Skip to main navigation Skip to content
Please enter a search term

Toilet training 3.5-year-old

Toilet training 3.5-year-old

Our 3.5 y.o boy has been out of nappies for 6 months but is still having issues with going to the toilet for poos. He regularly does them in his undies sometimes up to 3 times in one day - sometimes he tells us straight away, sometimes he doesn’t tell us and denies it if asked if he’s done one. There’s no apparent pattern to when he does it on the toilet and when he does it in undies. It’s not because he’s absorbed in play/tv. His routine/household stress level hasn’t been affected by covid-19.

Oh Lou, I'm so sorry you're having this problem, it's so annoying to clean up poop, isn't it? But, it's also perfectly normal. It's called encopresis and it's a small leakage, or a full poop, that is in any place where it should not be, so any place other than the toilet. I had a friend who recounted how her grandson was not going to the toilet for a poop but had a favourite potted plant that he would hide behind, it was his special poop place. If it’s any consolation, he’s now 13 and perfectly capable of using a toilet!

According to Dr Sears, this problem is one that is more common in boys than girls and can occur up to age 6. It can be connected to stress or constipation, because the body just, basically, gets so full it has to let it all go, but it can also be that your young person is so immersed in play or something else that he genuinely can't control the need to go to the toilet, even if that toilet happens to be not the toilet but his undies or behind his favourite plant.

If you're worried, it might help to keep a diary of when it happens, and when he uses the toilet for a poop, and keep a note about the consistency of the poop. You can use this information to talk to the GP if it doesn't resolve by around the age of 6. It's really important to be careful how we manage and talk about the issue, as it can be quite embarrassing for him, as I am sure it is for you if you're in polite company when it happens. 

If you keep a diary for a few months, you'll be able to detect when it happens, and be able to make a really informed decision on where you want to go next. If you think there's a pattern, see if you can upset it by taking measures. Have you reminded him to go to the toilet? Can you make sure he's drinking enough water? Does he eat his veggies? Can you substitute some of his favourite foods for fibre rich foods like fruit? If you're still worried, and you can't wait for it to resolve over the next few years, yes I keep emphasising years as it's not uncommon up to age 6, you might like to take your poop diary and a food diary, to the GP. 

Dr Rebecca English

Dr Rebecca English

Lecturer, Faculty of Education (QUT)

See more

Other questions about this topic

Learning to follow directions

I have a 3.5-year-old who won’t listen to anything. We both just end up getting upset. I'm concerned that she will face problems in preschool if she won’t start following directions.

Help! My child is biting other children

I’m so embarrassed but my child care provider called me in to say my two-year-old has been biting other children. I hate to think what the other parents must be thinking. What do I do?

4-yr-old throwing tantrums

I have a four year old daughter, and the tantrums are worse now than they were in the ‘terrible twos’. She seems to fluctuate from happiness to meltdown so quickly and sometimes it seems that no amount of effort from us helps. Is this normal? I thought she’d be growing out of this by now.

Fear of the dark

My four year old is scared of the dark and needs us to stay with him while he goes to sleep and then comes into our room (and bed) when he wakes at night. It is legitimate fear and need for comfort but on the down side noone is getting any sleep! What should we do?

4-yr-old afraid to be alone

My lil 4yr old is suddenly scared to go anywhere like his room, the toilet, the bathroom, without someone coming with him. We go every time as we think its just a phase and he will grow out of it. He isn't scared of monsters. He did say there were 7 scary men in his room making faces but that's not the case at all (wondering if it was a dream) we reassure him there isn't any scary things there, take him and tell him he is safe and we will protect him. Any advice?