Potty training 3.5 year old son - Why is going number 2 not clicking?
February 18, 2015 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Just recently, I did "potty training bottcamp" for an entire week at my house and successfully pee-trained my 3.5 year old son. But he REFUSES to go #2, but doesn't hold it. I'm cleaning up crappy underwear a few times a day. Helpful tips/guidance/encouragement needed!

My son turned 3 in August. He didn't exhibit any signs of being interested in using the potty. We had tried a few times before, but without consistency, it just wasn't working. I work full time, sometimes 10 hours a day, and my husband workds full time and goes to school full time.

I decided to take an entire week of vacation time to spend with him and do "potty training bootcamp". We did the first day naked with a 10 minute timer, the second day naked with a 15 minute timer, then added underwear the third day and pants the day after that, each day with the timer getting longer. We also used potty candy as a reward, and I couldn't believe the progress he made in a short amount of time.

Now, a month later, he is fully pee-trained. He wears underwear, and I still have to remind him and ask him to go potty pretty often. He isn't telling me yet that he has to go as often as he should, but I am taking him often. He has has NO pee accidents at all.

He REFUSES to go poop in the toilet, but has no issues going in his underwear. Everything I read online describes parents who deal with toddlers who refuse to go at all in their undies or toilet, and they end up having to put a pull up on their kid to avoid screaming constipation.

My kid doesn't care. He will go poop in his pants and continue playing.

I have tried rewards, charts, everything. I even have a huge stuffed animal that I bought and put in plain view at the top of his closet and told him that once he poops in the potty, he can have him.

I am cleaning up crappy underwear everyday, and so is my baby sitter. She's frusterated, and disgusted. She reminds me that she has never had a kid who did this before, and leaves the underwear for me to clean everyday.

I'm wondering if I'm alone? How do I get him to go? Did anyone else experience this, and if so, what made it "click" with your children?

I'm afraid of putting him back in pull ups because I am afraid of regression.

Any tips, tricks, or just support would be amazing.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah to Human Relations (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter, who is turning 5 in a couple of weeks, wouldn't use the toilet for peeing and pooping until she was 4 1/2. My husband and I were freaked out, but her pediatrician told us firmly that we should not push her by putting her in undies when she wasn't ready--instead, he suggested we have her sit on the potty before/after diapering for a few minutes in the evening before bed and in the morning when she woke up. It made it much less stressful for her.

Her pediatrician gave us wise advice: "Don't stress yourself out, because that will stress her out and slow her potty training. She will eventually get there when she is ready."

And a few months later, she began to go to the bathroom by herself when she felt the urge, and now she is in undies during the day and pull ups at night, which she has agreed to stop using on her 5th birthday. She has only peed in a night pull up once, and never pooped in one, and she is perfect using the potty during the day.

Best wishes! The time will come, I promise!
posted by miss tea at 12:36 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get the pullups back on.

This is totally, absolutely, 100% NORMAL. When he's ready he'll do it. Don't push it, just get the pullups back on. Seriously, tons of kids do this and I know it's hard to believe, but pretty much all kids graduate from high school pooping in toilets. It all works out.
posted by kinetic at 12:41 PM on February 18, 2015 [25 favorites]

Yep, cleaning up poopy underwear is not fun. Personally, I think this is a sign that he is not ready. I would just wait and put him back in diapers. I understand that you have sunk in a lot of time with the boot camp, but why waste all this effort when you can just wait a few more months? He will get it. Pretty much everyone does! (For what it's worth, my son is almost 4 and made the decision around 3.5. It was smooth sailing once he understood he was in charge of his own body.)
posted by pizzazz at 12:43 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

so is my baby sitter. She's frusterated, and disgusted. She reminds me that she has never had a kid who did this before, and leaves the underwear for me to clean everyday.

