When Your Child Is Scared to Poop on the Potty

September 10, 2020

By Miller Shivers, PhD

Potty training can be a daunting task with many mixed emotions from children and their parents. Often we hear that young children seem to be afraid or resistant to poop on the potty and will instead wait to go in a pull-up. It can be difficult to change this behavior and children can have problems with constipation, as a result. The following steps provide a progressive plan to get your child to poop on the potty.

Before starting, it's important to remember the following: 

  • Remain neutral at all times. Don’t be overly excited when your child poops or overly upset when they don’t. If your child doesn't poop, say, “ok, we’ll try again next time.”
  • Decide on a small reward (sticker, M&M, etc.) for pooping with your child before beginning. Involve your child in choosing the reward so it will be motivating.
  • Only move to the next step in the program when your child is completely comfortable with the current step.

Step 1

Child will poop in a pull-up anywhere in the physical space of a bathroom.

  • When your child poops, immediately give them the reward you agreed upon. Repeat every time there is a poop.
  • If no poop, say “Ok, we’ll try again next time.” Repeat every time there is no poop. 
  • If the bathroom is too scary, select a “pooping spot” in your home and have your child poop there until they are ready to move to a bathroom.
  • Once your child is consistently doing this step for a few days to a week or so with no anxiety or fear, move to the next step. Repeat for every step. 

Step 2

Child wears pull-up and poops in bathroom but must be standing or sitting near the toilet.

  • If there is a poop, immediately give your child their reward. 
  • Once your child is consistently doing this step for a few days to a week or so with no anxiety or fear, move to the next step.  

Step 3

Child wears pull-up and must be standing or squatting on toilet lid to poop.

  • If there is a poop, immediately give your child their reward. 
  • Once your child is consistently doing this step for a few days to a week or so with no anxiety or fear, move to the next step.  

Step 4

Child wears pull-up and is sitting on toilet lid to poop.

  • If there is a poop, immediately give your child their reward. 
  • Once your child is consistently doing this step for a few days to a week or so with no anxiety or fear, move to the next step.  

Step 5

Child wears pull-up and is sitting on toilet seat to poop.

  • If there is a poop, immediately give your child their reward. 
  • Once your child is consistently doing this step for a few days to a week or so with no anxiety or fear, move to the next step.  

Step 6

Sit your child on toilet either with a pull-up that has a hole cut in the bottom so poop can fall in toilet. Or, sit your child with no pull-up while an adult holds the child’s sides for comfort. Once they can do this and feel comfortable…Success!

After your child completes Step 6 successfully they have mastered the toilet, and pooping in the potty has become a non-issue in your home. Congratulations! 

Remember, the most important tip is to BE NEUTRAL!

Dr. Shivers is a clinical psychologist in the Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and the director of Lurie Children's Little Ones, a comprehensive program for children ages birth to four years old. Learn more about the program