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The Halfway-There Potty-Trained Kid (Who Poops On The Floor)

The Halfway-There Potty-Trained Kid (Who Poops On The Floor)

By Amalah

I have been reading your advice for quite some time now, and I am even following your week by week pregnancy calendar (sooooo much better than your average week by week!!!), and I have come to the realization that my own son is a halfway-there potty-trained kid. Now, he pees just fine in the toilet, and will even use the little potty we got him for his room for when he’s supposed to be sleeping (he won’t let himself out of his room, and we wanted to avoid messes), but when it comes to poop, OOOH NOOO! Not only does he NOT poop on the toilet for us (it has only ever happened once, and that was when my dear, patient, husband waited nearly an hour in the bathroom with him), but he even refuses to go in his unders/a pull up/ cloth diaper we used to use for bedtime. This kid will wait for naptime or bedtime and proceed to take off (usually all) his clothes and crap on his floor. Every. Single. &#(&#$&#( Day. If we are out and about and he doesn’t get naptime (his preferred time to poo on his floor) and we get back late enough he just goes to sleep right away, he will hold it and we will get two piles sometime the next day. It has been going on for MONTHS! I would almost be happier if he just went in his pants, because then I’m not having to deep clean his floor every day. My Mr is going to be gone ALL next month for work, we’re moving in September, and I’m due in October. How do I get this stubborn kid to actually poop in the toilet?

Frustrated With Cleaning Up the S**t

Well. This IS a new one. (Though on the plus side: At least he’s not twins, and at least he’s not throwing the poop.)

So what we have here is a kid who has embraced the concept that peeing and pooping in a diaper or underwear is unpleasant, but has some aversion/fear/resistance when it comes to pooping in the toilet/potty seat. This is a very common thing (as I’ve said over and over and over in this column and to myself, during our potty training years because COME ONNNNN JUST POOP ON THE POTTY), and it crops up for a variety of reasons: A negative experience, a badly timed bout of constipation or diarrhea, a sense that poop is “part” of him and he’s afraid to let it fall in the water, etc. And a lot of times it’s just plain stubbornness and a need to exert control. Ah, toddlerhood.

If this were my kid, I would probably get a good video monitor for his room and do my best to watch it during his prime “poop windows.” The second I spotted any stripping or pants removal, I’d get my butt in there as quickly as possible and quickly and calmly redirect him to the potty. (If you have a big house or know you can’t be super-nearby, put him to bed in multiple layers or clothing that takes him longer to remove, like onesies, footie sleepers or overalls.)

(Somewhat relatedly: I spent most of my summer afternoons sitting on the floor of our upstairs hallway, working with my laptop perched on a plastic storage bin, just to catch my toddler trying to escape his room during the crib-to-bed nap transition. You do what you gotta do, right?)

If he refuses or tries to hold it, dress him back up and put him back to bed and repeat as necessary until he can’t anymore. Then I’d make a HUGGGGGGGE DEEEEEAAAALLLLL over any successful pooping and lavish him with a ton of positive attention. There would also probably be some candy or other reward, cuz thatz just how I roll.

If a poop on the floor happens, no reaction. No yelling, no scolding, no eye contact. Just “poop belongs in the potty, not the floor.” You don’t mention his age, but if he’s on the older side and you do short time-outs, you could try telling him he has to sit on the step (or somewhere away from you) while you clean the mess up. Not really a punishment, per se, but just something to make the aftermath be a bit of a bummer and not fun for him.

In theory, he SHOULD realize that the positive reaction and praise/incentives are more fun and satisfying than whatever he’s getting from his little bid for Poop Control.  He probably won’t realize this overnight or anything, but in time, he’ll decide that pooping in the potty is just preferable all around. Hopefully it won’t take TOO long, provided you can catch him “right before the act” a couple times— and when he’s past the point of holding it in once you physically pick him up and sit him where the poop is supposed to go. And then make those couple times a couple of really, really positive experiences (since he’s only pooped on the potty ONCE, and it sounds like it was a boring/agonizing experience for everyone involved). I know that sounds crazy at this point, when this behavior’s been going on for MONTHS, but it’s true. All kids eventually get over this weirdness and poop on the potty. ALL OF THEM.

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 [email protected].

