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Potty Training Wars: Return of the Halfway-There Kid

Potty Training Wars: Return of the Halfway-There Kid

By Amalah

Feel like discussing poop AGAIN? Though you may have addressed this question in the one zillion other times you’ve written about potty training, I thought it was worth it to ask. You know, because who doesn’t like talking about poop.

Anyway, my situation is that I have a 2yo son who turns 3 in November. He first went pee and poop in the potty about a year ago. And while he thought it was sorta neat, and I was all about letting him see what the hubbub was about, I quickly determined he wasn’t ready for potty boot camp. He couldn’t pull his pants up or down by himself, he was never dry for any more than about 45 minutes and he was totally ambivalent about underwear or going on the potty after trying it a handful of times. (I tell you this part of the story because the boy did poop in the potty once upon a time).

At the beginning of the summer I thought it might be time to try to test the waters again. This time – totally excited about underwear. Totally digging the potty books. Regularly demonstrating his ability to take his pants and diaper off. (Ahem. Let’s forget about the time it happened at Target). So I waited for an open schedule weekend, stocked up in super hero undies and bribery M&M’s and let him pick out a Monsters, Inc. potty seat. He almost immediately took to peeing on the potty. Poop – a different story. After pooping his pants for 3 days straight, he got a full blown case of diarrhea and mommy abandoned the potty training ship. It was awful.

Moving on, I next did the unthinkable (according to many potty training experts, at least). I bought him pull-ups. I started with diapers at first, but he still liked going in the potty (and getting the treats!) and the diaper is such a pain to get on and off a standing child at a restaurant. And he continues to go pee in the potty most of the time. But he has not pooped in the potty once. If you ask him where poop goes, he answers, “in the toilet” with a great smile on his face. If I remind him in the afternoon – “Do you need to go poop? Do you want to try to go poop in the potty?” The answer is “NO!” If you ask him why he didn’t poop in the potty, he responds, “I don’t want to. I like to poop in the diaper.” I have tried to bribe him with race cars, candy bars, dollar store toys, TV time… and nothing has worked so far. The boy likes to poop his pants.

So. Do I just keep him in potty training limbo until he finally poops in the potty on his own? Do I redo the boot camp – – when? Do I stop doing pull-ups and insist on the diaper and ignore requests to go pee on the potty until he’s all the way ready? Was I wrong a year ago – and missed the poop window for him, never to be seen again? Honestly, I really am in no rush with this. I know he could wait another year and a half and still be well within the normal age range of potty training for boys. But, I also hate to take a step backwards with the peeing – THAT PART, he not only gets, but seems excited about and has a lot of pride when he announces that he peed and washed his hands ALL BY HIMSELF!

So, how do I get my boy to poop in the potty?


YES YES YES THIS THIS THIS. I remember this. I have gone through this. I have indeed written about this. I will likely be going through this again soon, because this is the EXACT sort of species of boy-child I seem to create. Pee on the potty? Woot woot. Good times. Over and done by two and a half, usually with just a couple days of New World Order Potty Training Boot Camp.

And then they proceed to crap in their pants for another six months to a year.

While I’m sure this happens to girls, it seems to be REALLY common with boys. At least anecdotally speaking, among my own network of friends and fellow boy-moms. I do not fully understand why, or if perhaps we were all doing the same wrong thing, but…yeah. Totally normal, and yet totally crazy-making. I’ve read all kinds of theories and possible explanations, including 1) Some kids feel poop is still “part” of them, of their body, and are afraid of letting it fall directly into the toilet (oh yeah, we’re going DEEP into the poop talk today, y’all, happy Monday!). 2) Some kids can get so rattled/traumatized by a single bad experience with constipation or diarrhea that they are simply scared to change anything. And finally 3), it’s just a really weird control/comfort thing.

All three of these explanations, however, have the same basic solution: Time. More of it. More maturity, more practice, more positive experiences and general comfort with their bodily functions, etc. (Perhaps, if you ascribe to the theory that girls are just generally more mature than boys, this is why boys seem to be a bit more prone to delayed poop training.)

Personally, I found that taking TOO hard of a line (withholding a diaper or pull-up completely) led to a kid who held it in no. Matter. What. And thus the cycle would start over with wicked constipation and pain and fear and etc. It was bad times, man. (Remember that little “You cannot make them eat, sleep or poop” saying? Totally, frightening true. This is a domain where they are in control, so be careful about turning it into a battle of wills. YOU WILL LOSE.) So I resigned myself to dealing with messy pull-ups/diapers at naptime or bedtime and just being glad poop was happening at all.

I will say that reverting back to diapers seemed to help, and seemed to be one of the final straws that broke the wall of their resistance — especially once my kids were consistently dry and could wear real underwear. Pull-ups/training pants didn’t bother them, but once I whipped out the honest-to-god BABY DIAPERS, whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Maybe this isn’t such a good thing after all.

So here’s what I’d try: If peeing in the potty continues to go well, put him in real underwear whenever possible. But let him wear a pull-up at naptime and bedtime. Once he figures out that this is the only time of day he has “access” to one, he might start…uh…scheduling his poops accordingly so you aren’t caught unaware while out and about. (Be sure to be VERY mindful of his diet, however. Lots and lots of good high-fiber foods to ensure that he can’t hold it in indefinitely and cause problems for himself.) If he has an occasional accident, so be it, but let him know that a pull-up ain’t gonna happen outside of the prescribed times of day.

If all goes to plan and you can start predicting his bowel movements…and it’s clear that he can fully control the timing AND wants to avoid accidents in his underwear (SUPER KEY), you can either 1) withhold the pull-up entirely or 2) bust out the “baby diapers.” Option one gives me pause for the reasons I mentioned before, but I don’t doubt that there are kids who might respond in a more sensible, less nuclear fashion than my own. It might be worth a try, but then move on to option two at the first sign of a pooping strike beyond 24 hours.

For option two, you don’t want to make it a big shaming thing — it’s more like appealing to their ego to get with the big kid program and out of toddler limbo. Call them “baby diapers,” get rid of all the pull-ups or training pants or anything in between. But be SUPER matter-of-fact about it. You don’t care if he wears baby diapers to poop. This is HIS call. His choice: baby diapers or big boy underwear. What’ll it be? This is also a good time to add a really awesome incentive or bribe, since he probably WILL try to call your bluff that you “don’t care,” so give him an extra reason to view the baby diapers as Not Really Awesome.

Again, this will pass (HA IT’S A POOP PUN) with time and maturity. And thankfully, in my experience, it really just…ended. Bam. They went, it clicked, they got their prize and praise and that was the end of it. They pooped on the potty every time from that day on. (Save for some new sibling-related regression, which is a WHOLE ‘NOTHER COLUMN.) In the meantime, try to keep it positive and pick your battles. He knows what he needs to do and he probably knows full well HOW to do it. He just needs it to feel like it’s his decision, so operate (and manipulate) accordingly.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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