One of my favorite conversations to have with parents is how to potty train a 3-year-old boy or girl. As a preschool teacher, I have this talk a lot.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Lots of other parents and children have gone through this too.
I see their panic wash away and the relief that comes after I reassure them that potty training will come.
Potty training can be so daunting, and I wish I had known so much more about it when I began working with children ages ago.
It doesn’t have to feel like dragging children through the mud or pulling teeth.
I used to do that. It made me feel productive. But really, it was just a lot of cleaning up accidents and nagging.
I’ve helped hundreds of children go from diapers to underwear now along with my own three children, and I’ve tried nearly every method out there. There are so many things I wish I’d skipped because they just aren’t going to help or they add more work and strain on the relationship.
Trust me, there are enough battles at that age, so potty training battles just aren’t worth it.
6 Simple Tips for Potty Training a 3-Year-Old
1. Drop the Guilt
The great aspect about potty training is that children are fully capable of this natural skill, and we don’t have to force them into learning it.
Children will learn to potty train, and if it’s not as quickly as we’d like, it’s not a reflection of you.
Sometimes there are days that we might doubt this, but if you have a child who isn’t already potty trained, it is definitely not a sign of your failures. In fact, since you are researching how to potty train your child, it shows that you are proactive and really care.
Many of my favorite children to potty train were already three, and I could just talk them through the process and see that they were starting to process it.
I have seen children in diapers one day and underwear the next with no accidents, reminders, timers, or power struggles. And all of these children were three-years-old. The last piece of the puzzle clicked for them and all of a sudden, they were ready and it was super easy.
I can’t promise that will happen with all three-year-olds, but hands down I see much less resistance from three-year-olds than younger children who just aren’t quite ready yet.
Keep in mind that there is no magic age to potty training. Remember, I’m a preschool teacher, so I can say this.
They’ll get there soon! You’re almost there.
2. Have Tunnel Vision
I always love it when I see someone write this on Facebook: “My kid goes on the potty now!”
This is code for, “My child went potty once, and now I believe that my child is potty trained.”
OK, so they’re excited. That first time is awesome! And then they probably feel cursed afterward because then the power struggles begin. Perhaps months go by before the toilet actually gets used again.
When you hear people around you gushing about how quickly or early it happened, cover your ears, close your eyes, and say, “Lalalala.”
Each child develops at his own pace, and hearing about other children who may (or may not) be mastering the process will only add pressure to you. Do your child a favor, and don’t compare your son or daughter to the parents on Facebook or your Instagram feed.
I trust the parents who are actually honest about it and share about when it’s brutal.
3. Use a Visual
As a preschool teacher, I try to find a few different ways to teach concepts to children. Sometimes I teach them concepts by saying things to them. Or I’ll actually do an activity for them and show them physically how to do it. Using pictures or visuals is also one of my favorite ways to help children.
Since all children are different, it’s important to find which way “sticks” or comes more naturally.
When it comes to potty training, I love to use this printable visual schedule, which you can find in my store. Sometimes it’s just what children need when talking about it and seeing others do it just isn’t cutting it.
It’s amazing how a simple tool like this one can help children get over that last hump and really become more confident about using the bathroom. I talk about all of the benefits of it in my post about using a visual schedule for potty training.
4. Rule Out the Enemy of Potty Training
There is a nemesis to potty training. It lurks around and haunts children and parents alike. It’s extra sneaky and many time goes without being diagnosed.
It’s horrible, and I’ve dealt with it in potty training as a mother and teacher. I have lost track of the number of constipated children I’ve taught. The one thing they all have in common is this: potty training is a huge struggle.
Typically these children have the pee part down and hold their bowels or go in their pants. If it’s really bad, then pee accidents start happening too. This vicious cycle usually takes at least six months to get on track unless treated immediately. Here’s a great and informative video on it called “The Poo in You.” Kids love watching it too!
If you suspect your child could be constipated, I highly recommend a visit to the pediatrician. Tons of fiber, water, and patience are also all very much needed. And water and more water!
5. Add more tools to your toolbox
I love to add a great potty training song into the potty training routine. It just adds a bit more positivity to the potty training process.
And let’s be honest, we can use all the positive vibes out there when potty training a three-year-old. By this age, children are pretty aware if we’re feeling agitated or frustrated.
Sometimes a great potty training book can also help lighten the situation. Stories are some of the most powerful ways that children learn and reading about a child going to the bathroom is a perfect way to help things sink in and normalize it.
6. Peer Pressure Can be Good
When I was teaching a class of two-year-olds, it felt as though they would never potty train. Most of them were in diapers, and it seemed that almost as soon as they figured the potty training out, they moved up to the next classroom with the three-year-olds. We did send tons of them up to the next class in diapers though. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying though.
There was something that the three-year-old classroom had to offer that we did not though. Almost all the children in the class were potty trained already. That meant lots of awesome role modeling and some peer pressure (the good kind).
It’s amazing to me how children can get excited about using the toilet when they see other children interested in using the bathroom. Older siblings, friends, and other children in school or at child care are all perfect candidates for this position.
You’re on the road to success for potty training your 3-year-old
If you are anxious for your child to potty train, I totally get it!
No one wants to spend more money on diapers, and we all can’t wait for the freedom of what potty training brings.
So when I’m in the midst of potty training, I remind myself of the silver lining.
There are definitely benefits to not stopping every 20 minutes on a road trip for a newly potty trained little one.
And I’d rather potty train a child who is willing and not having accidents for six to eight weeks after we start underwear.
Hang in there! Your time is coming soon!
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