Two-Year-Old Witholding Bowels

My two year old has, in the past several months, been holding her poo in her body. She thinks that it’s funny when she has to go, to hold it in, and jump off laughing. She will sometimes go for three to four days without going. We have tried treating her for constipation, with high fibre foods, removing dairy, bananas etc and we have also supplemented her with some mineral oil. She definitely HAS to go, but refuses to let her body do it, until it is literally coming out of her with no control. She has been potty-learned for 6 months, and doesn’t want to go in her diaper, as we’ve offered that as a solution. We have tried celebrating her poo, when she actually does go. We have sung songs to her about poo, how everyone poos, how it feels good to poo etc. I feel like, at this point, it is more of a psychological urge to hold it in, rather than a physical inability to go. I am wondering how I can encourage her past this behaviour so that she can be going regularly and creating a healthy body for herself. Thanks.


Dear parent,

Holding bowels is often an emotional issue. Instead of trying to change what the child is doing, we must first find what is the valid reason for her choice. There always is a valid reason. Your daughter maybe expressing one of two needs: 1) A need to feel powerful by going against your wishes. 2) A need to feel free to cry and express intense feelings.

1) In my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, I elaborate on the need of the child to feel powerful and I demonstrate how children find ways to assert their need for power. This need must be met in order for the child to feel stress free.

If your daughter holds her poo in order to assert power, then all your playful encouragements are fulfilling her need for power successfully; “Mom wants me to poo, and I don’t!” or, “Mom wants to decide about my body but I am in charge of me.” She creates a wonderful Poo Power Party; good for her emotions but not for her physical health. 

If this is the case, you can play with your child other power games on a daily basis and minimize showing any interest in her bowel movement. Come up with games that give her a similar experience of power over her own body in negation of you. Running away form getting dressed is a good example. She may keep holding her bowel in for a while longer, but as soon as she realizes that she gets no “fireworks” out of it, she will focus on the other power games and let go of this one.

Typical power games are: running away from putting pajamas on, spilling the laundry on the floor, spilling toys that you just picked up, throwing pillows off the couch, running away etc. Please read in the book how to respond playfully to these healing power games. Make sure to never be the one to end the game, so she keeps the power. 

2) If you have been committed to keep your daughter happy all the time, preventing crying and emotional outbursts by distracting, compensating or rushing to sooth,

she may not feel free to express feelings. Some children show us that they are suppressing their feelings, by holding their bowel.

If this is the case, I recommend to notice when she needs to cry or be upset, and avoid distracting or rushing to fix things (I am not suggesting to be unkind or cause the upsets, only to avoid doing acrobatics to prevent unavoidable emotions.) Encourage her emotional expression by validating her feelings without drama, and letting the crying unfold with your loving attention. It is very important for children to feel comfortable with all the colors of emotions and be free to express themselves. The chapters on self-expression and on emotional safety in my book, can help you understand your child’s emotional needs.

Both, the above causes can exist at the same time. Sometimes there may be a more complex emotional issue that has to be addressed specifically. If a child senses that she is supposed to be happy, she might suppress trauma, anxiety associated with moving to another house, fear, loss, and other life experiences. If you suspect such an overload, you may want to consult with me by phone for more specific guidance. You can also bring the question up in my upcoming teleclass Dec. 6th. The information for private sessions and the teleclass are on my site  and through my free newsletter. 


Naomi Aldort


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