Get the best tips for potty training a 3-year-old from a veteran preschool teacher and mom of three kids.
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.
Toilet 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. If you’ve avoided that or skipped it, consider yourself lucky!
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, such as the 3 day potty training method, because it is very stressful and makes matters worse in many cases. Children get into a very unhealthy holding habit that can cause their ureter to swell or give them chronic constipation. This can lead to years of medical problems.
Trust me, there are enough battles at that age, so potty training battles just aren’t worth it.
Instead, I use methods that are gentle but also effective. I share my step-by-step method in my potty training course, Peaceful Potty Training.
7 Simple Tips for Potty Training a 3-Year-Old
1. Breathe Easy
Even if you feel like the only person with a 3-year-old in diapers, I assure you that this is far from the truth. Hundreds of parents come to my site looking for help pottying training a 3-year-old each week! In fact, it is normal for children this age to still be learning toilet training.
The great aspect about potty training is that it will happen one day. Trust me, we don’t have to force them into learning it before their third birthday. That actually can really backfire and cause serious long-term problems.
Some of the smartest kids I know have potty trained after three. Truly, age is just a number. It’s much more about the skills your child is showing, not about their age.
Children will learn to potty train, and if it’s not as quickly as we’d like, it’s not a reflection of you. You have not failed. You have not missed a window of opportunity. Your child will learn this!
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.
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.
2. Don’t Let Comparison Steal Your Joy
Comparison is the thief of joy.
This is a very wise quote by Theodore Roosevelt.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Lots of parents will declare on social media, “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, it can be so hard and remind you that your child is still in diapers. Or you can give them a high five and remind yourself that your child will be there soon.
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.
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 Constipation
There is an enemy to potty training. It’s the vicious cycle that potty training nightmares are made of.
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. Constipation 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!
It also helps to read potty training books about poop to your child. This will help them process it more. If your child is in pain when passing a bowel movement, they will associate going poop with pain. So the quicker you can soften the stools and help them feel relief when they pass a bowel movement, the sooner you will actually be able to turn a corner.
If you suspect your child could be constipated, I highly recommend a visit to the pediatrician or to a dietitian. 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.
Or if you don’t want to do this alone, you can get all of my best tips and step-by-step processes in Peaceful Potty Training. It can eliminate the nagging and power struggles and help you pinpoint exactly how to help your child while enjoying the process together.
6. Give Your Child Ownership in the Process
Sometimes kids are actually a lot closer to potty training than we realize but it’s hidden because they are just playing all day and living the good life.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that the preschool age should be full of play and joy. But make sure that your child is part of the potty training process.
When it’s time for them to get a new diaper, have them take off their wet diaper, wipe themselves, and throw away the dirty diaper. Then, ask them set on the toilet for a minute or two.
Afterward, help them get the new diaper on, and encourage your child to dress herself if she doesn’t already. Your child is super smart and can do a lot of these parts of potty training.
An added bonus is that when they are ready to go pee and poo in the potty regularly, you’ve already laid a good foundation for all the other steps now too!
7. 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.
That’s why I created a course so that you can have my step by step techniques for helping children potty training — all in a peaceful way. Learn more about Peaceful Potty Training.