Toilet training and toileting refusal for stool only: a prospective study

Pediatrics. 1997 Jan;99(1):54-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.99.1.54.


Objective: To determine the incidence of toileting refusal for bowel movements and its outcome when toilet training children using a child-oriented approach.

Design: Prospective study.

Setting: Private suburban pediatric setting consisting of middle and upper middle class families.

Methods: Healthy children between 18 and 30 months with no signs of developmental delay were enrolled in the study. Parents were given questions regarding their child's toilet training and behavior. Families were followed every 6 months during an office visit or by phone call until the child was successfully day time toilet trained.

Results: A total of 482 children (255 males) completed the study. There were 106 children (54 males) (22%) who experienced at least 1 month of stool toileting refusal. There was an association between the presence of younger siblings (P = .023) and parental inability to set limits for the child (P = .017) and stool toileting refusal. Stool toileting refusers trained at a later age than the rest of the group (P < .0001). Fifty percent (22/44) of the children who trained between 42 and 48 months and 73% (8/11) of the children who trained after 48 months experienced stool toileting refusal. Sixty-one of the study children developed stool withholding during toilet training. Forty-nine (80%) of these children were stool toileting refusers (P < .00001). In 77 (73%) of the children no intervention was undertaken. Of these, the behavior lasted more than 6 months in 20. Intervention was undertaken with 29 children, either because of severe stool withholding (23) or the age of the child (6). Interupting toilet training and having the child return to diapers resulted in the child spontaneously using the toilet for bowel movements within 3 months in 24 of 27 children.

Conclusion: Stool toileting refusal occurred in one in five children in this study population. Two behaviors associated with stool toileting refusal may require the intervention of the pediatrician. The first is stool withholding causing constipation which can result in rectal impaction and primary encopresis. The second is lack of successful toilet training by 42 months of age. A child who is still untrained at this late age can be a source of family conflict and stress requiring the advice and support of the pediatrician.

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Child Behavior / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Toilet Training*