How to Handle Your 3 Year Old Wetting Their Pants

Tired of your 3 year old wetting their pants? Learn how to finally stop daytime potty training accidents once and for all.

3 Year Old Wetting Pants During DayPotty training truly tests a parent’s patience, don’t you think?

Even though you put your child in undies all day, he’ll hold it in until he’s had an accident. He doesn’t seem to care that he pees in his underwear, and sometimes even does it on purpose or for attention. You’ve found him hiding in the corner to pee even though the potty seat was right next to him.

Despite all your attempts, your 3 year old won’t potty train and is still having accidents.

Or perhaps he had been doing so well with using the toilet but is suddenly starting to pee in his pants. You have no idea why he regressed, and can’t help but feel disappointed and frustrated with his behavior.

No wonder you’re beyond frustrated with potty training.

Changing out of soiled undies or training pants many times a day can take its toll. My kids have gone through stages where they wouldn’t tell me if they needed to use the potty or that they were already wet. They’d say “no” when I asked if they needed to go potty, only to pee in their pants within seconds of asking.

And it seemed like I was changing their undies all day, with no end in sight.

If you can relate, you’re not alone, friend. After feeling fed up with the power struggles, I knew I had to pivot my strategies. Of course, the first place to get help is with your child’s pediatrician, since they can pinpoint issues that you may not be able to see.

But if all checks out, take a look at these changes you can make to turn things around as well:

1. Ditch the diapers

Do you still offer your child diapers for certain occasions, like when you go out for errands? It may be time to ditch them completely and have him wear undies all day.

Imagine that you had run out of diapers, and there wouldn’t be any available in the stores for a while. You would figure it out somehow, right?

Don’t be afraid of the mess that happens with potty training. Yes, it’s tempting  to hand him a diaper when he has an accident, or when you’ll be out of the house for a while. But this can send the message that using the potty is optional, especially if he throws a fit or holds it in long enough.

Other than for sleep, ditch the diapers and have him wear undies all day.

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2. Give natural consequences

What do you do if your child wears undies all day only to have accidents galore in them? Use natural consequences.

To start, don’t yell or get upset that she had an accident—she shouldn’t feel punished, even if she seems to do them on purpose. Instead, use natural consequences to teach her the hassles of not using the potty.

For instance, have her wash her undies (or, if it’s messy, at least watch while you do it). Explain that you have to spend some time cleaning the accident and won’t be able to play at the park as long as you originally planned. Have her grab a new pair of undies, even if it means pausing her playtime.

She’ll learn the downsides that happen because she chose not to use the toilet.

Learn what to do when your potty trained toddler is having accidents on purpose.

Potty Trained Toddler Having Accidents on Purpose

3. Practice empathy

Part of the reason potty training feels difficult is that we don’t see the results we want. We’re tired of repeating ourselves and cleaning up multiple accidents. And we even feel a loss of control when our kids put up a fight or laugh it off.

One way to turn the tide is to practice empathy.

Let’s say your 3 1/2 year old is not potty trained yet. Begin the day by remembering what it’s like to be in her shoes. For three years, she learned that it was okay to pee and poop in her diaper, but now she has to unlearn all those habits and use the potty.

She also doesn’t have as much practice with bladder control or recognizing bowel movements and urges as we do. She might be so distracted or focused on an activity that she outright doesn’t realize she had to pee.

And finally, remember that any process can take time. Even if she had been doing well, she’ll always have dips in her progress, too. She has the skills to use the potty, and these accidents are inevitable setbacks that she can bounce back from.

3 ½ Year Old Not Potty Trained

4. Use descriptive praise

Rewards—from candy to stickers to toys—almost feels synonymous with potty training.

The problem is, these are external rewards that eventually fizzle and become ineffective. You also don’t want to praise your child because he made you happy. Saying “You made me so proud!” or “I’m so happy!” makes his achievement about you, not him.

Instead, use descriptive praise. You’re simply describing what happened without placing any judgment—good or bad—on him. And, unlike candy and stickers, descriptive praise gives him the intrinsic reward of feeling good about himself. You might say, “You peed on the potty!” or “You did it!”

And remember to praise him not only for using the potty but for the progress he’s making to get there. You might praise him for going to the bathroom when he felt he had to go (even if there was no urine). Or when he tells you he has to pee (even if he had an accident soon after).

You can even praise him for simple steps like pulling his pants down all by himself or remembering to wash his hands after using the potty.

5. Have a potty schedule

One simple way to prevent your 3 year old from wetting her pants is to use the potty frequently and consistently.

