Hiding while pooping: A step towards potty training

Does your toddler creep off on their own into a corner or closet now and then, only to reappear with that telltale odor coming from their diaper? This isn’t a stage every toddler goes through, but it’s also a fairly common stop along the journey that starts out with changing tiny, newborn diapers, and ends a few years down the road, with your little one going into the bathroom without you, closing the door, using the toilet, wiping themself, and then washing their hands before coming back out.

What hiding while pooping means for potty training

When toddlers start going off on their own or hiding when they need to poop, one of the big things it signals for eventual potty training is that they’re aware that they’re going to need to poop before they do it. That kind of bodily awareness is only one of the milestones toddlers need to meet before they’re ready to potty train, but it’s also an important one.

On the other hand, one 2003 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that children who hide when they poop can take longer to learn to use the potty than children who don’t. In this way, hiding during pooping is associated with “holding it in” and refusal to poop.

One reason for this may be that some children who hide out to poop after they’ve started potty training are often children who are afraid of the potty, or who associate pain with pooping – that is, the reason they hide may be the same reason it can take longer to potty train, not that one causes the other. Another reason may be that a toddler has picked up on some of the “yucky” implications around poop, and is embarrassed.

Toddlers are perceptive, and embarrassment and shame around normal bodily functions like pooping can hurt the toilet training before it even starts by making it feel like a stressful thing. Books about bodies or potty training, and a calm, matter-of-fact attitude about bodily functions can do a lot to keep pooping from feeling like something a toddler feels like they need to hide. As they get more and more verbal, having a frank conversation about it can be helpful, too.

Hiding doesn’t have to be about shame, though – for many toddlers, the desire to find somewhere a little out of the way to poop can just be the desire for a little privacy. If you think that’s what might be going on, it could be a great time to introduce the bathroom as a private space for pooping – your toddler is probably a little young for potty training, but getting them used to pooping in the bathroom can be a great early step.

Signs of readiness for potty training

The sign of potty training readiness that hiding while pooping can show is a toddler’s bodily awareness – the fact that they know that they are about to go before they do it is an important skill that they'll need when it’s time to learn to potty train. It’s not the only skill they'll need, though, and other signs include:

  • Physical skills: Bodily awareness is one physical skill, but it’s not the only one Baby will need. They will also need to be walking reliably enough that they won’t have trouble getting to the bathroom when they need to, and have the ability to sit down on a potty chair and then stand up again. Bladder control, including the ability to go up to two hours between wet diapers, is also important.
  • Communication: Hiding instead of letting you know when they need to poop could be a pitfall in the process of learning to use the potty. Toddlers who are ready for potty training also can understand and follow simple instructions, and can make themselves understood when letting parents or caregivers know when they need to go.
  • Emotional readiness: One of the biggest factors in a toddler’s readiness for potty training is also the hardest to quantify – their emotional readiness. They might show this by being interested in how adult bathroom habits differ from their own, by being interested in wearing “big kid” underwear, or even by saying they are ready to try potty training. You can test this a little by reading books that introduce the idea, and talking to them about them. It’s also a good bet that they might not feel totally emotionally ready for the big change that is potty training if there are other big changes going on in their life, or if they are feeling unsettled or insecure.

Hiding out to go number 2 isn’t the only way a toddler can show you that they know when they have the bodily awareness they'll need for potty training, so if they hasn’t picked up this habit, it’s definitely nothing to worry about. This is just one of the many stepping stones your toddler might take as they make their way towards toilet independence!

  • “Psychological Readiness and Motor Skills Needed for Toilet Training.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
  • Edward R. Christopherson. “Toileting Problems in Children.” Pediatric Annals. 20(5): 240-244. Web. May 1 1991.
  • Laura Markham. “3 year old Potty Training.” Aha! Parenting. Dr. Laura Markham. Web.
  • A Schonwald, L. Sherritt, A. Stadtler, C. Frazer. “Factors Associated with Difficult Toilet Training.” Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. 22(5). Web. October 2001.
  • Bruce Taubman, Nathan J. Blum, Nicole Nemeth. “Children Who Hide While Defecating Before They Have Completed Toilet Training.” Archive of Adolescent and Pediatric Medicine. 157(12): 1190-1192. Web. December 2003.

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