We're having problems with our 3.5 year-old boy concerning potty training:

Since his birth it seems, that being cleaned is much more unpleasing to him than running around with brimful diapers for hours, other parents always said that their kids even request fresh diapers themselves, as they can't stand it, if it's full. For him, that seemed to be no problem. Not only that he did not let us know, he even denied it if we asked him directly if he has poo'd in his diaper.

He is now in the kindergarten for 9 months and it is especially pronounced there: He he says when he needs to pee but does not say when he needs to poo.

In contrast at home it works very well:
He runs around without diaper and since some months he reliably goes to his potty in time and is even proud of his poo (we are also honestly and happy with each of them landing in the potty and show him.)

However, when we are in town or somewhere on the way, he would not tell me that he needs a toilet, fills his diaper clandestinely and normally would not tell me - sometimes even deny if I ask him, if "something is in his diapers".

My questions:

  • Does anyone else have similar experience and how could that be solved?

More information:

I often tried to talk to him (and the kindergarten teacher) why he does not go to the toilet in time or at least tells somebody if it's too late already. From his comments (and my experience) there are several possible reasons:

  • He fears to loose his toys or that someone destroys e. g. his building brick construction when he goes away to the toilet (the kindergarten teacher then tells him that it will be still there for him, when he comes back).
  • He is "too busy" (does not want to interrupt playing).
  • He does not want to disrupt a group activity like singing or reading a story or lunch by saying that he must go to the toilet
  • He seems to not like the little toilets in the kindergarten, but I could not find out why. At home he has his potty and seems to be happy with it. In the kindergarten this is not possible unfortunately (not even an exception, otherwise all other kids would also want their potty being there). The kindergarten teacher however assured me that she even checks for him it its clean before he goes in.
  • Maybe it is his way to gain some extra care and attention by the kindergarten teacher.
  • He said to me once, the other (mostly older) kids are saying "ick!" if he has a full diaper and if it stinks. So it might be embarassing for him what happens, but that seems not to help him to get rid of the situation...
  • Getting cleaned seems to be unpleasant for him, but surely it gets worse if he run around in his full diaper for an hour or more and he also knows that. He knows perfectly well that it might be less painful if he told us sooner, but he does not. If his full diaper is "detected", he then proposes on his own that I shall clean him in the shower instead of just taking a wet washcloth which might cause pain for his (then) already red skin)!

We had tried it without diapers in the kindergarten for some time (some months ago) but we gave up, as we had again and again several dirty trousers per day and so he has diapers in the kindergarten.

It adds to the problem, that his digestion seems to be somehow special, so he sometimes poos a great amount at once [the last two days we had dirty trousers for this reason, although he had worn diapers! it just flow out, as he did not tell anybody so that he even had to take a shower in the kindergarten] and on other days it's the frequency, so we have up to 4 more or less small amounts of poo per day.

The kindergarten teacher which is his psychological parent is very friendly, nice and cooperative and I admire her patience. However, she is at a loss with the situation as we are - she says she talks to him nearly each day about that, but it does not seem to change anything.

Our son is quite clever and often knows quite well what he has to say as an excuse to get out of something, so it seems to be even possible that he might be "manipulating" what he tells me about what happens in the kindergarten or about his reasons not to go to the toilet.

Edit The problem seems to be solved - however we'll have to see if it is a permanent solution.

One day, 2 weeks ago, it happened that the diapers in the nursery went out (for children older than 3 years, the parents have to supply them and we were not informed that there were not enough any more), so the kindergarten teachers let our son stay some hours without diapers and he managed that without big "accidents".

I seized the opportunity and asked him the next morning to go to the nursery without diapers. He agreed and now he is without diapers in the nursery since one week and it works (apart from some small accidents with poo'ed underwear, but sh*t happens ;-)).

Also when we were in town or in the circus in the afternoon, I let him without diapers and it worked very well, he was able to control himself and the pants stayed dry.

So that seems to be big step forward. Sure, this is only for one week now and there might be "relapses", but we're optimistic.

(Of course, when he sleeps he's not yet aware of peeing and needs diapers, so that will be the next step when all works well reliably during daytime.)

Edit 2:

At the moment, there are many "relapses": wet underpants during our trip yesterday, later at home even a small poo in the fresh underpants, today poo'ed trousers and underwear in the kindergarten...

All that was in the course of a series of days with really bad "mood", where our son quickly overreacts if the slightest thing is not exactly how he wanted to have it. We used to have that often in the first 3 years until some months ago when those phases seemed to get shorter and less pronounced.

