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How can I get my son to go #2 on the potty?
Q: From Joyce in Canal Fulton
I have a 3½-year-old boy who has been partially potty trained for 4 months. He will stay dry all day, but just cannot understand how to move his bowels on the potty. I tried giving him rewards and he just gets upset because he wants to go, but does not understand how to. He knows the feeling because he says "I have to go," but when he gets there he says he can't go. Then within a few hours he goes in his pull-up diaper. If I try to stop him, he just holds it in and becomes constipated.
Amy in Uncasville
My Solution is simple: Use all of the pull-up diapers in the house. When there are only a few left, make sure your son sees them, and explain that there will be no more once the bag is gone. Don't even keep a spare pair around. He will go eventually. My daughter did the day after we "ran out."

Sue in Simpsonville
Part of my son's problem was constipation, so I added prune juice to his diet. After that, we started pooping together, me on the big potty and him on his potty. He got the idea after he saw my results. I would say, "Goodbye" to the poop and flush. He wanted to flush for me, but I told him he could flush when he went. We cheered every success and added a star to a chart. After 15 successful trips we went to his favorite restaurant. Now the target is 30.

Jennifer in Canada
When your son goes in his pants, have him clean them out. After a few times of being disgusted by this, he will not do it again.

Pam in Tonawanda, NY
My son's problem is that he doesn't sit on the toilet long enough. Recently, I've been singing some of his favorite songs with him just to keep him on there. It seems to have helped.

Christine in Wasilla
When my son was going through this, I had him naked all day. That way, he had no pull-up diaper to go in. For a while, he would hold it until I put a diaper on him for nap or bed. Then one day he couldn't hold it and ran to the potty.

Maureen in Sterling
I would sit with my son for up to 45 minutes to encourage him, plead with him, give him treats —anything to help him go poop on the potty. Finally I started leaving him alone, giving him his space and time, and he started going on his own.

Lisa in Lexington
I would put him in underwear. Yes, it makes a mess when he goes, but it works! Also, keep his potty chair nearby. You don't have to keep it in the bathroom. Sometimes they just don't want to miss what's going on to stop and go to the potty.

Jennifer in Memphis
Our pediatirican suggested that my husband and I let our daughter in the bathroom with us when either of us went. He told us to show her what we had done and explain to her that everyone poops in the potty. I know it sounds strange, but we were desperate. After about four visits to the potty with us, it worked.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez, M.D., M.P.H.
Joyce, you’re not alone. It’s very common, especially among boys, not to be fully toilet trained at 3½. Most children learn to urinate on the toilet first. If you think about it, it’s a little more complicated for a child to control a bowel movement, because he needs to feel comfortable enough on the toilet to relax certain muscles at the same time that he’s straining down with others. Sometimes children resist toilet training if they’ve passed a stool that caused pain. A little crack in the skin, which can take weeks to heal, may cause pain during a bowel movement, making a child fearful of having another one.

It’s a good sign that your son is aware of the feeling of a full bowel—this is the first step. Remember, though, he may be confusing that sensation with gas. Therefore, sometimes he may be ready to go and sometimes not.

Here are some ideas to help your child complete his toilet training:
  • Make sure his stool is soft. Give him plenty of fruit, fruit juice (one glass a day), whole grain cereal and water.
  • Visit the potty frequently so he can feel more comfortable on the toilet. Notice when he usually has a bowel movement (after breakfast, for example) and be sure to take him to sit on the potty at that time every day. Take the time to relax and maybe even read a book together.
  • Offer the incentive of "big boy” underwear. Buy the kind he likes. You can either p
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education