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. Get my free guide to start stress-free potty training today below.
7 Simple Tips for Potty Training a 3-Year-Old
1. Know that you are not alone!
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. Yes, a preschool teacher just told you it is normal!
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. It’s much more about the skills your child is showing, not about their age. I walk through how to know what skills your child has and what they need in the skills path of my course Peaceful Potty Training.
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 helped many children toilet train without accidents, reminders, timers, or power struggles. And many of these children were three-years-old. It’s all about supporting them with the next steps they need. In fact, 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. Ignore the Terrible Advice on the Internet
The internet is rampant with advice for potty training kids. And most of it is awful!!
From books about potty training in 3 days to parents sharing “success stories” about how their child peed themself for 3 weeks straight and now they are in underwear with only one accident a day. It’s like walking into a train wreck!
I’m going to let you in on a secret. 75% of parents who have gone through my potty training course have already used a potty training method that went terribly wrong.
They have some of the best advice actually. Here are some of their quotes:
Potty training gently is a phased approach just like learning to walk. There are stages to get to the end with underwear being the end goal.Nicole
My son is further down the road than I thought, and that he just needs certain skills. I need to do some detective work with why he does not pee in the potty but instead does it right after in he the diaper.Raquel
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 potty training schedule, which you can find in my store and potty training course. It can be a complete game changer when it comes to going potty.
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.
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Catherine Roach says
Excellent points! I have found all of them to be true. I work with 2 1/2-yesr olds and believe in the ‘no stress’ system. They will all get there eventually!
SO true on “limit drinks” backfiring — more often than not, the chronic bedwetter is chronically constipated! (Not always, of course, but often enough!)
And for heaven’s sake, if your kid truly isn’t getting it, take them to a ped GI or urologist and rule out anything “not obvious.” We found out our almost 5-yo (who “should have” been trained long ago) has very little cognitive sensation in his rectum. In other words, his butt knows he has to enough in there to need poop, but it can’t get the message to his brain to say “Dude, find a bathroom!” Saying sixty times a day “You need to go potty?” is not going to make him suddenly notice “Hey! I gotta dash!” so it means we need be patient (back to rule No. 1) until he can figure out how to move his bowels himself on a “try whether I think I need to go or not” schedule.
So good to hear, my daughter seemed ready to potty train after turning 2 and did great for a few months. Next week she will turn 5 and we are still having tiny accidents every day. Sometimes poop accidents too….my son is 7 and holds it in, both pee and poop, until he bursts and he has a big accident (1/4 gallon pee all over him!). He also is constipated from holding it in. I try to have them eat fibers, drink water although they are not big drinkers. I am so sad and tired about having potty trained by daughter for almost 3 years now and she still has accidents. She usually doesn’t tell anybody either, so I have to feel her to find out. My son will just go sit in the playroom or behind the couch when he needs to go, which is just as far of a walk as the potty. I am trying to be patient, but these potty trainings are partly the cause of my 2-year old burn out. I will be the happiest mom ever when this phase is over! Pediatrician says there should be nothing wrong with my kids, but advised to use Miralax. I try to find the right schedule and dose, but right now it’s either constipation or too soft (which also results in many poop and pee accidents daily) 🙁
I have my son registered at a preschool where he must be potty trained. I am an avid believer in allowing him to develop at his own pace and haven’t wanted to push him into the potty training. I am starting to feel the pressure though as he starts in a few months. He is capable of peeing on the potty – climbs up, pulls his pull-up down, pees, climbs down, flushes, pulls up the pull-up. Despite being capable, he just doesn’t take the initiative. I’d I bring him, he’ll do it. He sits and pees immediately. Am trying not to force the issue, but am worried that he may not be trained in time. Suggestions?
Thanks so much in advance 🙂
It sounds like if he is capable, then you shouldn’t be worried! Preschools expect to have to remind certain children (and especially boys). I would just tell the teachers that you have him go however times a morning or day but that he does need to be reminded. And once he sees other children using the bathroom too, that should help a lot as well :). Just keep doing what you’re doing! You’ve got this!
Kassandra Lindquist says
My son just turned four this weekend and he’s still not potty trained. He will go on the potty when I send him and he’ll pee but other than that he won’t go on his own. What should I do?
It sounds like he is really close if he will go when you ask him to. Get him used to set times when he needs to go to the bathroom (when he wakes up, after meals, before leaving the house, before bedtime, etc) and he will eventually remember to do it without (as many) reminders. You can also check on my potty training resource and see if it something that would help.
My son is 3 and started preschool today. They have asked me about potty training him. The thing is he will go on his potty if he is in the bath or shower or upstairs without a nappy, but in the day I ask him to go on there and he says no I want to do it in my nappy!! Hes not stupid and knows how to do it, I think hes just a bit lazy and doesnt want to stop playing to go!!
How can I get him to think about when he needs to go and to persuade him to use his potty?