We'll have to see how it continues...

Edit 3:

(2 months later) Well, we finally have made good progress: We've been on holiday abroad for 2 weeks with our son and everything worked perfectly well (during daytime): he went to the toilet together with me and also told us on his own if he needed a toilet. No accidents at all. :-)

The diapers were only needed for the night, where he apparently is not aware of peeing before it starts. So because of the lack of washing and drying facilities we did not want to risk wet beds.

We'll have to see how it will work now back in the kindergarten...

Edit 4:

5 days at home, 3 poo'ed underpants. :-( At least he seems to tell us by himself now, when the underpants are dirty. ... It's not over yet.

Edit 5: Well, we had 12 days with no accident (neither at home nor in the kindergarten), and then 2 days with "accidents" (but small amount of poo in the underwear) again... ... and now even 2 big "accidents" (one at home and one in the kindergarten).... :(

Edit 6: (2 months since Edit 5 and 7 months after original question)

We had some phases where everything went well for some days, but already before christmas the number of accidents in kindergarten increased. During the christmas holidays at home it went quite well (apart from 3 "accidents") and then back in the kindergarten we're now moving step by step backwards ... Very full panties, tights, ... and we don't see any regular "pattern". The worst is, that he still mostly does not tell the teachers if the pants are dirty and that he even often is lying and denies that he has to be cleaned and then even spreads it more and more everywhere in his clothes.

Edit 7: (10 months after last edit and 1.5 years after original question)

Our son is now 5 years old. We had hard times in between - it got better, than it got worse again, we had many problems with the kindergarten, because the kindergarten teachers were not willing to support us any more and finally wanted us/our son to wear diapers during the day again - which he did not want (and we did not want either, because then there would have been no more motivation to go to the toilet at all...).

We had consulted different doctors (2 pediatricians, one "expert" for digestion who proved to be a charlatan which made some very expensive but totally useless analysis and convinced us giving our son medicine to "stabilize" the gut flora... with no effect at all).

Finally, by hazard we heard the term "encopresis" and with this new search term, we found out:

  • it is an illness
  • there are specialists (doctors) who know about it
    (before, no one understood us or our child - neither in the kindergarten nor the pediatrician..., nobody took us seriously, everybody thought about psychological causes for the problem - the child "seeking attention" by his behavior... )
  • we went to a special ambulance for such problems

We learned from the doctor,

  • that our son must have had obstipation, which finally explained why he always made very small amounts of poo in the underwear - sometimes several times a day, which we had considered being diaarhea
  • that our son has to learn to control it and that it may take a long time...

So since some months now, we are doing a toilet training, which means:

  • after each meal (breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, diner) our son has to go to the toilet and stay there for 5..10 minutes
  • for each day, he did that (no matter if pants got dirty or not!!!), he got a sticker which he could paste on a kind of calendar sheet (one field for each day) for documenting how it worked
  • we had a list marking when it worked well and when it didn't (e. g. he refuses to go to the toilet after the meal or also what happened when (poo, pee, in the toilet/pants...)

We apologized to our son for setting him under pressure and for having him punished because of the dirty underwear...

Now it works much better, there are only small amounts of poo in the pants maybe every 1..2 weeks, but no large "accidents" any more, where a large amount of poo is distributed everywhere in pants/socks....

One large problem we could not solve up to now: our son does not tell us/kindergarten teachers directly, if he has poo in his pants... in the kindergarten he might hide it for hours, at home if playing or activity is too interesting, he won't tell us... that's a big problem for us..

(10 months after last edit and >2years after original question)

things did not change much since the last edit: in general it works quite well (with some "accidents") but there are phases, when it does not really work any more: small stains of poo in the underwear nearly daily, rarely a large amount and nearly never he tells anyone to help him :(

EDIT 9 (5 months after last edit and about 2.5 years after original question)

not much news: often it works quite well, but there are phases of sometimes several weeks, where there are at least small stains of poo in the underwear 2..3 times daily and nearly each day and even sometimes a large amount...
Situation in the kindergarten is still difficult, there are sometimes problems with young or unexperienced teachers (mostly interns) which show even less understanding for the problem than the experienced teachers... And he often avoids being "caught" and hides himself, so that my wife or I have to clean him when we pick him up and often he's apparently been around with dirty pants for quite a long time there... The therapy in the specialized hospital has brought us forward a lot, but it is still very hard to cope with this issue and the consequences.

.. as he'll soon go to school, here's my new question: How to deal with Encopresis in primary school?