Wait, what? She's telling you how to raise your kid? I won't say get a new babysitter since they're hard to come by, but really.
posted by Melismata at 12:44 PM on February 18, 2015 [13 favorites]

After many months of a friend going through this with her daughter, what finally worked is throwing the underpants away. Now, clearly there was some kind of identity, power struggle, who knows going on about poop in the potty. She tried having her daughter help clean the underpants but, you know, that was a trauma all around. Finally, it was, "Look, princess underpants (or whatever) are ruined. I'm throwing them away." And this snapped her daughter out of it and she has had few problems since then.

If he has awesome underpants that he likes, maybe this will work. Of course, could backfire and he could run out of underpants. But that could be its own reward: "You can have brand new superhero (or princess, whatever he's into, I don't judge) underpants once you have clean underpants for a week!"

But, I'd continue with the basics. And talk to him about why he's unsure/wary of it. Maybe there's something there that he can voice that you can help him through. Good luck!
posted by amanda at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Put him in pull ups. This may actually cause him to use the potty, at least it did with my son. He so hated going back to diapers (for him pull up and diaper were the same) that he made an effort to get rid if them.
Or, if you do not want him to see them as diapers, call them disposable undies.
Him defecating in his underwear daily is just raising the stress level for you and the baby sitter. I would not worry about regression, it can hardly get worse. I don't think he will go back to peeing into them, it seems for boys at least this is quite two different things.

Also, what helped in our household was and is having a regular potty time for number 2. It used to be just after he got up, he would just sit and look at a picture book and poop. And again after he came home from day care, I would again let him sit for however long it took.
Now he is 6, it is usually just once day, first thing in the morning.

And, no comfort, I still have to remind him to go pee. He forgets when he is excited or caught up in play.
posted by 15L06 at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Support for you, for sure. This is normal and it'll pass, but only in his own time. I think your babysitter having the reaction of being "frustrated and disgusted" is over the top. It's not fun to clean up poop, but it's part of caring for small kids. This behavior is not abnormal for the age. If she can't handle that then it might be good to consider another caregiver option if you can.

My son had a similar issue from about 2.5, when he trained, until around age 3. Peeing was fine but he would poop in his underwear and often fail to mention it to us or his preschool teachers. One thing that helped was we kind of got him onto a schedule of pooping right at evening bathtime. That made it a lot easier to get him onto the potty when he needed to get there and he was more attuned to needing to poop. Sitting him down and having him check to see if he needed to poop, then putting him in the bath, then taking him out and having him check again. It sounds weird but it worked.
posted by handful of rain at 12:48 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

And seeing everyone else's comments, I think they are right, too. Basically, there's two things that I think you need to do: try not to stress out so much and don't clean poop out of underpants. If it is less stressful for the two of you to put him back in pull-ups, do that. 3.5 is not too old for pull-ups. If he poops in his underpants (other than a total accident), don't clean them, toss them out (see: stress level, not having so much).
posted by amanda at 12:49 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I was involved in anyone's diapers or training, but I think figuring out the timing of the poop should be the next step. If he is going multiple times a day, could he be having digestive issues?
posted by Riverine at 12:50 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, ditto throwing out poopy underwear. These are pretty cheap and it's not worth the mess and hassle to salvage them.
posted by handful of rain at 12:51 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not saying that it is, but worth at least looking at encopresis... yeah also the baby sitter is being a bit, um, silly with her reaction.
Figure out what you want her to do and how to respond let her know directly this is what you expect and what you pay her to do, and be ready in case she walks.
posted by edgeways at 12:56 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid of putting him back in pull ups because I am afraid of regression.

It may be helpful for your own state of mind to unpack this. Regression of what? It's not regression if he's not ready, and if he pees in his pullup sometimes...the world won't end. Is there someone criticizing you about him not being fully trained? Are you under pressure with future daycare requirements?

My other concern would be the babysitter's lack of cooperation. Is she incapable of recognizing the signs of an impending deuce and taking appropriate action? Is your child's BM schedule really that unpredictable?