Katie T. Christiansen says
For some kids, seeing friends at school go to the bathroom is a motivator. They want to do the things that the other children do. If he’s not motivated by that, there are some things that you can work on that I outline in my Peaceful Potty Training Course that might be worth looking into.
Lynn C says
Katie, if I take this course can I print the guide book and visual chart? Also am I limited on when I can read it? What if I have to go back to it for help. How does this work.
Katie T. Christiansen says
Yes, you can absolutely print the guide book and visual schedule. It is on Teachable and you can watch it as many times as you would like :). I hope this helps!
My almost 4 year old still isnt potty trained. She is physically ready( Such as dry in the mornings) but she just flat out does NOT want to do it, no matter how often we put on the potty. We have tried everything, but she just doesnt want to do it. Any suggestions? Due to Covid she will not be starting preschool this fall.
Katie T. Christiansen says
How often does she stay dry during the day? Her personality could definitely be playing into it too. How does she feel about the toilet? Is she afraid of it at all? My potty-training course, Peaceful Potty Training, will take you step by step to see any missing skills that she has as well as giving you the words to say when she doesn’t want to go in the bathroom.
Best of luck to you all!
Hi Katie, my 3 year old daughter tells me when she needs to go pee but doesnt want to do poopoo in the flush. Its like she has a mental block and is afraid to do it in the flush. Any tips on how to move forward?
Katie T. Christiansen says
You are definitely not alone! I would recommend figuring out why she doesn’t want to. Does it hurt? Is she scared? Is she more comfortable doing it in the diaper? Does it take too long and she wants to play? Once you can narrow it down to one of those, this will help.
Hi , Katie my son turned 3 yesterday and we have been potty training for a while now he will go when I tell him and every time I take him he will pee but he won’t go on his own and he won’t poop in the potty . Any suggestions?
Thanks , bre
Katie T. Christiansen says
It’s great progress that he goes when you tell him, and it sounds like you’re getting closer. I think getting him into a routine will help so that he doesn’t rely on you telling him all the time. If he can get in the habit of going potty when waking up, after meals, and before bedtime or nap, then it will become more automatic. Point out some of the tell-tale signs too. If he does the potty dance, point that out to him and explain that it means your body is trying to tell you to go to the bathroom. Going poop in the potty is a bit more of a process. I go into detail about this in Peaceful Potty Training. But a good place to start is to figure out why he’s not going poop in the potty. Is he scared? Is he constipated? Once you find the root cause and start talking through that struggle, he will be more willing. Also, have him help with his own diapers. Let him dump the poop in the potty from his diaper and have him dress and undress himself as much as possible. I hope this helps!
Hello Katie, my daughter is 2.5yrs and we tried the 3 day method about 3months ago. By day 3 she was telling my she needed to go toilet but would then hold it for another 2hours until she would finally bust! She was beside herself whimpering or crying for those 2 hours & that would happen 5times a day, 7days a week. We put her back in nappies on Day 4 & she still kept holding her wee for hours. We had repeated Dr visits & finally took her to ED where they gave antibiotics for UTI. She had fever & blood in nappy but none of the 3 urine tests showed as UTI which was strange. Finally after about 6weeks she came right. (6 long weeks!) I was bribing her at times to wee in her nappy! I’m consequently very nervous of trying to train again! She is showing all the signs of readiness you’ve mentioned but am I best to wait until she is 3? She has had chronic constipations since 10weeks age. At 23months she was hospitalized for a bowel cleanout which was successful. She’s been on Miralax/Molaxole daily since that and we’re on top of that issue now. I am concerned she has a sensory issue also. She’s finally enjoying a shower now, baths are still a challenge but better than they were. It got to the stage we could hardly wash her! I am sure going to purchase your potty training book! Be glad of any comments you may have around when to start training?
Kind regards, Georgina
Katie T. Christiansen says
You and your sweetheart have definitely had a rough go of it. UTIs and constipation can complicate things so much. Sensory challenges can be related too.
First, you want to make sure that constipation is fixed for weeks/months. We decided to move away from Miralax and do Natural Calm because of the side effects of Miralax.
It sounds like she’s struggling with elimination in general and that this has been a long road. There are specialists called pediatric elimination specialists. I would check to see if there is one in your area. Or look into a pediatric urologist.
In my potty training course, Peaceful Potty Training, we go into lots of detail about when to put your child into underwear. It’s more about their abilities and habits and less about age. Especially when you throw constipation and holding habits in the mix. Wishing you both the very best! Hang in there!!
Thanks so much for your reply, it means a lot.
I will make enquiry about pediatric elimination specialists otherwise a urologist as you’ve suggested. Is there anything in particular you recommend we ask about when with the specialist? Or is it more to rule out any other underlying issues we may not be aware of? Sorry please don’t get me wrong, I’m keen to have her seen by another specialist & its something I’ve wondered about doing for a while now.
