28 answers

HELP!!! 4 Year Old BOY Holding Bowel Movements for DAYS!!

I have a little boy who is almost four who just absolutely will not have a bowel movement on the potty. We have tried toys, food rewards, stickers, everything you can imagine. We started training him a few weeks ago, and he was doing great for #1, but I kept noticing he wasn't having bowel movements (didn't have one for 5 days!!), and before we started this he was having BM's every day. Background on him: He has also been developmentally delayed and is shy, can be stubborn, says he's scared about pooping in the potty, etc. I know boys are harder. If anyone knows, it's me, but I am starting to get really depressed about this. We finally had to put him back in diapers, and it took another day before he had a BM, and then several more close together since he was so backed up. Sorry for so much detail, but I am at a loss. I don't know anyone personally who has had to deal with the issue of their child "holding" it for days on end. Any thoughts?? Thank you.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

My little guy finally trained at 4!!! Just wanted to let everyone know who took the time to respond to my request that our little guy is finally potty trained!!! We backed off on training after we were having problems in the spring and started again the first part of July. He still kept holding his BM's, but we had given him an incentive of a car that he really wanted, and it worked!!! He went to the bathroom on his own while we were visiting my mother and then proudly came and announced "I went poop on the potty, mommy. Can I have my car now?" I almost cried!! Thank you, thank you, thank you again for taking the time to respond.

Featured Answers

Well L. I may have a little different take on this than everyone else. This happened with my cousin's daughter and my son to some extent (he would only poop in his pants, never the toilet) Her pediatrician really made sense when you think about it. He said this is the last thing a child really has control over and they may not want to give up that control especially since it is getting a rise out of you. You may want to drop the potty training/pooping in the pot issue for a little bit & see how he does. Don't bring it up to him or around him where he can hear you talking about it. It's worth a try. A little easier than specialists & meds.

Sounds like he is terrified. In my opinion he is not ready mentally so why cause him anxiety over something that can wait till he is a bit more prepared. I would look for some books about the body and how it works (physically)that are written for kids and that refer to the potty. Don't make a big deal, just include it in the choices of stories to read. Ask him if he has any questions and let it go for now. In a few weeks present the idea of potty with a poster with stars he can put on the poster after every time he has gone potty or poop. Have a few prizes that he can earn after his poster has x number of stars. A book, paints, new crayons or what ever his likes are. I think that it is just a preparation for him to get past the fear, and positive reinforcement is the way to go. I would not punish him if he isn't ready, just try again every few weeks and see if he is ready. If not give him more time. Good luck and he will be fine in time.

My 5 year old daughter does the same. I'm taking her to a specialist because I hate giving her enemas every other day. She is low muscle tone due to the rare chromosome abnormality she has, but I'm hoping they can help her get her system moving. Sorry I'm no help.

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I have a son who just turned 4 yrs old a couple of days ago, and he is diagnosed as PDD-NOS. We have completed potty training for him other than overnite, which will come with time. He uses the toilet for all BM, but it took some time to get used to it. The only suggestions I can offer would be to take the stool from the diaper, and have him go with you to the toilet and watch while you dump it in there and he can flush it away. You can discuss how the toilet is where we go poo-poo. That will take many times to make the connection, but he might enjoy being part of the process. Also, one thing I read online once (but never tried) was to cut a hole in the back of the diaper, and still have the child sit on the toilet for a BM and it will come out into the toilet. The rationale for that is that the child feels secure because the diaper still feels like it is on the body, but the goal is still accomplished by allowing the stool to fall out. Some kids don't like the splashing, some kids feel like they are losing part of themselves by pooping in a toilet... Their little minds just work differently. Anyway, that's my two cents! ha ha... Best of luck to you!

I know this may sound odd but allow him to see you and your hubby going #2. Then he can see its not something to be afraid of. If that doesn't work sit in the bathroom with him. Try reading a book out loud or making some jokes about how smell it is, ect. Just try to make him as comfortable as possible, that way he's not afraid of falling in or the sound of the toilet flushing all the time.

