Does anyone have experience of PARTIAL withholding? - ERIC


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Does anyone have experience of PARTIAL withholding?

Jellylorum profile image

Hi everyone, I'm curious to know whether anybody here has experience of their child partially withholding their poo? It's a bit of a strange one, but I'm almost certain this is what my son is doing.

A brief history - my son is four but has had problems with constipation since he was around a year old. He is still in nappies and has never done a proper poo on the potty. When he's at home he poos 10-20 times per day, but only small amounts. He poos less when we're out and about. He's been impacted in the past, but an x-ray recently showed that this isn't the case now, although he had a full bowel (full of soft poo). He's currently on 2 sachets of Movicol per day and his bowel movements are very runny, but if we reduce it he gets impacted because he's not completely emptying his bowel every day.

He denies withholding, but he's recently told me that he only likes doing small poos "because big poos smell". I think he might be trying to only let out small amounts of poo at a time. I've tried talking to him and encouraging big poos but nothing seems to be making a difference - I think it's such a habit now that he just does it automatically. Alongside this he has a real fear of using the potty. For a long time I thought he simply didn't have any control, but I'm now wondering whether it's another aspect to his psychological issue with poo and smells. He starts school in September so I'm really desperate to help him overcome this before them.

I'd love to know whether anyone else has had a similar experience. Sophie Ferguson mentions partial withholding in her book (What To Do When Your Child Won't Poo!) so I know it can happen but it only gets a passing mention and I've never actually come across another parent who's dealing with this.

5 Replies

I don’t have any experience of partial withholding I’m afraid but I’d like to offer some thoughts as a mum of a 4yo boy who inconsistently withholds and has accidents. I toilet trained my son at 2.5y and have been plagued with accidents. Most recently his accidents are in the form of a small amount of poo coming out in his pants and getting squished on his bottom because he doesn’t tell anyone till we notice the smell. But Every time he sits on the toilet, he won’t do anything! After trying to tease out why from him, he said he ‘doesn’t like poo’. Therefore, I wonder whether there’s a combination here for your son of times he had too much Movicol where they became runny and the fact that they are sat in his nappy. Maybe the psychological reason behind it is he doesn’t like the feel of ‘big’ poos in his nappy. I appreciate you say he doesn’t like the potty but have you a plan to get him into underpants before September? Is there another reason he’s still in nappies? I think my son’s issue is similar in the sense that he doesn’t like poo so let’s a small amount out but he’s doing that in his pants because we gave up nappies a while ago when he was perhaps too young to understand. Your son may be able to understand the significance now of ‘no more nappies’ and it may help him to feel like a grown up boy. I would recommend ditching the potty and going straight to the toilet - you can get big boy seats that are bright colours with steps and handles attached. I’ve also started with a new reward plan for my son - stickers and charts never worked - where he gets a Pom Pom for a jar and every time the jar gets full he gets to choose a big reward. But he can get a Pom Pom for all sorts not just toilet things to promote positivity. Also make sure you praise him for just sitting on the toilet even if it doesn’t give results or is only a short time. Because praising the trying I have found is as important as praising the poo. Sorry for the long post or if I’m teaching you to suck eggs so to speak but just thoughts from my experience. Good luck x

Hi, I’ve just joined the forum as my son is in exactly the same position. He’s going to be 3 in a couple of weeks and he has no interest in potty training as he ‘doesn’t like the potty or toilet’

He poo’s anywhere between 5 and 10 times a day and they’re always small poos. He won’t tell us he’s done a poo, even if we ask him he’s always very reluctant to admit it.

We did have him on Movicol for around 18 months but found recently after his diet improved that even a half sachet was too much and his poos were very explosive and he was still doing 3-4 a day.

I’ve just finished reading Sophie Ferguson’s book and was abit frustrated that there wasn’t more mentioned about partial with holding. I’m at abit of a loss now as to what to do moving forwards.

