Dealing with Constipation While Potty Training

We finally got our constipated two and a half year old daughter in to see the pediatric GI specialist, and received a prescription for a laxative. Now the poop is soft and no longer painful for her, but she still tries to hold it in for days at a time. I suspect it has become a mental issue, not physical one. She's under no pressure at home or at school to use the potty, and for now I just praise her when she doesn't hold it in and goes in her diaper. I would like to start potty training her soon. Can you please give me advice about how I can help her understand that it hurt before, but it won't now, and to help her get over her mental block to pooping?

Sounds like you have been very conscientious about making sure your daughter's needs get taken care of. She's lucky to have you as her mama.

I love that you are thinking about the issue from more than just a physical perspective. I think you are right that she may be scared that it will hurt. It's easy to comprehend why she might decide that she'd rather be on the safe side and hold it in.

The laxative will ensure that eventually she'll have enough pain-free pooping experiences in her memory that she will forget to be afraid. Keeping the poop soft is an intervention for both the body and the mind.

I also love that you are not pressuring her at home, and are advocating for the same thing at school. Well done! I'd encourage you to continue with this approach. The attitude you are wanting to embody is one of trust ... trust that it won't hurt forever, trust that her inner motivation will take her to this destination, and trust that it can happen without force. You are already doing all the right things to support her in this.

I don't think there's a magic trick that can help her understand that it won't hurt. And in fact, if there was one, I wouldn't want you to use it, because there are no guarantees that it will never ever ever hurt again. However, you have an even more powerful tool at your disposal: empathy.

If she says or shows you that she's afraid to poop, you can acknowledge her without necessarily agreeing by saying something like, Yes, I understand or You are scared right now. Often kids just need to know we understand them, and are not really asking us to fix the problem. They use our presence and love and validation to shore themselves up so they can take the next risk and start fixing their fear themselves.

So you may try saying things like this to her when you see her trying to hold it: I know honey. It hurt a long time ago, and you are scared it might hurt again. Mommy and the doctor are doing everything they can to make your poop soft so it won't hurt. Would you like me to hold your hand while you let it come out? Just be there with her. Stay connected. Don't try to change her mind or get rid of her fear. Meet her where she is. This is the most powerful way to help her, and it really does make a difference.

Inviting her to go potty along with you is an excellent way to start helping her move in the direction of independent toileting. Continue keeping it casual, emanating the attitude that Of course she'll want to go on the potty sometime soon, because it's natural to prefer feeling clean and dry.

You may want to just put the idea of having to 'train' her on the back burner for a while, to take the pressure off of yourself. You might find that it never comes back to the front burner again, because the process moves along organically and it just sort of happens by itself.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions, or would like to schedule a parenting consultation for additional assistance. Please visit for more information.


Anonymous said...

I have the exact same situation with my daughter right now, and it breaks my heart. My husband is wanting to force the potty training issue, but I refuse to do so because I know that it will only make things worse. It makes it more bearable knowing that we aren't the only ones having this problem - good luck!

Anonymous said...

I also have a 3 year old daughter that developed constipation while potty training.In her day care they kept her off of diaper whole day long and she went without any accidents with number 1 or 2 for 8 hours straight. As soon as she got home she asked me to put on her diaper so she could use a bathroom. I am very worried about the fact that she is holding her self from peeing and popping. Please help with any advise.

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