Stool Toileting Refusal: Why Toddlers Refuse to Poop in the Potty

Has your toddler suddenly stopped pooping on the potty? It's called stool toileting refusal and if you aren't familiar, here's an introduction and how to address it.

Little girl on training potty holding toilet paper in front of a toilet

So close, yet so far away.

It’s how many parents feel when little-known but surprisingly common potty training setback strikes. Your seemingly toilet-trained toddler suddenly refuses to poop on the potty.

It’s called stool toileting refusal, and experts say it’s a common problem – affecting up to 25 percent of kids. While it’s not usually cause for medical concern, it can be a shock.

“Especially when you feel like your kid hit that first step of being able to reliably pee in the potty chair, it can be frustrating to feel like you’ve hit this roadblock,” says Dr. Scott Grant, a pediatrician and hospitalist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

But it’s important to stay positive, he says, and consider the reasons. Even if your child has successfully pooped on the potty in the past, it doesn’t mean he’s mastered it.

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One reason is that it happens less often.

“Kids have to pee several times a day,” Grant explains. “Most kids may only poop once a day or every other day, so you have fewer opportunities to get it right.”

It’s also harder to withhold urine. “Once you get to a certain point, your body is going to release that urine with or without you. That doesn’t happen quite so frequently with stooling,” he says. Plus, “if you hold it long enough, that sensation that you need to stool sort of goes away for a little while.”

Anxiety or constipation could be getting in the way, too. In fact, pain or discomfort with pooping is another common factor.

“It takes more effort if a kiddo is constipated or having particularly hard stools,” Grant says. When this is the case, he advises parents to take a break from toilet training to treat the constipation. “If it’s painful, they’re going to be more likely to withhold and really create this vicious cycle.”

Any pain, vomiting or other symptoms should be addressed with your child’s pediatrician.

In some cases, kids weren’t quite ready to potty train to begin with. If you haven’t started yet, look for signs – and keep in mind that most kids aren’t really ready until at least 2 or 2-and-a-half, Grant notes. “It’s a number of developmental skills that kids need and will attain in their own time.”

Ultimately, staying calm is key. How you respond can have a major impact.

“All the general rules of toilet training still apply. You want it to be a positive or at least neutral environment,” Grant says. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re punishing kids for not pooping in the potty chair.”

Positive reinforcement with the use of a sticker chart can be helpful. Consistency among caregivers is also key. And keep things in perspective.

“Kids generally aren’t doing this on purpose to spite you,” he explains. “Trying to force it and having it be this real power struggle is not going to be the path to success for the child or the family.”

Remember that this, too, shall pass.

“Patience is key, positivity is key. If it doesn’t work, don’t fret,” Grant notes, adding that parents should feel free to go back to diapers for a week or two if needed. “Your kid isn’t going to be the only one in high school still wearing diapers. They will learn eventually.”

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