*Book Review Week – Poo Withholding: Our Story & 2 Books To Help Your Toddler

If there’s one thing that has caused me more stress and heartache during my children’s toddler years it’s poo-withholding.

I kid you not.

And for anyone fortunate enough to navigate potty training without a whiff of this trouble then I applaud you, (and then I’ll weep with envy behind your back.) Because nothing, I mean NOTHING, has made me question my sanity or my worth as a mother more than this. And yes, I still find it implausible that something so ‘minor’ ended up damn near breaking me.

‘Cause of nervous breakdown, Madam?’

‘My child refuses to shit, Sir.’

BOTH my girls suffered with this. Emily started at eighteen months, just before we started potty training. Perhaps she sensed change was afoot? There was no warning. No hint of an issue. But once she started withholding it took us two years of doctor’s appointments, daily medication and sheer inventiveness  before we sorted it out.

Jess was a little easier. I think she only started withholding out of sisterly solidarity! At fourteen months she was old enough to catch the tail end of Emily’s reluctance. But as soon as Emily was ok she stopped overnight.

The Internet is abound with horror stories of fecal impaction and enemas. Eek. And as awful as Emily’s problems were it thankfully never reached that stage. Her diet was good, no tweaks required. So we pounced on a sympathetic GP instead who, after a disastrous trial of lactulose (it gave Emily terrible tummy ache), prescribed us Paediatric Movicol.


Paediatric Movicol:

This stuff is a wonder drug for children like Emily but it isn’t a quick fix. To break the psychological cycle of poo-withholding (poo hurts – child never want to poo again – poo hurts even more etc…) Emily ended up taking a daily dose for nearly two years.

The stuff tastes foul so we had to keep finding new and inventive ways to entice her to drink it. We found the best method was to mix it with milk and chocolate Nesquik. Then to offer it up during a favourite TV programme – distraction is key here!


Breaking The Psychological Cycle:

Easier said than done, especially when you have a stubborn toddler on your hands. In my experience Rewards Charts just don’t cut it. Not even a packet of Chocolate Buttons was a decent-enough incentive. So I went rogue and got creative…

I could write a whole blog about all the crazy stories I made up to encourage Emily to go. Poos that lived in the toilet, Poo Fairies that left gifts after a successful ‘deposit’ … you name it I composed it! I have a BA Hons in Journalism but a secret Doctorate in ‘Reasons To Shit’.

In the end it took 2 great picture books and that daily dose of Movicol to do the trick;

Liam Goes Poo in the Toilet: A Story about Trouble with Toilet Training by Jane Whelen-Banks

A gentle picture book that illustrates the different stages of eating and digestion. It helps teach young children to gain control over their body and to respond promptly to their internal cues.


It Hurts When I Poop! A Story for Children Who are Scared to Use the Potty by Howard J. Bennett & M.S. Weber

A more detailed look into the digestive system, as told through imaginative storytelling. Ryan is scared to use the toilet until his doctor uses a clever analogy to put his mind at ease. This book also comes with a detailed diagram that shows what happens inside the body and how different foods affect the digestive process.


If your kids are still having trouble please comment and let me know. I might have a few more tricks up my sleeve…



Marvellous Mondays badge by Hello Archie


  1. Lucy
    September 16, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    I’m not sure how long ago this was posted but my son has been withholding for a year now. Please help!

    • September 23, 2017 / 2:09 pm

      Oh no! The dreaded poo-withholding!! I have to say movicol was our saviour… Has the GP prescribed you this yet? Also, you need to get inventive… The Poo Fairy cracked our youngest. Everytime she went she got to choose a wrapped up present from the basket by the toilet. It was only little things from the pound shop but the visual aid really worked. Good luck! It’s so bloody stressful!! xxx

  2. Katie
    December 2, 2017 / 2:17 pm

    Hi there, just fell across your article while desperately looking for poo withholding solutions. Problem is movicol hasn’t worked for us. My son is now 2 and two months and suffered with constipation when he turned one. Doc put him on movicol and although it seemed to help we noticed that he was doing up to 8 ‘small poos’ a day. We thought he was still constipated because it looked like he was straining but he was actually trying to hold it in. It got so bad lately that we are with a paediatric consultant. He said to take him off the movicol and put him on senokot as he’s not constipated just refusing to let it out. He said to give it to him late in the afternoon so that he then goes in his sleep when relaxed and I can change nappy before I go to bed. Well 5 days in and no going in his sleep. Instead he is screaming the house down every 10 minutes trying to hold it in. His fear, I think, is that he thinks it will hurt and his bum was getting quite red from all the tiny soft bits that were leaking out while on the movicol. Even trying to change his nappy is sending him hysterical. I’m at my wits end here crying all day. He hasn’t wanted to even move today as he’s so lethargic from it all. It’s breakinf my heart and the main thing is he hasn’t gone in 6 days now. No amount of convincing him is working and the thought of potty training is so far off my mind at the moment. Broken hearted

    • December 4, 2017 / 9:52 pm

      Oh Katie, my heart goes out to you, it really does. We had this problem with both of ours. It took a year to break the habit. It doesn’t seem it at the moment but my girls have no problems whatsoever these days so it does pass! Have you found any food groups which help? We discovered fresh mango was a winner, as were raisins. Has he a favourite toy? Or something he really really wants? Reward charts didn’t work for ours but buying a gift, wrapping it and leaving it by the potty did the trick. Fuss-free poo = present. Its all psychological now. Lots of sudocream so he’s not sore and lots and lots of praise. No one tells you how stressful this issue is. I wept buckets too 🙁 xxx

Leave a Reply