6 Do’s and Don’ts When Your 3 ½ Year Old Is Not Potty Trained

Is your 3 1/2 year old not potty trained yet? It’s not too late! Get potty training tips for kids who refuse to give up diapers.

3 ½ Year Old Is Not Potty TrainedIf you’re a parent who struggles with potty training, you likely feel a range of emotions.

Perhaps you feel embarrassed that your 3 ½ year old is still not potty trained even when his classmates at preschool are. You’re frustrated that he doesn’t care about accidents, and confused that incentives like “big kid undies” aren’t working.

He refuses to sit on the little potty no matter how much you encourage him to. He even asks you for a diaper to pee or poo, which means he’s capable of feeling those urges.

It doesn’t help that his older siblings started using the toilet at 2 years old. No wonder potty training feels stressful for both of you.

Is your 3 1/2 year old not potty trained yet?

Don’t worry, friend. You’re not the only parent who has wondered whether it’s normal for her child to still use pull-ups at this age. Sure, you know that kids learn to use the potty at different stages, but you can’t help but hear about all the other kids who’ve already ditched the diapers.

And when all your attempts to introduce the potty have been met with stubborn refusal, you worry that he’ll never get the hang of it.

So, what can you do to encourage him to use the potty, all without the power struggles? Let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts specifically for kids this stage:

1. Do use incentives, not typical rewards

Potty training is practically synonymous with typical rewards and treats like candy, stickers, and toys. They work well initially, but after a while, the “wow factor” fades. And if kids are only using the potty to get a sticker, they just might stop doing so when they start getting bored of it.

You’re then left with either upping the ante and giving better rewards, or a child who used to use the potty but now has no interest to keep doing so.

That’s why I’m not a fan of typical rewards—they rely too much on external, unsustainable rewards that fizzle quickly. Instead, offer incentives, especially the ones you can continue long past potty training.

For instance, is there a time of the day that your child enjoys the most, like going to the park in the afternoon or watching television at the end of the day? Build using the potty into your routine by making it a “precursor” to that activity. After she uses the potty, she gets to go to the park.

Another example is encouraging the feeling of a job well done. “Reward” her with praise, highlight her accomplishments, and describe what she had done. Give a high five and say, “You did it!” after she peed in the potty.

And remember, it’s not just about peeing or pooping in the potty that deserves attention. Recognize the times she made progress or improved. You could say, “It’s okay if nothing came out. You still sat on the potty for a full 10 minutes!”

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2. Don’t use diapers or pull-ups

Many parents hang onto diapers. We see diapers as a way to end power struggles (“Okay fine, just this once!”). Or we’re scared that our kids aren’t ready to ditch them completely.

But at this stage, diapers and pull-ups are likely a crutch that your child relies on.

Using the potty consistently doesn’t seem as urgent when he knows he has a backup in place. Imagine trying to lose weight, but knowing that you have cookies in the cupboard and ice cream in the freezer.

The same is true with diapers. On one hand, you say that he should use the potty, yet he still has regular access to diapers.

Instead, ditch diapers completely and have him wear undies. Of course, the biggest downside is the ensuing mess you’ll have to clean up. But with consistency, the short-term pain can eventually lead to long-term gain.

Do what you can to make the initial use of undies less stressful. For instance, take him to the bathroom before you leave the house, or make sure you have plenty of laundry detergent and spare underwear. He’ll have no choice but to use the potty or deal with the constant accidents.

That said, our pediatrician told us that you can’t potty train for sleep, especially at night. So, even though you’re ditching diapers during the day, you can still use diapers when he sleeps. He’s likely ready to wear undies for sleep when he can go five straight nights with a dry diaper.

3. Do use “good” peer pressure

Nothing is worse for any parent than comparing yourself or your kids to others, especially with potty training. Your friend’s toddler has been using the potty since he was 18 months old, or your mother-in-law keeps asking why your child is still wearing pull-ups.

That’s not the kind of pressure you want to succumb to. But guess what: you can use peer pressure to your advantage.

Now, we’re not talking about letting all these comments and comparisons get to your head. Instead, see if you can surround your child with other kids who are already using the potty.

For instance, your sister might have a child, even if slightly older than yours, who uses the bathroom now. Encourage your child to play with her cousin so that she can see someone that she potentially looks up to and wants to mimic.

Or you could enroll her in preschool, even if for a few hours, and let the teachers know that you want her to feel like potty training is normal and common. You can also read potty training books for toddlers so that she feels like other kids are going through the same experiences.

She might not take to potty training if she only hears about it from you. But when she sees other kids using the potty regularly, she might be more willing to give it a try.

Potty Training Books for Toddlers

4. Don’t use the potty as punishment

Have you been so frustrated with your child’s accidents that you’ve resorted to using the potty as punishment?

