5 Year Old Afraid to Go Potty - Any Ideas?

Updated on January 07, 2009
K.M. asks from Camarillo, CA
5 answers

My 5 year old just got over the stomach flu and has been afraid to go potty every since because she's afraid of the diarrhea. However she no longer has diarrhea but has held off on going poop for several days now and I don't know if she's constipated yet or not. She keeps saying she has to go, then when she gets in the bathroom she either runs out without even trying or she will sit on the potty and claim she can't go, but she doesn't even try to push. I think she's just afraid it's going to hurt either way so she doesn't even try. We have tried everything, talking to her, reading "Everyone Poops", bribing her with reward, fake medicine (in case it was psychological), and then this morning I gave her a teaspoon of mineral oil in a glass of juice which she drank. Every 30 to 60 minutes, she's coming to me holding her bottom saying she has to go "right now" like it's on it's way out, yet when we get to the bathroom she freaks out. I can tell she is holding it and at this point I don't know if it will hurt her to go or not sine she's been holding it for days. I've explained how it has to come out and why, etc. She's hungry and keeps asking for food, but whenever she eats it prompts her to have to go and then she won't. On top of it all, she feels like a failure and is disappointed in herself that she is not brave even though her father and I have been loving and supportive about it. I did try to hold her down, keeping her from getting off the toilet (in a loving way and calming telling her she just has to do it, to just get it over with and then she will feel better and say yeah, I did it), but that didn't work either. I've seen posts about this issue before, but couldn't remember the solutions or how to search for the topic. Thanks for your help.

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for the good suggestions. I had talked to my daughter about how the body works and why it needs to come out (in terms she could understand) and usually she's pretty good about logic and understanding. In this case though I think the fear overpowered reason and no matter what she was "never going to poop again". We had a terrible night last night; she was up every 1/2 hour moaning that she had to go and she was in pain but she wouldn't even sit on the potty and kept holding it. I called the doctor and I couldn't get my daughter to do any of the suggestions they made. We saw the doctor first thing in the morning. The doctor said she could feel the stool when she checked her stomach and she said it wasn't too hard and she was confident my daughter would be able to go soon with a little help to soften the stool. She wanted to be sure it would be pain-free so that there wouldn't be fear in the future so she said not to force her to go and let her do it when she's ready and to give her 1Tablespoon mineral oil and Miralax and increase the fiber intake. I think my daughter felt better just talking with the doctor (we love our Pediatrician - Dr. Rao in Camarillo). So we went home and long story short, she would not drink the above remedies no matter how I tried to hide them in something. Later, her pain became so bad that I had to give her the glycerin enema (doctor said as a last resort) and even though she didn't like the enema (who would), she had instant relief and was able to pass the stool without pain (thank god). She ended up going several times throughout the day and she was less and less nervous each time, though still scared it would hurt... but these times I was able to reason with her and get her to go even though her instinct was to hold it. At 230pm she fell asleep in my bed and looked so peaceful and relaxed. She's not a nap person anymore, but she slept for several hours (as did I) and we woke up a normal family again, what a RELIEF! Thank you for the support and kind words, it helped tremendously. K.

More Answers



answers from Honolulu on

Holding poop like that can be harmful to the bowels... I forget the name of it, sorry.

She is 5 years old... so she can understand "logic."
For us and our daughter, when we explain things logically and a topic that has to do with her body,, it works for us. For example: if this were my daughter, I would explain to her that her diarrhea was because she was sick... she is not sick now.. but the body still has to poop... and if she does, it will gradually get better. But is she does not poop, then it will get worse or her body will not "heal" and then other problems can occur. I would tell my daughter that a body has to poop, because it is the way the body works... then I would show her a model of the body (which we have just like in the Doctor's office) and I would show her how once she puts something in her mouth to eat.. .how the body "digests" and then into the intestines, and out it comes...and then you go to the toilet.
Or, we can go to the Doctor... and see what she says...
Or, I would go online and do a search, and SHOW my daughter what happens if she holds her poop and doesn't let it come out...

For my daughter, these types of "explanations" work... so that is what I would do, in her case.
Emphasize to your girl, that her body has to "heal" and get better... when I explain this to my daughter, it clicks with her.

You have tried many things, and appropriately so.
If it continues, I would go to the Doctor... you don't want complications to occur... or, you may want her anus looked at in case she has tears/redness, which causes great pain.

All the best,

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answers from Los Angeles on


It may be time to involve the Pediatrician...have the doc explain how it 'works'. Like Susan said, kids deal in 'facts' and they very simple 'how and why'. If she hears it from an authority on the facts, she might be more at ease.

You've tried A LOT of different methods, and it seems like she really needs some one to 'show' her. I just read an article about this in Parenting and it can cause serious issues with the Colon.

Good Luck!


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answers from Los Angeles on

Encopresis may be what Susan was talking about.

Since you can at least get her to sit on the toilet, the important thing right now is to make sure her poop is soft do it doesn't hurt. I'd give her a half scoop to a scoop of Miralax every day until things get better (takes about 3 days to see results). Other than that, is her butt sore from the diarrhea? If so, then some diaper cream or neosporin may help with that.

Try to encourage her about 15 minutes after a meal. Put a radio ( to listen to music or a story) in the bathroom, let her go alone and ask her to just try - I wouldn't have her sit more than 5 minutes or so - you can't force it. When my daughter went through a similar situation, she'd only go if completely relaxed and no one their to watch her.

I hope your daughter is feeling better soon,

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answers from Los Angeles on

That poor dear. She's probably afraid that it will sting like the diarrhea did. Just a suggestion...I would try flax oil next time instead of mineral oil. Much safer. Also, grapes work wonders, too!!

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answers from Los Angeles on

just try to reassure her that its ok. let her know that if she doesnt go and continues to hold it that it might hurt comming out and that its better to just go. my friends little girl did this and her grandma gave her a childrens laxitive and told her to sit on the potty and not to get up till she was done (she also help it for a week). she passed a rather large stool and had a little tearing but its all expected. good luck.

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