Potty Struggles with a 4-Year-Old

In this episode: The parent of a 4-year-old is concerned that her boy won’t poop on the toilet and wonders what she can do to encourage him. She realizes that it’s a sensitive topic and she wants to respectfully help him “without adding to the issue.”

Transcript of “Potty Struggles with a 4-Year-Old”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today I’m answering an email from a parent who says that her son decided it was time to sit on the potty when he was three years old, but now a year later he’s still not able to have a bowel movement on the potty. So she’s wondering how to respectfully help him along.

Here’s the question I received:

“Hi Janet, first off thank you for your positive and encouraging parenting advice. Your books and podcasts are truly amazing. (You’re very welcome.)

My question concerns my four-year-old son. He’s very particular and very routine. He likes things to be orderly and neat but is still a fun rambunctious little guy. Potty training was particularly difficult due to his strong preference for a reliable routine. I can’t say I blame him. Change is hard. We did not rush potty training and just kept encouraging him. At three years old he decided he was ready. He’s done a great job and conquered the potty part of potty training. Here comes the issue.

A year later he still won’t poop on the potty. He has done it maybe three times total and it was awesome. We cheered and he seemed proud but now he refuses and gets so upset at the thought of pooping on the toilet. He demands a diaper. I’ve had people say just wait him out but I can’t stand the thought of him being miserable and pooping his own pants. That feels cruel to me. He’s now four and slowly edging toward boyhood. I feel bathroom topics are sensitive and I want to respectfully help him conquer his dislike of the toilet without adding to the issue. Any advice?”

Okay, so this is an interesting question that I receive some version of a lot and it reflects the importance of emotional readiness for toilet learning and how this can really be a sensitive aspect for some children. It’s so sensitive that if children feel some kind of urging from their parents or any kind of pressure around this, their bodies actually almost won’t let them release on the toilet. It affects them physically, but when they’re offered a diaper they are able to.

I realize there is a lot of advice around toilet training out there, books and experts who will tell you that you can do this in three days, that it’s up to parents to make this happen, that children need to be coerced with awards like stickers and treats and big applause when children get this right. I don’t believe in that. What those things do is affect the intrinsic desire that children have to achieve, and learning how to use the toilet is one of the biggest early achievements that children can have. It gives them great confidence in themselves, but if they feel like they’re doing it for other reasons, for parents, to please them or to get a reward, it devalues the accomplishment.

Many children see right through those things. They feel coerced. They don’t like it. It feels like pressure. Also it often doesn’t work with children who are especially sensitive and tuned in, so that’s why I recommend what it sounds like this parent is doing, which is really trusting your child’s readiness and allowing them to own this. I’ve written about this in a few articles mainly in “3 Reasons Kids Don’t Need Potty Training” which is on my website janetlansbury.com.

In this case it sounds like, according to this description the mother shared, that her son is the type that would be sensitive around this because he likes things to be orderly and neat, and that indicates that he likes to feel a sense of control. What comes out of our bodies really needs to be in our control, so it’s wonderful that this family didn’t push him at all. They allowed him to decide when he was ready.

He needed it to be like that as so many children do. But the problem started when they were so excited that he did poop on the potty. She says it was awesome and we cheered and he seemed proud. So they were excited. They cheered. They showed him their excitement and that can be enough to make this much, much harder for him. That can feel like pressure to a child like this. Obviously that was very well intentioned and the parents were caught up in their own enthusiasm and how wonderful it was, and I’m sure they didn’t realize that their child might react that way.

This reminds me of a time that my oldest daughter, who is sensitive and intense, she was at least when she was little, we went miniature golfing together. When she had younger siblings I used to have this afternoon once a week that she and I would get to go do something after school. It could be really simple like going to the park or something more extravagant like going to a miniature golf course.

So there we were, we started playing and she was doing brilliantly. She had these amazing shots and I was excited and I said, “Wow! You must be so proud that you’re doing so well.” Well then after that she wasn’t able to keep that up and she didn’t do as well. She got very down about it, and she was about six years old, so she was able to share with me that it didn’t feel good that I told her she was doing so well because that made her feel nervous about keeping that up.

