Tricks to get your toddler to poop on the potty

A mom reading a book with a toddler sitting on a training potty
Photo credit: / filadendron

If your toddler refuses to poop on the potty, you're not alone. It's not an uncommon hang-up for toddlers – many will pee in the potty like a champ, but get nervous or scared when it's time to poop. Children can develop anxiety about using the toilet or balk as a way to try to exert control.

If your toddler won't use the toilet at all, though, they may not be ready for potty training yet. Check out our article on signs your child is ready for potty training.

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For toddlers who pee on the potty with no problem but balk at pooping on the potty, here's why and what you can do to help.

Why your toddler won't poop on the potty

There are many reasons your toddler might be reluctant to poop on the potty. If you're having them use the regular toilet, are they scared to sit on the toilet seat, or does the flushing noise frighten them? Are they so busy playing that they don't want to stop when they need to go?

Helping your child will require patience and empathy on your part. Have a calm conversation with your little one to try to understand why they're struggling to poop on the toilet. As frustrating as this may be for you, being forceful will only make things worse.

If your toddler won't poop on the toilet because they're afraid of it, reassure them that their fears – whether it's that a snake will come out of the toilet and bite their behind, or that they'll fall into the toilet and get sucked down the drain – won't come true.

Get them involved in potty training by letting them pick out a potty seat or potty chair they like – it'll help them feel like they have a little more control.

There could be a medical reason your child won't poop in the toilet, too. Sometimes children avoid pooping when bowel movements are uncomfortable or painful because of constipation. Withholding poop can lead to accidents when your child can't hold in their poop any longer.

What to do if your toddler is holding their poop

You may have to experiment with different techniques to get your kid to poop on the potty, but here are a few things you can try.

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Make using the toilet more comfortable

Full-sized toilets can be uncomfortable for little bodies. If your toddler feels like they might fall into the toilet, they'll support their weight with their arms or legs rather than relaxing, and pooping will be uncomfortable for them. If you don't want to use a smaller potty seat, there are a couple of ways you can help your toddler feel more at home on the toilet:

  • Get a padded toilet seat topper – this will both make the seat more comfortable and also make the opening a bit smaller.
  • Use a step stool so your kid can firmly plant their feet for extra support, and to make getting on and off the potty easier.

Prevent (or resolve) constipation

Painful poops might be one reason your little one doesn't want to poop on the toilet (or in general). Take a look at your kid's diet to see if there are some changes you can make to reduce constipation. Fiber is the secret weapon for any parent trying to help kids get their bowels moving.

The easiest rule to follow is helping your child get five high-fiber foods per day, which are mainly fruits and vegetables. Give these high-fiber options a go:

  • Pears or apples with skin
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Beans of all kinds – including garbanzo beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat or whole grain bread
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Dehydration is also a common cause of constipation, so make sure your kid is drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day. If your toddler doesn't want to drink water, try diluting some juice – that way, they're not drinking too much juice, but they're still getting fluids. Experts recommend no more than 4 ounces of juice per day for children ages 1 to 3.

If that doesn't do the trick, talk with your toddler's pediatrician about laxative medications or potentially stool softeners. Determining the best form for your child, with the help of your doctor, will depend on their age.

Always talk to a doctor before giving your child medication, and never give your child multiple types of laxative together. Laxatives that are typically okay for kids include:

  • Miralax (polyethylene glycol) is safe for children over 6 months.
  • Pedia-Lax (magnesium hydroxide) is safe for children 2 and up.
  • Colace (docusate) is a stool softener that some pediatricians use with children as young as 2, depending on the situation.

Take it slow

If your child is really struggling to poop on the potty, use this intermediate solution. Tell your child that when they feel ready to poop, they can change into a pull-up or diaper (if they aren't wearing one already). Have them stand near the toilet or potty while they go in their pull-up or diaper. It's not ideal, but it's a step in the right direction.

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Then after they poop, empty the poop into the toilet and flush together, so your toddler can see where their poop goes.

After a week or so, encourage them to try to poop in their diaper or pull-up while sitting on the toilet or potty. Once they get used to this, they may decide they're ready to try it for real.

Make it a routine

If your child can't make it in time, pay attention to when it seems they need to go and take them to the bathroom or potty. If they're having an accident at the same time every day, take them into the bathroom or potty a couple minutes beforehand so they have plenty of time. A good time to try to go potty is right after a meal.

Use positive reinforcement

This is one of those parenting moments where a bit of enthusiasm and no guilt tripping at all will lead to the best results. Do your best to stay upbeat and positive, even when your little one has an accident or resists using the potty. Getting angry or frustrated with your toddler will only make it more difficult for them to relax and be willing to use the potty.

If you make the potty an exciting place to hang out and praise them for successes, your toddler will want to keep coming back to try again. Experiment with different systems of positive reinforcement to find the one that will work best for you and your child. Try these:

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  • A reward system, like a sticker chart, to motivate them to head to the potty on their own
  • A fun activity when they hit big potty-training landmarks, such as a treat or trip to the park
  • Lots of verbal praise, clapping, potty dances, and other non-material rewards
  • Pairing potty time with quality time, like reading a potty book together, making up songs, or playing games like I Spy while you wait for the poop

With consistency, patience, and enthusiasm, your reluctant pooper will be heading to the bathroom on their own in no time.

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American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. Constipation in Children. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. Emotional Issues and Potty Training Problems. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Cleveland Clinic. 2023. Docusate Solution, Suspension, or Syrup. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Tricks to Get Your Toddler to Poop on the Potty. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Texas Children's Hospital. 2023. Over the Counter Medications for Children: Part 2 — Constipation, Gas/Indigestion, and Probiotics. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Nationwide Children's Hospital. 2021. High Fiber Diet. a new window [Accessed May 2023]

Alexandra Frost
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Frost is also mom to four sons under age 7 who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting.