How To Get Your Child To Poop On The Potty

Toddler girl outdoors looking at bubbles.

One of the most common questions I get as a pediatrician is how to get a child to poop on the potty. It’s so common that kids will pee on the potty with glee, but absolutely refused to put their poop anywhere near it.

There are a lot of theories out there about why kids find it so hard to poop on the potty, but what most parents really want to know is what to do about it. So I’m going to share with you the advice that helped so many of my patients over the years.

But seriously, why do so many kids enjoy peeing on the potty but not pooping? Since none of us can actually see inside the mind of a two-year-old, we will never know for sure. But Mr. Rogers had a good idea, when he reassured kids with his song “You Can Never Go Down The Drain.” This is a must watch with any kid who is nervous about the potty.

Some experts in child development think that kids react differently to poop because it is solid. The idea is that kids may think the poop is part of them, and flushing it freaks them out.

And it’s worth remembering that there are a lot more physical sensations involved with pooping than with peeing. While peeing rarely hurts in a healthy child, pooping can sometimes be uncomfortable. And the position we take on the potty is more vulnerable when we are pooping than peeing, so that might feel scary for our little ones.

One key thing to make sure of is that when they do start sitting on the potty, it’s comfortable. Because of our anatomy, pooping works best if we are in a squatting position, and that’s one reason why kids prefer to squat in their pull-up. We often put little kids on the toilet and let their legs dangle, which makes pooping a lot harder and is more likely to lead to a painful poop. So making sure your child has their feet up on a tall stool can help a lot. I am in no way affiliated with the product in this ad, but this unicorn does an amazing and hilarious job of teaching about pooping anatomy.

How to help your child poop on the potty

Potty training is about achieving control of poops and pees by learning to notice your body’s sensations. But potty training is also about mastering fear, and that means the less fear involved the better it goes.

For the kiddos who able to stay dry in their underwear but don’t want to poop on the potty: just tell them to ask for a pull-up when they want to poop. Believe it or not, being able to tell when they need to go and do it in a pull-up is a huge step toward achieving control. Then try this sequence, but whatever you do STAY PATIENT AND DO NOT RUSH THEM. My pediatric office is full of kids who developed severe constipation. It happens when well-meaning parents encouraged them too quickly. Often the child decides they are never going to poop again. (This is why I actively discourage those 3-day internet potty training programs.)

Toddler girl outdoors looking at bubbles.

Warning: Some kids are really freaked out by the toilet flushing. Don’t flush the poop with them around unless they are really asking to.

  1. Tell your child to ask for a pull-up when they need to go poop. Allow them to do it anywhere (behind the sofa is a popular spot).
  2. Eventually, you can suggest they poop in their pull-up right outside the bathroom.
  3. After a couple of days, see if they will poop in their pull-up right inside the bathroom door.
  4. Then maybe after a couple of days they can poop in their pull-up next to the potty.
  5. And then maybe one day they’re ready to sit in the pull-up on the potty and poop.
  6. The goal is that one day your child will be ready to poop in the potty without the pull-up. DO NOT FLUSH THE TOILET the first time. I usually suggest that you put off the flushing till they’re out of the room.

This method almost always works, because it’s sensitive to the child’s need to figure out their body and feel safe.

But there’s one other key thing that you can do to set yourself and your child up for success: don’t praise them too much. If your child succeeds with any of the steps of potty training, just say something lightly encouraging like, “Look you did that yourself.” But do not over celebrate. Parents who make a big deal about success is on the potty think that they’re being encouraging. But actually you’re sending the child a message that this is a really big deal to mommy and daddy, and suddenly that makes it a high-pressure situation.

So keep potty training light and fun, and try to stay patient. Whenever possible do not betray your frustration to your child, go scream into your pillow later. And remember, your child will get there eventually.

Remember to check with your pediatrician if it’s all going wrong. Some kids need physical therapy to learn to poop just like some kids need it to learn to walk. And please also note, that this advice is for generally neurotypical kids. Be sure to work with your pediatrician and get the appropriate therapies if your child has significant delays. Support can be really important.

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Author: Alison Escalante MD

Alison Escalante MD is a Pediatrician, TEDx Speaker, Writer and Mother on a mission to help parents caught in the culture of criticism.

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