My third son had this same problem. I did take him to our family physician and he suggested adding mineral oil to things he drinks. Mineral oil is inexpensive and can be found at any pharmacy. It has no flavor and it's purpose is to help things slide out easier. I truly believe my son has problems with constipation and that painful bowel movements made him not want to go. Once the mineral oil started working we never had problems again and he didn't need it for more than a month. Hope this helps.

Hi L.,
My first question is if you have him using a potty chair or the regular toilet? One way or the other you might the other. Either way there is a massage technique that will help move things along and is a good bonding technique anyways. My daughter is almost 4 and will now come to me when she doesn't go everyday. "Mommy Luv me" is what she says because it is called the I Love You stroke. You could probably find a video online that shows it, but it is pretty simple. The strokes are 1. down the left side of the colon (the I) 2. then stroke across the top of the colon from right to left then down the left side again (the L) 3. then you stroke up the right side across the top then down the left side (the U) Its kind of cute for the kids because you are making the letters facing them. And I alway say the words with each stroke. If you can't find a video and I haven't been clear enough, any massage therapist will most likely be able to show you.

I hope so much that you can get this worked out. I had problems when I was a child with "holding it" and still pay for it today. Your a great mom, for being concerned.

HTH,
R.

Well L. I may have a little different take on this than everyone else. This happened with my cousin's daughter and my son to some extent (he would only poop in his pants, never the toilet) Her pediatrician really made sense when you think about it. He said this is the last thing a child really has control over and they may not want to give up that control especially since it is getting a rise out of you. You may want to drop the potty training/pooping in the pot issue for a little bit & see how he does. Don't bring it up to him or around him where he can hear you talking about it. It's worth a try. A little easier than specialists & meds.

L.,

I feel your pain, my now 7yr old was afraid to BM when we were potty training. He would run around the house screaming "OH DEAR" over and over but wouldn't go on the toilet. It was a nightmare! You don't want him to hold his BM because it can cause problems later, a stretched colon etc... We used Fleet Babylax (liquid glycerin suppositories for ages 2-5 yrs) You can find it at any drug store. It has a child rectal applicator. My son was more scared of the rectal applicator. As soon as you squirt it in there he instantly had to run to the bathroom. This kept him regular and he didn't want the applicator stuck up his "Gulu". So he started going to the toilet. You might give it a try. I've also heard that some boys for some reason need to be completely naked to go poo. Some think they are losing a part of their bodies which brings on the Fear. So you might try finding some books related to it. Like "Everybody Poops" or Me and my Body.---Good Luck--I am now training my 3yr Old Daughter, my 5 yr old son wasn't near as hard as my first boy.

J. C

HI Ill try to help if I can my boys had similiar problems with bowel and potty problems There was a good suggestion 1 mom wrote about setting timer every 30 minutes or 1 hour then when they here the timer they can try on there own I know at 1 time my son said it hurt too much to go if this is the case he may be plugged and does he have his own potty chair mine was scared to get on the big one cause he would get sucked down it somehow no matter what u tell him both my boys had pdd pervasive developemental delay but 1 was adhd and the other shy withdrawn scared depressed so I had my hands full You may need to start over after a enema get him all cleaned out ask Dr.then try again but mabey move his potty chair to some place he will go if its the br hes scared of itself my son had that issue to but gl tc and Godbless you D. also its something not to get stressed out about THats hard but he has to do the controling the child and will make it appoint to control the issue no matter what may be pushing buttons he needs choices for good behavior bad in whatevr you like to do with that just an idea though I had a really rough time with this one too hang in there though D.

My 5 year old daughter does the same. I'm taking her to a specialist because I hate giving her enemas every other day. She is low muscle tone due to the rare chromosome abnormality she has, but I'm hoping they can help her get her system moving. Sorry I'm no help.

I wonder if he had a bowel movement that hurt? We have some friends who's son did this. They started giving him fiber supplement everyday. It made it easier to go. I think the use fiber sure. Hope this helps.

