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Potty Training

Potty Training Wars: Dealing With the Halfway-There Kid

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

I love your advice and practical solutions. So…Help! My lovely daughter is 2.5. She is fully potty trained for pee, except for wearing a diaper at night. So, yay! The problem is she refuses to poop in the potty. She has done it before, and we know she can, she just doesn’t want to. She will wait about 2 minutes, sometimes less, after we put tuck her in (wearing a diaper) for bed before she comes out “I poop in da diaper!” all proud of herself. We have tried many things, explaining that is icky, star charts to earn prizes (she did GREAT for two weeks until her molars started coming through – stupid molars!), even taking away big girl things. She fully understands the concept, has the control, but just doesn’t do it.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesI don’t know if it is that we have tried too many things (I suspect this may be part of the problem), but I don’t know where to go from here. I know it is a normal stage, they are afraid to lose part of themselves, etc etc, but how do we get past this? I am perhaps a little anxious as we are expecting our second in a few months, and I am getting more and more tired of throwing out diapers she literally wore for a few minutes (she has even pooped a little, get a new diaper, poop more, get a new diaper, finish pooping – I got that to stop by making her wait 10 minutes after each time so she could finish, but that whole process takes 45 minutes of my dearly needed sleep time). We are at the point where we have let her sleep in it a few nights, but I HATE this. I’ve seen so much about other parents going through this, but how do we get past it? Do I just suck it up and let her keep sleeping in it? Help!

Thank you,

Yep. Yep yep. Been here, done that. I’m always hesitant to go into nitty-gritty details about my children’s potty training habits, since while yeah, everybody was a baby and wore diapers and crapped their pants for awhile, there’s something distinctively less charming about the potty-training power struggles that ensue during the toddler years. But: YEP.

Let’s just say, without naming names or anything, that I also had a toddler who was completely trained to pee in the potty at 2.5. A few days of big-kid pants boot camp and BAM. Mission accomplished. We still used training pants/diapers at naptime and bedtime, and it quickly became apparent that this was his poop-receptacle of choice. That he would HOLD it until we put that pull-up or diaper on him. And that yes, he would hold it for longer than a human being should EVER hold it. As badly as I wanted to be done with potty training, I did not want him to hurt himself over it, so we gritted our teeth and kept buying those damn pull-ups and kept cajoling and encouraging, mixed in with occasional stretches of ignoring and waiting for him to make the big-boy decision on his own.

Here’s where you’re going to put your head down on the keyboard and cry: It took about eight or nine months. He was closer to 3.5. And I don’t think it was anything we “did,” other than the fact that he finally, FINALLY made that big-boy decision on his own.

I can’t remember where I first heard the advice that “you can’t make them eat, sleep or poop,” but oh my hell, it’s so true. So many of us choose one or more of those hills to die on with our babies and toddlers, but the fact is, those are three bodily functions that THEY are in complete control of. AND THEY KNOW IT.

What finally prompted my toddler-who-shall-not-be-named to make the big-boy decision to poop on the potty instead of a diaper? Well, a couple things, but they were all things we’d tried repeatedly before with no success. So again, it was probably just the right time, and he was “ready.” But I guess the takeaway lesson is that just because something didn’t work doesn’t mean it was the “wrong” approach and you should never try it again. For us:

1) Peer pressure. Once we had another baby to diaper, I stopped buying the expensive disposable training pants and went back to big ol’ boxes of store-brand value diapers. That looked just like baby brother’s diapers. THEN, when I switched to cloth diapers for his baby brother, I found that they actually fit him as well. So guess what! You’re gonna act like a baby, you’re gonna wear the same thing as the baby. At first this didn’t seem to faze him in the least, but after a couple weeks…ehhh, I don’t think he was so thrilled about wearing those bulky triple-stuffed Fuzzi Bunz that felt so very “wet” compared to what he was used to.

2) No more diapers at naptime and bedtime. Once we switched over to cloth, he started staying dry (or dryer) during naps and nighttime, so we upgraded the mattress protection on his bed and let him go commando. First just for naps, then at night. And I was surprised that oh, he actually was only waking up wet because he knew he could, and was more than capable of getting himself out of bed and to the potty in time. I was just so anti-dealing-with-bed-accidents that I’d never really given the other option a try. He’d still request a diaper for doing his other business, and I’d oblige, AFTER requiring him to sit on the potty for five or 10 minutes. Then he got the cloth diaper, fine. Just wait here while I get one from the BABY’S ROOM. The diaper was no longer a “given” at a certain point in the day that he knew he could wait for.

