How to help a child who will only poo in a nappy

If you are struggling with potty training because your child will only poo in a nappy, this is one of the most challenging situations to try and manage alone.  The solution lies in understanding that your child’s attachment to their nappy is usually fuelled by feelings as well as habit. Here are my tips to help you get beyond the nappy block

Understand where it comes from

Before you started trying to potty train, your child could use their nappy wherever they were. You could say it was somewhat of a portable toilet. When you try and make the transition to no nappy,  everything changes for your child. Gone is privacy, the ability to continue playing, the physical feeling of padding and enclosure. Suddenly, things are a lot more open, they feel different and everyone knows what’s happening and when. For some children, this can be frightening and may also feel like an invasion of privacy.

The nappy is a safe space

Things feel very different when you wee or poo in a nappy as opposed to the potty, toilet, or your pants/clothing. Many children want their nappy back to avoid having to process this change. To them, the nappy is a safe space and they feel normal when they are wearing it. In this way, some children are described as being ‘attached’ to their nappy; there is an emotional element to it. To avoid the difficult feelings when not wearing a nappy, many children refuse to take theirs off or ask for it back when they need a wee or a poo. If your child has a sensory processing disorder, they may prefer the feeling of using a nappy as a result. If so here is some guidance that is specific to a child with a sensory processing disorder.

Letting go

Frequently, it is suggested that children are allowed to go back into nappies to address this issue. This will certainly help solve the problem from your child’s perspective! However, it’s important to stress to all parents and carers that you will not make any progress with resolving this issue if you just return to nappies and try again later. Helping your child to let go of their nappy is about giving them control and allowing them to learn at their own pace. Doing nothing is not the way to empower them or resolve the issue.


For many children, the process of potty training can be a straightforward A-B approach, with nappies one day and none the next, forever. They have the odd accident and get through it, progressing with learning the 40 skills they need to become toilet independent.

For a small minority of children, letting go of nappies requires something more like an A-F process, wherein they need more steps and stages to help avoid a huge leap in one go. You can slow things down and work up to letting go of nappies. This might mean letting them use it for toileting and slowly relinquishing their dependence on it.

Do not cut your child’s nappy!

Many ‘experts’ recommend cutting a hole in the nappy as a way to help overcome nappy attachment. However,  now you understand that the nappy is a safe space, something to feel good about, cutting a hole in it may not seem right!  Cutting a hole in the nappy will not give your child the sense of control that they need. The nappy belongs to them, so they need to be in charge of letting it go. Instead, encourage your child to undo one side of the nappy whilst using it, then the other and eventually put some distance between the nappy and your child’s skin. Allow your child the choice about when to do this.

Manage the feelings

Supporting a child who is attached to their nappy means a lot of patience on your part. Get some support for this process if you can, to help you feel confident in what you are doing. It is also important to help your child process the underlying feelings and help them feel safe. The nappy attachment is the symptom of what is going on underneath, and there may  be other ways you can help give them what they need so that they don’t channel it into potty training.

Need help to understand your child’s behaviour and how to motivate them? You can contact Rebecca for a one to one consultation or you can check out our online materials to support your potty training journey.

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