Halfway Potty Trained :: When Your Toddler Won’t Poop


One step forward, three steps back. toddler won’t poop

That’s been the case for our two and a half year old daughter with every milestone she’s ever learned to master. She has a will of steel, yet is overly cautious, needing time to warm up to each new situation she encounters.

However, I am not slow to warm up and prefer the band-aid method for everything. Rip it off, then it’s over. Well let me tell you right now, band-aid methods are not meant for all children. And I learned this the hard way.

Last summer, we were waiting on our baby #2 to arrive, and I really wanted to tackle potty training with our two year old. Like it was a to-do to be checked off, next to picking up eggs and milk at the market.

I had friends who had experienced success with the Three Day Potty Training Method, so that was my plan of action. Of course, it didn’t exactly take three days for us. She immediately figured how to “beat the system” by holding her potty for hours, even with an excess of fiber and liquids. This little “skill” she learned would eventually be the cause for the most stressful, maddening months we have ever experienced as parents.

At the beginning we were pleasantly surprised. After a couple weeks of consistency and encouragement {and a lot of tears, stickers and M&M’s}, it actually worked. We could not believe it. Our little girl was potty trained!

But only halfway. What do you do when your toddler won’t poop?

Though she had zero problems with pee at this point, she would clam up the moment she had to go #2.  She was terrified of pooping on the potty and very quickly learned to start “saving her business” for nap and nighttime – when we allowed her to wear diapers. And it worked for awhile. But eventually, it only perpetuated the issue of “holding it” and started causing problems.

I became a poop expert. If there was a trick, we tried it. We talked to the doctor on a weekly basis, put the potty seat in warm water, tried to go back to diapers, had a consistent diet of prune juice and fiber, got a visit from the “Poop Fairy”, could recite every lyric to The Poop Song, and had a bathroom that looked like a carnival with charts, candy and toys.

I decided to try one last potty seat, take away all the diapers, load up the girls and head to Target for her to pick out a special “Poop Toy”. I nonchalantly told her that the only way she could play with it was if she went poop on the potty.

And she did exactly that.

I kid you not. It was that simple. Even though we had done that same thing nearly 100 other times, this time, something clicked. And the kid went on the potty. When she was ready. And motivated by the hot pink toddler laptop she picked out.

Sure she had accidents and slept on towels for a solid 3 months, but life is a whole lot more enjoyable now that we’re on the other side of potty issues. Here are a few things we learned along the way, {like pooping on the potty is a super common fear in many toddlers}.

How to cope with a toddler who won’t poop

Make it difficult for them to “hold it”. We were very intentional with our daughter’s diet and encouraged lots of movement and exercise. We incorporated a ton of fiber-rich foods and upped the liquid intake. We also limited the dairy as that can be a barrier {literally}. We tried to make it really difficult to get backed-up.

Find the right potty seat. Thanks to our pediatrician enlightening us on this one. She had me do an exercise to better understand the importance of putting our daughter in a position that would give her more “leverage”. She had me sit on the edge of a chair with my feet dangling and asked me what muscle I was squeezing (seriously, try this). It immediately became clear to me that having our daughter on the big potty with her feet dangling was actually making it significantly more difficult to naturally push. We switched to this Baby Bjorn low-to-the-ground potty seat because it gave her leverage, and it was the big game changer for us. 

Stay the course. Unfortunately, once we began the process of potty training, there was no turning back. We figured it would be even more confusing if we went back to diapers after she had been in underwear for months with no accidents. So we did what we thought was best, which was to stay consistent. And for her {most of the time}, it worked to go #2 when she was completely relaxed at nap or bedtime in the comfort of a diaper.

Don’t stress. This is such a tough one. But your anxiety heightens their anxiety. All you can do to help them through this fear is to keep encouraging them and take the pressure off. We let her set the pace and tried to make things fun with videos, songs and books. And we kept telling ourselves, she {hopefully} won’t still be pooping in a diaper in kindergarten!

What we would do differently next time around 

Wait until they’re ready. I can’t stress this enough. Although my daughter really was showing some signs of readiness, I definitely forced the issue before she was completely ready. What I went into as a let’s try this out and see if it works, turned into a nightmare for us. Toddlers are little people, and you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. We could have avoided a lot of anxiety {and messes} had we just waited until she was completely comfortable. But once we started the process, there was no turning back. It was a state of unnecessary limbo for longer than it needed to be.

Don’t compare. I was just sure that because this method clicked with other two year olds, it would with mine as well. And admittedly, when it wasn’t working, it made me feel like a failure. {I’m so ashamed to even type that}. Of course I see clearly now and can confidently say that our situation was simply a reflection of our daughter’s personality, preferences and ways in which she handles new situations. And comparing children is like comparing chocolate to potato chips – both delightful, but completely different.

Know YOUR child. In hindsight, I should have known that this rip-it-off method would not have been the best choice for our daughter. She needs time to process, analyze and settle in slowly to new situations before she is confident enough to succeed. So for us, that meant completely backing off and letting her lead the way. And one day, she was finally ready, on her terms of course!

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  1. I am going through this now with my son(3 in September) and it is so stressful. He does pretty good going pee and has pooped on the potty several times. The problem is he still doesn’t know how to recognize when he needs to go. We have been taking him about every 30 minutes and we still have had accidents. He starts a new school in August and really needs to be trained. Wish me luck!

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