(I also tended to be “busy” for as long as possible after he went and was requesting my clean-up assistance. You know, because if it bothered him so much in the diaper he could SIT IN IT OR JUST USE THE TOILET LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE GAH OKAY DEEP BREATH 1-2-3 DON’T LET HIM SEE HOW CRAZY HE’S DRIVING YOU.)

3) Bribery. We’d tried sticker charts, candy, promises of new toys, you name it. Never worked. Then, over a holiday visit with his grandparents after he turned three, he watched an old VHS copy of 101 Dalmatians. And he thought it was the greatest movie he’d ever seen. He asked me one day if he could watch it at our house, and I said yes. IF he pooped on the potty. THEN I would buy him 100 Dalmatians. I guess he thought this over for a few days and then randomly just…came out and asked to use the potty instead of the usual diaper request. He went, we drove to the nearest store and bought the DVD, and came home and watched it. Done.

After that, to reinforce, he was ONLY allowed to watch that particular movie after pooping on the potty. Yes, there was at least one night where we totally had 101 Dalmatians playing at 11:30 p.m., but dammit, the kid pooped in the potty. What’s fair is fair.

I want to underscore the fact that none of these things equaled an immediate solution. And who knows, maybe the months of other things we tried (Everybody Poops and other potty training picture books, telling idiotic stories about the “party in the potty” that the poop WANTS to go, you name it) DID help, just as part of a long, cumulative process. At some point, it clicked, or he simply stopped being scared or nervous about it, and decided to give a try.

We did NOT do anything punishment related, however — no yelling, shaming, losing of toys or privileges. I personally don’t think this is a good idea, especially if you think your child has anxiety about pooping on the potty (that it will hurt or they’re “losing” something or has sensory issues or whatever), a good vs. naughty dynamic sets it up to be an even bigger power struggle than it already is. Trust me, your child KNOWS you want him or her to poop on the potty. Your child KNOWS how much you care. By casting yourself as the bad-tempered bad guy who just cares oh so very very much — enough to yell or punish — you’re not really giving your child much motivation to poop on the potty to please you or make you happy, much less reinforcing the idea that the potty is a natural, normal big-kid thing and no-big-deal and all that.

Your daughter WILL come around, I promise. Try to find a balance between regular reinforcing that yes, this is your expectation and what she needs to do…and not making a completely huge federal case out of it that makes her feel pressured or anxious. She could completely surprise you tomorrow, or she may dig her little heels in and fight you on this for another six months. If that happens, I’m sorry, but just know that it’s nothing you’re doing WRONG and is, in fact, pretty darn normal, and we’re all here nodding in sympathy with you, because YEP.

(For the record, I’ve now got another child [WHO ALSO SHALL NOT BE NAMED] who will poop AND pee on the potty like a pro…but only if he’s at home, and not wearing any pants whatsoever. And he will still try to hold BOTH in until he gets a diaper at nap or bed time. Put him in underpants? Need to leave the house? Accident central. I am ready to kill the next person who makes a sweeping generalization about cloth-diapered kids potty-training “early” or “easily” because gaaaaaahhhhhhhh he’s driving me craaaaaaazy.)

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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  • andrea

    February 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Thanks so much for this! We are struggling with the same issue. She pees in the potty no problem and at home she will go to the potty to poo. But at daycare, she would rather hide in the corner and poo in her pants or hold it all day. She comes home every night with an upset tummy and we spend hours with her comforting her until she finally goes. I don’t know if we can take 8-10 months of this so I hope it passes and she is able to go at daycare sooner than later.

  • Laura Lou

    February 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    In case you need or would like more suggestions:

  • Sarah

    February 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    This is the tip from my sister-in-law’s mom, which they used on her brother. Its probably not for everyone. But – use cold(ish) water in the shower to clean up after a poop. Not so cold you are freezing the kid (obviously) but cold so its not the most comfortable thing in the world. She would use cold water, and the shower sprayer to clean him off after he pooped (this was after a while of being pee-trained but not poop-trained). Not as a punishment, and not mentioning “this is cold because you pooped” or anything like that. Just “hey – lets get you cleaned up”… She said that it only took two times before he decided it was more comfortable to poop in the toilet.