My husband struggled with the same issue when he was young. He fought with his mom about it a lot and was very stubborn about it. (She'd give him enimas which were very traumatizing for him). His suggestion is to keep your son in diapers and let him change this in his own time, when he's ready. My husband ended up wearing diapers until about age 5 and stopped wearing them when another little boy told him "only babies wear diapers." He listened to that boy that day and never wore diapers since. When his mom tried to talk to him about it, he rebelled against her. The other suggestion would be to feed your son foods high in fiber if you haven't already done it. Overall though, my main suggestion would be to allow your son the freedom to change this when he's ready. Pushing a stubborn boy may make him dig his heels it! (My husband is still this way!) Good luck! A..

Has your son told you why exactly he is afraid of pooping on the potty? Is it too high? Boys in general seem to hold in their BM's. I would see if your son could tell you why he is afraid to go in the potty. Mine thought the potty was too high and they were going to fall in when they were sitting on the seat. We got a toilet that was closer to the floor.

I feel your pain! When my older daughter was 4 we had the same problem! It is a very difficult and stressful situation! Her doctor didn't really help much, they put her on Miralax, which made her stools runny and she had no control. Then I looked online and found a website that helped us so much. It is www.soilingsolutions.com. We recieved the manual and it took about 2 months of following the regimen, but we got her straightened out! She is now 7 and has no problems! (It is much better to get it figured out while they are young. The website talked about kids in high school still having this problem). I hope this can help you! It is a very frustrating problem and actually more common than you think, people just don't talk about it!

Hello!

Boy, can we relate to this one!!!!! Our son had the same problem, and after TOO much time had passed, we took him to a specialist, who recommended Miralax DAILY, and to keep him on it and on a regular "poop" schedule. He told us that by the time we came to see him, our son's colon was probably stretched out, and it would take time for it to go back into shape. He also told us that our son's body would stop sending signals to his brain that he had to go, which would enable him to store large amounts of poop, with little to no discomfort, but that was a dangerous place for him to be. So, we started him on Miralax when he was about 4, and he's almost 7 now, and only for the past year have we stopped having accidents, and he goes regularly, every day. On the diaper thing, we had to put our son back into pull-ups, where he stayed through Kindergarten. Our doctor told us that the pull-up issue should be the last thing we should be worried about, because if it means he'll go, then it will be better for him physically. At some point, he'll want out of the pull-ups, which he did. He never had an accident at school, but skid marks, and then he'd go when he got home. I will say that Miralax was a God-send. You can buy it at Sam's, it goes in water, and is tasteless. We'd put it in Sprite, because he'd chug it faster. Don't let the doctor prescribe the generic Miralax....it tastes terrible (I tried it when my son complained, and he was right!). Good luck to you! We were exactly where you are now, and we were able to work through it thanks to our great doctor. Keep us posted on how you're doing! Blessings!!!!

Sounds like he is terrified. In my opinion he is not ready mentally so why cause him anxiety over something that can wait till he is a bit more prepared. I would look for some books about the body and how it works (physically)that are written for kids and that refer to the potty. Don't make a big deal, just include it in the choices of stories to read. Ask him if he has any questions and let it go for now. In a few weeks present the idea of potty with a poster with stars he can put on the poster after every time he has gone potty or poop. Have a few prizes that he can earn after his poster has x number of stars. A book, paints, new crayons or what ever his likes are. I think that it is just a preparation for him to get past the fear, and positive reinforcement is the way to go. I would not punish him if he isn't ready, just try again every few weeks and see if he is ready. If not give him more time. Good luck and he will be fine in time.

Sounds very familar! My little boy was #1 trained at just 2 1/2 years old. He had no problem going pee in the toilet. But, when he needed to have a BM, he would go up into his room get a pullup out of the drawer, change his clothes into the pullups, go poop in the privacy of his own room & then open his door and yell for mommy to come change him!! Drove me crazy for a year. He would never go when we were out of the house and would often hold it for a while (days even) when we tried to move the process along to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, I don't have any specific advice for you - just wanted to let you know you weren't the only one out there with this issue. We eventually had to really force the issue with our son because my MIL was nice enough to take the family on a Disney cruise just a few weeks after his 4th birthday. There was NO WAY that I was going to spend a week in a small cabin in the Caribbean with a crabby child who was constipated. About 6 weeks before the cruise, we had a few rough days at home where we kept putting him back onto the potty, he would scream, throw fits, etc. Finally, he pooped on the potty (I think by accident) and realized that it was all OK. We were smooth sailing (literally!) from that time on. Good luck!

