What If My 3-Year-Old is Still Refusing the Potty?


There is nothing as infuriating as a smiling 3-year-old holding up a new pair of underpants and the baby wipes and saying, “I’m poopy. Will you change me please?” After all, a child who can literally tell you that she went potty in her pants, carry on a full conversation and dress herself on a daily basis should not be using the potty in her pants, right? Ask any parent, teacher or grandparent in the world and they will tell you that your 3-year-old is too old not to use the potty. But that’s not always the truth; kids develop on their own and at a much different pace, and this is something that I have learned firsthand.

Our oldest, who will be 7 in July, did not have an interest in potty training at the age of 2. We began the process because I was newly pregnant with baby number two and we wanted to have her potty trained as soon as possible so we did not have two in diapers. The process we used involved taking her to the potty every 15 minutes and making her go. She did it sometimes and didn’t others. She never, however, told us she had to potty. After a month, she was still having accidents in her pull-ups and never once told us she had to go.

We quit. Judge if you want, but I’m a work-from-home mom who was just plain old tired and busy, and I didn’t have the time, patience or energy to take a child to the bathroom every 15 minutes and then sit with her for 10. Not my thing. We essentially gave up for about 6 months. She never showed an interest in going potty during that time, but we decided to try again since the baby was two months from joining us. This time, however, we made the decision to just stick her in panties and let her learn the hard way. We have wood floors so it was gross, but not the worst thing that ever happened. It came as a complete surprise to us when she had two accidents the first day and began using the potty on her own each time after that. Aside from at night, she was completely dry all day long after about three hours of starting our second attempt at potty-training.

Fast forward four years and we have a 4-year-old that is still not completely potty trained. She always urinates in the potty, but she doesn’t feel the need to go poop in the potty – pretty much ever. She will tell you, too, that she just doesn’t like to do it in the potty because she doesn’t like to sit on it for too long because it makes her bottom hurt. Even then, she wasn’t potty trained going pee until she was 3 and-a-half. We tried everything; the three day method, putting her in panties, rewards, discipline, taking her every 15 minutes. She just wasn’t interested and refused to do it until she was ready. And then when she was ready; BAM – she was ready.

What this little life lesson in potty training two kids taught us is that no two kids are the same. I have a nephew that was fully potty trained and in underwear a few months after his first birthday. I have a niece who wasn’t dry through the night until she was closer to 6. They’re all different. What works for one child does not work for another, and sometimes kids don’t want to go to the potty until they are interested.

Experts will tell you that some potty training problems are not normal and that others are, but most of them will tell you not to rush it. Your child will go to the potty when he or she is ready. Sure, three seems late since most kids are pretty much potty trained at this stage, but at the end of the day, your child will not graduate high school in a diaper or pull-up (and honestly, if they do, at least you don’t have to worry about teenage dating or pregnancy, right? So there’s a silver lining for you.). That said, there are a few things you might try if you are still convinced you need to potty train your 3-year-old at your pace.

Create a Schedule

The best thing you can do is create a schedule. I swear that our kids are so good when it comes to schedules. If you make it a habit to take a potty break before breakfast, before nap time, before lunch time, after meals and after naps, your kids will learn to go to the potty at that time. Sometimes all kids need is a routine to make them more comfortable and it will all fall into place.

Send her to School

There is a tiny part of us that thinks our 4-year-old wouldn’t even use the potty at all if it weren’t for her teacher at school. We give her complete credit, and we owe her. She’s like a magician, and perhaps it was the other kids in class all using the potty that convinced our daughter to do it, but it worked for her.

Listen to Your Child

Your child might not be ready, and you cannot force something like this on a child that is not ready. But you should listen to your child. He or she will say and do things that will give you an indication whether or not it’s time. Your child might be ready, but perhaps you are using a small potty and he or she doesn’t like that one. Or maybe you aren’t using one and your little one is afraid of the big potty. Listen; it might provide you with the answers you need and the solutions you’re looking for.

Stop Stressing

Kids are smarter than we like to think, and they can see the stress in your face, hear it in your voice and feel it in the air. This might make it more difficult for them to actually use the potty. That’s a lot of pressure on them, seeing you stress like that. It might just help them if you stop stressing about it so much.


Your relaxation about the entire thing might make it so much easier on your kids to learn to use the potty at this age. If nothing else, at least you’re more relaxed. And at the end of the day, remember; your kids are not going to college in a diaper.

Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images


Leave a Reply