Get Thee to a Potty! An Unorthodox Solution to a Child’s Persistent Pooping Problem and Toilet Training Issues.
Summary: The day I finally snapped and made my child beat years of constipation and overcome her anxiety around pooping.
It’s funny how children can be simultaneously advanced and behind at the same time. My daughter had such a split around toilet training. She was a kung-fu master in peeing but a lowly apprentice in pooping.
Physically my daughter has always been ahead of the curve. Crawling, walking, riding a bike, swimming, it really didn’t matter, if it involved gross motor skills she got really good, really fast. So it was not a surprise when she first taught herself how to pee on the toilet at about 20 months of age. Shortly after it was just not peeing in the toilet, but wiping herself, flushing, and then coming out in the living room to grab another diaper and putting it on herself while standing up. It was quite amusing actually. By age three she was in underwear 24/7. However popping was a separate issue.
Early on, at about 18 months old, my daughter had an unfortunate incident with constipation. When she finally pushed the poop out, it hurt. For someone who was only a year and a half old, the lesson was clear: pooping hurts, so next time don’t let the poop out.
Thus began the Great Pooping Wars of 2005-2007. To avoid the pain of pooping that my daughter felt was inevitable, she would hold in her poop, thus ensuring she would end up constipated. So when she finally pooped, it would definitely hurt. It was a self fulfilling prophecy.
To help bulk up her stools, and hopefully make it easier for her to poop, we started giving her GlycoLax, a prescription synthetic fiber specifically designed to help keep stools soft. It hardly made a dent. She was so determined to hold in her poop that sometimes we would have to resort to suppositories Unfortunately, the drama of having a suppository shoved in here rectum just compounded the psychological resistance to pooping.
So this was my daughter’s lifestyle for two and a half years. She wore underwear during the day and during the night. She had no problem holding her pee why sleeping. When she felt a poop coming on, she would say I need a pull up and grab one from the counter and put it on. She would then go hide in her room and play with her toys while tightened up her buttocks to keep the poop from coming out. Eventually, a little bit would come out and she would say she was done. Of course this was only the tip of the iceberg, or poop-berg. This would be repeated, sometimes three or four times in one day, until the poop was finally out. Two to three days later we would repeat the whole process again.
We were seriously starting to worry, not that she would never learn to poop in the toilet, but that she would develop a bad pattern around pooping that would carry on throughout her adult life. The thought of her being 45 years old and always constipated because of a residual poop holding pattern that was carried over from childhood, and is now repeated on a subconscious level, was truly depressing.
Near my wits end, and about the time my daughter turned four years old, we were on a family vacation in Santa Monica. As usual we took my mom along so my partner and I would have at least a few opportunities to spend some time alone. Instead of a hotel room we rented this nice house. On the second day there I was playing alone with my daughter in the rental while my partner and my mom were out shopping.
I could see that she was starting to hold in her poop so I asked her straight up:
“Do you need to poop?”
“Are you sure because it looks like you need to poop?”
“No, I don’t need to poop”
“Ok, but let me know if you need to poop”
“Ok, I will”
Not more than ten minutes later my daughter says she’s pooped in her underwear. Sure enough, it was not just a little smudge, it was a good sized dollop of poop. And that’s when I lost it.
“That’s it! You need to start pooping in the toilet!”
“No I don’t want to! I need a pull up!”
“No more pull ups, I’ve had it!”
“I need a pull up!”
At this point she starts to tear up and reach for a pull up.
“Forget it, you’re going to stand there naked until you poop in the toilet or you poop all over your legs and on the floor…the choice is yours!”
We had hardwood floors in the rental so I was completely prepared to back this up and let it happen.
We went back and forth a few times, with me holding steady with my threat, and she holding steady in her resistance to pooping in the toilet.
Just then I switched my game a bit.
Look, you can either poop all over your legs and on the floor…or you can poop on the toilet while I hold your hand and read you a book. And after you poop you can have a slice of that chocolate cake in the refrigerator.
“Yeah?” she said, “If I poop a big poop, can I have a big piece of cake?”