I had the same problem with my now 4 yr old. He would go #1, but to go #2, no way. Finally, i got to the point i just sat him on the toilet. He'd stay on there for sometimes up to an hour. finally he went. i wasn't going to put up with him pooping in his pants anymore. Don't go back to diapers. that's only going backwards in the process. Have you let him pick out his own underwear? We did that with our oldest and we also put the underwear under the pull-up so he can feel when he pees. Cause no matter what, to me pull-ups are just like diapers. We did stickers on a little poster. we put the poster on the wall across from the toilet and everytime he went pee he got 1 sticker. Everytime he pooped he got 2 stickers. It worked with us. He'll be 5 this july. I'm having problems now with our 3 yr. old son. He's quite stubborn and screams when he gets on the potty. but eventually if we let him sit there long enough he goes. Oh also make sure he has some juice in his system. Like apple or grape. If i gave that to my kids i always knew they would have a bowl movement. Hope this helps. Just keep sticking to your guns. He'll go eventually.

We had similar issues with our son when he was potty training between ages 3 and 4. The first thing our pediatrician recommended was to make sure he ALWAYS sits down to pee. As he explained, when boys are little and learn to pee standing up, they essentially clench the muscles of the anus as they do so which is exactly what you don't want as far as bowel movements go. By having them sit ALL the time, they learn to relax those tush muscles and eventually, as much as they might try to withhold, the bowels will have to release. It's only part of the equation and it may or may not solve the problem, but at least it won't complicate things to try. I know for us, it made a world of difference. Good luck.

Hi L.,
We have a similar problem with my youngest daughter. She is now 6. She also was dev. delayed and has low muscle tone. After I thought about it it makes sense that her internal muscles would have some problems as well.

She has a pediatric urologist at St. Lukes, Dr. Elizabeth Utterson. I highly recommend giving her office a call.

We use miralax, (glycolax) and try to have her use the bathroom right after eating breakfast or dinner everyday. The dr. explained that eating will start the bowels moving and is the easiest time to try to go. We keep a basket with books in the bathroom so that she can try to relax and take her mind off of worrying about the pain that she fears. There is no rushing her, she really needs to take the time in order for it to happen for her.

We have hopes that eventually she will not need the glycolax but she has not reached that point yet. The doctor says that it is not really a laxative, and not habit forming, and that it is okay for long term use especially in the small doses that we use everyday, but she did say that most kids just need it for a short time, a few months, until they have a regular experience with soft bowel movements and do not associate pooping with so much pain that they are holding it in.

Best of Luck to you and your son.
L.
L.

I am so glad to hear from someone who shares what I have been going through with my daughter. She is now potty trained at 3 1/2 but the struggle I went through was just what you are going through. Basically I told my daughter you need to poop and pee in the potty or we are going to have to go see the doctor. I had three appointments with a doctor that deals with kids with holding their bowl movements. I didn't want her to be afraid of the doctor but it actually worked! I found that the only way I could get her to poop in the potty was to put a potty chair in her room. I know that sounds bad but that's where she can go and privatly poop without anyone knowing. Once she would poop she would come and get me and we would receive a prize for going poop in the potty. My daughter has actually gone a complete week without going. She is getting better but she still will only poop at home and not anywhere else. If we are gone and she has to go that is when we typically have an accident. But no sooner do we get home she will go upstairs and out it comes. My daughter sounds just like your son: slowly developing and very stubborn. My daughter is also a picky eater...etc. Please feel free to contact me offline as I would love to help you out more if I can and maybe give each other ideas. This was hard for me because I didn't have anyone else going through this same thing. Things will get better...it just takes time.

