The reluctant toilet pooer

Updated: May 21, 2020

So! You cracked getting wee into the potty and/or toilet. (If you haven’t cracked that yet, take a look at Get Set, Potty, Go!). But your little one simply won’t do a poo anywhere else other than in the nappy! (Or in their underwear behind the sofa).

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Around a quarter of children find it hard to make the transition to pooing out of their nappy. While some children transition through this phase on their own, others need some gentle support to take the final step.

First things first. If your child will only poo in their nappy, then let them. Try not to let pooing become a battle ground. Making it a big issue or trying to force them to use the toilet or potty may lead to them simply trying to avoid pooing. This in turn leads to constipation and makes the whole situation a lot more difficult to resolve. Or you may find, instead, that your child simply takes themselves off and has a poo in their underwear. While this avoids the issue of them being constipated (which is a BIG positive), it leaves you with something to clean up - which isn’t very pleasant.

If your child simply won’t poo on the toilet or potty, then agree with them that they wear their underwear as normal but let them know they can ask to have a nappy on when they feel a poo coming. This way you are supporting their independence around toileting and also their emotional need to poo in a nappy.

Talking of constipation, before you try any of the steps below make sure your child isn’t constipated. Dealing with a big hard poo is enough to put anyone off going and it is completely understandable that your child wants to remain in a nappy where they feel safe if they are already struggling to poo. If your child poos less than four times a week, it is likely that they are constipated. Eric, the Bowl and Bladder Charity, has lots of further information about constipation, including the Bristol Stool Chart, to help you assess the health of your child’s poo.

So, what else could be the cause of a reluctance to use the potty or the toilet for a poo?


Yup, it could be as simple as that. Your small human may simply not want to sit around and wait for the poo to come. We all know toddlers and small children are very busy people, so who can blame them! With a nappy on, they can get on as normal and stop only momentarily for the act of pooing. If you suspect that boredom may be the issue, my tip would be to try and make the potty or toilet a more interesting place to be. Have a couple of books to look at and read. Sing some songs. Or just sit and have a chat. Anything to help make the wait for the poo less boring. But don’t force them to sit there till the poo comes or you could just end up with a battle on your hands.


Fear is often a big reason for children not wanting to poo on the toilet or potty. While a wee is a fairly quick and easy thing to pass, a poo takes more effort, meaning it is vital a child feels secure enough to enable them to go. There can be all kinds of things that make having a poo out of a nappy scary;

For some, having their bottom out of their snug warm nappy for a prolonged period of time feels exposed, odd and quite frankly a bit cold. If you suspect this might be part of the problem, then start by helping your child to feel comfortable pooing on a potty before even thinking about a move to the toilet. the following tips can help:

  • Make sure your bathroom is warm and inviting, or that the potty is somewhere warm.

  • Encourage your child to sit on the potty at other times, say while their bath is running, just to get used to the feeling of having their bottom out without the pressure of a poo coming at the same time.

  • Once they are happy to do that, encourage them to sit on the potty while wearing their nappy to do their poo.

  • Next transition to sitting on the potty with their nappy but with the tabs on loosely.

  • Once happy with that, move to lying the nappy in the potty and then have the child sit and do their poo.

  • Finally, move to doing a poo straight into the potty.

  • Only once your child is totally happy and comfortable pooing into the potty, and has been doing this for a number of weeks without any issues, start to introduce the idea of pooing in the toilet.

Alternatively, if you do want to try going straight to the toilet, you can try the following;

  • Encourage your child to sit on the toilet at other times, say while their bath is running, just to get used to the feeling of having their bottom out, without the pressure of a poo coming at the same time.

  • Encourage your child to sit on the toilet with their nappy on while they poo.

  • Then, over time, cut a strategic hole in the nappy so the poo can travel straight through, but the child still has the security of the nappy there. Over time you can make the hole bigger.

  • Finally remove the nappy fully.

If you are trying this route be sure that the toilet itself is not seen as a scary place.

For some children the toilet can simply be far too scary to be able to relax. In these situations, encourage use of a potty (or let your child continue to poo in their nappy) while you take time to help your child become less scared of the toilet. While supporting your child to become less scared don’t mention the Poo word at all. You need them to no longer be afraid of the toilet before you reintroduce the idea of pooing there. A child’s fear can revolve around:

  • The flush. Its noisy and quite dramatic, so you can see how for some children it makes the toilet a very scary place to be. Start by flushing it while they stand by the bathroom door or just outside the room, then gradually let them to come a little closer. When they are near enough, encourage them to put just a little bit of toilet paper in the toilet to watch flush away (make sure they know not to throw other things in!). Then when they are ready encourage them to flush the toilet themselves.

  • Splash back. Splash back from the water can also feel scary for children. Help them understand what is happening by throwing in wet lumps of toilet tissue so they can understand what is happening. Also show them how putting a layer of toilet tissue over the water can help to reduce the splash.

  • Falling into the toilet can be another very understandable concern for a child. Make sure you have a really well-fitting toilet seat insert that properly supports your child. For many children they also need to be able to have their feet firmly on something so they can effectively bear down to poo (think about it, could you poo with your feet dangling in the air?) so you might also need to get a well-fitting step. Let your child practice sitting on the toilet, fully clothed so they can start to feel secure. Once they are comfortable sitting with their clothes on you can gradually encourage them to sit with their bottoms pulled down. Or follow the slow removal of nappy steps as detailed above.

The behind-the-sofa or behind-the-curtain pooer

If you find that your child takes themselves off to poo behind the sofa or curtain, it could well be that the bathroom, or wherever the potty is, simply feels too open and exposed. See what you can do to make the bathroom feel cosier and more private. Or if it’s become a pattern of behaviour, try moving the potty to their favourite poo spot first and then gradually move the potty to the bathroom, once the child is happily using the potty behind the sofa. As with previous suggestions, try getting them to sit with their clothes on first in the new place before even trying for a poo.

Separation anxiety

Some children can become very anxious about the idea of letting part of themselves fall into the toilet and get flushed away. A poo comes from their body, so surely they need to keep hold of it right? They can also worry that their poo will be scared as it is flushed away and be lonely without them. Some possible approaches in those circumstances are:

  • Talk to them about pooing and their fears of losing something. Explain that poo is a waste product and is designed to be flushed away. Read books to your child to help them understand this is where poos lives and where poo likes to go. Three books I like are, Liam Goes Poo in the Toilet and Everybody Poos and What is Poo. You could also try Poo Goes Home to Poo Land, created by the NHS and also available as an app.

  • Let them see you poo on the toilet. I know for some this may sound like a very odd thing to do, but if a child sees you going for a poo on the toilet and sees you flush it away, they will start to understand that pooing is something totally normal.

  • If it doesn’t upset your child, you could try tipping the poo out of their nappy so they can see it go into the toilet. Then encourage them to wave bye bye to it, as it is flushed away.

Whatever it is that’s causing your child to not want to poo anywhere other than their nappy, be sure to take each step slowly. Acknowledge their fears and concerns and give lots of praise even for the smallest step.

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