Good Parenting: The poop on poop when potty training


Headshot2011Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

The Poop on Poop

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My one-year-old has been interested in using a potty – for pooping – since about eight months of age. Unfortunately he has had episodes of constipation, so sometimes, though we’re cheering him on, he struggles to eliminate. Should we discontinue taking him to the potty when he starts grimacing? Could the interruption – my husband or I carrying and undressing him as quickly as we can – be contributing to the difficulty he has in pushing out his stool?

Rushing, But in No Rush

Don’t miss last week’s column on helping a child who speaks in third person.

Dear Rush No Rush,

Toilet mastery does have a psychological component, but it is primarily a physical process. If he is interested, and largely successful, with pooping on the potty, you can continue to support him with this. Stay close to the potty when you expect it is close to pooping time, and dress him in quick-release clothes. Don’t go overboard, though. As with walking, talking, and other major developmental achievements, toilet mastery will happen sooner or later. Though children seem to appreciate how pleased we are about these things, if we get too stressed out or enthusiastic it kind of takes away from their accomplishments. They are mastering skills along the path toward independence, not for our enjoyment. Toilet mastery is the child’s victory, not the parent’s.

It might be a good idea to review his diet to help with the physical ease of eliminating.

There are common recommendations for foods to avoid and foods to favor when trying to soften stool. But you should also take note of his individual digestive patterns. For example, a person who is lactose intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk could have soft, slimy stools or hard to pass stools, and or terrible intestinal cramping. Then again, a child who is usually fine with milk, may not be fine if he drinks an excessive amount. Same with whole grains – the right amount helps to “bulk up” the stool, but too much is too much. Nuts, though they are rich in fiber, are hard for some individuals to digest. Certain meats (maybe because of what the animal eats) have been known to cause digestive problems for some people. Bananas and oatmeal are recommended on some lists of foods that can ease constipation, but are also found on lists of foods to avoid.

It might help to keep a Diet and Elimination record for a couple of weeks to see if any patterns emerge. In general, adequate liquids, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains provide a healthy diet. “Junk food,” especially fatty foods, could be the cause of his constipation.

Here are some recommended foods to try: raw fruits and vegetables (including edible skins) such as apples, pears, cherries, grapes, carrots, cucumbers, sweet peppers; dried fruits such as prunes and raisins; cooked vegetables, especially sweet potatoes, green peas, turnip greens, and collards; cooked beans such as kidney, navy, pinto, and lima beans; liquidy foods such as vegetable soups, gelatin, and fruit juices. Water is always a healthy option and can be served warm to help soften the stool. In summer weather, a water popsicle is fun way to rehydrate.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected]