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Kids Health QA: Potty-Pooping Anxiety

Q: My 3-year-old son can pee in the potty, but he simply won't poop there. Is this normal?

My two older daughters were the same way when they learned to use the potty, so it's very normal. Sometimes kids refuse out of habit: When they're still in diapers, many toddlers get used to hiding in a corner and squatting to poop; potties are more public, and they can't get into that same squatting position. Some kids just feel anxious about the whole process -- whether it's because moving their bowels takes more effort than peeing, or because they're a bit freaked out by seeing their poop getting flushed away. At 3, they can't always explain themselves.

With some time and patience, he'll be completely diaper-free. Here's what I found helped my daughters along:

  • Make sure he has plenty of fiber and water in his diet. If he's constipated, it will only make things worse.

  • If he's sitting on the toilet (as opposed to the potty), give him a stool to rest his feet on. It makes it easier to push the poop out.

  • Have him sit on the potty/toilet after meals, when he is more likely to poop. He might just go in spite of himself -- and see that it's not so bad!

  • Give him lots of kudos for any effort, even if it doesn't produce anything.

  • Read kids books about going to the potty, which is a non-threatening way to talk about the subject. Spend some time in the library or bookstore together to find the ones most likely to appeal to him.

If he's getting upset, back off; otherwise, he'll start holding his poop in. That will create a vicious cycle: His stool will become bigger and harder and more painful to get out, and that, in turn, will make him more reluctant to move his bowels on the potty. Keep reading the potty books, and try again in a month or so. If nothing is working, or if his stools are very hard, call your doctor for advice.
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