When Your Child Won’t Poop in the Toilet

I can’t believe I’m writing a post about poop. But I am. Because this was something I needed to hear for a very long time, and now it’s my turn to pass my experience on to some other anxious, frustrated, worried mother or father. I’m “taking one for the team” here folks – I’m taking one for you, if you’re the one who Googled your way here.

Sometimes a potty-trained, even slightly older child just will not poop in the toilet.

When Your Child Won't Poop in the Toilet - Advice and Encouragement for Parents

It happens. Our oldest daughter was potty-trained day and night at 3, but refused to poop in the toilet until she was well into 4 years old. And even then, she only did it because a friend and her mom were over for a play date, and they took her to the bathroom with some positive peer pressure and showed her that the process was no big deal.

That was years ago, though. A parenting struggle you move through and look back at with a sage nod and say, “Ah yes, I remember that time.”

Well, that time – as history often does – has repeated itself ten years later with our youngest son, 5yo Eli.

Eli took a long time to potty-train for daytime – I think he was nearly 4 before he was even interested in it – but once he could do it, he never had an accident. I mean never. Not at home while he was playing, not at the store, not at a friend’s house. I carried extra pants and underwear everywhere, because I had always needed them with my other kids. But there was never even a close call with Eli.

But he held his ground on two things – he would absolutely freak out at the thought of wearing underwear at night, and he would not poop in the toilet.

Observing the kind of anxiety he had over possibly wetting his bed at night, I decided it was no harm/no foul on letting him wear a Pull-Up while he slept. I figured that was something we could work on over time.

But the whole poop thing? What should I do about that?

We sat him on the toilet for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time until it felt like torture (to both him AND us). I had him blow bubbles while on the toilet (after hearing that blowing bubbles leads to a natural release of your sphincter muscles). We offered prizes for pooping. We watched potty-training videos and read books with him in an attempt to de-mystify the process. We even tried the “see!-your-friend-goes-poop!” trick that worked with our oldest daughter.

Nothing.

He would poop in a Pull-Up, but not on the toilet. And when we said “NO MORE PULL-UPS!”, he would keep from pooping for days. Like…five days at a time. That’s scary stuff!

We never did take him to the doctor about this, though I know many parents in our situation would have. I just never knew what a doctor could do for us. The issue seemed 100% behavioral, not physical. And we felt we had tried many reasonable means for eliciting better behavior, all without success.

The older Eli got, the more frustrating this was for my husband and I. And I was ashamed, embarrassed. Because what 5 year old doesn’t poop in the toilet?!! Well, judging by a search on the internet, a lot of them! And even 6 year olds and older. It happens.

Eli is now 5 1/2, and I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that his behavior has been shifting to one of greater independence. He has expressed more confidence in himself and the world. Would NOW be the time he’d finally get over his issues with pooping? I decided to jump in with both feet and kick two habits in one swoop – UNDERWEAR ONLY! I said, morning, noon, and night.

I bought him new Super Mario sheets and a blanket. I bought him new pj’s. I bought a “prize bag” and enough prizes to fill it every morning for a more than a week. If he wore underwear at night without making a scene, he’d get a prize. And – oh yeah – now that you have underwear, you’ll have to poop in the toilet, too. I just left it at that, very nonchalant.

The underwear at night thing went brilliantly. We’re waking him up to use the bathroom at around midnight, and he’s slowly learning to wake if he needs to go again.

But the poop? He held his ground, and once again, five days went by without a bowel movement, even AFTER slipping him a stool softener in his juice.

We gave up. My husband and I just sat down and said WE GIVE UP. We don’t care. The boy can wear a Pull-Up wherever and whenever he wants if he has to poop. We really just didn’t care anymore. It was more important that he be healthy than he fit any kind of pre-conceived notion of what was “ok” for him at his age. It was the lightest I had ever felt about the situation, and for once my husband and I weren’t frustrated or angry about the situation at all.

This was last week. Two days ago, my husband came home from work to find Eli sitting on the toilet, pooping. Just like that. No big deal. We were all really shocked! And of course, we danced and sang and generally celebrated Eli for doing it.

Later that day, he pooped twice more. Yesterday, he went to the bathroom like he’s been doing it for years and pooped again.

SWITCH FLIPPED.

It’s insane. It’s absolutely crazy how it happened. And the thing is, it only happened because Eli was ready for it to happen.

If you have or know a potty-trained (even slightly older) child who won’t poop in the toilet, there are a few things I want to say. First, gain some assurance or confidence that it’s not a physical challenge. Second, please know you are not alone. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed, do not be angry with your child. Don’t look at it as a failure either in your parenting or in the child’s general nature. These things just happen! And third, this situation WILL eventually be resolved. Your child will not go to college in a Pull-Up. However long it will take, there will be a resolution. Hang in there!

So…there’s my post about poop. Some may say that Eli will not be thanking me for this post when he’s 15, but if it helps any ONE parent who has dealt with the same stress I’ve felt for the past two years, theirs is the only bit of gratitude I will need.

What about you? Have you dealt with – or are you now dealing with – this issue? Do you have any questions, encouragement, advice, or commiseration you would like to add?

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