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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  • AmyRenee

    August 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I don’t have much advice for the letter writer except to say “it gets better … eventually”. My son also used to strip and poop and/or pee on the floor during every naptime – which meant I wound up shampooing the carpet pretty much every weekend. He loved the “water vacuum’, so he thought it was great fun to watch me use it. He also would throw fits when we were out and about that he wanted to “go home and take a nap” which was code for “I need to poop and I want to do it at home in my room”.
    It took a long time to get past it, and the only things that helped a little were
    1) offering him a little potty or stool to use with the big potty so he had something to put his feet on
    2) offering to let him sit on the potty by himself while we stepped back out of the room so he could have some privacy. After all, you probably don’t like having company in the bathroom while you go either. So we started asking “would you like some privacy while you go potty”? and he usually said yes.
    3) offering a prune or other dried fruit if it had been more than a day since a poop.
    4) encouraging “taking a potty break” in the middle of an activity, instead of as a transition. Both my boys fought “lets go to the potty” when they knew it meant “stop playing with your toys and go potty, then we’re going to do something else.” They are much more open to stopping playing to quickly go to the bathroom now that we’ve shown them that going potty doesn’t always mean “playtime’s over” – even if it means going back to play for only 5-10 minutes after the potty break.
    The only other piece of advice I have is – get a SpotBot or other portable carpet cleaner if you have carpet. It works way better than trying to just blot up the mess with towels. And for your new place – consider buying a cheap area rug for his room that can just be thrown away when this phase is over.

  • MR

    August 4, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I’d buy those potty training pads for dogs, and put one on his floor every day and see if he would at least poop THERE instead of on the carpet. Maybe even put a shallow plastic tray there so he could squat over that and you could rinse it into the toilet. Then, I second the video monitor, so you can see how he is doing this. I suspect the issue is that he squats vs sits to poop. Changing to sitting is a difference that can be hard for kids. So, I’d probably rig up some contraption so he could squat over the potty and get him used to doing that. At some point he will be ready to make the transition to sitting.

  • BN

    August 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Is it awful if I say that I would probably make him clean it up? I mean, SUPERVISED with HELP and lots of SANITATION afterward. I remember potty training and telling the kid that if he went in his pants that we would take him outside and spray him down with the hose. The concept just terrified him and he went in the potty immediately from that day forward.

  • Karen

    August 4, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    You know how people say, “don’t worry your kid won’t go to kindergarten in diapers…” Well I’m in the midst of dealing with a pooping problem with my soon to be Kindergartener (5 in August) , so hopefully I don’t sound too blunt, but I disagree with just about all of this. Taking a kid who is anything but regular and regularly in the toilet, and doing something that makes him hold it longer (Amy’s suggestion to redress him and “win the battle” over the potty) is going to make your problem worse. My kiddo also hates when we used to make a big deal about a poop that did happen in the toilet. She knew it was contrived and didn’t like the attention.

    Also, my daughter, who has had problems with pooping both on the potty, and in general, for two years (since she pee trained at 3 yrs which is it’s own story), has occasionally tried to clean up her own “poo on the floor” accidents and I can also say, wholeheartedly, that involving him in the cleanup of the poo will accomplish nothing you want it to accomplish and only complicate your cleanup effort.

    The only, only, only thing in two years that has helped her poo is regular sitting on the toilet after either breakfast or dinner when bowel motility is maximal and then she does poo. But I couldn’t bribe her with all the tea in China otherwise. For most kids with poo problems, solving the problem just won’t happen with the usual approaches.

    Getting him to poo on a puppy pad or similar is a great idea though. If my daughter would regularly poo somewhere, I’d do that too.

    I have zero advice save for the regular potty time with a footstool. This one will most likely happen on his timeline. And hey, at least you aren’t cleaning poo up at the park. Could be worse?

  • K

    August 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I’m going to be entirely not helpful with this comment – but I just have to say that I had NO IDEA that pooping was such a big deal. I am actually a bit scared to even start potty training, because the idea of him having no problem peeing but me having to clean up poop for….awhile…seems like worse than just keeping him in diapers until he’s ready/mature enough/whatever the magical thing is that makes this occur to just potty train for all functions at once. Is that insane? Does anyone not have trouble with this part? AS for the OP – you sound like such a patient mom. I’m sure this is hard (and yuck) but it sounds like you are doing everything right as far as being encouraging and kind about this…trial. Good luck!!

    • Kate

      August 14, 2014 at 3:03 am

      Fwiw I haven’t really had poop issues while training either of mine. After he pooped in the potty the first time my son completely got it even though he took a few weeks to stop having regular pee accidents. My daughter is just finishing up potty training but she’s basically been the same way. We did have a few accidents this summer but they were pretty much all when we were at the beach and she didn’t realize in time for us to make it all the way to the bathroom. The only other issue we’ve had is that rather than go straight to the bathroom to poop she’ll come and find me first which can result in cutting it a little too close.

  • kayceeintx

    August 5, 2014 at 2:20 am

    My first thought is that it might be a squatting versus sitting issue. Perhaps he would be willing to squat and poop over just the pot portion of his potty chair or some other chamber pot type of container.
    In a different direction, could he be dressed in something that he can’t take off himself during naptime?

