Advice on What to Do - Potty Training My Three Yr Old Is Hard!!

Updated on April 04, 2011
N.N. asks from Fresno, CA
19 answers

Hi Mamas,

I am a first time Mom and my son Adam turned 3 in February, is extremely bright, strong-willed (like his Mom) and is the light of my life. He speaks very clearly for his age and understands a lot. He is familiar with the concept (we half-heartedly tried when he was younger) but has been kind of resistant lately. He is in pullups now, but usually pees in them. He goes to a preschool where they say they help potty train but that hasn't been going that well. So this weekend I decided to devote it to potty training. I told him and reminded him repeatedly that we were going to do potty training on Saturday. So this morning we watched a Potty Power DVD while I put the potty chair in the living room and had him sit on it while he had a drink, so he could pee easily when he had to go. He seemed really receptive to the DVD and it looked like things were going to go well. I asked him over and over to let me know when he felr like going pee-pee so we could pull his underwear down go potty. After Potty Power we put in Elmo's Potty Time. That's when he started to lose interest, bothering his sister and such. By then he had finished his drink, and then moved his potty chair away. *Then* after he puts it away, he proceeds to PURPOSELY go pee-pee on the living room floor!!!!!

Luckily my husband came home right then. He told me that I should wait a little bit since Adam seemed resistant to it and to wait a little more since he isn't ready yet. What do you guys say? Should I relax and try again in a couple of months? Has this ever happeed to you?

Advice, please

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answers from Provo on

I would say that there is a lot less stress involved if you let him train you. By this I mean that you let him teach you what works for him and let him take control. My little girl sat on her potty and actually went before she was a year and then when she was up and walking she learned signs to tell me that she needed to go. My middle son is not motivated at all. I was working a lot and his father was not any help at all. I sent him to see grandma and grandpa and he came back potty trained!! My mom is wonderful at that!! (He is 16 now and still just about as motivated and I am beating my head against the wall, lol)

I would say off hand that he is not quite ready. You guys will end up both being stressed out if you push. I would get him a little tray and put his drink on it or maybe look for a cup holder that you can sit next to his chair and have him sit down on his chair with his pull-up down until he goes or finishes his drink. Sit back and watch for a while and see what makes him tick and leads him to success.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

I potty trained my 3 year old (almost 4) in three days. It was really tough the first day, and I didn't think we were getting anywhere. What I didn't realize that the time was that it takes a couple of days to understand what it feels like to have to pee.

The first day, he wore underwear and we celebrated everytime he peed, no matter where it was. I put him on the potty every 20 minutes (drove me crazy doing that) and we celebrated and had a reward everytime he peed or pooped.

I think it might be normal for it to take some time for him to even recognize that feeling. Keep at it! He'll get there :-)

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answers from Portland on

I've made an informal study of what seems to work best in several dozen young families over the last few decades. The lowest-stress, quickest training has uniformly come in families who watch for recognizable signs of readiness, or even willingness/eagerness on the part of the child. Then the training goes quickly, because the child is motivated and feel capable.

Training is not complete until the child willingly takes responsibility to get him/herself to the potty every time, thus forming an entirely new habit. Some parents call their child 'trained' but have to remind him every time, take him (often against his will) to the potty, stand over him, wipe and pull up clothing, wash hands. This isn't trained, this is "in training," even if they manage to avoid accidents. For some families, the savings in diapers makes the months-long effort worthwhile. But kids can become very resistant to the constant hounding, and this most often seems true of very bright children. Then the process can actually take longer. Or at least feel like it does.

And kids do arrive at "readiness" just like they want to learn to walk and talk as soon as they're ready. It's excellent to talk about potty training and what the body does, and to experiment with sitting on the potty, it's great to role-play potty games with toys, puppets, it's great to read books and watch videos, to let him watch you use the toilet, to observe how much easier time he'll have when he learns to use the potty and doesn't have to stop for diaper changes. (I thought of this as "pre-training" with my daughter and grandson, who both learned very quickly just as soon as they were motivated.)