(10 months after last update, 3.5 years after original question)

There followed many difficult months - if my notes are correctly the longest durations with no soiled pants were about 7..10 consecutive days, and there were phases where it happened several times per day and also on the following days.. After the time in the day care was over, it also continued happening during our holidays when he was at home or when we were on holiday travelling.

Positive: he now (during the last 2 months) told us much more often when he needed help for cleaning and he sometimes also felt that he needed at toilet before it was too late. Even when invited on a birthday party he told to a parent that he needed help (we're very proud).

We were very concerned how it should be when he would be going to school in autumn. We informed the teachers in advance. Up to now all went quite well, it was only once that he had a soiled pants during school hours, maybe a dozen during the daycare after school and some more in the afternoon or during the week end.

The longest "clean" phases without soiled pants were about 2..3 weeks, and there were not many of them. :-(

So the problem is still not solved, but it is much reduced and we get along with it much better now, but it is still a burden for him and for us and restricts his life:

  • he/we can go nowhere without having some backup underwear with him (or placed somewhere)
  • if no one from us (parents, grandparents) is with him, we have to talk to the adults he'll be with and have to rely on him telling them by himself if he needs help in case of an "accident"
  • nocturnal enuresis is still there


(2 years and 10 months after last update, 6 years and 4 months after original question)

Our son is nearly 10 years old now. We still have the problem, that he sometimes soils his pants.
I've given up trying to do statistics or understanding something. It just happens sometimes (estimated every 7..10 days). Luckily, the cases when the amount of poo in the pants is high seem to happen more rarely, but they still happen. And he still often ignores it and just walks around like that until his mother or me smell it and tell him to clean himself.

It happens especially often in situations, where he (I suppose) just not wants to listen to the signs of his body (and in consequence go to the toilet), but concentrate on something else - e. g. birthday parties of his friends or our family, play dates when he has invited friends to our home or is invited by a friend, ...

I let him wash his pants himself.

He also still has no control over bedwetting at night and still needs to sleep in diapers.

During the last years I came to the conclusion, that he very often ignores the signs of his body and has to learn to take better care of his body and his body's needs (like not ignoring hunger and not forget eating because he wants to play or work on something, ...)

Summary: General remarks for other parents from my experience

(3.5 years after original post)

What I learned during those difficult years (which are still not over):

  • don't blame your child, just calmly help him clean up things (without any negative comments about how much work this is for you)!
  • relax (I know how difficult this is!!) and try to avoid the stress which such situations can cause to you and your child, because this stress even can make things worse in a vicious circle
  • seek help from doctors and psychologists
  • I try to help my son to build self-confidence and learn being positive about his life and his chances.
  • I now start believing that there are very often (if not always) relations between health/ physical aspects and psyche, so don't ignore the psychological help (thinking that your child is "normal" and does not need a psychologist. Your child might be perfectly normal, but the circumstances of his life might make him/her do strange things or have health problems)! The ideas and meditations from Louise L. Hay were very interesting for me in this context.
  • Patience and perseverance... Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:23
  • 2
    Well done for not giving up, insisting on your own way and finally reaching the truth! Commented Dec 30, 2012 at 20:22
  • @BBM, thanks for updating your question like this
    – user19033
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 23:08
  • 1
    My son just didn't want to be bothered ... until one day when he was about 3½, we went to the drive in theater. He informed us he'd had an accident, and we had to walk a half a mile to the restroom to change him. About halfway across the field he solemnly informed me "Never. Again.", and that was it.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 12:03

4 Answers 4


It seems to me that the other possible reasons for this behavior is:

  • Your son does not like other people to see him doing his business or the result of it.
  • He is attached to his potty and does not feel comfortable on others.

I don't think you can do much about either except for discussing it with your son and letting him know that there is nothing wrong with it and encouraging him. He is only 3.5 so I would give him some time to grow out of it.

  • +1 for adding further (and very plausible) possibilities. Today I've been talking to an older woman ["our" KT is relatively young, however I assumed that she also would exchange experiences with her other and partly elder colleagues] who is working as kindergarten teacher in another kindergarten. She said she considered it normal for a lot of people - and especially children - not liking to use toilets other than at home (in their familiar ambiance). She added some more points which I'll add to my question soon.
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 22:00

Ham and Bacon is on to something, I think. Given BBM's reply, I am offering this:

You need to separate cause from solution; you can't attempt to solve the problem until you know what is actually causing it.