He will get the hang of this, probably in the next few months. Whether those few months are easy or hard is mostly up to you, unless you are going to have a childcare crisis if he's not trained in the next 6 weeks - and if that's the case, talk to whoever is the enforcer of that deadline about options before you decide you have no choice but to make it this difficult for both of you.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:00 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

It must be poop day on AskMefi! (And I am home with a 3 year old with diarrhea, thematically appropriate.)

You're not alone. Poop is tricky. My daughter only just got the hang of pooping in the potty, and she seemed to do it as a direct response to the arrival of her new baby sibling and also right after a growth spurt.
If that's not evidence that poop is tricky, I don't know what is.

Anyway, so our progression was pull-ups, more practice with just peeing, then once she was mostly on top of peeing she started wearing underwear during the day, with a pull-up offered for afternoon poop. So we only had poop underpants a few times. That's when I started talking about the need to "practice" pooping in the potty. Things are hard sometimes, we have to practice even if we don't get it right away. Of course this is all tailored to my kid's personality. But, really, there can be a big gap between pee mastery and poop mastery.

And then they get crazy diarrhea and you are thankful for the stash of pull-ups.
posted by stowaway at 1:05 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are you me? I was literally searching Ask MeFi for answers to this exact question for my son, who is also 3, and is also doing great with peeing and just... won't poop in the toilet. My kid doesn't even seem to realize he has to go until he's actually going. I am really scared about encopresis so I even told him that he could poop in a pull-up if he wanted - to just ask for one. But again, he does not seem to realize he even has to go until it's too late.

HOWEVER, his daycare teachers have been really great about it and they are not making him (or us) feel bad about it and I think your babysitter's reaction is, npi, kind of shitty.

My son is pretty stubborn and I am loathe to fight him on this, so he is mostly in pull-ups even though I KNOW he can handle the underpants (without the issue of the pooping of course). I feel like a total failure, irrationally, but rationally - 3.5 is still very normal to have potty issues, AND from my experience watching my friends potty train their sons, for some reason boys are just harder in this regard. (My daughter, who is 5, was very easy to potty train and we did it all literally in one weekend).

I don't know what kind of personality your son has, but mine is, as I said, stubborn, and the more we push at him to do (or not do) something, the more he pushes back at us and continues the undesirable behavior. I would put him back in pull ups and I would stop talking about the bathroom stuff completely for awhile. Maybe a month or so and then you can broach it with him again.
posted by sutel at 1:08 PM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not the pooping but other things you mentioned:

I even have a huge stuffed animal that I bought and put in plain view at the top of his closet and told him that once he poops in the potty, he can have him.

Give him the toy now and say, "You're such a great kid and I want you to have this awesome toy NOW! And hey, you can start pooping in the toilet whenever you're ready and for now, you can wear your pullups until then! Do you think your new stuffed friend needs a name?"

Frustrated babysitter: Seems like there's some tension. While she may never have seen this, she's wrong. Kids do this all the time. And she refused to do laundry? Seems like you should figure out how to communicate better.

But the most important thing is to get those pullups back on and to give your big boy his stuffed animal.
posted by kinetic at 1:08 PM on February 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

FWIW I'm a mom of two (one potty trained, one in process) and have been a nanny and babysitter for many years and I most certainly would be disgusted and frustrated if a family insisted their non-toilet trained child wear underpants all day and expect me to clean poopy clothes several times a day. Sure, poop is part of dealing with small children, but if the child is pooping his underwear multiple times a day he is NOT potty trained and should be in pull-ups.
posted by celtalitha at 1:12 PM on February 18, 2015 [48 favorites]

(My daughter was not fully potty trained until around this age either, but I did not send her to daycare in underpants and expect them to deal with that.)
posted by celtalitha at 1:14 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Is is possible your son had a toilet water splash back incident while pooping? That can be pretty traumatizing (even for adults).