Email: ____@____.com : ###-###-####

L.,
Just a thought: I read that you have tried everything, but has that everything included, sitting down with your son and asking him, "what real special something would he want more than anything in the world that would get him to poop in the potty?" Basically allowing him to be in charge of his poop and his reward. This is what worked for our son and it follows the "potty training personalities" it is based on knowing your childs personality in order to potty train. Which you have your childs personality nailed, since he is stubborn--that is a control issue, therefore if you put the "power of poop" in his will--he may lean and you may have great results. Of course you don't want him to always have control, but this was one issue, I was willing to allow my son to take charge and it worked--his desired toy was a "space ship". Don't be mis-lead about "boys being harder" my son was potty trained well before 3 of friends girls. It has to do with personalities not gender. By the way, my mom said I was the same way, I did not want her to teach me to go potty, instead she finally told me to do it myself and I did.
Another tid-bit, other people swear by the book: Potty training in Three days, I have never read it, but hey it gets great reviews.
Good luck, M. N.

I would encourage lots of fiber. There are some great cereals out there that taste good and are high in fiber. It really does sound like he has had a hard bowel movement & needs help softening it enough to HAVE to come out, but also softening it enough to make it not hurt when it does. I recommend any of the All Bran cereals & add some All Bran Bran Buds. It will help clean him out, but also keep it soft if he continues to eat just a little every day. He can eat it for breakfast or as a snack during the day right out of the box. Also any other fiber you can get him to eat will just add to it...mixed berries (frozen or fresh), celery, fresh vegetables, etc. Good luck!

I'm sure you have taken your son to the doctor?

Sometimes children with special needs develope other issues as they get older. I'm not a doctor by any means. But, this situation can be very serious. Constipation is one of the number one killers of the elderly. If you're child holds it for days and then developes a blockage, it can be so very serious.

This could be a sign of another issue for your child...again I don't know but have worked in the mental health field for several years now. I have worked with the developmentaly disabled, mental retardation and mental illness. So, please keep close eye on this and have a doctor involved.

Hi L.!

Your situation reminded me of an article my aunt recently sent me...about potty training expectations in boys. It's written by: John Rosemond and he helped a couple who had the same troubles you did. He suggested a course of action that worked wonderfully for them.

Right after breakfast, they took him to the bathroom, stripped him down and put him on the potty. The told him they had spoked to his doctor and she/he said you have to stay here, with no clothes on until you go until you go "poop." When you've done it, call us to see and then you can put your clothes on and play. Call us! He told them to keep it short and simple and cheerfully walk out. If he refused to stay put they were to gate him in and repeat that it was the doctor's orders.

When he did it, they were not to fuss or reward him, but to acknowledge he did the right thing in a low-key manner. To their surprise, he did it after 5 minutes. After 3 days, she wrote him "No crying, no screaming, nothing. We have been battling this issue for many months now, cried and lost sleep over it. I'm sitting here absolutely astounded at how simple it has been."

In short, the parents stopped wishing he would go (in the form of pleading, explaining, rewarding and exploding) their son would go potty and told him was going to go. Conjuring the doctor's authority simply reduced the possibility of rebellion.
I personally haven't had to go through this yet, but were getting ready to train my youngest boy and I for see this may well be a problem! If you'd like to know more about the article, I can get you a copy. Email me at ____@____.com if you'd like. ;)

Good Luck!

I read a parenting article that discussed this. As I had this problem with my now 7 year old son, I read with interest. Here is the link to the article. http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2008/jan/20080118feat0...
It discusses not making it a power struggle and putting the child in charge of their poop. Very interesting reading. I might also suggest that at this point you add an over-the-counter constipation remedy called Miralax. This was a prescription when my son had his issues and was prescribed by our pediatrician. Now it is OTC. It is a gentle laxative that would reinforce the idea that it won't hurt since in many cases it hurt once and that is why they begin to withhold. Good luck!
T.

Hello I know exactly what you are going through it is hard very hard to see your child hold it in then all of a sudden he'll go poopies and it is huge.My son who is now over 4 went through this he was being potty trained on a potty chair did very well going peepee till I started him to use the big potty to go poopsies he held it in he didn't want to my husband did the rward with a sucker it worked for a while then it started again he was afraid to go and use the big potty he fell in once and that scared him.Till my son literally fell on the floor at walmart saying his belly hurt couldn't walk I knew he had to be seen something was wrong very wrong he was suffring from constipation my DR. told me to use Mineral oil just 1-2 tablespoons a day in his juice milk water etc. for less than a week to get him going then cut back I used it and it has saved him he hasn't become dependent on it or anything.Now he goes with no problem call your dr and see if it is right for your child.sahm of 2