Perhaps it was the time he left a gooey mess on his undies or peed all over the floor minutes after he said he didn’t have to go. To drive the lesson home, you told him to sit on the potty chair so that he learns that that’s where he’s supposed to do his business.

As frustrating as accidents are, don’t tie the potty with punishment, like making him sit on the potty whenever he has an accident. At first, it might seem like doing so sends the message that this is where he should relieve himself. But instead, this turns the potty into a negative association.

Instead, keep the potty positive, not a source of frustration or punishment.

A better alternative is to use natural consequences to teach a lesson. After an accident, have him help you clean the mess, flush his poop in the toilet, or grab a fresh pair of undies. Let him experience the real-life consequences of his accidents, which can serve as motivation to use the potty.

5. Do take your child to the potty frequently

Include frequent trips to the potty throughout the day. Sitting on the potty often can make it a part of your daily routine. The more consistently your child sits on the potty, the more likely she’ll accept it as the norm (instead of fighting you about it).

Potty use can turn into such a habit that she might not even need reminders from you any longer. Soon, she might take the initiative and go on her own, simply because she has come to expect it and will do so automatically. And frequent trips to the potty increase the chance that something will come out.

To help her want and need to use the potty, offer plenty of liquids throughout the day. She’s more likely to experience the urge to go when her bladder is full than when it’s empty.

How often should she go? It’s up to you.

You might prefer going by the clock and take her to the bathroom every two hours. Perhaps you’ll go with each transition to your day, like before a nap or after eating a snack. Or you could simply keep an eye out for signs that she’s about to pee or poop, like if she hides in a corner or does a pee-pee dance.

And remember, it’s okay if she doesn’t pee or poop every time she sits. Considering how often she’ll go, it’s unlikely she’ll squeeze something out every time. The goal is to help her feel comfortable with using the potty and develop a habit—anything more is a bonus.

6. Don’t make a big deal

Rest assured, friend: your child won’t rely on diapers forever. Kids will come around to potty training on their own. Sometimes, that’s simply when they’re ready, both physically and mentally. But other times, they’ll finally take to the potty when we stop making a big deal out of it.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to make things worse by harping on an issue over and over. But the minute I stop making it a “thing” to argue about, that’s when my kids finally warm up to the idea.

If you find yourself beyond frustrated with potty training, take a step back and don’t make a big deal about it. Treat accidents as inevitable and normal, not the end of the world. Don’t fight your child about using the potty—instead, show empathy and let go.

Let go of the comparison trap as well. Potty training—even late potty training—has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence or success in life. There’s nothing wrong with your child if he has accidents or refuses to sit on the potty.

The more you try to force the issue, the worse potty training can get. Turn things around by realizing that, in hindsight, this is a temporary scenario not worth stressing about.


After a while, you might worry that something is wrong if your 3 ½ year old isn’t potty trained. But let me leave you with a parting word: yet. She’s not potty trained… yet. But she will be, and hopefully, with the potty training tips you learned, the journey to get there will be a smooth one.

Use incentives like descriptive praise, not typical rewards like candy and stickers that fizzle. Ditch the diapers and commit to using undies, even if that means more accidents in the short-term.

Surround her with other kids who are already using the potty so she can see it’s normal and might even want to mimic them. Don’t use the potty as a form of punishment and instead rely on natural consequences. Take her to the potty frequently to increase the chances of something coming out.

And lastly, don’t make a big deal about it. Potty use will “click” when she’s ready, curious, and excited about it. Just remember: your 3 ½ year old isn’t potty trained… yet.

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  1. We’re trying to do overnight potty training but I have some questions. My daughter has been daytime trained for over a year now. We reduce liquids starting at about 5:00. She wakes up every morning with full diapers. She occasionally gets up in the middle of the night asking to go potty.

    What does overnight potty training look like? How is it actually done, what do the steps look like? Should she wear undies or a pull up? If we put her in undies, what kind of bed pads would be advisable for easy clean up? Should we be waking her at night to go potty? Do you have any advice on this?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Darla!

      When we ran into overnight potty issues, our pediatrician told us that we can’t actually potty train at night the way we do during the day. They just don’t have the bladder control or alertness to wake themselves up in the middle of the night to pee. In fact, she told us that it’s still normal to wet their bed until 8 years old (and that anything beyond that age is when there might be something medically wrong).

      One of my kids had a harder time controlling his bladder at night and was a really deep sleeper. What we did was we put him in undies and used a “pee alarm” that we bought online. Basically, there’s a sensor that you clip on the undies that attaches to an arm band. The second the sensor feels any liquid at all, it buzzes, which wakes the child up. This can help prevent accidents and also help the child associate the start of peeing with waking up. That was pretty much the extent of what we did, other than limiting liquids to dinner time. We didn’t wake him up at night or anything like that.

      I hope that helps!

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