  • Alyssa

    February 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    My son was going back and forth on this issue until a few weeks ago. He would do great going poopy on the toilet for a few days and then do it in his pants EVERY time for a few days. He didn’t even wait until his diaper was on at night most of the time. Which, frankly, I don’t think I would have minded. It’s cleaning it out of underwear that makes me want to stab my eyes out.

    Anyway, the cure was pretty much what Sarah said. We didn’t use cold water. We just said every time he pooped his pants he was going to have to take a bath. Not as a punishment, just to be clean. We’d say every time “now you have to go in the bath tub because you’re all dirty and ocky and you have to get clean. Pooping in your pants makes you ocky.” My son HATES baths, especially when they cut into play time. It was an inconvenience for us to do 2, sometimes 3 baths a day, but we only had to do it for 2 days. And he hasn’t done it since.

  • JCF

    February 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    We dealt with the same issue with my son for months. It drove me crazy, and I’ll admit there were a few times that we did lose our patience with him, even though we knew it wasn’t the right way to handle things. I feel guilty thinking back on it, but I also remember just how frustrated I was with the situation and cut myself a little slack.

    I agree with the suggestion to try going completely cold turkey with diapers/Pull Ups, even at bedtime. I think this helped my son, though not immediately. It did mean that he wasn’t saving up his poop for bedtime and prolonging the whole ordeal.

    My son loves baths, so we washed him in the tub, with cool (not freezing) water, and we got the whole thing done with very quickly. No playing with toys, no splashing, not warm water running over his back, etc. He hated that, and it did seem to motivate him to poop in the potty so that we would give him a nice warm, long bath.

  • Anonymous

    February 12, 2011 at 1:13 am

    Maybe this isn’t helpful, just kinda cute/funny/sad. A kid I babysat for was pretty much potty-trained, but was still terrified of pooping at age 4- poor thing! As a result, she would hold it in for DAYS and have tummy aches. Her parents finally found a way to bribe her into pooping- she could go outside in the backyard, just like the dog. She thought it was pretty awesome.

    Another little boy I cared for was SO stubborn- would not poop. I think it was basically a control issue. (He also refused to eat fruits and veggies.) Anyway, he would hold it in for days and get really constipated. The mom eventually had to go to the bathroom with him each time and massage his, ah, bum with vaseline to relax his bowels.

    So anyway, as Amalah said, it’s just natural!

  • Eat Sleep Poo

    February 12, 2011 at 9:55 am

    […] Potty Training Wars: Dealing With the Halfway-There Kid | Alphamom I can't remember where I first heard the advice that “you can't make them eat sleep or poop ” but oh my hell, it's so true. So many of us choose one or more of those hills to die on with our babies and toddlers, but the fact is, […]

  • liz

    February 14, 2011 at 11:02 am

    These are not things we tried, but I know others have successfully tried them:

    1. Putting a potty in the bedroom., and having your kid be commando while in their room for their nap.

    2. Telling your kid that they can poop in their diaper if they want to (and putting one on them for that purpose if they are pee-trained)…but they have to be in the bathroom while they are pooping in their diaper.

    For a lot of kids, sitting on the potty isn’t a comfortable position to be in while pooping (lots of them squat or stand), so the second version at least gets them in the right room.

    The first version takes some pressure off in terms of being watched or whatever. Also, the whole naptime event can trigger…let down…as it were.

  • ras

    February 14, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    For us, we found that ignoring and biding our time worked well. That, and some bribery.

    My elder daughter was almost 2.5 when she decided she wanted to wear underwear, and she was totally day-trained pretty quickly. But only for pee — if she needed to poop, she’d bring me a diaper and ask me to put it on her. I didn’t love the situation, but I had no particularly strong objection to it. And since I know my kid is the type that balks if she’s in any way pushed, I decided to back off and simply not bring it up as an issue, aside from the occasional comment that “So-and-So friend poops in the potty and isn’t that great?” As time went on, she became more willing to try to sit on the potty for poop, but I was still really careful not to push.

    That went on for about five months, until we were headed for a family vacation to Disney and I didn’t want to deal with diapers in the park. So we brought her potty along with us, along with a small bag of gummy bears. Our first day there, I told her she’d get a gummy bear every time she used the potty, and that if she made it all week without using any diapers, we’d take her to the huge Disney store and let her pick out a toy. It worked like a charm, and she never used a diaper again.

