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How to Potty Train With a Withholding Problem

By Shannon Cotton ; Updated June 13, 2017

Stool withholding is a common problem that develops during toilet training. Children can hold bowel movements more easily than they can hold urine, and they commonly do so because of fear of the toilet or as a form of rebellion against toilet training efforts. Unfortunately, withholding causes children to become constipated, which makes passing stool painful. This only makes matters worse as children resist bowel movements to avoid the associated pain. When a child withholds stool, it's time to relax your potty training method to make him comfortable enough to have bowel movements again.

  1. Serve your child plenty of fiber-rich foods to help relieve constipation and any associated pain. Offer him fruit and fruit juice, vegetables and whole grain products–and make sure he drinks enough fluids. If you have a tough time getting your child to eat fruits and vegetables, ask your pediatrician if a fiber supplement might be useful.

  2. Talk to your child about the reasons for her refusal to have a bowel movement, recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics. You may find that she is simply afraid of the toilet. If this is the case, address her fears and explain that nothing bad will happen.

  3. Give your child control over her bowel movements. When young children feel forced to comply with an adult’s demands during toilet training, they may withhold stool in an attempt to retain control, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents stop talking about toilet training and refrain from mentioning the child’s bowel movements. When the child has nothing to rebel against, she can stop withholding.

  4. Go back to diapers if necessary. Whether your child is withholding because of a power struggle or because he doesn't want to use the potty, the important thing is that he begin having regular bowel movements so he doesn't develop problems with chronic constipation. Letting your child wear a diaper may even make him feel in control enough to begin using the toilet, according to

  5. Proceed with toilet training in small steps when your child begins having regular bowel movements and seems ready. Pediatrician Alan Greene, of, recommends you start by encouraging your toddler to have bowel movements in the bathroom, even if he stands in the corner while wearing a diaper. From there, have him sit down on the toilet, or even on the floor, as he has a bowel movement in his diaper. Once he's sitting, gradually encourage him to use the potty without wearing a diaper, Dr. Greene recommends.

  6. Tip

    Try to take the stress out of potty training for yourself and your child. Remember that your child will eventually be toilet trained, and there is no need to make things harder on both of you by resorting to punishment or high-pressure techniques.

    Once your child stops withholding, try emptying his bowel movements from his diaper into the toilet while he watches, and remind him that the toilet is where bowel movements go.


    If your toddler continues to withhold stool, talk to her doctor about treatment options to prevent complications.

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