And at some point, he'll start showing more curiosity and indicating that he wants to try, perhaps even choosing to voluntarily sit on the potty himself. He'll probably be thrilled by the whole idea of big-boy underpants. That's when you can let him know you'll help him remember; let him help you work out a plan so he's got some control, and go for it. Kids will often train in a matter of days at that point, with fewer accidents every day.

Children who are ready for this step toward maturity take great pride in the accomplishment. Charts and reward systems aren't even needed. Children who are pushed into it tend to become irritable and resistant, or even worse, begin to feel a sense of failure and frustration.

Here's one of several sites that gives some great "readiness" checklists. It will help immensely if your son meets these criteria before you try training him.

Also, be aware that poop training and night training are often separate steps for many children. Children can not help this.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I have had THE worst time as well. But, it seems my daughter who will be three the end of April may have finally 'got' it. I tried everything you did, santa even brought new potty and step stool combos. No dice. Naked time turned into a fun game of pee on the floor and help us clean it up. She even sang 'the clean up song' while helping. UGH

What worked was something I never would have tried if not for good ol' Super Nanny! Lol!
Everything i did was positive and cheery and yahoo. Super Nanny said to basically make them feel bad about it if they have an accident. Now, of
course only to a degree...

Saturday morning we got up and changed into underwear and pants. Into the bathroom we went. When talked seriously about pee pee and poo poo going in the potty. remnded her she was wearing underwear and told it it was not okay to go in her undwear. When she did 20 min later (and we were reminding her if she had to go to tell us every 5-10) we told her 'oh no....that's not good at all. Pee pee goes in the potty'. She was smiling away...but then looked a little concerned. 30 min later another accident. Again we went with, negative comments....'oh no..remember that isn't good, you have two accidents now. I'm not very happy'.

She has been in underwear since then except nap, bed and errands and has only had two accidents. I'm amazed!

Maybe it would work for you. I know how defeated you feel! Chin up, something will work!!!!!!

We literally fell onto Super Nanny being on a few Friday nights ago and it was her last episode.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Hi N.,
Your son does not sound ready. And the fact that he peed purposely on the floor, makes it appear that he wants control of being ready as well.

I would back off. Read potty books, watch potty shows if he interested. But I wouldn't push with making him sit on the potty, or repeatedly tell him on what day you're planning to do potty training. Let him express interest first and then praise praise and more praise to him!

I also wanted to throw out that not all kids potty train in the same way. Some kids will not bother to use the potty if they are wearing a pull-up or diaper. I recently had a boy in my daycare that was like this. At daycare he would not sit on the potty, not tell us when he had soiled his diaper, refused to try to use the potty when prompted... absolutely no interest, and actually quite a bit of resistance.

At home (unbeknownst to me) Mom was had read some book called Potty Training Boys the Easy Way, and was not giving diapers as an option. She told me that she thought he was ready for underwear at daycare and then some details about how he'd been doing at home and we tried it. No accidents, spontaneously announces his need to use the potty and needs very minimal prompts (we ask when going out of the house to the park or on a walk) and has been in underwear ever since.

I'm not saying that this works for every child and in fact his lack of signs of readiness at daycare vs being ready at home went against every other child that I have known that has potty trained thus far. But it's another option to try if the other way isn't working for you.

Good luck He'll train when he's ready. Don't push it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

Yes! The reason I think you do need to relax and wait a while is because you have done some things now that probably are counteractive to what you want to accomplish. And when you do try again, keep it simple. Put his potty chair in the bathroom. That's where people 'go potty'. Give him some choices too. He may just prefer to use the toilet instead of the potty chair. He also might prefer to stand in front of the toilet to pee, rather than sit on it. We also have the little potty seat that goes onto the toilet. You might want to consider whether that would be a good investment for your situation. By giving him some choice in these things, you give him power over his own potty training.
Does his childcare have restrictions regarding potty training? Many will not advance a child to their age level unless potty trained. Sometimes such a rule tends to cause teachers to try to push children too much, which can create a resistance in the child. You might want to check with the daycare on these things if you don't already know what their policy is. Work with them and be sure you communicate how things are going at home with his training. Teachers appreciate knowing what you are doing so they can work with you and keep the training as consistent as possible.



