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At this stage of potty training our pre-schooler (3 yrs 3 months) can hold his pee, can usually recognize when he has to go poo and go on the potty, and has taken himself to the potty to pee a number of times, but he'll still wet himself occasionally if we don't remind him to take him ourselves. We do still use pull-ups when we go out, and at night.

My issue is that I've heard conflicting advice - some people will tell me to make sure we're taking him on regular pee breaks, other people will tell me to avoid bugging him too much about going pee, and let him build the habit himself. So I'm not sure which of these approaches I should be taking at this point, or maybe a combination of both?

I get the sense that it'll just work itself out over time, and he'll figure it out, but I've been a little worried as we're not always consistent in our approach, and we've been in an occasional power struggle with him. Overall things seem fine, and like they're slowly improving, but I'm not quite confident on how to move things forward.

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I'm for limited reminders to think if they need it, but not forcing if they say no...usually. I will say that it depends a bit on the kid, personality, and other traits though.

Eventually every child will develop the ability to judge when they need to go for themselves regardless of method you use of course, so what your really doing is deciding on is a method that is the best compromise between minimizing accident clean up, helping a kid learn to regulate on their own sooner, and generally keeping a good parenting relationship with the kid. Those that want to take a child often are trying to avoid having to clean up as many accidents. Those that want to let a kid figure things out themselves are trying to help the kid regulate faster. In a sense their trading one for the other. I prefer a middle ground of letting the kid regulate, but with help to figure out how to regulate.

My answer if reminding a child to think if they need to use restrooms, but not forcing them, tends to be favoring helping a child regulate themselves, but in a way that can still minimize accidents to an extent. When young kids are easily distracted and not notice the signs. By stopping them for a second and asking them to think about it you are encouraging them to learn to pay attention to those signs and think, and thus how to regulate themselves. You are also increasing the odds that they remember to use the restroom and thus there aren't too many accidents by giving them reminders to think.

These reminders cant come too often or they may start to become white noise, something the kid just instinctually says no to without thinking. Thus you want to try to target the reminders for times you think a kid likely would be due for a break.

Separate from that as the kid gets older you may also start to make a kid help clean up their own accidents, especially if they happen shortly after being reminded to use the restrooms and they say no, so that they get a natural negative consequence from having an accident and thus incentive to actually pay attention and avoid such accidents. I prefer making them clean up accidents to shaming them for them when they happen since shaming kids just generally doesn't work well. The message should be it's okay accidents occasionally happen, but we still have to deal with them when they do; let them still feel supported by parents while still having the whole not wanting to clean up pee thing to incentivize learning to use restrooms.

Having said that you also need to judge the negative consequences of accidents, if there is a situation where an accident may be a bigger problem, or one is far more likely to happen, you may be better justified in forcing restroom breaks. For instance once the kid is no longer using pull-ups outside of the house making them use the restrooms before you leave on a long trip is pretty standard since the odds of having an accident during an hour+ car drive is much higher and the consequence of one while on a roadtrip worse then when it happens at the house.

So there is room for both approaches, you can force bathroom breaks when it's important to avoid accidents. When the consequnce of an accident is less severe you can allow the kid to decide (with reminders) when they are ready so they can learn to regulate themselves.

Though this advice also depends no the kid. If, for example, you learn you kid will always say they don't need a bathroom break without thinking, even when they clearly do, you may need to force such breaks on the kid since they haven't demonstrated they can be trusted yet to make a decision. Since I care for allot of kids with ADHD I've also needed to better learn how to recognize a hyperfocus and be more forceful in reminding, or even forcing, breaks when a kid is hyperfocused since they kid is far more prone to ignoring signs in that situation. The point being advise is great in theory, but in the end you have to tailor your actual policy to the child and what has proven to work for them personally.

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    We actually introduced some proper biology and told my boy how his body makes urine and stores it in his bladder and he needs to listen to his bladder for if he needs a wee. He is fascinated about how everything works inside his body now! Also helps for reminding him to drink (to keep his brain working!)
    – R Davies
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 8:01
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With my own kids, I found a balance usually worked best. At 3 years old, your little guy is still learning to recognize signals from his body and act on them independently. Taking occasional potty breaks helps reinforce the habit while also preventing accidents. But you're right - you don't want to bug him too much about it or make him feel forced. We're right in the same boat as you right now with my son. I think he's finally potty trained! We still use pull-ups at night as well.

My advice would be to check in every hour or two and ask if he needs to try going potty. That gentle reminder helps cue him in. But if he says no, let it go and trust he'll get there. Maybe make a game of it and call it a "pee party" or something silly that makes it positive. And definitely praise him when he initiates on his own! Independence is the goal, but occasional guidance is ok too.

Hang in there! I know it can be frustrating, but he'll get there. We're all just trying to raise good kids, one potty trip at a time. As Elsa from Frozen would say, just "let it go" when accidents happen and keep moving forward. You've got this!

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  • Thanks for the encouragement. One of the challenges I've found with this is what my expectations for his development should actually be. You hear stories ranging from 'my daughter learned in 4 days', to 'my 6 year old still isn't using the toilet'. So it's hard to know what is and isn't normal. And most websites are just trying to sell you their advice. But I'm getting the sense that it can take a while for many kids, and over time they eventually get it.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 14:57

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