14 answers

Potty Training in 4 Year Olds

My 4 year old son will not poop on the potty. We've tried everything. Rewarding when he does go, taking away priveleges when he poops his pants. He will be starting kindergarden in the fall and I am at my wit's end! Help! I'm thinking the next step will be a child therapist.

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Just a quick funny story. We were having some trouble with this as well. One morning while my son, approx. 3, was sitting on the potty my husband jokingly said if you start pooping in the potty I will bake you a cake. Well later that day my son pooped on the potty for the first time. Immedatly he asked for his cake. I had to call my husband at work to tell him he needed to bring home a cake. Instead of making one he stopped and got a premade decorated cake which we cut in to small pieces and for the next week we handed out poop cake everytime he pooped on the potty. I would never have thought something so silly would have worked when we had tried so many things and been so fustrated. Good luck

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J.,

The one thing I can suggest is to not clean it up. I make my 4 year old clean up the messes she makes, because she is old enough to know when and how to go. If she refuses to do so, then she gets to touch the mess, not mom. She especially hates removing tights if she has peed in them! I'm not real sure this has changed her behavior, but it at least gives her some responsibility/consequence for her actions. She's old enough to learn about natural consequences and so is your son. I don't think a child therapist is in order here. Does your son articulate why he won't go on the potty? That's a good place to start that you can do on your own without a therapist.

D.
35 year old mother of 5 with one more on the way.

1 mom found this helpful

Its a power struggle and he is winning. Every time he poops in his pants he has your undivided attention. You arent playing or feeding or changing the baby, now HE is the baby. Ignore him. Oh yes this sounds harsh, but he wont walk around for long with poop in his pants. The smell will over power both of you, but ignore him. If he whines and says he pooped his pants, say oh well, you made the mess, you clean it. When you stop and consider little kids dont have much control over their lives, the only thing they can control is eating and potty. Start letting him have choices, decide what to wear, where to go to play, what to eat for lunch. Discuss these choices. Make it fun. Do you want grilled cheese, peanut butter or GREEN EGGS AND HAM? Do you wan to go to the park, the zoo or the MOON?

Just a quick funny story. We were having some trouble with this as well. One morning while my son, approx. 3, was sitting on the potty my husband jokingly said if you start pooping in the potty I will bake you a cake. Well later that day my son pooped on the potty for the first time. Immedatly he asked for his cake. I had to call my husband at work to tell him he needed to bring home a cake. Instead of making one he stopped and got a premade decorated cake which we cut in to small pieces and for the next week we handed out poop cake everytime he pooped on the potty. I would never have thought something so silly would have worked when we had tried so many things and been so fustrated. Good luck

I once had a 4 year old at my preschool who refused to potty train at all. It basically was a power struggle and once he knew he was not going to win he finally gave up and went. I had to leave him in the 3 year old class which he didn't seem to mind it at all (big fish in the little pond). After many conversations with mom we were in agreement we had to take a hard line so I became the bad guy. I am talking about a stubborn child. I moved him to the four year old class he would sit in the chair and just pee his pants. He was so smart he knew that he had a few change of clothes so he would continue to pee his pants because he knew he would get to go home. I would not say a word just take him to the bathroom and have him change his own clothes each time. I would wait at the door for him to clean up his mess and have no conversation with him at all. After a while it got old and he knew I wasn't going to give in so he finally went on the potty. When he finally went I was so excited I ran to give him a sticker and said lets call mommy HOORAY!! He looked me straight in the eye and said don't tell anyone!!! It was the strangest thing he did not want praise he did not want anyone to know. He said he didn't want to be a big boy he wanted to stay a baby. Is it possible because of the baby he is looking for the extra attention? I think if you do not give him attention weather negative or positive eventually he will give in and go. Just put him in his underwear and when he goes in his pants (of course with poop you will have to help him) change him and DO NOT SAY A WORD. Do not make eye contact just help him and move on. When he sees he is not getting anything out of it he will give up and go. I don't think this is anything for a therapist it is just a control issue and if you try not to feed into it he will give in. The secret is he can't think he is giving in it has to be on his terms. I know it sounds strange but believe me owning a childcare center and potty training hundreds of kids by far this little boy was my biggest challenge and staying strong and consistent did help. When his mom picked up I told her what happened before she picked him up she didn't say a word about it and he continued to use the potty after that. It's worth a try. Good luck!!

Does he go days without pooping and then has an accident? If so, he may have encopresis. It's a condition in which a child holds their poop, but eventually their body can't hold it in any longer and that's when they have accidents. Here's a great explanation of the problem you can check out:
http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/encopresis.html

I had the same problem with my oldest child (he's almost 8 now). At his 4 year check-up i spoke to his pediatrician about it(I was in tears). He just chuckled and said my son is perfectly normal. My son was very competitive so I ended up making a bulls eye on a piece of paper and putting it n a small potty seat (not the big toilet) and telling him I bet he couldn't hit the bulls eye. Wouldn't you know he did. When my daughter started potty training I would draw funny faces and call them the "peep pee Person" and put them in the the potty chair. She started asking for the peep pee person when she had to go. I had a few ready to go. Then I would draw them on flushable wipes and put them in the big toilet. It was fun and it took some of the pressure off. Good luck. I know it is frustrating. He feels your stress. My son finally got the pooping down the summer before he went to school.