So I think that’s what’s happened to this little boy. He’s sensitive to pressure and he wanted to be able to be the hero that everyone applauded for, and that made it really hard for him to do it. It went all the way to the physical level where in his body he couldn’t do it. Emotions are very powerful for all of us but especially for young children.

So what I would do about this is, first of all, I would dial back the emotional involvement that the parents have in this. I would really trust him. I would let go of this completely. You know, if they have excitement they want to share, share it with each other as parents but not with him. If he does make a positive step forward and he is able to poop on the potty again, I would just say something like, “Wow, you felt like pooping on the potty today,” not making a big to-do about it, allowing it again to be inner directed, allowing it to be his intrinsic desire, and for him to be completely own what he is doing.

I realize that’s hard, and this is true for a lot of other areas with children as well. When they’re doing any kind of skill, it’s so hard to temper our enthusiasm because we love them and we’re excited for them. This is a good example of how important it is to be a little careful about that.

So when she says now he refuses, I wouldn’t put him in the position of even refusing. I wouldn’t even ask him or suggest that he does it. I would let him know that diapers are ready whenever he needs them and you’re totally down for giving those to him if you want him to be comfortable.

And regarding where you all stand in this process, I would say something to him like, “I know we’ve been talking to you about going on the potty and pooping on the potty. We’ve been encouraging you. You know what we realized? We trust you to do this when you’re ready. We know you’re going to do it when that time comes and you’ll let us know when you want to do it, so we’re going to stop bugging you about it completely.” And then I would really and truly let it go so that he feels the emotional space to take this big step.

This mother says she’s worried about him being miserable. That’s one of those things that we really can’t control. We can’t control his own feelings about his process if he is miserable, or maybe he’s a little miserable because he feels like he’s letting the parents down. Taking that out of the equation is so important. But also allowing him to feel the struggle in this journey, allowing that to be his to experience it and not worrying about that, that it’s something we have to fix. What we have control over is not adding to it with our own agenda and our own excitement and concern and worry. We have to get off the rollercoaster ourselves.

And so it makes sense that she feels bathroom topics are sensitive. Yes, I feel this is sensitive for him because it feels like a big failure. It feels like he really let people down and disappointed his parents. She says, “I want to respectfully help him conquer his dislike of the toilet.” So that is not something that these parents have the power to do. In fact, their involvement I believe will make it harder for him, so letting go of that, really trusting him. He’s going to conquer it, but he’s going to do it himself without his parents pressuring him around it in any way, even in the most positive way.

Parenting is a sequence of letting go, letting go and trusting, letting go and trusting that he can do this. So she says without adding to the issue she wants to help him conquer his dislike and, yes, if she gets involved in helping him in any way or even trying to encourage him, that could add to the issue so that’s what I would be very careful of.

And as I said before, this is a common issue and it can continue. I know families where it’s continued and continued into age six even. So we don’t want that for him if possible. I understand the challenge, believe me, of letting go but we have to let go for him to be able to physically and literally let go. It’s that simple. I hope that makes sense and I hope that helps.

Please checkout some of my other podcasts at janetlansbury.com. website. They’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you’re interested in. And remember I have books on audio at Audible.com, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon and an ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple.com.

Also I have an exclusive audio series, Sessions. There are five individual recordings of consultations I’ve had with parents where they agree to be recorded and we discuss all their parenting issues. We have a back and forth that for me is very helpful in exploring their topics and finding solutions. These are available by going to sessionsaudio.com and you can read a description of each episode and order them individually or get them all about three hours of audio for just under $20.

Thanks for listening. We can do this.



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I really like having the choice to read or listen to your podcasts. Thanks!

    1. We have a more complex problem: fear of pain. He was doing great until he had a series of episodes of constipation, where it ended up hurting… so now (almost 4 yrs of age) the new “normal” is that he refuses to go, and the only “help” we found was medication loosening the poop. We tried being unfazed for months at end, cleaning up accidents without fuss, and (maybe unfortunately) being glad when he did it in the toilet… remarks pushing him to go when he obviously would need to do so and offers of hugs and help against pain slip in. Would you have any advice?