Seeing your post has reminded me that I need to come back and update our story as we've made quite a bit of progress since I originally posted. We're still far from sorted, but at last I think we have a decent understanding of my son's issues. Your son sounds so similar and we were pretty much in the exact same position as you when my son was the same age, so hopefully some of what's worked for us might be helpful.

1. The first thing I did was to read the (true) story of James Parkin to him one day when we had some quiet time together: At the time I wasn't sure whether the story described what my son was doing, but it opened up a bit of a dialogue with him about soiling. I asked him whether he ever tried to keep his poos inside like the boy in the story and he denied it, but he was very engaged in the story and asked questions so it definitely resonated with him. It enabled us to talk about poo a little bit and he seemed interested in the concept that everybody's poo was smelly and that's why we do them in the potty, so that they can be flushed away.

2. We started evening "potty sits" after bath time but before bed. I found that my son would almost always soil his nappy during his bedtime story so I thought it would coincide with a natural time for him to go. We used a padded toilet seat over the regular toilet and I put his feet on a high stool so that they were almost as high as his bottom and he was in a squatting position, which apparently makes it very difficult to withhold. We read interactive books (Where's Wally etc), which took his mind off the potty a little bit.

3. About ten days into the potty sits my son accidentally did a poo! He was genuinely panicked, gripping my hand and shouting "Oh no!" but my six year old daughter and I reassured him and told him what a clever boy he was. I said he could have a "wow" at pre-school and we'd all have some chocolate with breakfast the following morning to celebrate. He seemed to enjoy the fuss and did a few more small poos. I told my husband when he got home and he made a big fuss the following morning as well. This was repeated about a week later, but this time with some reasonably sized poos two evenings in a row. Again, lots of reassurance was needed on the potty but my son was delighted, and of course we had chocolate with breakfast again!

4. We continued out "story on the potty" routine and about a week ago we got to the stage where my son was doing a poo on the potty most evenings. I should mention that it took a long time - often he'd be on the potty for 15 mins before anything happened and the whole process could be 30 mins or so. Up until then he had still been soiling during the day (but less than before), but all of a sudden he had two clean days... the first since he was born!

Unfortunately we've taken a bit of a step back since then - he hadn't pooed on the potty for the last two nights and the constant small poos in his nappy are back. On the plus side though we now know what's going on. We're pretty sure he is ignoring the urge to poo because he doesn't like poo or being changed and doesn't want to stop what he's going to sit on the potty. Like James Parkin in the story he thinks his poo has gone away, but it's causing him to do lots of smaller poos in his nappy throughout the day over which he has no control.

One thing I would add is that when my son's soiling stopped for a couple of days we noticed he was farting! This isn't something we really heard him do before and we realised he was probably holding them in too because he knew if he farted he'd probably poo! His behaviour also improved on those days - he was much less clingy, more confident and less irritable. Having an empty bowel and not having to withhold all day obviously made a huge difference to how he felt.

Anyway, apologies for the marathon post but I wanted to share just in case any of what we've discovered helps you also. By the way, the tip about the high potty stool is one of the recommendations from the MOP programme ( This was going to be our last resort given that my son starts school in September and we got as far as purchasing the book, but I'm hopeful now that we won't need to do it. The stool tip was useful though! :)

Best of luck with your son. I know how frustrating it can be, but hopefully our little bit of progress might reassure you a little that is some light at the end of the tunnel eventually.

Thanks so much for updating me on what’s been happening with your son. It does sound so similar. I tried a potty sit with my son tonight, he only managed 5 mins but i’m hoping we can encourage him to do longer sits.

I might try him on a padded seat on the toilet instead of a potty, what sort of stool do you have? We only have the single step ones and those definitely won’t be high enough.

Yes we struggled with the longer sits too, although it seems to have got easier over time as it's become part of our routine and my son has become less fearful of pooing on the toilet.

The stool we use is actually just a folding step that I use to reach the top shelf of my wardrobe! I think it was this one from Amazon (the taller version - it's about 39cm high):

It seems to have made a big difference as my son genuinely seems to find it difficult to withhold when he's in that position and the urge to go strikes (he's definitely tried!).

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