    I’m not normally an advocate of trading toys for behavior, but in this case, it was more of a “seize the moment” situation. I knew she was ready; she just needed a little incentive at that point.

  • erica

    February 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    The one consequence for not putting the poop or pee where it belonged after we had officially trained and they had learned was that our girl had to “practice. You have to practice getting to the potty fast!” and then we would practice running to the potty from ten places in the house.  Man, she hated practicing fast! But it’s also what she needed to learn to do, so in terms of a consequence, I always felt it was less a punishment and more if a reteaching of the lesson.
    My son is up for training soon.  He’s getting the cold water wash off in addition to our other tricks.  That? Is genius.  Thank you!

  • Kristin

    February 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    OMG, I have totally been there, and very, very recently! My son is 3 1/2, and only started pooping in the potty aboaut 4 weeks ago. In fact, I’m STILL hesitant to say he’s fully potty trained, because I’m afraid I could still jinx it. We tried pretty much everything, and pretty much nothing actually worked – as best as I can tell, my son just finally decided he was ready, and that he wanted to do it on his own, without all the damn pressure and talking about it (which I was soooo guiltiy of). The first day he pooped on his own, he had actually had a pooping accident earlier in the day, so I wasn’t even thinking he’d have to go. He just got up from the dinner table, told me he had to go potty, and off he went, closing the door behind him., while my jaw dropped to the floor. After months of us sitting on the floor with him, making him try just a “few more minutes,” reading him books to keep him occupied – I think the kid just wanted his privacy! Not that he isn’t proud once he’s done the deed – he still calls out for my hustand and I to come see what he’s done, and waits for his high-five. And, there is the small issue of the fact that we turned his early successes into a reason to practically throw a party, and now he expects treats, presents, etc., which we are gradually trying to wean him from. So yeah, the bribes have their place, but even the best bribes won’t make a kid go until he or she WANTS to.

  • Ree

    February 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    I had the same problem with my daughter, at about the same age. She would wait to poop in her diaper until we tucked her in for nap. Only (and I caught this on video by leaving the camera running in her room), she would climb on the toddler bed rail and squat. I cannot wait to show that to her when she has kids!

    Anyway, here’s what helped us: She was, and still is, very fearful of pooping in an adult toilet, even with a potty seat. I think it may be uncomfortable for little kids if they can’t put their feet up. During potty training we had three different style of portable potties, and she ended up preferring to poop in a rather tall one and that is still where she goes today. It’s also in her room — she liked to have some privacy away from her little brother. He gets put in an exersaucer or left in the living room.

    We also bribed her with a prize bowl when she started balking. I wrapped a bunch of toys and put them in a bowl and left them on the bathroom counter. Every time she pooped in the little potty she got a prize. Or she could choose to get a mini bag of M&Ms. Eventually prizes were phased out for chocolate. After six months, she now recognizes the need to poop, goes by herself, and gets one Hershey’s kiss as a prize.

  • Kate

    February 19, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    @ Sarah, I had to laugh a little at your comment since I did something similar the other day (not even on purpose) and it totally worked.

    My 21 month old son likes to strip and although switching from velcro to snap diapers helped for a while he’s finally got the snaps figured out (or he just got stronger). In any case my husband went downstairs (to the playroom) one day last week to find him completely naked. There was a little poo on his butt but none anywhere else we could find so no harm no foul. Two days later I went upstairs to make him a snack and came down to find that he had stripped and then pooped on the floor. I got him re-diapered and re-dressed and then cleaned up the mess. Late that morning when I went upstairs to get his pre-nap bottle ready I got delayed because I had to clean up cat vomit from the hardwood floors (isn’t my life glamorous). By the time I got back downstairs he had stripped and pooped again but this time it was much messier and he had stepped in it! The only solution was to pick him up and take him directly to the shower where he proceeded to scream as I used warm water and the sprayer to clean him off. Although he likes water he hates the sprayer but I didn’t have the time to run a bath. After all that he had to be shut in the playroom while I cleaned up the mess in the TV room. Although neither actions were intended as punishments or even deterrents he hasn’t taken his clothes off in almost a week!

