Should Your Child be Potty Trained by Three-Years-Old?


If you've done any research on putting your child into preschool, you may have noticed that many preschools require a child to be potty trained.

Sometimes I wonder if I live in the preschool potty training Mecca or if it's like this everywhere else. Anywhere I go with little ones around, people are talking about the potty!

It's all over facebook, the hot conversation in mommy groups, and it seems that almost everyone wants to know how to get their toddler to do it as soon as possible.

I hear about more and more parents with a three-year-old (or just under this) who are desperate to get their child potty trained.

Sometimes they jump on it when their child is even just a year old. Some will go through 10 sets of underwear a day and endure the sound of a timer ringing every 15 minutes.

Everyone who is frantic and concerned needs to just take a breath and soak this up: turning three years old is not a rite of passage into potty training magic!

Perhaps that's confusing though. We hear that most children are potty trained by two, and now here I am saying that it's OK if they are not potty trained by three-years-old.

I hear grandparents talking about potty training their kids by some crazy age like nine months old. I just can't even picture what it would be like to have a child who may not even walk but is proficiently using the potty.

It ranks right up there with potty training your cat! They both sound pretty awesome, but I'll believe it when I see it.

I am a veteran preschool teacher, and for years I thought I knew when children needed to be potty trained. But after cleaning up accidents day in and day out, I realized I had it all wrong.

The Truth about Potty Training

The honest truth is that there is no magic age to this potty training madness. I get it -- I've had to get over the disappointment too. It took me 10 years and copious amounts of time in the bathroom to realize the true complexity of this milestone.

On occasion I would find a child who I helped master the potty by 20 months. It put me in this fantasyland where I thought I could just sprinkle "magic pixie potty dust" over all these children, and hooray -- here is a class of instantaneously potty trained children.

Then after living in pools of urine, I was slammed back to reality, with frustration, grief, and exhaustion. I had to face the true, hard facts.

These children have been alive for two years, and I am expecting all of them to master a complex mental, physical, physiological, and emotional life skill.

Begging might work when we talk to adults, but a toddler will not just learn physical and mental competencies because I keep repeating myself.

They are just putting simple sentences together and learning how to walk up and down the stairs.

Shouldn't we be playing in sensory bins and enjoying them say "pasketti," instead of torturing ourselves in a small cell with the white porcelain bowl?

Dr. Steve Hodges, a pediatric urologist and author of It's No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions To Your Child's Wetting, Constipation, Utis, And Other Potty Problems says that we are doing more harm than good to children by trying to force them to potty train before they are ready.

In an article for Babble, he says "Children under age 3 should not manage their own toileting habits any more than they should manage th eir college funds. Preschools that require 3-year-olds to be potty trained – like the one in Virginia that suspended 3-year-old Zoe Rosso for excessive potty accidents – are harming kids."

What Really Works

After I finished mourning my dream of instantly potty trainable children, I accepted a fact that I tried to push out of my mind for a long time.

Children will come to master potty training through time.

Potty training is not a formula where the process takes 180 days and requires 2 hours of sitting each day until their legs go numb.

I am speaking from experience here, or you are welcome to just try this out with your own set of 500 kiddos.

Children learned how to crawl and to walk, and we did not have to coach them. Many of us were relaxed and excited about the process, and we knew our kids would develop these skills when their bodies were ready.

We reached out our arms in support to help them take their first steps instead of dragging them along, and we sure didn't have to offer them a pony.

They were motivated within themselves to walk, and when they did, we didn't have to try and explain what a big deal it was. They just knew, and then they wanted to master it and walk everywhere.

What if potty training was a similar type of process? What if we let the child show us toilet learning readiness and went off their lead? What if we just supported them and were there for encouragement?

A child who is ready to be potty trained will be able to hold their bladder for hours and doesn't need a 15 minute timer. They will learn from modeling, from their peers, and by being encouraged to go to the bathroom when it biologically makes sense (after waking up, after meals, before bedtime, and before leaving the house for our own sanity).

I've tossed in the towel on dragging children through the potty training process. It's not worth it. Not for me. Not for them.

Now we spend our time enjoying one another, and I have extra moments to just savor by watching them learn and grow.

