700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Why Is Pooping Scary For Newly Potty-Trained Children?

Jun 15, 2021
child sitting on a portable toilet holding a roll of toilet paper.

One of the more frustrating aspects of potty-training is getting your child comfortable with sitting on the toilet to poop. Figuring out exactly why they are hesitant and what to do to change their way of thinking can help resolve this very common problem.

The Bathroom

Until this time, they have been able to poop wherever they want. Rarely is this the bathroom.  Some children are not particular and will go when they feel the urge while others will go where they feel most comfortable, like their bedroom or hiding behind a couch or curtain. The bathroom can be a scary place to a toddler.

The Toilet

The toilet is cold and loud. Your child might wonder what happens to the pee-pee and poo-poo, or if they can get sucked in. Children often have a fear of pooping on the potty because they do not feel secure sitting on the toilet. The seat is too big, the toilet is too high, and they can’t plant their feet on the floor. If there is no children’s potty seat on the regular toilet, their bottom will typically “hang” into the toilet with their legs dangling in the air and they feel they will fall in. It is hard to focus on pooping when they are worried about getting sucked into the toilet.

The Poop

Prior to potty training, children typically don’t see their poops and likely don’t pay much attention to the smell, but now it is very visual and very smelly. If children have fears of pooping on the potty, they will frequently hold on to their bowel movements. This leads to harder stools that are more difficult and painful to pass, leading to a cycle of withholding behavior.

What Can You Do to Help Your Children through These Fears?

  1. Ask them directly if they are scared and if so, why? - Some children may be able to tell you.
  2. Sit with your children in the bathroom so they feel safe and secure.
  3. Reassure them that they will be safe and address any fears they may express to you.
  4. Make sure that children have access to a child-sized toilet or toilet seat with a stool for their feet.
  5. Flush after the child has left the bathroom at first.

What Can I Do to Prevent Issues While Potty Training?

  1. Make potty training fun!
  2. Make a reward chart or give stickers.
  3. Don’t make children sit on the potty for longer than 5 minutes at a time. Children have short attention spans and having to sit for long periods of time is very difficult and may feel like punishment. It is better to sit after meals, as they are more likely to be successful.

If your child starts to withhold stool or starts to have constipation, consult with your pediatrician. Some children may need a stool softener to help them have a soft bowel movement while others may need a medication to help push stools past withholding behavior.

Above all, have patience with your child. This is a life skill, and it is not always easy for every child to learn. If you have concerns, always discuss them with your pediatrician.  It is easier to address issues earlier rather than later.

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Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Karla Vaz, MD
Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition

Karla Vaz, MD, MEd, is an attending pediatric gastroenterologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and member of the Motility Center. She is also an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.