  • Kim

    February 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Yeah, really try to say away from the shame thing. Because it really doesn’t work, and it really does damage to your relationship with your kid, and once it’s a power struggle, it stays that way. Least proudest parenting moment. I had PPD, she was 3.5 and not doing either, yeah yeah regression, and apparently I have poop issues that I had no idea about, but I so wish I could have a do-over.What finally worked for us was telling her that she needed to be using the potty, and if she didn’t use it, we would stay home so that she could practice using the potty. I made it about the procedure, not about the outcome. But I was literally putting my shoes on o take her to a park playdate when she told me she had gone in the pullup, and I took my shoes back off and we didn’t go. That finally took.

  • Mike

    March 6, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I love this article! This site is very interesting and useful for everyone!

  • Mike

    March 6, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I love this article! Your site is great!

  • Megan

    November 6, 2013 at 10:59 am

    I want to thank you for this article. This has been a much bigger challenge than I anticipated and I feel like it’s about to send me to the nut house. I’ve really not handled this well and there are a lot of moments I wish I could take back. From yelling, to crying, to begging, to promising ANYTHING in Toys R Us, to coaching, cheering…I’ve done it all and my daughter has just dug her heels in on this issue. She’s bright, funny and fully capable…but it’s going to be on her own terms. I just hope it happens soon! 🙂 Thanks again for your insight..I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing I’m not alone on this hill I’m about to die on! 🙂

  • Danielle@TheDomesticFour

    January 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

    I just want to thank you or your candid approach to this problem! I am currently battling my three year old on this very issue. Tells me every time he needs to pee and hides in a corner to poop. I’ve been reduced to tears on more occasions than I can recount. To add insult to injury he managed to go for over a week (on our recent Disney vacation) completely accident free doing both in the potty. Upon returning home, right back to the way it was. I’ve decided to keep the ‘battle’ to myself and show him only patience praying all the while he just decides to do it one of these days. All that to say, thank you. Some of what you said had me laughing so hard my kids looked at me like I was nuts. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one!

  • Adventures in Potty Training

    March 13, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    […] one fateful day (after cleaning poop out of yet another pair of underwear) until I stumbled across this post on the Alpha Mom website. In an amazingly candid and hilarious manner, the writer Amalah […]

  • Sue

    July 24, 2014 at 4:23 am

    thank heaven for me finding this site….my 3 yr old grandson refuses to poop in potty and I thought he was abnormal…NOT….thank you for the insight!!!

  • krisry

    November 30, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Ughhhhhhh I have a three year old who won’t stop playing in her poop she poops in the potty but I truly feel. Like I am losingmymind ughh

  • Sarah

    July 1, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Oh thank goodness for this post! I’m feeling emotionally bruised and full of guilt about this very thing – today my 25 month old daughter sat at the lunch table with me right beside her and her potty practically within arm’s reach and did the hugest poo in her underpants no less than 10 minutes after I asked if she needed the potty (potty 6th sense!). It was so big it squished out down her legs. She’s been potty trained for 3 months now except for poo “accidents” that have been escalating and happening more and more often. I’m so ashamed to say I totally blew my top, yelled, cried, told her I was disappointed in her and cancelled our afternoon activity *sigh*. But the clean up was SO awful and just why???? It seems she can’t be bothered and she doesn’t think poo is gross; she’s always proud even it’s not in the right place LOL. I love Ree’s idea about the reward bowl – patience, patience, patience!!

  • A Mom

    October 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I was looking for tips for children older than 3.5 who are having this issue. I think you are over-reacting to a 2.5 or 3 or 3.5-year-old having this issue. What some of us wouldn’t do to be in your shoes, solving it by 3.5!

  • Stephanie

    January 21, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    My son is 4 1/2 years old and still won’t poop on the potty. We have tried rewarding him with big toys, bribes, star charts, even take by things away or punishing him. He will not go on the potty. He goes in his underwear and I am constantly washing out poopy clothes. If I see him trying to go I make him go sit on the potty but he will hold it until he gets his underwear back on. My husband and I have literally made this child stay in the bathroom all day because we knew he had to go. He will hold it all day, hours upon hours until he is back in his underwear to go. I honestly don’t know what to do. His doctor wants him to go through therapy but I don’t see what that’s going to do. It’s a matter of him choosing to do it himself. No one can make him. Doctors told me he is not goIng to choose to do it himself. We have been trying to have him potty trained for almost 3 years. He’s going to be 5 years old and still pooping in his pants. I’m getting frustrated and disgusted with it. People have NO IDEA what it’s like to have a kid almost in kindergarten not potty trained. Makes me I at want to roll my eyes.