      1. I have the same problem with my daughter, she is doing well with pee but for poop she is asking for diaper if I don’t give her she is holding her for several days -6 she never had accidents she is so stubborn in this thing ….I don’t know what to do
        She is 4

  2. So what advice would you give to our family? We currently have a 5 year old (turning 6 in January) who is still regularly pooping in a pull-up and refuses to even sit with it on. He’ll say that he will try sitting (with pull up on) to poop but then closes the door and stands up while going. We aren’t making any progress despite allowing him the time and space. His dad cleans him up every night (while I put baby to sleep) and it’s starting to feel like we are enabling at this point. He’s a super sensitive and anxious guy and we have always been very warm and attentive to his needs. I guess the positive side of it is that he isn’t holding it and he goes nightly but I just can’t imagine him wanting to change this. I don’t feel like miralax is the answer. Do we just wait?? For the last 2 years he has said that he will start going on his next birthday and I do think he wants to do that but when the urge comes he really can’t take the leap. I have offered him toys/candy etc. I have intermittently put on a tiny bit of pressure and then I’ll back off for several months. I never make him cry or shame him in any way. usually I just say something like “hey, do you want to try?” His dad never even brings it up. Ideas? I love your page and read it everyday on fb. I’m also (ironically enough) an OT and DIR/Floortime trained therapist Help

    1. Hi Kristen – Did you happen to listen to this podcast? In your description it sounds like there is pressure being placed on your son. Perhaps you’re not seeing this? He “refuses to even sit with it on”. “He’ll say that he will try sitting (with pull up on) to poop but then closes the door and stands up while going.” The toys, candy, etc. Even, “Hey, do you want to try.” This all adds up to quite a lot of pressure and is the reason he is struggling. When children feel the pressure of our agenda in this aspect of development, they often put on the brakes. The best solution I know of is what I suggest in this podcast… back wayyyy off of your boy and trust him to conquer this in his way and time. No more coaxing, urging, asking, and suggesting. I hope this works out for you!

      1. Thank you so much for your response! I went back and read more and I had a feeling you would give this advice.
        I will absolutely do this. I had a talk with him tonight about how he can do it when *he* is ready. It is actually nice to let this go a bit. I’m still very curious though….. Have you worked with families where the child just decided to try the potty one day on their own, at age 6 !? Do children with this issue ever need a gradual approach? I read about a strategy where u put a hole in the diaper (starting with a pin-size hole) and slowly make it bigger over a period of weeks and months as your child feels ready but I hear you saying that something like this would still be adult directed pressure and I agree. I just haven’t seen or read *any* success stories from folks who let it be….maybe because everyone posts to the internet when they are having the problem, but they don’t return to describe how it resolved.

        My bigger issue:
        Having a super sensitive kiddo has been tricky because there are times when he needed a little push to overcome a fear (i.e. swim lessons, baby sitters and other new situations) but I never quite know where this line is. He has always been a high needs kid. He nursed until 3.5, we still co-sleep, we have never had a night away (unless you count the night our daughter was born) and this school year, we have been picking him up early each day (after a meeting with his teachers) in an effort to help him adjust to all the newness of a full day K Before this he was attending a sweet in-home preschool for 3 years. The question of how much to accommodate an anxious child still challenges me at times (at work and home) but I do feel like we have generally given my son what he needs, (and from that place of security he has been able to take many risks) even though it has been emotionally draining and hard on our marriage. I think my husband lacks firm boundaries with him but I can border on being snappy or harsh when I’m overwhelmed. Ahhhhh, there is always a bigger picture.

        Thanks Again!! I love your approach and dedication to families. I frequently refer people to your site and books. Thank you for all that you do!!!! We will happily pay for a consult with you if that is something we can set up.

        1. Our daughter (now 3.5) is 100% like this…I just wanted to say that I totally empathise – when to push her limits/help her grow and when to protect – it’s very hard and we haven’t nailed it! Including that childcare question – standard schooling because that’s real life, or something quieter…?

