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How to Potty Train a Four-Year-Old Who Won't Poop in a Toilet

by Kimberly Dyke, studioD

Perhaps you look wistfully at your 4-year-old, wondering what happened to the fantasy of her being completely toilet trained by age 2? Potty training any child requires unmeasured amounts of patience, but when your 4-year-old remains resistant to pooping in the toilet, it is time to refocus and change your methods. Whether your child’s resistance stems from a bad experience or simple stubbornness, comfort yourself with the fact that he will eventually grasp the concept, and is unlikely to head off to college in diapers.

Adjust your attitude and refocus your energy. Do not shame or insult your child to get her to poop in the toilet. Speak encouraging phrases to her and tell her that you are going to work on this together until she learns it.

Get a new stool to place in front of the potty and a soft training seat to set on top of the toilet, to make the bathroom child-friendly. Avoid using a portable potty seat, as the messes are getting bigger and more difficult to clean up. Limit your child to only having bowel movements in the bathroom, even if he is initially wearing a diaper while doing it.

Learn your child’s bowel rhythm and guide her to the bathroom when you know it is time for her to go. Provide books for her to read while sitting on the toilet. Make sure that she is not constipated to make the process easier. Stay with your child while she is trying to poop in the toilet, even if it takes a while.

Offer incentives or prizes to encourage your child to poop in the potty. Fill a sticker chart each time she goes and offer a prize when the chart is full, such as a trip to the ice cream shop. Buy several small toys from an online auction site or yard sale -- the idea is not to spend a lot of money -- and individually wrap each item with tissue paper and a ribbon. When your child poops in the potty, allow her to select one item to unwrap as a reward. Always verbally praise your child for her efforts.

Switch over completely from diapers and training pants to underwear. Let your child select new underwear featuring a favorite cartoon character or bright color. Have him help wash his own underwear when he has accidents to accept some responsibility for not going in the potty, along with cleaning any mess that is on the floor.

Items you will need
  •  Bathroom stool
  •  Soft potty seat
  •  Small toys
  •  Tissue paper
  •  Ribbon
  •  Underwear


  • Talk to your pediatrician if your child continues to be resistant to pooping in the toilet to make sure there is not an additional medical problem.

About the Author

Kimberly Dyke is a Spanish interpreter with a B.A. in language and international trade from Clemson University. She began writing professionally in 2010, specializing in education, parenting and culture. Currently residing in South Carolina, Dyke has received certificates in photography and medical interpretation.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images