There is no hype, no forcing, and no more urine pools.

Instead, we have more time to focus on the best moments that toddlers and preschoolers can offer, and I don't miss a single moment of the potty training battles.

In fact, I've said goodbye to them forever.

Comments (10)

i just cant imagine a child older then 3 in diapers its gross i get some dont want to learn but once they show signs get it over with stop letting them sit in pee i have about 8 nieces and been around foster kids and little cousins and friends kids and none of them ever were past 3 in diapers and every kid with a few exceptions would tell you when they had to go and show intrest in the potty and ect by 18 months

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I'm done fighting over it. We have tried treats, suprises etc. I've read everything and feel like a failure. My daughter is gonna be three in two months and will go limp when trying to get her to potty. She does it all day at daycare but nope not at home, not with her dad either. Only me occasionally. I tried for almost a year and no success. I've tried just straight under wear and guess what she don't care she will sit in pee and be time with it or just take them off and be naked and pee and poop everywhere. I've bought potties placed all through house at one point got one for normal toilet with step up like her daycare nope. Even leave it on the toilet nope. She can count, knows her numbers, colors and shapes. She is so smart but flat out tells me she don't wanna use potty. She don't wanna be big girl. I try getting excited about it, read potty training boot camp crap. I'm done. I've just accepted I'm gonna be buying depends and have to quit my job to home school soooooo exciting huh? I seriously just think I'm gonna be paying sitters forever and she will never go to school and I feel like a failure. 😑 So when reading just put them in underwear ok yeah not working just ruined couches, beds, and countless clothes.


put them in cloth underwear and see how much they like wet or poopy underwear. I never did that, but just put a child’s potty in the bathroom and said this is your potty and the big one is mommy and daddy’s , no problem!. Don’t pamper by letting them wear diapers so long, they should be in preschool by 3 years old!


My daughter was potty trained at 12 months, and. Y son at 18 months,. Why do people prolonge the diaper stage??. Pull-ups don’t help it’s just a pull-up diaper!


Every child is different and this is only my experience but I found that it worked really well to introduce the concept with no pressure and then let them determine when they were actually ready to transition. I read some books and showed my 2.5 year old daughter the potty, never forced it on her and at 3 she declared "I don't wear diapers anymore" and had 1 accident and that was it. I had a similar experience with my son at a little older age, he was 3.5 when he transitioned out of diapers. I now have a 3rd one at 2.5 in diapers so we'll see how that goes :)


I don't know if my family just has very developed sphincter muscles or what, but we were all quite trained, pretty early. My mother says that my sisters and I were trained at age 1--I don't recall it. However, when My first daughter was 9 months old, she would tug at her diaper and say POO, even though noth ign was there--and a few minutes later, she would then indeed make poo. I asked the pediatrician about it, and he said, she is aware that she needs to make, so when she says that, put her on the potty. I bought a potty and put her on it when she said poo. She was very happy. I used cloth diapers and I think she liked the sensation o f being dry. She was totally trained and dry by her first birthday, but i kept diapers on her at night until I saw that she was actually dry in the morning, so I stopped putting her in diapers. Now, she did need her pants undone sometimes, and some will say that is not being totally potty trained. It was good enough for us, and by the time she was 2 she was able to get her pants down (I kept her in elastic waist pants, shorts, or dresses at that time. She was 17 months old when my son was born, and everyone was asking how i would deal with 2 in diapers. I said, I won't! WHen my son was a year old he noticed his sister going to the potty and wanted to do so. He had not expressed being aware of bathroom needs so I hadn't tried until that point. He was potty trained by 21 months in the day and totally dry all the time by age 2. My sisters' children were also all trained by 2; some before then--no pushing, just the children were aware and wanted to be dry. My daughter's children were also all trained by age 2. My son's son was not, but his mother believed in the later toileting approach--just keep the kid in diapers--and he didn't express any awareness of needing to 'make' or of wanting to be dry.


A deadline for potty training is crazy, but when the child is 4 years and will smear poop on toys, carpet and shelves is unhealthy and a problem. This child must be trained now. He is 8 now and I hope he has stopped is behavior.