  • S

    August 5, 2014 at 2:33 am

    Hi K – and only K. Shhhh… If you’re dealing with poop issues please look away! I’d never dare offer advice. But hi K. Sometimes poop is no thang at all. My twins are working on potty training. The issues kid isn’t as far along, but has pooped in the potty a bunch with no problem. My typical kid is closer to potty trained (and would totally be there if I didn’t find diapers so freeing for me). This kid started rolling over toward the potty to poop there since five months! I was so not doing any sort of poop training, it was just the kid’s preference. So there you go, two kids who have no poop issues so far and love to do it on the potty. (I’m sorry, I know I’m a jerk. We’ve got our own issues. They just doesn’t include poop. For the moment, anyway.) Oh wait! One time at eight months, they figured out the hook and loop cloth diaper tabs and I caught them both eating one kid’s poop. But let’s clear that memory now and say no poop issues.

  • Elizabeth

    August 5, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Wow you have a lot going on there! I know there are no medals in parenting, but I think you deserve at least a virtual one. I’ve moved with little kids several times and they always picked up on it more than in thought they would. So it sounds like maybe the poop problem is partially “I like to squat” and partially “I want to control something that I know I can control”. I personally wouldn’t make it into a power struggle that you ultimately just can’t win– I would try to make it sound like you were both trying to solve the same problem.
    I think that for now the puppy training pad sounds like a great solution. You could talk to him about how you understand he likes to poop on the floor and then show him the pad and talk about how that will let you guys safely get the poop where it needs to go–ie the toilet. Then if he d

  • liz

    August 5, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I third the squatting thing, and agree with the suggestions of a tray, or puppy pad, or the bowl from the little potty for him to do his business in, and ask him to do his business IN THE BATHROOM (where it’s easier to clean up).

    Also, do you have his room dark during naptime? Put a nightlight in the bathroom, and turn out the overhead light if he’s more comfy in the dark.

    • liz

      August 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      Adding this:

      There’s a reason “Turkish Toilets” are popular in a lot of places. Squatting to poop is more comfortable for lots of folks.

  • liz

    August 5, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    And, amazingly, there are specialized foot stools you can buy to help with the issue, if it’s a matter of position.

  • Kw

    August 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    Another squatting vs. sitting mom. From his earliest age my son preferred to stand and poop (we called his exersaucer the poopy chair because he would wait until we put him in there to poop). He pooped his pants for a long time. After about a year things just started clicking. We #1 made sure he got lots of fiber to keep him regular #2 dropped all attention/pressure surrounding the potty. I hosed him down after accidents which wasn’t super pleasant and that was it. No rewards, no punishments, just this is where we do our business (older friends helped exemplify this really well) and #3 once we were regular I always suggested a trip to the potty after breakfast. Eventually he lost the fear/hang ups and I’m proud to say he even went potty on an airplane yesterday! I’m not sure I’m even comfortable enough to do that, it was awesome! Only parents who’ve fought the potty training monster could possibly be that excited about defication, amiright?

  • Annie

    August 5, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    If you could get your kid to poop on a puppy pad, and then put the little potty insert there on the pad MAYBE you can shape that into eventually pooping on a potty. I had success with a reluctant kid by drawing silly pictures on squares of TP and making it into a game. (Can you get your poop to land on the car/lion/whatever you asked me to draw!? You did it! Wow!! ) Then maybe you could use the game and transition that to a potty?

    My daughter was a stubborn, standing pooper. She finally started trying to poop on the potty when she saw her best buddy doing it. Good luck!

  • Trish

    August 6, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    I have to back Karen up on the holding thing. If there is even a whisper of resistance I would not do anything that requires him to hold it in. My daughter trained late (after 3) and was the greatest potty resister of all time. She chronically held her poop and she now has encopresis (and this started well after she was fully and totally trained). It sucks. Probably almost as much as cleaning the carpet daily. Don’t encourage him to hold it!!!!

    • Melissa

      August 7, 2014 at 11:06 am

      My four year old also ended up with encopresis.  Don’t encourage anything that holds it in!  Then the poop is bigger, harder, and more painful to pass….and then?  They start always holding it in because it hurts to go.  And then?  Oh goody, encopresis time.  

      My son does love the book, “It Hurts to Poop,” and is really struggling to even FEEL like he has to go before his poop is big and hard and terrible to pass.  Encouraging a poop-softening diet goes a long way, but when they are hella determined to hold that poop and then encopresis, it’s a long road to get them back to normal.  We aren’t there yet at all.