My Child Won't Poop on the Potty: Is It Normal?

toddler on pottySo your toddler has mastered peeing on the potty. Hooray! But pooping? Well, that's a whole different ball game.

As hard as you try to coax your tot to have a bowel movement on the toilet, he may refuse, holding it in until the cows come home. Countless underwear have been soiled in the process. You've tried bribing with M&M's, considered taking a hard line and strapping him to the seat until the deed is done ... all the while in the back of your mind, you're fretting over whether there's something wrong with your kid. 

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Rest assured, holding in poop is perfectly normal, says Deena Blanchard, MD, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics NY.

Some kids just get bored sitting still on the potty and would rather be running around. Others prefer the more familiar sensation of pooping in a diaper. Still others think their stool is part of them and don't want it to be flushed away, while others are merely trying to exert some control over their bodies ... and one way to do that is to control when stuff comes out!

Whatever the reason, it's important to put an end to the practice as holding in bowels can lead to constipation, which can make pooping painful when your toddler finally does go ... which only ends up discouraging your toddler from pooping. In short, it's a vicious cycle.

"The longer [poop is] in the system, the dryer and harder it is," explains Dr. Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, MD, pediatrician at Loyola University Health System. "When the child finally has a large, hard bowel movement, it is painful and can even cause fissures. This reinforces the child's behavior and makes for a bigger problem."

So what's a mom to do?

"Don't try to solve the problem without understanding why it exists," advises Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Potty Training Solution. "Once you identify your child's impetus for avoiding bowel movements, you can create the best plan of action. Since your potty trainee is so young, it may be a challenge to figure out their motives, but try to think about what's happened recently."

For instance: has your toddler seemed wiggly on the potty and eager to get back to playing? Did he freak when you flushed? Or was there a painful or messy bathroom experience lately that upset him or you?

More from The Stir: 7 Potty Training Mistakes Moms Make & How to Avoid Them

Once you zero in on a problem, adjust your own behavior going forward. For instance, if your child has a bowel movement in his pants, refrain from scolding, since this may just convince him to continue holding it in. Instead, "calmly take him to the bathroom. Flush it down the toilet and explain that's where it goes," says Pantley. Then have him sit on the potty while you wipe his bottom, which will reinforce that this is where he should try pooping next time.

If you suspect your toddler just finds sitting on the toilet tedious, liven things up by reading him a book or playing with a special toy he only gets to play with during toilet time. Also make sure he's comfortable: if he's on a big toilet, get a stool so his feet are firmly planted, or a smaller potty. If your child really prefers to poop in a diaper, have him sit on the potty in his diaper to poop, then later take the diaper away to smooth the transition.

Whatever you do, don't make your child sit on the toilet and "try" to push.

"Forcing bowel movements can create small tears or hemorrhoids," warns Pantley. "If your child is grunting, straining, and forcing, it's a sign that he's not quite ready to go. Have him drink a glass of water, eat a piece of fruit, and then try again in 10 or 20 minutes."

If, on the other hand, you think your toddler is holding in stool as a method of control, Dr. Blanchard thinks it's best to stop potty training for around four to six weeks and let the situation defuse. After that, try to put your child back in control. Say things like, "you can choose to go poop in your diaper or in your pull up or in the potty, but it’s not okay to poop in your underwear. If you are wearing underwear, please let me know when you need to poop and then you can go in whatever way you want." This gives your child a sense of control over the process, which can help.

If you just can't figure out why your toddler's holding in poop, the best course of action is the machine gun approach -- meaning all of the above -- and to keep constipation at bay, since this can perpetuate the problem. To keep things moving in there, make sure your child eats plenty of fiber-rich foods every day -- vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and beans -- and limit foods that constipate such as bananas, rice, applesauce, cheese, citrus juice, and carbonated sodas.

If your child is constipated, it's a good idea to consult your pediatrician.

Did your toddler refuse to poop on the potty?


Image © Blue Jean Images/Corbis

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