answers from Sacramento on

Your son sounds exactly like mine! My son is 3 years and 10 months old and I can say that only in the last week am I comfortable saying he is potty trained. Don't loose hope, I was really frustrated for quite a while since he was so verbal and obviously knew what was happeing, he just wouldn't choose to do it. In the end, now that we are through the worst of it, I do believe that your son will do it when he is ready.

My son did great with going pee in the potty for months, since at least age 3 and even before. But he would not poop in the potty so we had him in pullups. With the pullups on he was very lazy and would just pee in them even though he knows how and when to use the potty for pee. Finally, about 2 months ago, we told him no more pull ups and switched to underwear. Luckily our daycare was on board with this. That way he was forced to do his pee in the potty, even though he still wouldn't poop and we had many poop accidents to clean up. When you are ready, If your daycare is willing, I would just put him in underwear and not do pull ups anymore.

In the meantime, I would get books to read. We had really good luck with:
The Potty Book - For Boys by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Once Upon a Potty -- Boy by Alona Frankel
The Potty Train by David Hochman, Ruth Kennison and Derek Anderson

I would also suggest setting a timer for 15 minutes and when the timer goes off he has to try to go potty. Maybe set the timer for 1-3 minutes so he has a tangible time he needs to try for. I used to sit on the floor and read my son stories while he sat on the potty. Over time he started running in there on his own (although I still usually get called in to see his accomplishment :) ). We also rewarded his efforts with candy. At first he got one for trying and 2 for a success. Slowly we stopped the rewards for trying and only rewarded successes. Now he only gets them when he asks which is still quite often but not everytime.

I agree that you should experiment with using a potty chair or the insert on the big toilet with a foot stool to give your son some control in the process. I do not recommend letting him pee standing up from the beginning. I think this is part of what slowed down our poop training as we let my son stand up to go pee and he never wanted to sit down and poop.

I also agree that if he continues to have lots of accidents and especially if you believe he peed on the floor on purpose that he should help clean up the mess. I finally started doing this with my son and I think it helps them take responsibility for their choices. They can choose to pee on the floor but then they need to clean it up. Or they can pee in the potty go right back to playing.

Good luck, I know how stressful this is. Try to be patient and consistent. He will get there.



answers from Cumberland on

I encouraged them-but it all pretty much comes down to them. Dr. Phil has an approach-check out his website. The first time my little girl asked to go potty-we were on the train going to NY! Timing, huh?



answers from San Francisco on

Browsing through the responses you've already received, I didn't notice this, so here it goes:
With summer coming, and if you have a safe yard, let him be naked for most of the day and play outdoors on the weekends (sunscreen required).
We did this a lot in the summer of training our son, and followed up unintentionally when we then vacationed at the end of summer.
There seemed to be a lot of realizing that he had to go pee without a diaper, and no accidents, laundry, stress when he caught himself and just rushed to a tree. So, lots of positive associations for going pee this way.
Then, the big boy underwear seemed to appeal to him, and we just packed an extra set of clothes for preschool accidents and the car - just in case and there were very few of these incidents.
If I overreacted and was upset by accidents, regressions, things just got worse. So, in hindsight, take it easy. Try the naked weekend outdoors and see if it works, if he's ready.
This too shall pass, sooner than it would seem possible, now! Let him know that you know he can do it and that he will when he's ready.



answers from Eugene on

I've been in your shoes! Our daughter is also extremely bright, as well as stubborn and spirited and was refusing to even sit on the potty. By a month after her third birthday she had only peed in the potty twice. That's it. We were getting frustrated, and my friends whose kids were the same age and potty trained so much earlier weren't helping me feel better about the issue! We finally went to a potty training class offered by our local intervention services agency. It was fabulous! The best thing they told us to try with our resistant three year old was to document when she had wet diapers. Write down every half hour for a week (I know... a pain, but worth it) so that you can get an idea of what her pattern is. Once you understand when she is typically needs to go, give her something to drink and a salty snack about 20 minutes prior. They said this will guarantee that they will have go. Put them on the potty at that time. We did it the same time every day (when we got home from daycare, about 5 p.m.) and just made it part of schedule, just once a day. And it worked for us! I think our daughter just didn't really understand how to let her pee go.

