Potty-Training Dilemma: Why Won’t She Poop In the Potty?

I can’t get my 3-year old to poop in the potty and not in a pull-up diaper!

MOLLY: This question came from a reader in England. She added that her “daughter has been peeing on the toilet for nine months. She has never had an accident with urine but will not poop in underwear; she just holds it in. She can be so desperate and still manage not to go.”

This mom feels like they are “locked in a constant battle and she has tried every tactic she knows” to try to lure her daughter to the potty to poop. She also wonders if this behavior could be related to the fact that her daughter is a shy reserved child. Should she be worried?

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): It sounds like it’s been a very difficult time for both of them and obviously she wants to help her daughter with this. I would suggest trying not to put too much pressure on her and to just be as casual about going to the bathroom as she can. At the same time, she should try to recognize if the child has a time of day of when she poops and then encourage her to sit on the potty at that time every day.

Also, I would talk to the child directly and ask “It seems maybe you think there’s something scary about pooping on the potty. What do you think it is?”

I don’t know if a three-year old can really pull that together verbally, but the mom might give her some ideas to see how she responds. She might ask, “Are you worried that you’re going to loose part of yourself in the potty?” Or, “Are you scared that you’ll get flushed down the potty yourself?“

We don’t know what her fear is that is holding her back from taking this step toward maturation. It may actually be physical and she may worry that it will hurt too much to poop if she sits on the toilet intentionally. If they can establish a toileting routine where the child sits on the potty at the same time every day, whether she feels she has to go or not, sometimes the poop will accidentally slip out simply from taking the position, so to speak, and peeing.

MOLLY: I think you told me that my older sister had this problem when she was little.

MOM: Yeah, she did. Often she would hide in her bedroom closet to poop into a diaper. But I remember I would continually encourage her to sit on the potty. I didn’t get upset about it or anything, but we talked about using the potty to poop.

And then one time she actually pooped by accident in the potty. I became so excited that she got excited and got the idea.  I also tried doling out M&Ms as rewards when she started pooping regularly in the toilet. We didn’t have to do this for very long because she got the idea and she was fine after that.

MOLLY: This mom mentioned that her daughter is a shy and reserved child and asked it the behavior could be related to her personality? Is this more of a cause for concern?

MOM: I don’t really see how being shy and reserved is connected to this particular issue. I think it’s more of an issue of withholding and control. That’s generally what the root is for children who have a hard time beginning that pooping-in-the-potty process.

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