In your shoes, I'd return him to pull-ups and give him a saddle-style potty that allows him to squat rather than sit + avoids the whole "OMG, cold water on my junk" issue or the "I feel like I might fall in" fear that happens with potty rings on adult sized toilets.
posted by jamaro at 1:25 PM on February 18, 2015

We've had a similar issue for a long time now. My son is just four, and still poops in his pants and doesn't seem to notice. Do not do what we did, which was insist on him wearing underpants anyway. Because we've been dealing with this for about a year and a half, with us adults being stubborn about it, and now he will. Not. Wear. Pull ups. Just put him back in pull ups, and let it be until he's ready. Seriously. He'll potty train, all other things being equal.
posted by linettasky at 1:37 PM on February 18, 2015

Totally going to second the "fancy underpants get thrown away now" approach. We definitely had a weird power struggle starting to set in--kid realized that shitting his pants and then not telling anyone was a way to get us to stop everything and pay attention to him over his brother, and it became a habit--so a friend suggested getting really cool undies that might spawn some sense of kid-brand attachment. Worked like a CHARM man, I had no idea I'd ever be grateful for branded anything--thank you, Cars franchise, for helping my son be sad about pooping his underwear and not being willing to try the toilet instead.

I'm also going to second that a sitter shouldn't be expected to clean habitually shit-in clothes. If it's still a problem, use disposable stuff when non-parents are taking care of the kid--don't turn your sitter into a foul laundress.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:39 PM on February 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I definitely don't expect her to clean shitty clothes, for sure. I just was looking for more of, I guess, a positive help. I'm a first time mom, this is my first son, and she's raised and babysat tons of kids. Instead of suggesting putting him back in pull ups and working that way, (like many of you are suggesting, which I'm coming to realize I need to just go with, THANK YOU!) she was just more negative about it than I understood.

The pressure definitely comes from other moms, mostly, but also the fact that he will ne starting pre-k in the summer time. In Florida, they can't progress to pre-k until they are potty trained. I don't want him to have any issues not being able to be put in his correct class because *I* haven't figured out what works best for him.

Thank you guys for all your suggestions. I think I'll talk to my husband about this further, and the sitter as well. Putting him in pull ups but STILL working with a timer and making him go pee in the potty may be he best option for now; and I can put him in underwear and clean his shitty clothes at home if needed.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 1:45 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't tell you how many times I picked up my son at preschool to find he was running around the playground in poopy underwear. Or was in the bathroom with one of the teachers and they were changing him. I tried not to stress about it. He was just a little younger than your son. I've already forgotten how it got resolved, and it really was frustrating. We did use incentives and eventually he just decided to go in the potty. We haven't had any poopy underwear (from him at least), in several months.

Is he pooping multiple times a day? My son pooped once a day and it seemed like it was always the same time everday, between 4 and 5pm. I could almost predict what time he was going to go, and whether he would have soiled his pants depending on when I picked him up. I tried to pick him up earlier so we could work on it at home. Sounds like that's not an option with your schedule, but maybe your babysitter could be more proactive in helping you more with this, i.e. putting him on the potty at a certain time every day. It does get better.
posted by snowymorninblues at 1:51 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Putting him in pull ups but STILL working with a timer and making him go pee in the potty may be he best option for now;

I would cease potty training, full stop. No more timers, no making him pee in the toilet. It's hard, but let it go for now.

Get the pullups back on, remind him the potty is still there if he wants to use it; no big deal if he doesn't.
posted by kinetic at 2:00 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

...but also the fact that he will be starting pre-k in the summer time. In Florida, they can't progress to pre-k until they are potty trained.

You still have time. I don't see any drawback to telling him that you are both working toward this goal of totally using the potty for pee and poop in order to go to Pre-k school. "Won't that be exciting to be with those big kids at pre-K! All of them are practicing right now just like you and learning how to use the potty for pee and poop. You just need to keep trying and we will help you learn to do it!" I would continue to keep at it but in a very low key and positive way. Natural consequences if possible.

And, guess what, all "potty trained" children in pre-K will have accidents once in awhile. Don't worry about that. He will have changes of clothes there just like all the other kids at that time.

