My son is almost 4 years old. He has been pee trained for about 9 months but will not poop in the potty.

In the last year I've tried rewards, treats, bribing, star chart, cutting a hole in his pull-up, trying to get him to poop anywhere near the bathroom in his undies, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, stool softeners and potty prison, emotionless changing of undies, you name it. I'm so fed up with this.

I have a 5 week old baby now with colic and I'm exhausted. I'm sick and tired of sliding his dirty underwear down his legs and dumping poop in the toilet and reminding him next time let's poop in the potty. I'm getting to the point where I want to paddle his ass the next time he poops his pants. This kid knows what he's doing. This is a control thing and I do not want any part of it anymore. I have no idea what to do.

  • Not a complete answer, but one of my kids regressed when the next was born. One huge bribe later, and it was a thing of the past. Aug 28, 2017 at 3:55

3 Answers 3


First of all, try to distance yourself a little emotionally. You are right to some degree that "it's a control thing", but that doesn't mean he is trying to control you. If he is using this for control, it's to feel a sense of control in his own life, which all humans want to have. Since I will trust that as his parent, you know him better than anyone, if you think it's control, start giving him more say in other ways so that letting go of this one isn't giving up more control in his life. Allow him to gain control in other areas. This doesn't mean let him run your life. It's simple things you can do. Ask if he wants to put on coat or shoes first. Does he want to put on the left or right one first. Is he wanting to do it himself or would he like your help. You can add in choices 100 times a day in tiny ways that make a small kids feel empowered.

Another way to ease control issues is what I call "fair warning". I give my kids a play by play of what comes next all day long in 2-4 steps ahead. It can start at wake up. I might tell them good morning and then tell them that after they go potty we can have breakfast and get dressed. This seems small and maybe even obvious to a 4 year old, but it is "fair warning" of what the next 3 steps are. When we are sitting down to breakfast I will reiterate that after this we should get dressed and then mom needs to do a little laundry and I'd love them to help me so we can get done and have a little time outside. This again stays several steps ahead. It merely acts as a reminder to them of what is coming and helps them better predict what will happen. It's easy to lose track at 4. When doing laundry you can tell him you only have about 30 mins outside before baby has to nap and he can wash up and play with blocks or whatever he loves while baby naps. Then when outside you can give him more cues as to how much time is left, etc. A child who knows what is going on and when feels like life feels more in control even if they are not the one calling the shots.

If he is cognitively typical of 4, indicates that he knows when he is pooping (such as hiding, etc), then you can have a simple conversation about poop. You can ask him where you poop, where his friend poops, where grown ups poop, etc. You mostly just ask him the right questions so he is telling you that people poop in toilets. Also ask him who he should ask if he wanted to poop on a toilet. Ask him for names of people that might help him, you, maybe even grandma or others. When tell him you are so glad he understands all that. You are glad he knows where the toilet is and uses it for pee, and he knows who to ask if he needs help if he decides to poop on the toilet. Tell him it is his body, and he knows when he needs to go, and he understands that if he wants to use a toilet, how to do so. And then tell him you have decided that it's entirely up to him whether he chooses to use it or not. You trust him to make a good decision on this.

Then, when it's time to change his bottom, you have the second part of the talk. You remind him of that earlier talk and tell him that you mean all of that. It is totally his choice. Be very very very sweet. You must be kind. You have to understand he is going to likely hate what you say next. It is okay for him to hate it as long as you are acting in love. You cannot be angry, upset, frustrated, etc. It will not work if you are having negative feelings or seeing this in any light as it being a penalty to him. So be in the right place in your heart and emotions when you do this. You then tell him, that since he is so capable of so much, it is time for him to learn how to change his own pants. This will allow him total freedom to choose whether he wants to continue to poop in a pullup or use a toilet. You tell him this. It is your way of giving him ALL control. And then you have him do it. It's going to be gross and messy and he won't be good at it. This is also why you have to be in the right mind frame. You need to lovingly and patiently assist him verbally in the steps, stay calm no matter how he reacts, and be supportive in your words. You can tell him it's okay that it's not going very well, no problem, you can help him take a bath after if that is needed (and it likely will be needed) but that learning is process and he is going to be great at this with a few practices.

I really want to impress that it has to be done sweetly. If you are consistent, sweet, kind and supportive, I haven't seen a child so far this hasn't worked for relatively quickly and I use this before this age even. I find about 3 or so is usually old enough for most kids (I do think every child is different though). I usually have seen the same pattern emerge through this process. The first reaction is total sadness and telling me they cannot do it. The second one is begging and bargaining. The last one is anger and then usually it's over. While they are upset I just keep telling them it's okay, change is hard. I commiserate that I too hate the mess and I understand why they hate it like they do. Do NOT ask them to use a toilet during this time, at all, ever. This is all about allowing them to come to terms with making that choice.