Does your child only behave this way when he perceives a risk to lose toys or miss out on something? It seems reasonable that he's afraid of somebody taking his toys or knocking over his building blocks at kindergarten but perhaps that is not a risk at home? At home, his only concern is get back to playing as fast as possible. So it would perhaps not be the issue of "playing/being busy" in itself, but the fear of what happens while he's away?


  • If he's just too impatient to accept any break in his playtime, that's something you can train. Show him that it's okay to interrupt his activity for a toilet break. Perhaps he is an impatient personality? That can be trained.
  • If he's afraid of losing stuff, find ways to address that. This is easily controlled at home of course, but can be difficult at kindergarten where any toy that's not in someone's hand is up for grabs. This is something you can discuss with the teacher; she might have useful insights about this.
  • If he prefers the potty and is not allowed a potty in kindergarten, then consider removing the potty at home too and train him on that, to make things consistent. If kindergarten has kid-sized toilets (wow!) then consider a booster seat at home (example).
  • This is very good.
    – Cryst
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 11:56
  • @TorbenGB: we've already addressed this issue, and (as I wrote in my question) the kindergarten teacher (KT) is aware of that and always assures him, that his toys will also be available after going to the toilet. So I don't think that this alone is the point - it must be an interaction with one or several of the other factors I've listed - or even some which I am not aware of. That's why I'm asking here for experience of others. I've had long discussions with the KT (also this morning), but she seems not to have more insight's either. Maybe it's some aversion to the toilets ...
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 12:18
  • +1 for separating cause from solution. Believe me, I'm trying to do that and I had long talks with our son and with the KT ...
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 12:19
  • 1
    So it might not (only) be the toys. I added a third solution suggestion. Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 12:30
  • @TorbenGB: yes: (1) kindergarten has kid-sized toilets (year of construction: 2010). (2) We already have such a booster seat at home as you show it in your example image, but we seldom used it, as our son preferred the potty up to now (which is also more easy for us, as the booster seat blocks the toilet, while the potty can be "ready" at any time). But it's a good idea: we'll try to avoid the potty
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 21:21

I realize this was posted ages ago, but it struck me that your situation is somewhat similar to the one we experienced with my son when we returned to daycare after being potty-trained.

Our son was perfectly potty-trained at home, but when we put him in daycare 3 days a week, he started having accidents. Granted, we didn't have any poo accidents, but we went an entire week with wet underwear and pants everyday that he was at daycare.

We couldn't quite ascertain why this was occurring except that he was somewhat frightened of the loud flushing sound that the commercial toilets made when he flushed--which, of course, I could do absolutely nothing about.

One afternoon when I picked him up, his teacher mentioned that he hadn't used the bathroom since noon (and it was after 4 pm at this point) so he probably needed to go. I asked him if he needed to use the bathroom and he responded yes. I walked him into their little restroom and stayed with him while he pottied, cleaned up, and flushed. After that, he was ok. It was like he just needed me to go with him once just so he knew it was ok, the potty wouldn't hurt him, and he could go there with confidence. Since then, I think we've had maybe one accident.

He still doesn't like the loud flushing sound of public toilets. We can't flush until we're ready to leave the bathroom stall, but it's not a situation that prevents him from using the bathroom anymore.

Also, you mentioned that your son seems to have some digestive issues that can cause large bowel movements. Is it possible that he literally can't make it to the potty in time to use it sometimes?


From what I can see, your child seems to be avoiding going to toilet only when he is playing, or busy.

Your comments:

He fears to loose his toys...
He is "too busy"...

The fact that he is avoiding going to toilet during kindergarten, but not at home seems to affirm this.

If this is true, then I will say that what your child needs is a measure of discipline, as in:

If you avoid going to toilet, mommy is going to make you go to bed early tonight

or something like that. Basically, some kind of a punishment needs to be given to stop this behaviour, if he is avoiding it due to play.

  • besides the fact that I'm not sure if is a good idea to use punishment for potty training there is one point you have overlooked: at home he is also very busy playing, handicraft working or doing whatever, but he then quickly runs to his potty and does what he has to do. :-) And he is really proud of his "achievements" in the potty, I think. So being "busy" can not be the only reason for his behavior in kindergarten. And especially as he is quite bullheaded [I hope that's the right translation!] and has a strong will, I doubt that punishment would do a good effect.
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 11:05
  • p.s. in the kindergarten he is always playing or busy, I assume, so you can not say that he "only" then avoids going to toilet.
    – BBM
    Commented Jul 6, 2011 at 11:08

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