3 Year Old Going Poop Doesn’t Need Mom’s Participation

Dr Ann,

Nick turned 3 in February and he has been wearing underwear since about Sept. He always goes potty in the toilet (standing up – like daddy). He takes the initiative to go by himself or he asks for help. However, he still poops in his pants. He will wait until nap or nighttime when he wears a pull up and then poops.

I had a little toilet on the floor that I thought would be comfortable and stable for him to sit on. He said it did not flush and wanted to go in the big potty. I bought a wonderful contraption from one step ahead that is a sturdy one piece step and small seat so he would feel stable etc. He has gone on the potty before but chooses to go in his pull up or sometimes in his underwear.

We made a big deal when he went on the potty. He will usually hold it and tells me he has put it back in his bottom if I suggest that he go on the potty. I know he probably should have sat down to go pee first but he took to standing up.

I change him with minimal eye contact and communication. He does want to connect at this time but I try not to give attention as I clean him up. I have put the poop in the toilet and shown him and flushed it etc.

He tells me he will poop on the toilet yesterday, tomorrow and when the sun goes down. How do I get him there before he goes to real preschool. He has watched the videos and actually asks to watch them. He is very attached to me but also wants to do things himself like getting and out of the car and try to dress himself etc which I am very patient about.

I have been trying to get Nick to take care of his toileting himself. I tell him he needs to put on his underwear and pants himself after having an accident. He says that mommy needs to do that.

I have left him crying until he has put on his clothes himself then praised him for doing it all by himself. When I tell him to put his clothes back on himself he tries to negotiate with me and asks me to hold one end of his pant elastic and he holds the other while we both pull up. I am thinking I am on to something where he just won’t let go of mommy doing this for him.

Liana A.

I think you are right; he wants you to continue to participate with you on this one. Going poop is much more sophisticated than going pee. It takes more brain power.

The reason he “needs” to go poop in his pull-up or underwear is that both things give him a ‘base’ in order to feel and coordinate his rectal muscles. In other words, he can feel himself go and know when to contract and release those muscles, as opposed to the toilet with nothing underneath him.

He is still rather young and is practicing at this, just like he did when he started to walk, talk, etc. You are on the right track to not ‘help’ him with putting his clothes back on, if he can do it himself.

Also, do not talk at all about NOT going in the toilet, only when he goes do you draw attention it to, but not too big a deal (as that would be like me jumping up and down and clapping every time to get up to go use the restroom…this is a private accomplishment that everyone owns for themselves, not to please others).

Make every toilet attempt he does, be about him doing it “himself”, not you being proud of him, as he needs to feel pride in himself. He needs to own this, as it is his body.

I know how hard this is because you have to do the clean up and it seems as though he is deliberately NOT going. So hang in there, be patience and this will happen.
If you need to talk further just give my office a call at the # below and we can set up a phone consultation.

Hang in there, Dr. Ann

Thank you so much for this advice. We have stopped pushing the issue and he has actually gone poop on the toilet several times since this email. I think that the more he goes and we give him the high five “you did it” the more he will get used to the feeling.

I put Nick to bed last night and then once I was downstairs I heard him running around…I went upstairs and saw that he was in the bathroom. Even though he had a pull up on he got up to go poop. He is totally getting it. I stayed outside until he was done so that I didn’t interrupt and then high fived him back into bed.

Thanks again. Looks like we are going to preschool in September.

Liana A.