        2. Kristen,
          I’m not sure how old this post is, but hopefully this helps…We had a similar issue with our son. He had an incident at childcare when he was learning to use the toilet and then he refused to poo in the toilet until he was six and a half. I agree with Janet to back right off. We were inadvertently putting pressure on our son mostly because I think we were worried he would never do it and my husband was so worried he would have an accident at school. It’s been the one issue that’s caused disagreements with my husband and myself- another thing my son probably picked up on. One day he decided to try and had success. It’s been smooth sailing ever since. We still help with wiping but have really learnt that this too will come when he is ready. Hang in there!!

          Thanks so much Janet – my parenting mantra is ‘What would Janet do?’

      2. Danielle Sparrow says:

        But when they go to school they have to be trained or pull ups
        Is that a step back ??
        After school and weekends he wears underwear . And rarely goes poo on potty
        Very hard ???

  3. Jessica Isles says:

    All the emotional letting go that Janet suggests is one part. The other part might be privacy and positioning. Humans likes to close the door and assume a position comfortable to actually poop! Sounds funny but one of my children showed me this when I found them squatting on the toilet to poop. If he wanted a diaper I gave him that but let him decide and gave him the option of privacy, potty, toilet and whatever position he needed to feel comfortable – lots of choice seemed to work and as I had never heard of anyone still wearing diapers in a board meeting (for example!) I didn’t worry or pressure or in fact care. He decided that squatting on the toilet was how he preferred to go.

  4. My daughter was easily going along with potty learning and pooped in the porta potty and I poured it into the big potty and flushed ….. (long story short)

    Not until months later, after she had stopped pooping except in her diaper, did I learn she wondered about the hole in the toilet and would she flush down? and this was all set up when I flushed “her” (the poop) down the toilet and it disappeared.

    Mister Rogers had in his opening a Yellow blinking light. He said this was a message to the parents to Slow Down. I have dramatically slowed us down so that I can learn this little girl. As subtle as babies are, so they continue to be, I am learning.

    My daughter uses the potty regularly, now. I never thought it would happen, but it did because I became aware of me and where I needed to back off.

    1. Wonderful story, Marian. Thank you for sharing !

  5. I’m wiping away tears. I really needed this today.

    We waited until our son started showing signs of readiness around 3 1/2 years, quit diapers cold-turkey, and tried the intense 3-day method with a timer going off every 30 minutes. I almost lost my mind. I remember SOBBING because my expectations, which had been so high – he’s so bright, and I was sure he would pick it up immediately because we waited until just the right time (or so I thought) – were not met.

    Five months later, well, there have been ups and downs. For a while, he had peeing down and only pooped in his pants. Then we had a whole blissful month accident-free. We thought we were done! Now, for some unknown reason, he’s just regressed and doesn’t seem to care. We’re back to having accidents (peeing and pooping) everyday.

    We’ve leaned on sticker charts and toys as rewards, and I’m realizing that may have been a mistake. It sounds like our son is very similar in personality or preferences to the boy in this podcast, so this advice is especially helpful. Our son will be four in less than two weeks and, once again, I’ve been putting pressure and high expectations on both him and myself, and I’m just…tired. I’m searching for answers so I can try to fix it, and this gently reminded me this is *his* journey, and I have to let go so that he can.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Kelly! You can do this! You are so welcome. Keep believing in yourself as his wonderful mom. This experience is a journey for all of us.

  6. What advice do you have for parents who are “done” changing diapers (or with any one thing for that matter)? I was done, I hated it. Thankfully my daughter really took to using the toilet at almost 3. I told her she needed to use the potty to go to school. She was so excited about school she was like ok! I had to figure out my nerves about it and relax about it, diapers were convenient and made our schedule easy. I just hated hated changing her poop. I appreciate “when they’re ready,” and as a parent I’ve also experienced the “I just don’t know if I can do this one more time,” which makes patience so hard!