Sounds like a control issue. Consistency is a must. Maybe he is stressed out about a situation that exists. Hey the baby is one factor. Perhaps just sitting down and explaining to him that you love him and his sister and that none of his friends poop their pants and he is going to look pretty silly in school doing that. Also at 4 he can change his own poopy pants. Tell him he is in charge of himself.

Hi, If he eats on schedule he has a potty schedule learn his time and put him on the potty with in that hour and give him some toys he will not be abble to hold back. I trained my son in a week with this method and three of my nephews were trained the same way.
C.

My son -who is almost 4.5 and the cautious type- has been afraid of falling inside the toilet until only a couple weeks ago. Maybe that's an issue with your son too, even if he doesn't voice it?
When my son was 2.5 we had to go from using big potty back to little potty because he was afraid of the "big hole". It took him several months to feel comfortable enough to use the big potty again. The funny thing is that last summer I did actually drop him IN the big toilet -I was distracted (sleepy) and lifted all the seat covers and dumped him right in the water, LOL. He though it was hysterical and we still laugh about it. I guess the episode took some of the fear off him. Unfortunately, we have a separate issue with his wee-wee which tends to shoot around while he's sitting in the potty. He cannot hold on to the toilet while pooping because he needs his hands to push his wee-wee down and hold his T-shirt up. Happily, he found his balance and confidence a couple weeks ago and he's finally doing everything on his own.
Each kid has its own reasons. Find out which is your son's real reason and work around it at his own pace. You still have time!
Good luck!

I can help you. I have 6 years of experience working with typically developing children and children with autism. I can meet with you to talk about how to bowel train your son. The cost for the workshop is $40.
Let me know if you are interested.
A. Hickey

I had the same issues... I have a 4 yr boy and a 15 month boy.
My oldest was potty trained and then all changed a little after my youngest was born. When the little boy was about 7 months old my oldest started to act out, pee his pants/poop too. We tried everything... He does it for attention. He figures if I poop my pants mommy will have to spend time with me, even if it is negative attention he still has your undivided attention. With a new baby your time is very much directed at their every need and it does effect the oldest. my son adores his little brother. He plays with him, hugs him reads to him. But, he acted different toward my husband and I.
This is what we ended up doing. We had someone watch our youngest for a few hours once a week and take just the oldest out, either to dinner or an outing. He got to have all of the attention. We would talk to him about the new addition to our family and how babies do need a little more help and attention. My oldest loves to help out, so we told him that he could help too, with bringing us diapers, toys etc. It took a few weeks, but we saw a difference in him and his potty issues have decreased significantly. We make a huge deal about when he is a "dry boy", but don't make an issue over the oops (negative attention). We even have gone as far as not helping him when he has an accident, he has to clean hiself up on his own. No attention is directed at him when he is bad so he learns that that is not a way to pull our attention away from the baby.
Hope this helps.

Hi J.,
Sorry you're having this issue. I would say that at 4, he knows what to do and is choosing not to for whatever reason, so it's a behavioral thing. I wouldn't reward him for doing what is an expected behavior, because that gives him the idea that he is doing it to please you, and that he has the option to do it or not. At this age, I would also move away from the "potty" - there won't be any potties at kindergarten, kids are expected to use the regular toilet.
If he's uncomfortable with the toilet itself, I would try letting him know that for now, he can have a diaper and poop on the toilet with his diaper and pants on, but can only have the diaper if he sits on the toilet with it to poop. When he's comfortable with this, you can graduate to a diaper without the pants while sitting on the toilet and then he may be willing to just use the toilet without anything on. Good luck!

I had the same problem with my 3 years old and everyone said that it would just happen one day. I was pushing the potty every day and he wouldn't go on it. I decided that I would put him in big boy underwear and remind him that he had them on and that he should use the potty without forcing it. We had a few accidents and I had him clean himself (of course I would make sure he was completely cleaned) but one day it just clicked. To make you feel better I teach Kindergarten and I never had a kid come to school wearing pullups. It will happen-just take a little break.

Hi J.-
I'm in the middle of potty training my son as well. I bought a "PottyWatch" from One Step Ahead. It's a watch in the shape of a potty that you set for 30, 60, or 90 minutes. When the time is up, it plays a song to signal your son it's time to sit on the potty. Eventually you'll time it right when he has to poop. Once he goes poop on the potty he will continue to go.
Hope this helps
K.

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