Also, they suggested that we were engaging her too much when she was on the potty. They said to leave her alone (our daughter wouldn't go for that...)or get her a simple hand-held video type game, which is not what we wanted to do. But we were desperate and gave it a try. We got a little leapfrog game and it worked wonders. Within two weeks, she is fully day-time trained. Even her daycare was surprised at how quickly she finally trained. Everyone kept telling us she will do it when she was ready, and sure enough, it happened really fast.

The other thing they said was to NOT do pull-ups. You need to stick with disposables or cloth diapers so that your son is uncomfortable when wet. it's a good motivator. When we started having a little success we went straight to cotton toddler panties. (JC Penney has some good ones) She had two accidents and that was it!

Lastly, if you are open to using incentives, you may want to give that a try. We got a small "gumball" machine that is made by Jelly Belly jelly beans. (We bought ours at Kohl's and put M&M's in it) When our daughter succesfully sat on the potty for one minute she earned a penny that she could put in the gum ball machine to earn 2-4 M&M's. After she started peeing consistently in the potty, she only earned a penny for M&M's when she peed in the potty (not just for sitting on it) And now, she has to pee, wash her hands, and not fuss. In a while, we will change it to pooping on the potty, because she hasn't done that yet. I really think this "graduated" system has helped keep her engaged and challenged in the process. Anyway, rewards aren't for everyone, but they work for us.

Anyway, good luck. And remember, he will do it when he is ready!



answers from San Francisco on

Try asking if he wants to start learning to use the potty. Then ask him to let you know when he thinks he has to go, and tell him you will help him. No pressure, no trying to get it done in any time frame. If you see him looking like he has to go, you can ask if he wants to try it on the potty, but if he says no, don't push him. You can keep an open conversation about it, but don't pressure him. Then as he starts to get the hang of it, don't take the pull-ups off until they are dry. That's what we did with our daughter, over about 6 months (she started this before she was 2), and we never struggled with her. She is also a control freak. :) But we just let her be in control and helped as needed.

Good luck!



answers from New York on

I think that persistance pays off. As with anything, practice makes perfect. My daughter was completely trained 1 month after she turned 2 yrs old. Now I have a son and I'm sure that its going to more challenging. He will be 14 months tomorrow and ever since he was 6 months, I would say pee pee or doo doo everytime I change his pamper. Now that he's older, I say pee pee, and he pats his pamper on the front. He hasn't learned the other part yet. Lol. Everytime I use the "potty", I let him know that mom is usong the potty to make pee pee. Although hea not ready yet, I'm constantly reminding him that this is what is supposed to be done. Try to have your husband take him to the bathroom with him and see what happens. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Don't give up. It will happen.



answers from Detroit on

I feel your pain, because we've had our struggles even getting DD to just sit on the potty, never mind do anything in it! She's 3 years and 8 months already and has wanted nothing to do with the potty. She is also very bright but very strong-willed and stubborn, and no amount of incentives was getting her to change her mind. Even seeing other kids in preschool use the potty didn't motivate her. She just seemed determined to stay in diapers.

Past few months I did start telling her that if she wanted to go to school after she turned 4, she would have to start using the potty because they didn't let them wear diapers to school (technically she isn't allowed now but the teacher lets it slide, since she does not expect all 3 year olds to be potty trained and it has not been an issue). Now that Sept is 5 months away, I figured it was time to get down to business. We've been going "cold turkey" during the day since yesterday and just letting her have a diaper for naps and bedtime. I don't expect her to be sleep-trained for a while, I just want her to start realizing what we now expect of her, which is basically to try to get to the potty and know what it feels like to be wet, which is her signal that she needs to sit on the potty.