      1. Poopy diapers make me retch and gag. It’s a reflex I can’t control. I sometimes throw up even. I don’t have children yet but the poop is something I’m already dreading. J cant imagine having to clean poop off of a child for 5 or 6 years, and I think I’d also be feeling ‘done’ like this parent. Do parents with this issue get used to the smell/sight over time? I’m worried my physical reflexes will make it impossible for me not to exude a feeling of disgust to my someday baby and to make diaper changes into a positive bonding experience. How can I prepare for this ahead of time?

        1. I am awful with bodily fluids and hated it when friends changed children in front of me! When it’s your actual child and they’re sad and dirty it really changes – or it did for me I just want him to be comfortable and it’s part of caring for him. Plus it’s all v mild at first when they’re newborns do you get used to it gradually! Having said that on the odd occasion something really gross has happened (poo in the bath ) my husband sorts it. You change loads when you have a baby – I wouldn’t worry about it!

  7. My son is in a similar position except he now refuses to wear a diaper because he is so proud of his underware and is awesome at peeing. I keep offering diapers for pooping…he refuses. He can’t make it to the potty so lots and lots of poops in underware which he is horrified about. I don’t know where to go from here? Any thoughts Janet?

    1. I would lovingly insist on the diaper or pull-up, so that he can be as comfortable as possible and not worry about accidents. Children can’t be the ones to decide on the underwear if they don’t demonstrate readiness.

  8. My daughter is almost 4 and won’t poop on the potty.

    I’m trying so hard to “stay positive” but it is gross. I’m changing adult-sized poopy pull-ups 3 to 4 times per day.

    Not to mention no school will take her unless she is potty trained. I can’t send her in a pull-up so I can’t delay her schooling because she can’t poop on the potty.

    I’m beyond frustrated. We have tried rewards. She even pretends to poop on the potty and takes the poop out of the diaper and says she needs privacy while putting it into the toilet.

    I can’t just say “poop on the potty when you feel like it” because she went through about 5 packs of underwear we have just thrown out. She pees on the potty most of the time and when she poops her pants she doesn’t pee! It’s actually kind of impressive. I don’t know what else to do?

    1. My daughter is 5 1/2 and will only poop in a pull-up. Twice we have tried taking them away and it never goes well (of course). The last time we tried was more than five months ago, and that only lasted a day. At that point I surrendered and told my daughter that she can wear pull-ups as long as she needs to, the end. Whatever she needs. Yet as the months creep by and there is absolutely no movement or interest toward pooping in the toilet, I feel that need to take away pull ups and try again. Is she really not ready? I just want to cry because I have no idea what to do. I feel like if she could just do it once she would see that she is capable and we could all move on.

      1. Marilyn Farah says:

        Hi Jen, my son is in the same situation, i am wondering how long this lasted with your daughter and if she is diaper free now.

      2. I’m also curious. My girl is almost 5 and the two times we tried taking them away she just withheld for a week, only to poop in a pull up 5 minutes after it was put on. Our pediatrician also says to just wait and they will do it themselves. It’s been 18 months for us waiting so far.

  9. Hey Janet,
    I’m a single dad raising my 2 sons (3 and 4) on my own. My 3 yr old is 100% potty trained. He even wipes himself. My 4 yr old is only urine potty trained. He’d rather poop his pants than use the toilet. He does cry and wont look me in the eye when I have to clean and change him and I try my very best to not make him feel like I’m disappointed in him or that he did something wrong by speaking in a soft quiet voice to him while I clean him up. Here’s my dilemma: I understand the whole “don’t pressure him” thing, but, hes in Pre K and must be potty trained to attend. He can’t be in diapers. He has a month left before graduation and his accidents are getting worse. I feel so pressured to “fix” him and I’m trying my hardest to keep the pressure off of him.

    1. Hi Chaz! I can certainly understand how stressful this must be. One of the biggest challenges we have as parents is to trust our children in situations like these and that’s the only way I know of to recommend. Pressure and stress make it much, much harder for children to achieve. If you are not doing so, I would actually give him the comfort of pull-ups, so that he (and you) can relax completely. Removing every bit of pressure around this issue is the key to him feeling the safe emotional space to make this big next step. Imagine how great it will be for him to be able to say, “Hey Daddy, guess what? I’m pooping on the potty now. All by myself.” You both deserve that win and if you fully let go you will get it. And, in my view, this developmental win is important enough to delay the pre K for.

