs is a truly superb book on child rearing. A year ago, our (then) 3-1/2 year old had any number of behavioral problems. A behavioral pediatrician was recommended to us but she proved to be quite worthless (though rather expensive). About that time, we started reading and following Dreikurs; his behavior began slowly but steadily improving; and now he's doing great ... certainly as well as any of his agemates (that we've met). Fran