I have taken away pull ups/diapers during the day for my 3 year old. Since then, he has gone on the toilet a few times, but usually he will hold it in as much as he can, and then once he can no longer hold it in, he will usually freak out and start crying if I try to get him to go in the toilet. In the end, he will usually do it in his pants. Sometimes it seems like he is conflicted because he doesn't want to do in his underwear and doesn't want to do it in the toilet. Is there anything I can do to help him along?
First off, try to avoid forcing things as much as possible. If worst comes to worst, go back to diapers/pullups; we did this at one point, and survived. It is possible your child is simply not ready for potty training; some aren't at 3.
More likely, though, going back temporarily would allow you to reset some of the issues - the 'battleground', so to speak. Go back to diapers for a couple of weeks, don't do it in a blaming manner - just tell your child "You know what, you're not ready for potty training, so we'll go back to diapers for a while until you're ready."
Second, what we found very useful was naked days, in combination with having him own his messes. Our child had more trouble with poop rather than pee, but had some issues with both; so for days where he was at home, we took off all bottom clothes (so only a shirt). Not only did it make it easier to make it to the bathroom once he was partway there (so fewer accidents in front of the potty), but it helped him understand what is going on in his body better, because he got very direct feedback.
We did have the advantage of hardwood floors, on carpet this might be a bit harder. We removed rugs and made it as simple as possible to clean up messes; but once he made a mess, he was expected to help clean up. Pee messes are very easy - by three hopefully he is helping clean up spilled drinks and such, pee is no different, just a towel and you later on can go over with a soap if you need to (but often you don't if it's cleaned up promptly).
This made a huge difference for him: he was upset when he made a mess, but it wasn't too hard to clean up, and he could be involved - and he started learning the physical responses that meant he had to go.
We did combine this with a moderate potty reward system; for pee we really didn't need to do all that much, for poop we had to do a few things (10 minutes of iPad time on the potty while he tries to poop 3x/day, which added up to his 'screen time', plus a five minute bonus if he does poop; the standard M&M rewards (one for pee two for poop, a sticker for trying); and scheduled going once he was not fighting going at all.
But the core of it really is not fighting. You have to, somehow, convince him that he wants to go, and forcing it won't work. Give him incentives if they work, but if he really hates the idea, backing off is the best thing you can do. It's not a loss or giving up; it's recognizing that maybe you and he need a brief breather, and then you can talk about when it's time to go at it again - but perhaps with a little more buy-in from the start.
Ah potty training: the endless struggle.
We found scheduling regular potty breaks helped with our 2.5 year old girl, because she did the same thing as your son. We tried to have roughly 6 schedules potty breaks throughout the day.
Unfortunately, if your son is a human child then there is a 99% chance of this also becoming a battle ground. Our daughter did not like to be told it was time to sit on the potty. Some strategies that helped the schedule work were:
- Special potty only toys. I have mixed feelings about this, but it sometimes helps motivate them to sit and stay for longer than 1 second.
- Saying we have to sit on the potty before we can do x desirable activity, such as going to a library program.
- Giving some other reward for sitting on the potty.
- A special little girl potty helped too. as @Erica mentioned there is often a fear of adult toilets and the loud flushes. Plus anything that makes them feel like it is special seems to help.
- We constantly try to find ways to remind her that it isn't good to keep the pee or poo inside and that it can give her an "owy tummy".
We actually resorted to chocolate rewards when away from home for about a month because my daughter was so afraid of the flushing sound (especially with automatic flushes). We also started carrying around masking tape to cover the sensors on public toilets with auto flush.
After about 4-6 months I finally felt like she can fairly reliably let us know when she needs to use the potty. However, even at this stage we let her know we are leaving the house and the potty must be used before we leave.