      1. I’m also thinking how crushing it must be for him that his younger brother has achieved this skill and he has not. I believe it would help a lot for you to stay on his side, trust him, and understand that he is not intentionally resisting going on the toilet.

    2. Hi Chaz, wondering how you progressed in this situation?

  10. Hi Janet,
    My son is going to be 4 in March and will be starting school in september. We have attempted potty training last summer and he pooped 3 times in the toilet or potty. We made a huge deal (celebrated, cheered). Before that, he would be pooping anywhere from twice to nine times in day. Never big amounts. After those three times, he went back to his old ways and would be having accidents in his underwear. Since then, we decided start using regular diapers again. He usually finds a corner somewhere and has his poop, and usually doesn’t tell us he’s had one. Not too long ago, I told him he had to poop in the bathroom (in his diaper). He was doing really well. I even made a sicker chart so he could see what was to come (go I to the bathroom, sit on the toilet,poop in the toilet). He even chose the big prize for when he finally poops in the toilet. I get that he will do it once he’s decided he’s ready and that we have added so much pressure. If he had one or two big poops in a day, I wouldn’t be as stressed about it. The issue lies with his fear of pooping, even emptying his bowels in his diaper. How do we help him get past that and push his poop out? I am sitting here crying because it is starting to take a tole. Yesterday for example, he had 9 poopy diapers. 3 of which were at a New Years party and we decided we would go back home because we were spending our time in the bathroom.
    Any suggestions or advice would be appreciated.
    Thanks, Melanie

  11. Hi Janet,
    Thanks for this post. My 4 year old daughter is in this same situation and I have started doing what you said. The only problem I see is that when she poops on her underwear she doesn’t want to clean or change it. She could just stay with the poop all day long! I feel terrible leaving her like that. Not because I feel she is uncomfortable (she doesn’t seem like she is) but because I think it could be bad for her (urinary infections, infections on the skin). How would you approach that problem with her?

  12. We have a similar problem except that my child doesn’t want to go at all, not in a pull up, and not In the toilet. He’s already on supplements and at this point he’s just holding it until he can’t anymore…which actually gets to the point that he’s bursting capillaries in his face or bleeding because he has waited so long. So the waiting because he doesn’t want to has become a health issue.

  13. I used to read these forums searching for an answer on why my daughter would absolutely NOT poop on the potty. She was terrified of the potty. She would only poop in her diaper, preferably in her room while standing up. She had constipation issues as a result. We had to do Miralax every day, once or twice we’d have to do suppositories, and once even went to the ER from her stomach pains. It was a nightmare. I didn’t know how she would ever stop fearing the potty.

    A lot of forums said she would just ‘grow out of it’ but she was getting older. I was afraid she would turn 4 and still be pooping in diapers. We started letting her poop in her diaper, but it had to be in the bathroom. She could take her comfort items in there. She didn’t like it, but she did it. We tried getting her to poop in her diaper on the potty, but she wouldn’t do it. We did that for many months, but it seems like the problem really hadn’t been solved, just relocated to the bathroom.

    Eventually one day my wife just said ‘no more diapers’. She was done – she was convinced my daughter would eventually HAVE to poop on the potty unless she was planning on pooping on the floor. For a few days she just didn’t poop…I was getting scared she’d get severely constipated or even get a fecal impaction. My wife stuck with it when I was ready to give in. My daughter kept sitting on the potty over and over and over again, but nothing. A WEEK went by and then…. it happened. She did it. A very large one lol. And the rest… is history. She hasn’t had any issues since really.

    I know this may not be the right fix for everyone but I just wanted to hold out hope for parents who are frustrated or worry that there is something wrong with their child, that they will never be able to be fully potty-trained, wonder how they will go to school if they can’t use the potty. Try to be patient, try to take little steps, you’re not the first or last one to deal with this. It WILL click for them some day. You might have to force that click if they’re old enough and mentally ready – that’s up to you. Be strong and stick with it! Like everything else these darn kids put us through… this too shall pass.