Very interested in your suggestion of the magnesium citrate. We’ve been reassured the Miralax (called Molaxole here in NZ) doesn’t have bad side effects but I’ve always felt a little uneasy her being on this for such a long period of time & with no end in view! She’s still on half a sachet per day but we’ve hit a bump on the road and trying to get her doing soft poos again so her dose is higher at the moment.
We’ve purchased peaceful potty training & wow, it seems all too good to be true! I much prefer this method, thank you so much! 🙂 Could you clarify, is the Skills Path something we should essentially be able to tick off as she is able to perform those skills before we actually have her wearing undies? Its just such an incredibly different approach my head was starting to spin a little 😉
Katie T. Christiansen says
I sent you an email with a detailed response. 🙂
And hooray, I know Peaceful Potty Training will help so much! And yes, exactly. The Skills Path will be what you work toward before any undies happen!
Pam Kirk says
My 3 year old daughter is daytime pee potty trained. She will go to the potty every single time for urination, during the day. At night she still wears a diaper and wakes up with a full diaper. I suppose this will simply take time (?)
More importantly, she will not sit on the potty for BM. She refuses and wants a diaper. We are attempting to do something her doctor recommended which is diaper on, but has to be in the bathroom to poop. Next step would be to sit on the potty with her diaper on, last step would ideally be to poop in potty with no diaper. We have mastered step 1. But, Big problem is the way she poops – in a plank position squeezing her butt checks together. I need he’lp!
Katie T. Christiansen says
Do you think she suffers from constipation at all? That would make sense for a number of things that you mentioned.
In my course, Peaceful Potty Training, I recommend changing all diapers in the bathroom. Have her help with the diaper too. She can put the poop in the toilet by holding the diaper over it and plopping it in. That should help her see the connection.
I also recommend having her sit on the toilet for wiping if possible. That way she won’t feel stressed to go in the toilet, but she will get used to it.
Also, some books about going poop in the potty are a great idea too!
Best wishes to you both!!
Megan Hill says
Hello! My son is newly 3. He was close to being potty trained a few months ago but only when naked. Our problem is he can’t seem to hold his pee. If I set him on the toilet he goes. But then in about 20 mins he pees again on the floor. Is he not Getting it all out? He pees all day long severaL times an hour. He poops on potty no problem. Can’t feel the urge to go unless his diaper is off
Katie T. Christiansen says
If he is wetting his diaper constantly, I wouldn’t try to switch him to underwear yet. He’s not quite ready for that, although there are many other skills you can work on in the meantime (including having him dress and undress himself, change his wet diapers, washing his hands after the process, etc). But honestly, moving to underwear is one of the last steps of potty training. I know that a number of potty training methods take away the diaper first, but that backfires for many children and causes complications. Peaceful Potty Training has a step-by-step process to get to underwear so that you know exactly when he’s ready for it to make the process as successful as possible.
As a general rule, wait until he can hold his pee for 2 or more hours and goes a lot at once. Then, he’ll also feel the sensation that he needs to go more easily.
Something to be mindful of is that constant urination can be an early sign of Type 1 Diabetes. If he has any other signs, I would bring this up with your pediatrician. I only mention this because I know children who have been diagnosed at 3 and 4 years old.
Hopefully, everything is normal though, and he should naturally start holding his bladder soon (without having to be naked).
Wishing you the best,
Hi katie my daughter is 3 and 3mths old ive tried absolutely everything amd camt manage to get her on the potty some days she will sit on it but not often does any wee come she is in preschol at the moment her 1st yr and will sit on toilet for the the teacher in school but thats about it ive tryed the reward chart ive got her lots abooks but noting seems to work and she has to be potty trained for September wen she starts her 2nd yr many tanks any advice would be great as im struggling and feel like am i doing something wrong 🥰💗serena
Katie T. Christiansen says
Hi Serena, It sounds like she’s off to a good start! She hasn’t learned interoception yet, which is the ability for her brain and bladder to tell each other that she needs to go potty and for that to actually happen. Make sure not to overdo sitting on the potty since she doesn’t go often. I would have her sit at a specific time each day (after a meal, before a bath, etc). The visual schedule will help with that. Also, don’t have her sit for more than 3 minutes. Keep the potty a positive association! In my course, Peaceful Potty Training, I give tips on what to work on in many other ways (physical, cognitive, and emotional) to help with in the meantime. Best wishes to you both!!
Hey Katie I have a 3 and half year old almost 4 in august she in pre kindy and they want her toilet trained but she sits on the toilet but doesn’t do anything she will sit there for ages but once she gets off the toilet she will end up weeing or pooping in her pull up pants or underwear what do I do?
Katie T. Christiansen says
This is very common! First off, I don’t recommend having children sit on the toilet for more than 3 minutes (unless they are constipated). It sounds like she is working on finding her inner body signals, which is tough for some kids. You can help with this by helping her identify other things like when she’s hungry and even things like practicing yoga. Next, have her sit on the toilet when it makes sense with her body. My visual schedule will help with this. Another option would be to seek out an Occupational Therapist to help with interoception. You’ve got this! Best wishes to you both!!