So during the day she is in underpants and leggings (no snaps or buttons or zippers to fuddle with). She can drink all the juice she wants. Periodically we try to get her to sit on the potty, but she tends to say NO and I don't want it to turn into a power struggle. So if she gets wet, oh well. She has started trying to run to the potty once she realizes the pee is coming out, and we still have her sit for a minute even though she's emptied. She gets 1 M&M for trying, 2 for pee, and 3 for a poop (of course, neither yesterday nor today has she had any poop). Also, she gets a stamp on her hand and gets to put a stamp on her potty chart when she actually pees or poops on the potty, and of course, lots of high-fives and positive words. With accidents, we just say oh well, that's okay, lets try again next time (it's only day 2, mind you) and get dry clothes on her.

She's done some screaming and flipping out about having to wear underpants and having to try sitting on the potty, and at first, when we would try before, I would feel bad and back off and figure we would try again later. Now I'm just not listening to it anymore. I can't MAKE her go on the potty, but I don't have to keep putting her in diapers either and taking the underpants off just because she's having a hissy fit. Bit by bit, I think she is starting to come around. She isn't protesting so much about wearing the underpants because I think she is realizing that this is the new routine and no amount of screaming is going to change it (she can be a it of a drama queen and yes, I did try letting her pick out her own underpants and that still wasn't enough for her). I'm just standing firm and telling her that she is a big girl now and she needs to start trying to go on the potty like all the rest of her friends.

I know many people have told me, when I have posted on here myself about trying to potty train, that when they are ready, it will go really quickly and smoothly, without hardly any fight at all. But we've been waiting over a year for DD to make up her mind and I just decided that it was time to take control and be a bit more proactive. Physically, there really isn't any reason why she can't start going on the potty - she stays dry for hours (not always overnight, but again, that comes later), she knows what the potty is for, and she likes watching us go on it and even likes flushing it after (she herself is using her own little training potties, not the big grown-up potty). It's just overcoming this mental barrier that she has and getting her to realize that wearing panties and going on the potty is not the end of the world.

So far, she's gone pee twice on the potty - once yesterday and once today. Both times were when I figured she needed to go (because it had been a couple of hours and she had been drinking a lot) but I had to just lead her by the hand and make her sit on the potty. If I asked if she wanted to or needed to, the answer was always NO! But then as she is sitting on the potty, screaming like a banshee, here comes the pee! She can't keep holding it anymore and into the potty it goes! Then she's all excited and happy! She goes from screaming to giggling in an instant! And I tell her how proud I am, look what you did, good job! She gets her M&Ms and her stamps and we tell her we are going to keep working at it, because it takes practice (she has been asking if she can get her diaper back now that she's peed on the potty, because I think she is thinking it's a one-time thing and now she's all set, but again, standing firm on only having the diaper on for bed).

As for your son, I don't know if I would let one set-back today make you think he isn't ready yet. It may take many many accidents and rewards for going in the potty before he gets the concept. There are physical signs of being ready that I would be familiar with to make sure you are not expecting too much of him. You may have to just "cold turkey" it like what we are trying to do. Some may not agree with what I am doing with my DD but my feeling right now is that as long as she has the option to go in a diaper, that is what she will continue to do - once she has no choice but to go on the potty, she'll get the picture, with a little reward thrown in to help her along.

Here are the posts I wrote about trying to potty train her, if you find any of them helpful:



answers from Hartford on

I just started potty training my son - and although he has miles to go, he has made a lot of progress. This is what we do. Every morning after waking up and talking for a few minutes, we go and sit on the potty. It is fun for him, because it has a little ladder that he climbs so he can sit on the big potty. I have one of his stuffed animals sit on a small potty nearby. We sit there and read books until he poops and peas - then we wipe up, throw on the diaper and go.



answers from Modesto on

I did not do the potty train battle w/my son because I had several friends with lots of sons and they all said to not even bother trying before 3 as they physiologically are not ready. When they wake up dry, when they're able to pee 'on demand' (ie, before getting into the bath) then their bodies are able to begin potty training.