Hi L.,
Okay, both my boys had this problem when they were about 3 years old (they are now both almost 7 and 4). I thank God everyday that I came across a doctor who knew what to do other than offer a prescription. First of all, I think some kids are just more sensitive to foods containing white flour and simple sugars. When they were in daycare it seemed there was a party everyday for something and the kids were getting cookies and cupcakes, etc. Inevitably, this had a negative impact on their BM's. This doctor said I had to really watch their diet and improve their fiber. AND make sure they gets lots of liquid. The bowel (or I guess the intestines), actually absorbs water from your body to help move waste out. And as you've read already, increase the fiber. There are so many great food products out there with added fiber that don't have all the preservatives and gunk. Of course, good ole apples and grapes helped my little guys a lot and they were less expensive! ALSO, keep in mind that calcium (milk, yogurt, cheese) hardens stools, as do bananas and carrots. Our children still need these things, but not in huge quantities. At the time, my kids LOVED milk and that wasn't helping matters. Of course,they make calcium fortified OJ now, so we drink that too. And in the end, your child has to WANT to poop. I offered incentives, especially with my youngest. He finally got to watch his Barney video, we had a pizza party at Cici's AND he got something else that I can't remember. And then of course, my boys were scared. Maybe it was the pressure in their bottom, or pain or the great unknown...but with my oldest, when he was 3, I told him (and I know this sounds insane) that his poops wanted out to see their families. And when his bottom hurt, it was because they were getting sad that he wouldn't let them out. And that if he would just poop they'd be happy and his bottom would feel so much better. I don't know what made me say it, but it actually worked with both of them. They felt like they were helping and doing a good thing. Of course, they've outgrown the whole 'family' concept. In addition, I will add, that I keep Miralax on hand. If I see a problem arising, like lots of sweets for a special occasion or maybe we've been busy and I've not gotten enough liquids to them and if they haven't had a BM for one day, then I mix some in a drink. I always make sure they have a BM once a day. My 3 year old gets so busy, I'm sure he holds it. I almost always have to remind him by late afternoon that he needs to go and he will. Of course, I take this as a sign to increase fiber and liquid too. Miralax, apparently, is such a hit because it doesn't get absorbed into the body. As horrible as it sounds, I think it's like a form of plastic that slicks the intestines and comes right out with the waste. It's harmless, but I still don't like giving them a whole lot. And it really takes a good 2 or 3 days to work, so I always try to do the liquid, fiber, etc. Remember, you are not alone. It was terribly painful to see my children so miserable. You'll be fine and so will he. It takes a real commitment of time and effort to get him through it initially, but it will get much easier and you'll be glad for it. So don't lose hope, get him back into some big boy underwear and tell him you're going to help him be a big boy. Sometimes I even held their little hands while they sat and pushed. They'd just squeeze, squeeze, squeeze my hands, and push so hard I thought their little eyeballs would pop out. :-) But they did it and afterwards they got lots of verbal praise and kudos (plus their prizes) and I think they really felt like they accomplished something. Good luck!

Good for you...if it's not working, just wait. My sister's son (now 6) did the same exact thing at age 4. He would not poop in the toilet and would hold it for days. He is fine now. I think my nephew felt so much pressure to go in the toilet and it was becoming this HUGE issue and it was just making things worse. He would tell my sister he had to poop and that he needed a diaper so he could poop in it. My sister freaked out because she just thought that was so weird. But like I said, he finally did it in the toilet. It was some weird fear he had that he had to get over on his own! Relax and do what you have to do till he's ready :) All kids are different.

L. (mom of a 14-year-old son)

Do as close to nothing as you can. No rewards, no punishments about having or not having BMs. If he is indeed afraid of using the potty, do what you can to desensitize. Have him sit on it with the lid down and flush as often as you can stand. This may be a bit gross, but let him flush your BMs. Let him flush one square of toliet paper and cheer as it goes down. When you clip his finger nails, let him flush them. Somtimes kids are afraid to flush away "parts" of themselves. If he's afraid of falling in, try an insert.
But, if you think he is just using being afraid as an excuse, you may just want to try backing off.

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