“Yes, the bigger the poop the bigger the cake”
So we go into the bathroom and she sits on the toilet. I sit on the floor next to her, holding her hand while reading a Curious George book. It was a bit of a struggle and involved a lot of wincing but eventually a small poop fell into the water.
“I pooped, I pooped! I want cake now!”
Well the poop was pretty tiny, perhaps the size of a small plum, so I sliced off the smallest piece of cake I could. You could almost see through it.
When my partner and my mom got home the first thing my daughter did was jump up and start yelling “I pooped in the toilet, and I got cake! I’m so lucky!”
After many congratulations were heaped upon my daughter by all, I explained to my partner what I’d done. She has a degree in early childhood education as well as 8 years experience as a preschool teacher under her belt, so it’s natural for her to be resistant to my ideas. After all, my technique for getting her to poop in the toilet pretty much violated every early childhood education fundamentals: threats, ultimatums, humiliation, rewarding good behavior with cake…the list goes on. Nonetheless she’s gotten used to my unorthodox methods and is generally willing to give it a “we’ll wait and see, but if it doesn’t work we go back to my approach” nod of approval. Of course, I’ve earned that consideration with a pretty good track record of success with my improvisational parenting methods.
Well about an hour later my daughter announces “I need to poop, get me a pull up”. Out of habit my partner begins to reach for one. I interrupted with “No! No more pull ups, you poop in the toilet now because you’re a big girl.”
And so we went back and forth again with the “I don’t want to poop in the toilet, I want to poop in a pull up!” and the “You can poop on the floor and all over your legs or you can poop in the toilet while I hold your hand and read you a story and after words you can have cake!” routine.
She wisely chose the toilet again. This time her bowel movement came on rather quickly. She perked up and said “Daddy, I can feel it”. Seconds later she announces, “I pooped.”
What an understatement! It was about as thick as my wrist and as long as my forearm.
I looked at it and said, “Holy shit, you poop like a man!”
“I made a big poop, now I want a big piece of cake!”
I couldn’t believe how absolutely huge her poop was. So I did what any guy would do. I took a picture.
For the next several days all my daughter could talk about was how she was a big girl now because she poops in the toilet. Not only that, she started to list all the things she could accomplish in her life ( going to circle time, not crying when other kids cry, visiting her friend next door by herself, etc) now that she’s a big girl who poops in the toilet. At that moment it was obvious that not only were we worried about her pooping issues, but she herself had also been very concerned.
It was one of the most satisfying moments in my parenting history thus far.
So it’s been six months since that day in Santa Monica, and she poops like a champ. Not to say it was easy right away. For the first month or so we had to use the “hold hands + read a book + treat” method off and on to help her through. Plus, for about three months she would insist that I come look at her poop before she’d flush it.
“Daddy come look at my poop!”
“Ok. Nice one, good job.”
“Say wow that’s a big one!”
“Wow that’s a big one!”
I was so happy that she was no longer constipated and pooping regularly in the toilet I was prepared to do this routine for years if that’s what she wanted.
So now every evening she declares “I need to go poop” and lays out a big log within seconds. No fussing, no fighting, no drama. Hallelujah!
That’s it for now.
Reader’s Comments (before this was a blog with comments):
As a dad, I enjoyed your article “Get thee to a potty!” My son, now 3, is at the same crossroads. I also have a wife who is a master educator who dismisses my ideas on child development as amateur nonsense. I was glad to read of your triumph. My wife read it also … now I have some ammunition to support my amateur nonsense ideas. Thanks.
I am a grandmother who has a grandson fulltime and he will not poop in the potty he goes and hides and poops his underpants or if outside takes pants off and poops in the grass. I just don’t get it, but I am gonna try your method and I hope I have the success that you had. Thanks, I am sure you have helped a lot of parents and grandparents out.
(one month later Cathy gives me a follow up)
I tried the cake thing for pooping in potty only I used Kinder Surprise Eggs and it worked. He was so happy we had to take a picture to show papa when he got home. Now he just goes but we all still have to come see it before he flushes it away.
Thanks for your help.
File Under: Children and Pooping Issues – Toilet Training Tips – Anxiety Around Pooping – Child Holds in Poop – Kid’s and Constipation – Toddlers and Constipation – Potty Training – How to Potty Train Your Child or Toddler