I didn't do paid preschool so I didn't have the pressure that you feel with having to potty train so he can be in preschool. (It's true what they say. No one will be going to kindergarten in diapers!)
My son was closer to 4 1/2, which felt awfully late to me because we'd moved from CA (with my 'don't pottytrain til at least 3yo' friends) to AZ where boys right around his age (almost 3)/a few months younger were potty trained! One did it all by himself, with surprise and not much encouragement from his mom-this was the 3rd boy & mom was pregnant, dunno if this made a difference). The other boy was pottytrained but as we found out, not completely!
One day we were out at a playplace and our 2 boys were playing and having fun, then her boy had to poop, and where does he poop? In his undies. He was only pottytrained as far as peeing into the toilet. So the underwear and his shorts were a mess and he had nothing to wear from the waist down, so I go to the car & get a diaper. So he's playing in a diaper and I'm thnking, boy am I glad my son is not "pottytrained" as I can't think of something worse than pulling poopy pants down his legs & having to clean them. I'd MUCH rather just change diapers and be done with it!

So my son was a 'late' potty-trainer, but I consider him to have done it completely well. He has very rarely wet the bed, only a handful of times from then till now (he's almost 9) and while I did have to go help wipe his little bum when he went, he was independent once past the diapers.

Anyway, one thing that helps is have undies in his favorite character (scooby doo for example) and have them very visible. He can only get to wear them when he can stay dry in a pullup all day, because (Scooby) hates to be wet! (Even if it's Nemo, he hates/can't swim in pee!)

I started w/ having him pee when he wakes up, pee before bath, etc. Some of the details are fuzzy now tho as it's been a long time! (This too shall pass for you!)



answers from Minneapolis on

Potty training isn't done in a day, or a weekend, it's an ongoing process. Keep going.

He may not know yet when he needs to go. Have him sit on the potty every 1/2 hour or so whether he says he has to go or not. Also, in the morning, right after meals, and while you are running water in the tub. The sound of running water usually works like a charm (a trick learned from my mother!)

I would describe my daughter as bright and strong-willed, and a clear speaker, too. That's why I started potty training gently at 14 months. At 26 months she was out of diapers totally. I figured by age three it would have been a power struggle.



answers from Stockton on

Ahhhhh, sweet memories! If your son wets his pull-up overnight while he sleeps, he isn't ready physically to really potty train.
This has turned into a power trip for him - it's one of the few things he can control in his world.
Take a deep breath, take 2 weeks off and then begin again.
Potty drills are one of the best ways for boys to learn to go in the toilet. This means you need to devote your nest long weekend to nothing but potty training. EVery 20 minutes take him to the bathroom - "time to go potty! Hurry! Let's go!" Be really upbeat and gradually increase the time between "visits."
My mother always told me boys don't potty train until their 3rd Summer. I didn't believe her. My brothers are both morons so I thought my genius little boy would potty train at 2. I was wrong. He was almost 4 by the time he was 100% potty trained. Our issue was going #2 in the bathroom. He enjoyed peeing but always hid to poop in his pull-up.
Good luck!



answers from Philadelphia on

If you wait, he is smart enough to know that he doesnt have to. He will resist again next time, thinking that mommy will give up. I know this is mean, but if he really did it on purpose, i would have him help you scrub the floor.



answers from San Francisco on

My daughter was the same way. I would have her sit on the potty, and nothing. then, as soon as she got off, voila, pee on the floor! I think it was just subborness for her. I do suggest, however, that you take the pull-ups off and use potty training underwear. Children are not stupid and that pull-up feels just like a disposal diaper because it is a disposable diaper! The only difference is the way it's put on. Your son knows this so to put a pull-up on him and ask him to treat it any differently than a diaper, is not going to happen. Once he feels the wetness of peeing in underpants, he will probably come along a little faster. Good luck!

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