Hiding to poop can be a red flag for these reasonsMay 02, 2023
Is your child hiding to pass a bowel movement?
Perhaps its under the table? In the corner of the room? In the playroom?
Hiding to poop is a phenomenon of toddler and preschooler kids that is actually less mysterious than you think... and extremely common.
Aside from it being a sign that your child is becoming aware of their bowel movements, it can indicate a number of things, some of which raise red flags.
Let's dive into this behavior and what this means for your child's upcoming or existing potty training journey.
When does it commonly begin?
Hiding to poop can begin before parents start potty training and continue once you start, or it can start once you start the potty training process.
Becoming aware of bowel movements
As your child gets closer to the age of two, they become aware of their body's urges and sensations.
It is also at this age that your child starts to notice what the sensation of a bowel or bladder movement is inside of their diaper. You may begin to see your child trying to express discomfort from wearing a dirty or wet diaper. If your child hides, it can be that your child is starting to become aware of their bowel movements.
The need for privacy
At this age, your child is looking to you for guidance in this world... watching your every action!
Just as your child imitates your behavior of wiping a surface clean or It's no surprise then that your child is watching what you do when it comes to using the toilet.
So perhaps your child has been observing you shutting the door and seeking privacy when you need to use the toilet..and is starting to mimic your behavior!
This is often the case with kids who start hiding to poop before a parent initiates potty training.
Shame or embarrassment
Many parents will make light of their child's diaper changes by holding their nose or describing the smell of their child's bowel movement as "stinky," "smelly" or "yuck."
And although this often comes from a place of being silly or playful with your child, it's possible they may begin to associate bowel movements with shame or embarrassment... leading to a child seeking privacy to go... and perhaps beginning to withhold bowel movements to avoid them from happening in the first place.
When its a red flag
Sometimes hiding to poop can indicate parenting pressure, not enough exposure to the idea of the potty, poop or toileting before starting or your approach to your child's bowel and bladder movements... particularly if the behavior starts only once you begin potty training.
For example, if a parent responds to a poop accident with negativity and shame, this can lead to a child either hiding to go or avoiding to go altogether (leading to withholding behavior.
In fact, a 2003 study (Taubman et al, 2003) tried to determine the reasons for hiding to defecate and if this had any association with difficulties in potty training. The study found that of the 263 children (69.6% of the study) that met the criteria for hiding to poop were much more likely to have stool toileting refusal, frequent constipation or stool withholding.
From this study as well as the work that I do with parents indicate that hiding to poop can be a sign of your child either experiencing some form of fear, anxiety or shame prior to or during potty training that leads to behaviors like refusing to poop on the potty and pooping in underwear or a diaper instead, underlying constipation or withholding behaviors either prior to starting potty training or once potty training starts.
Constipation makes independent potty use much more difficult to achieve.
These behaviors make potty training a much more challenging experience and the journey to independent bowel and bladder control much longer to achieve.
If your child is hiding to poop before you start potty training, it is worth spending time introducing your child to the idea of poop through books, role-modeling and role-play prior to starting potty training to help reduce anxieties by normalizing it.
It's also worth exploring whether your child is hiding from constipation and the fear of painful bowel movements and treating your child with prebiotics and other natural alternatives like magnesium and fiber supplements.
Offer your child privacy
When your child seeks privacy to poop, they have chosen a spot in the house that makes them feel most at ease. So sometimes simply putting a potty in the spot your child hides helps to give your child the comfort they are seeking!
You can also offer your child privacy by putting a towel over their legs, stepping out of the room your child is going temporarily or putting the potty in a place your child feels safe in like a tent.
Pooping on the potty is often the most challenging aspects of potty training... and is certainly the most common reason why parents book consultations with me. If you need some assistance, be sure to check out my guide on How To Get Your Child To Poop On The Potty.
Taubman B, Blum NJ, Nemeth N. Children Who Hide While Defecating Before They Have Completed Toilet Training: A Prospective Study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003;157(12):1190–1192. doi:10.1001/archpedi.157.12.1190
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