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Is 3 Years Old Late for Potty Training a Boy?

by Shailynn Krow, studioD

Potty training is a major milestone for your toddler -- and possibly, a trying time for you. Learning to transition from wearing diapers to using the toilet takes time, but once it happens, your child can take pride in his achievement. Most boys are ready for potty training by 31 months, according to the University of Michigan Health System, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Some healthy 3-year-olds just aren’t ready for potty training, and it is in your toddler’s best interest to wait until he is. Starting before he is ready can lead to accidents, constipation and possibly kidney damage, according to ABC News.


Toilet training can start anywhere from 18 months on. Ninety-eight percent of toddlers are potty trained by the time they are 36 months, according to the University of Michigan Health System, but some are not ready to start until after their third birthday. If your toddler isn’t ready or refuses, he may need an additional three to six months before he is ready to try again. According to ABC News, forcing your toddler to potty train before he is ready can lead to physical and emotional issues, such as urinary tract infections, constipation issues or shame due to numerous accidents. While some toddlers train in just a few days, others may take several months. It's common for your toddler to still need pull-ups at night until his 5th birthday. The University of Michigan Health System states that 90 percent of children stay dry all night by the time they turn 6.

Signs of Readiness

Your toddler should show specific signs indicating he is ready to start potty training. Interest in potty training itself is only a small portion of the readiness signs. Your toddler should be able to follow simple directions. He should have the ability to remain dry for at least a two-hour stretch and after he wakes from naps. Physically, he should be able to pull his own pants up and down, walk to and from the bathroom and sit on the potty. Being uncomfortable in soiled or wet diapers is a good indication that he is ready to train as well. Lastly, your child should express or be able to indicate to you that he is having a bowel movement or has a full bladder.

Getting Started

Once your toddler shows the readiness signs, its time to get started. Although not all of the signs are required, the more ready he is, the more likely he is to catch on quickly. Starting your toddler before he is ready only prolongs the process and may create negative feelings toward using the potty. If you can, start in the summer when he is wearing less clothing, which makes pulling pants up and down a little easier. If you’re moving within the next three months, have a new baby on the way or another life-changing event, hold off on potty training until things settle down for your family.

Setting Good Potty Standards

Start off slow and don’t expect your toddler to catch on overnight, even if he is older than 3. Don’t force your child; instead, let him feel as though he is in control and let him actively participate. Allow him to pick out his own toilet training seat or underwear so that he feels he has a say in the process. Use straightforward terminology, such as “penis,” and never refer to potty training or activities associated with it in a negative way, such as saying it is “dirty.” For every step your child takes in the right direction, praise him. Never shame, criticize or punish him for accidents or for being unable to potty train as quickly as you'd like.


Although you might be tempted to use pull-ups, your toddler already associates diapers with not being potty trained. Skip the pull-ups and go straight to underwear so that he knows when he is wet. If he is afraid of the big toilet, buy him his own smaller potty to help him get over any fears that are holding back his success. Temporary setbacks are common, but reassure him that he is doing well and continue with the potty training. If he refuses to train, don’t force him: this can make him feel pressured to control the situation by refusing further. If having a bowel movement in the toilet is difficult, consider allowing him to have a bowel movement in a diaper while sitting over the potty to ease the transition.

About the Author

Shailynn Krow began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous online and offline publications. Krow holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and an Associate of Science in pastry arts from the International Culinary Institute of America.

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