For my child when we went through extended potty training she had wet underpants almost every day if not multiple times a day at school up to at least age 3.5. I remember her telling me, "I had an accident but that's okay, right?" And me telling her gently, "Well, no it's not really okay, because it's bad for your skin to have wet underpants and it makes things a bit stinky and more laundry. However, the most important thing is that you keep trying and that you always tell a teacher right away and that you help clean up the wet clothes and get new, dry clothes on every time. Keep trying, I know you can figure this out." But, my kid is pretty analytical and things like that kind of straightforward explanation seem to work (eventually).

I think the expectation that he's out of pull-ups by pre-K is probably valid but I have a feeling that he'll get there by summertime. And I bet they'll work with him no matter what.
posted by amanda at 3:10 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Weird suggestion: my son, when first potty trained, just didn't like the feel of going on the toilet. He would let us know when he needed to poop and we would put a diaper on him, he'd go, and we'd take it off. It might be worth trying with your son, if you want to avoid having him in pull ups all day and get him another step along with learning.
posted by metasarah at 3:11 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just want to add: It's going to be ok.

My youngest had a lot of these problems and knock wood we seem mostly past them. It can be hard with your first too because he does not have a sibling to learn from. Keep giving him opportunities and talk about toileting in a matter of fact way and listen and you three (your husband too) will work it out. I'd ask the babysitter to back off for a month at least, just give everyone a breather.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:18 PM on February 18, 2015

We had a super frustrating time potty training our son. Poop was the final frontier, and he would do it in his underwear or the toilet with nor rhyme or reason. He didn't care when he pooped his pants. We tried everything, no rewards made a difference, nothing was working, and I was losing my mind with the frustration. This sounds mean (and maybe it was), but we got fed up enough so one day we decided that we would take away a toy every time he pooped his pants. I think we only had to do it like 3 times and it worked like magic, the kid stopped pooping his pants. I felt horrible making it into a punishment, but rewards and time weren't making a difference.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:20 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I will add this here for other parents.

Everyone learns how to shit in the toilet. Eventually.

My daughter had poop accidents routinely until she was 9. She has some pretty serious issues with motor control and cognitive issues and this type of thing is not unheard of.

We used pull-ups as long as we could and made sure that we were super aware of when she looked like she was getting ready to go and had her rush to the toilet.

After an accident, we did the whole "positive practice" thing that's in a lot of toilet training books. Underwear can be super cheap and comes in happy cartoon characters. Our policy was to throw away the soiled underwear. Oh well.

Consistent vigilance, lots of positive practice, disposable underwear.

We also trained her to clean up her own messes.

At 11, she hasn't had a poop accident in quite a long time.
posted by plinth at 4:30 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

My son did this when we boot camp potty trained him at almost 3.5 years of age. Same thing as you---he showed no signs of potty training readiness, but once we started, he immediately started peeing in the potty fine (within 1/2 day) but pooping in his underpants.

So after 5 days of absolute refusal to poop in the potty, we followed him like a hawk and when he couldn't hold it anymore, we put him on the potty and he pooped in the potty. He never had a problem doing that ever again.

One thing we had going in our favor is that he would go into a separate room to poop in his underpants so he had a pretty big "tell" and we would lead him straight to the potty. Good luck--I remember how frustrating it was to have him almost potty trained but not quite. I couldn't imagine going back once we made it that far so I am glad what we did finally worked.

Hang in there!
posted by murrey at 4:38 PM on February 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Worth considering if your little guy is constipated. If he finds passing a movement uncomfortable he will delay doing it, but then some of it can get out in spite of him. This can be a reason for delay in learning his number twos. He may be stuck in try-to-prevent-it-coming-out mode. Sometimes there is a big lump in his colon and what appears in the underwear is much softer stuff that is getting forced down and around the big lump.

I am making this guess because he is soiling multiple times a day. I seem to recall that by three and a half years bowel movements one or twice a day are much more common when things are working well.