And I don't know that I would feel up to this with a 5 week old. I suppose that is different for each person. My experience (in my recollection) with one that small is absolutely no real sleep routine yet. I am not saying wait ages, but it might be easier for you to do when the tiny one is at least consistently seeing night as night and you are not so exhausted. If you have someone to assist you during the process (like a mom or sister, etc) that would help, as the time it takes a 4 year old to clean themselves can be a tad lengthy. It is not a long process (meaning before they choose to use a toilet) but there can be a fair bit of time involved while they are working through it. I don't find this a particularly stressful thing to do, but I also have never done this while caring for a newborn.


My son finally pooped in the potty when he was 4 year and 9 month old. He is a late talker and reasoning with him is not the easiest thing. He is super cautious, and would refuse to poop if the change was too big for him (he will hold it for ever). So my goal was to take baby steps, and ease him in. The latest attempt took us a few months, but it worked. This post is going to be long, lol.

  1. Ask him to poop with a diaper in a small bathroom (we have a half bath on the first floor), so that he will be very close to a toilet. By "ask" I mean bribing with (or threatening to take away) toy, video game, cartoon, whatever works.
  2. The same time, ask him to sit on the toilet and count to 20 every day before his cartoon time, so he can be familiar with sitting on the toilet.
  3. Once he get use to poop in the bathroom, While he is standing and pooping in the diaper, open the tabs of the diaper, but hold the diaper closed. Then gradually, over two weeks or so, open the diaper up more and more (it stinks, I know). This way he gets familiar with the feeling of pooping into a open space, gradually.
  4. Once he can poop in a completely opened diaper, put the open diaper on top of a kid toilet (The smaller toilet without water was less scary for him and if the diaper falls it won't clog your real toilet). At first he refuse to sit, but then he was torn because he didn't want the poop fall too far, lol. Gradually he sat down.
  5. Once he is used to the idea of sitting down on the diaper, put a cushion ring on the real toilet, put the open diaper on that, tape the sides of the diaper on the cushion, so it won't fall.
  6. Once he is used to sit on the toilet, I started to cut a hole in the diaper, but cover it up with toilet paper (my son is very very cautious, he won't sit down if there is a hole, I tried). Then the poop will actually fall through the toilet paper. I made sure that he saw at the end of each time that there was a hole in the diaper and the poop fell into the toilet, so he eventually was convinced that nothing bad would happen if he just let the poop fall into the toilet.
  7. Get rid of the toilet paper on the hole.
  8. Finally, one day, I took off the diaper, he sat down and pooped in the potty. Best day ever!!!

Every time I changed something, he would fuzz a little bit at first, but since it was small changes (I tried to play it down, and he actually had to poop soon, lol), he went along with it. And after he pooped, I would make a big deal of it, and made sure that he saw that he made the change, and nothing bad happened (of course he got rewarded with something he likes). I tried not to rush into changes, only made new change when he was comfortable with the old change already.

May 10th 2018, I will always remember that day, lol.

  • Congratulations. Gosh this looks like a horror story. I'm struggling with my 3 years old and this alone has convinced me not to have more kids. I can't even get him to poop in the bathroom.
    – Glxblt76
    Nov 13, 2022 at 15:52

Not a completely new answer, but too long for a comment:

Please don't underestimate how much having a 5 week old is making all of this feel so much more difficult.

Maybe you should just put your older son back into diapers temporarily until your baby is more organized and you are not so prone to feeling overwhelmed emotionally.

Don't make it a punishment for him--just say that having a new baby is making lots of things more difficult right now, that you know that he will be able to use the potty like a big boy soon, but for now, while everyone is getting used to having the new baby, you think it will be easier for everyone if he uses a diaper.

He may still ask to use the potty when he urinates, or he may happily go back to using the diaper, but regardless, he has still begun developing the ability to notice when he has to go, which is the real trick.

And, understand that it may not be completely a control thing--my son was regularly using the toilet for urination for about a year before he "got" the idea that he should also use it for pooping (and he was about 4.5 yo when he finally caught on). I was lucky enough to have help from his daycare teachers, who told me that they had seen plenty of other kids struggle with this same thing, and that they didn't know any kids (without other physical or emotional issues) who made it through the first week in kindergarten, surrounded by other kids who knew how to use the toilet appropriately, who continued to have trouble.

So, particularly at this really tender time for you emotionally, try to take it easy on both him and yourself--you probably won't even remember this struggle in a couple of years.

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