You could take her to the bathroom every two hours, for instance. Or you could attach potty use to other parts of her routine, like before taking a nap or after lunch.

By going to the potty routinely, she’s more likely to use it during those times (instead of her undies). And you’re less likely to see potty training resistance if using it so ingrained in her routine.

6. Make using the potty easy

Make potty training smoother with simple changes in your setup. For instance:

  • Dress your child in simple clothes. Elastic bottoms (instead of one with buttons and zippers) make pulling them up and down easier, and short t-shirts won’t get wet while he pees.
  • Put a footstool in front of the toilet. If he sits on the actual toilet (instead of using a floor potty), place a stool so that he can rest his feet. This pushes his knees above hip level, which makes bearing down and peeing easier than if his feet were dangling.
  • Keep the potty in the bathroom. Don’t leave the potty lying around in the house, as this can confuse him about where to go if he feels the urge to pee. He should know to head straight to the bathroom, not have to look for the nearest potty seat. This also prevents him from treating the potty like a toy.

7. Back off

If all your attempts still don’t stop your 3 year old from wetting her pants, the best step might be to simply back off. More than likely, potty training has become such an “issue” between the two of you that she feels defensive and resistant to complying.

With one of my kids, the more I insisted, the more he resisted. No amount of talking about potty training or taking him frequently did the trick. So, I backed off.

This doesn’t mean you stop potty training or revert to using diapers. Nor does it mean ignoring your child’s antics or being completely hands-off.

Instead, be “matter of fact” about her accidents instead of emotional about them. You might say, “Oh, it looks like you wet your undies. Let’s get that cleaned up and into a new pair.” Don’t get upset, but don’t be “happy” about it, either. It is what it is.

Then, don’t pester her about potty training. Yes, take her when you usually do, but avoid asking her multiple times, “Do you need to use the potty?”

By backing off, she has less reason to fight potty training and will be more likely to finally use the toilet as she should.

When to Stop Potty Training and Wait


It’s never easy when your child has accidents, whether suddenly or seemingly all this time. Hopefully, you now have a few tips to try to turn things around.

First, ditch the diapers during the day so that he doesn’t think using the potty is optional. Give natural consequences, like having him clean up his accidents or cutting playtime short because you have to clean. Practice empathy to help you remain patient and calm.

Instead of rewards, use descriptive praise to promote the behavior you want to continue. Include potty use frequently and regularly in your routine. Make potty training easier and more accessible. And finally, back off if you sense power struggles coming on.

Your 3 year old can stop wetting his pants—and stop testing your patience, too.

THIS Is Why Your Child Is Testing You

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  1. My question is, if we wait for my son to show interest and readiness, what if it never comes? What if he is 5 and still wearing diapers? What if he is at gymnastics class and someone says something to him that shames him for being in diapers? (I think this is my main reason for worrying!)

    I don’t care if people think I’m a bad parent but the thought of someone making him feeling bad about himself makes me feel sick.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      The first thing to rule out is a medical reason, so check in with your pediatrician to make sure all is well. Other reasons could be a fear of the toilet, or strong-willed power struggles. If you feel like it’s because of power struggles, focus on praising him for progress so that he feels like you’re on the same side and that you’re cheering him on. Make sure that everything is within reach and that he can do things himself (like pulling his pants up and down and reaching the potty). And lastly, I would try ditching the diapers and going straight to undies (even thick ones) and dealing with the accidents. That way, he’s more attuned to how his body works and the consequences of what happens if he doesn’t get to the toilet in time.

      I hope that helps!

  2. My main struggle is getting my 3 year old daughter to sit on the potty or toilet.

    She’ll happily wear pants, she’s had them on for the last few days but refuses to sit on the potty. She has peed in the potty before but after the first time she refuses. This is the 3rd time I’ve tried to potty train her but we always get to the same point and have to stop. I’m worried she will get constipated or have a tummy ache from holding herself for so long.

    I feel it’s the fear or releasing her wee that’s stopped her.

    I can’t wait to get some help as I’m literally at a loss of what to do!!

    Many thanks!

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      t can definitely be rough for our little ones to go from peeing in a pull up whenever and wherever, to suddenly peeing in a new, strange way. I’d try and talk to her about that, how it’s a new thing and must feel strange and different for her. This can help you show empathy and her to feel heard and understood.

      If she has accidents or is in the middle of one, take her to the bathroom anyway just to tie in the sensation of wanting to or already peeing with going to the bathroom. Hopefully she’ll tie the two together. And remember to praise for any bit of progress, even if it’s going from sitting on the potty with pants to sitting on it with undies. Every little step helps!