  14. My sensitive four year old is exactly like this. He wavers about pooping on the potty. Some things that have helped: 1) bathroom spray, he told me that the smell in the bathroom bothers him, so we bought some spray, 2) letting him poop outside, we’re lucky to have some space in our backyard, so I’ve told him that if he wants he can go outside and poop, we just take a shovel and bury it after.

    1. I wanted to follow up and say, what I’ve learned from this is to ask him what is stopping him from pooping in the potty, and allow him a little more flexibility in where he goes, in order to transition from pooping in his pull up. He still sometimes waits until his pull up goes on at bed time to poop, but its gradually getting better. I think talking to your kid about what troubles them about the potty can help, and getting creative about the transition (i.e. pooping outside, or even in another toilet), can also help the child take small steps away from pooping in a diaper.

  15. Janet, I really hope you see this.

    My son is 3 1/2 and he seems to hold his bladder quite often. We “ignore it” and will only occasionally ask “hey buddy do you to go potty?” but then we take him at his “no” and eventually he goes on his own. Sometimes he will just hold it and hold it, dancing around, and go without us even asking. He will even come to us and say “Mama I have to go potty” so that we can help pull down his underwear. He will yell out sometimes even “mama!” as he dances around, holding himself, and making noises. I try so hard to be nonchalant, and ask “do you need help with something?” or “hey buddy, it seems like you’re trying to tell me something, how are you feeling?” and he says “no, i’m not” and dances around.

    Then there is poop. He holds it, and when he really has to go, he will do the same uncomfortable dancing and yelling and then finally go in his pants. He doesn’t hide, and we don’t shame him. He told me he wants to go to school and we’ve expressed to him that the kids in school use the potty and that when he’s ready, we will do that. It’s so hard because he is usually a very expressive and open kid. He always tell us “Mama I’m not feeling so good” or “Daddy I’m having a hard time.” or “Sorry for getting yelling, I was having a lot of feelings”. Sometimes he will say as he’s running to the potty “I’m listening to my body, I can do hard things!”.

    His very obvious physical discomfort pains us and as much as we try to ignore it and say all the right things, My husband and I are just at a loss. Please help. Do we keep going like this? I can’t imagine putting him in a pullup is a good idea, he loves his underwear and we’ve never had any issues with them.

    and before you ask, because I know you will (big fan of yours)…. we do have a 9 month old baby (I can imagine you’re nodding your head right now).

    1. ****I should add….that when he does poop in his pants…..he then tells us he pooped and wants to dump it into the toilet to flush it. He gets what the goal is, and I can tell he is very obviously not comfortable with the feeling/sensation of having to poop. I just need to know I’m not failing him somehow.

  16. As someone who’s daughter struggles with encopresis, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes there needs to be a lot of patience, gentleness, and letting go. But listen…. I follow your podcasts religiously, have practiced your approach with both my kids , and tried to practice it during toilet training as well. However , after offering diapers to poo in for over a year after toilet training, and being so gentle/ “letting go” of the process, I see it made the resistance to the toilet worse not better. It’s almost as if I validated her fear of the toilet for too long that the fear became her reality. For children that truly struggle with encopresis this is really incomplete advice. I wish someone would have told me this Is a “red flag” for encopresis and helped me seek appropriate intervention right away. Encopresis is a medical condition. If your child truly struggles with “withholding”, this advice will not work ON ITS OWN. Yes we need to always maintain the gentle and unruffled attitude but please seek other intervention ASAP.

  17. Hello,
    My 4.5 year old refuses to poop on the toilet. We can tell that she has to go, but she will refuse while sitting on the toilet, then once she’s in bed for the night, she poops. It seems like she is now withholding her poop and going once she is asleep. I really don’t like the path we’re heading down with fighting, bribing, sitting on the toilet for extended periods of time. Do we just let this continue? It is hard to tell if she knows when she needs to go. Potty training in general has been a very difficult journey and we still struggle with peeing on public toilets. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

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