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3 year old having accidents

My son is now just 5 months shy of his 4th birthday. He is for the most part, potty trained. He still has days, well, just about every day, when he has accidents in his pants. To clarify, they are not "true" accidents. He just doesn't want to stop what he is doing and go to the potty. He is doing this at school as well, and we are in jeopardy of him getting kicked out of school because he does this so much. He will actually go into the potty at school, stand in front of the toilet and pee and poop his pants. We'll tell him it is time to go and he says, "No thank you!" and then 5 minutes later we've got a mess to clean up. So we try to encourage him to just try, and he refuses. He tells us he is going to go in the potty, but then he doesn't.

We have tried leaving him be, rewards, punishments, conversations, nothing seems to work. We are getting more and more concerned, because we really want him to stay in school and not have to be put back in daycare. He is learning so much more at his school and has so much fun there.

Do you have any suggestions?

Ahh the world of potty training. Your email really takes me back to our days of struggling with this issue. These struggles and your concerns about potty training are normal. Maggie and I are still waiting to actively start potty training our son who will soon be three, because we know it is never easy. Potty training is easy only to those who aren’t actively potty training a child.

In your situation, I think you have two choices

1.) Quitting, yes back to diapers and daycare. If your son refuses to sit on the potty and participate or you as parents are getting too upset about his accidents then this is your best option. We had to do this with one of our boys

“He was a very verbal and willing 2 year old. If we set a timer for every two hours, he would willingly pee and poop on the potty. However, if we were distracted (which seems to happen a lot) he would pee on himself. He would sit in a puddle of urine and continue to play. We would get upset, but the accidents never upset him. In a moment of parenting brilliance, my wife put him back in diapers and told him to let us know when he wanted to potty train. About two weeks before he turned 3 years old, he declared himself a “big boy” and refused to sit in a booster seat (at the table), use thick handled silverware and to wear diapers. He did awesome. His first accident was five days into wearing underwear. We could not be upset about the mess, because he was so upset.”

At our house, “babies” who wear diapers often do not have the same rights as a “big boy”. They may have to sit in a booster seat at meals or not be allowed to watch a certain TV show until “they are more grown up”. These subtle reminders have encouraged some of our more stubborn toddlers.

2.) Scheduled times to sit on the potty. I think your best option is mandatory times where he must sit on the potty. He does not need to “go”, but he must try to go 4 or 5 times a day (Usually upon awaking, after breakfast, after lunch, after dinner and before bed). You may read him a book while you wait. Try beginning the plan after a family meeting or with a discussion with an authority figure (his teacher or pediatrician). This may encourage him to participate in the plan. If he absolutely refuses than it's back to diapers. I promise he will eventually be “fully potty trained”.

Follow up 5 months later

Happy to report that he is potty trained. It was solidified on our trip to the beach a couple of weekends ago. He was in the middle of the beach have a great time, and stopped what he was doing and asked his daddy to take him to the potty! We are thrilled. He still wears pull-ups at night, and doesn't wake up dry, but I'm sure that will come in time. It was a long road, and I was beginning to think that it would take forever, but as always my son never ceases to amaze me.


Written November 2010 by
Updated March 2011 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician


 is intended to help parents understand the needs and behaviors of children. The information presented in the site is the opinion of Gregory Gordon, M.D.and does not reflect the opinion of his partners. This website is owned exclusively by Doctors insights LLC. The advice in this site does not apply to all children. Always consult your healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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