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5 Reasons Why Your Child is Withholding Their Poop

poopissues pottytraining stoolwithholding Feb 06, 2022

One of the most common issues parents come to me with is their child is successfully peeing in the potty, but when it comes to pooping... they are resisting and withholding their poop. 

For these kids, they either:

  • Wait until their nap and poop in their diaper 
  • Ask for a diaper to poop
  • Poop in their underwear 

In order to understand how to help your child to start using a potty or toilet, we must first understand the reasons WHY this is happening in the first place. 



Research has shown that children withholding poop have actually been suffering from constipation before they even started rejecting the potty in the first place (Blum et al, 2004). 

In other words, constipation is your first point of call when it comes to working out the reason why your child is withholding their poop. 

Parents often mistaken stool withholding as a power struggle with their child. And whilst power struggles are often a cause for potty resistance, if your child is withholding their poop it often has to do with the pain caused from constipation. 

Constipation can produce hard stools that are difficult and painful for kids to pass. The pain experienced from pooping with constipation can be scary for your child and therefore can be the very reason why they are withholding their poop and avoiding it altogether. 

Addressing constipation through lifestyle changes, diet and ensuring the correct posture while pooping are all necessary changes to ensuring stools are soft and easy to pass! 



A previous experience around pooping may have a lasting impact on your child.

Maybe an upsetting event happened around the time they previously pooped. It could be something less obvious like a house fire alarm accidentally going off when a child was making a poop... or something like pooping in public and experiencing feelings of embarrassment.

If your child can verbally communicate, have a conversation with them about why they are resisting to poop on the potty. Sometimes kids can offer an explanation or hint of the reason why!



Some children may have separation anxiety around 'letting go' of their poop. 

Concerns about safety and questions like:

“Where does it go?”

“What will happen to me if I release?”

are often thoughts children begin to realize if they have not yet had much exposure to the concept of poop prior to potty training.

Spending time (ideally months prior to potty training) talking about poop in a matter-of-fact way, modeling behaviour using toys and reading books and watching videos on the topic all help to normalize the idea of poop so it's something children feel safe to do on a potty or toilet. 

Other kids may have a certain association with poop due to the way in which it has been previously described. 

Negative language like “stinky poo,” “smelly poo” and “yuck,” creates embarrassment and a fear of having poop in the first place leading to a higher chance of toilet fear and refusal. This is why we encourage matter-of-fact and positive associations to avoid these anxieties.

Reducing anxieties around pooping and toileting comes from consistent exposure, modeling behavior and through play, with the goal to normalize the idea so a child feels safe to poop. Consistently educating your child about poop by reading books, using a reward chart game that uses play to make toileting fun and motivating will ultimately help to make your child feel comfortable to poop in the toilet or potty!



Moving faster than your child feels ready can be a trigger for stool withholding. This can be either starting too early or moving too quickly between diapers / potty / toilet. 

Sometimes if a child is not yet truly ready for potty training it could lead to them withholding their poop or resisting the potty or toilet altogether! It's so important your kiddo is showing the signs of readiness before starting to prepare for potty training. 

If your child is not showing these signs, be sure to wait it out a few weeks or months until you start to notice some of these signs. 

Often parents who have full time jobs may find it difficult to pin down a few days to devote to potty training their kid... which is completely understandable. For other parents, it may be the necessity to potty train during summer, before preschool or societal pressures that have made parents rush into potty training because they feel peer pressured into doing so. 

However, potty training is an incredibly individualized process, with each child learning and developing at their own pace.

So whilst we would all love our children to be potty trained within 'one weekend' like many methods promise us, having this expectation this not only sets unrealistic expectations but puts unnecessary pressure on parents and their kids.


This pressure reflects in the approach parents use which ultimately reflects in resistant behavior from the child. 


Sometimes parents may move their kid from diapers to underwear too quickly. Underwear can often feel like diapers in that it catches pee and poop from going down their legs, to the ground.

For other kids, getting a child on a potty without prior exposure or training on how to sit on a potty can be the reason for resistance.

A potty can often appear to be just a shiny, scary piece of plastic to kids.

Practising to sit, decorating it with stickers to make children excited to use their very own chair can be a way to reduce anxiety around using a potty. 



Sometimes children begin to withhold their stool once they begin school or preschool. 

This often has to do with feeling uncomfortable to use a new toilet for pooping and can therefore lead to withholding poop for hours during school. 

This issue is more common than people think. In fact, around 60% of children will avoid using the school bathroom for bowel movements (Lundblad B & Hellstrom A, 2005). 

Often this stems from children feeling the need privacy or something in the school bathroom that may be causing them to resist using it altogether. 

Speaking with your teachers on how to offer your child privacy in the school bathroom and exploring the school bathroom with your child can be some of the ways you can reduce your child's resistance around pooping at school. 


Kim Lippy is a potty training expert and the founder of THE POTTYS® online courses and reward game designed to offer a fresh, fun and effective approach to potty training.


Lundblad B & Hellstrom A, 2005, Perceptions of School Toilets as A Cause for Irregular Toilet Habits Among School Children Aged 6 to 16 years, Journal of School Health, 75(4), 125-128.


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