I am still jealous of the stewed prunes that my sister got when she was in difficulties when we both were small...
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:58 PM on February 18, 2015

I could never figure out how to get a poopy pull up off my kid without it requiring a bath. Just started sending him to preschool with no diaper and he soiled himself 3 times and didn't like it. He still won't wipe himself and holds it until we get home and then I tell him to try.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:12 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you should back off completely for a few months and go to pull-ups and then try again in a few months. I think that taking a break is in order because it sounds like this is getting very tense for all involved.

That said, my friend in a similar position and didn't take a break. They tried bribes and cajoling and reading a potty book incessantly, tried a little prune juice to fend of constipation, letting the kiddo watch TV on the can (useless), and talking about how the toilet wasn't scary, and offering pull-ups for #2. None of that worked even though the kiddo had zero issues with #1. Finally, they tried one more bribe: the kiddo very rarely gets to watch TV and they said he could watch his very favorite TV program IF he pooped in the toilet. He hopped on the toilet, did his thing, and hasn't looked back since. Massive family celebrations ensued. The kiddo is now very positive about #2 so they don't think they traumatized him (a big worry while they were going through this).
posted by semacd at 5:39 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

My son - little fucker - didn't reliably start pooping in the toilet until he was 5. I have no idea if this was a light bulb or he would've started doing it then anyways, but we explained that his superman underwear wouldn't want him pooping on them. IOW, we anthropomorhized his underwear.
posted by jpe at 6:08 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

"My kid doesn't care. He will go poop in his pants and continue playing." And that is the issue. He's 3 1/2. It isn't a big deal to him. Don't make it a big deal to you. Your babysitter spends more awake time with him than you do. Give her the freedom to help him care and the tools needed. He should be in pull-ups, which you already know. This isn't a reflection on you as a mom and anyone who tries to make you think that it is is a huge asshole and should never be listened to again. He is potty trained. He goes pee pee in the potty. He's fine to start pre-K. Don't mention pull-ups or pooping to the school. It is very unlikely (unless he has a medical problem) that he will poop in his pants at school. My middle child was late to potty train due to some muscle control issues. I brought my concerns to my trusted doctor and he smiled and reminded me that very few kids go to college still in diapers. It will happen. Give it time. God chose you to be this child's mother for a reason. Trust that reason and trust yourself. You've got this.
posted by myselfasme at 7:09 PM on February 18, 2015

I could never figure out how to get a poopy pull up off my kid without it requiring a bath.

rip the seams on the sides. They are made to tear when pulled apart. (at least the Huggies we used were).

re wiping himself: are his arms long enough yet? Can he actually reach the correct place? My husband used to get so irritiated with our son about this until one day I just asked my son to do it in front of dad, and it was very obvious he could not reach the right spot and coordinate his arm movements enough to wipe well. He can now, since about age 4 1/2 or so.
posted by 15L06 at 12:09 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

All three of my boys were around 3 and a half when they FINALLY trained. I was going nuts waiting for it to happen. With my oldest, I was in a complete panic because we were switching his day care and they only accepted fully trained kids. I was so anxious, and it was clearly making him more anxious too, which was entirely counterproductive.

What all my years of parenting taught me was that there is no way to force this. If there is no health issue preventing him from training, it's something you just have to back off from. One day it will just click into place for him, and that will be it. In fact, the more relaxed he is about it, the more it will happen all at once. One day he'll be using a diaper and the next he will be completely accident-free. It's kind of amazing.

Good luck -- with my youngest only just 4, this is really very immediate to me, and I know how stressful it is.
posted by gateau at 10:12 AM on February 20, 2015

My anecdata. My son wasn't thrilled about using the potty. For poop training, he got 1 M(&M) every time he went an sat on the potty, productive or not. He was requested to sit on the potty after meals. For any actual poop in the potty, he got a matchbox car. It took about a dozen matchbox cars. No guilt, punishment, complaining, just positive reward. He seemed ready, though I can't remember the details of why I thought that.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 PM on February 21, 2015

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