How Can I Interest My 3-year-old Son in Potty Training

Laura Markham's picture


My son just turned three. I know that the average for boys to be potty trained is 38 months and we aren't there yet, but how do I get him to want to use the potty? He can use it, he's done it before. He's not at all scared of it.

We've tried rewards -- candy, sticker chart, lots of enthusiasm, calling grandma. He's no longer interested or excited by any of that. He gets extremely upset if you don't put a diaper on him. "Let's wear big boy underwear today," "let's try pull ups today" is always met by NO!

He could care less if he's in a wet or dirty diaper and it's a hassle to even get him to let me change it. I've tried letting the whole potty training thing rest for a while. The only thing that sparked any interest from him is when I told him that the neighbor/friend who is 4 doesn't wear diapers any more. I feel that this is a "my body, my way" struggle but how do I get him past that? Do I just keep waiting til he's ready?

on a separate note, he's lately started to chew on his shirt collar, his jacket or his blanket -- whatever is handy. What is this? How do I make it stop?

Thank you!

As you know, averages are made up of early trainers and late trainers. Kids who aren't bothered by wet or dirty diapers tend to be late trainers, because they don't have much incentive. And as you've observed, the hoopla of stickers does tend to be short-lived if the child doesn't have internal incentive to train.

And of course the last thing you want to do is get into a struggle with him. It's his body. You can never win that fight.

So what can you do? The only thing likely to work with him is seeing big kids using the toilet. Is there a way you can regularly expose him to that? I guarantee you that over the next year he will train easily and probably effortlessly on your part, if he has regular exposure to kids who wear big kid underwear. Summer might be your target on this because he can go bottomless and it is the easiest time to train.

Just keep it on the radar in the meantime by commenting on it in relation to other kids, and as a clear part of his future. Make it clear that he will do this "when he's ready."

"That boy doesn't wear diapers anymore. I bet he's three and a half or four."
"When you're ready to use the toilet instead of diapers, then if you want we can take a swimming class."
"When you're ready to wear underwear every day, your teacher will be so impressed."

Keep your tone relaxed and non-judgmental, as if you were talking about him reaching some other developmental hurdle, like "When you get big and can ride a bike" or "When you get big and can read."

If you sidestep the battle, there won't be one. And that's a win for everyone!

Chewing on things is a nervous habit, and you would rather he chew on his collar than his nails, and either one is better than him taking a whack at the baby. So I think your best bet is to take his chewing as a sign that he is feeling some anxiety and intervene by hugging and distracting him. You might also hand him a squeezy ball and ask him to put all his chewing energy into the ball.

Dr. Laura Markham