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How to Potty Train an Older Child

How to Potty Train an Older Child

It’s perfectly natural for children to potty train at age 3 or older. While skipping pull-ups and transitioning to “big kid” underwear may be great tips for any age, potty training is certainly different at 22 months and 4 years! If you're working on potty training a pre-K kid, consider these tips from Circle of Moms members on strategies that worked for their older children.

1. Stick to a Routine

Routine can be a critical component for potty training an older child. Since children may not notice the urge (or notice but not want to stop playing), having an adult offering casual reminders every 1-2 hours helps the child view interrupting activities to use the toilet as a more normal part of the daily routine. As Sara R. shares: “Consistency in asking them to go potty is a huge thing. Even at home sometimes we get so busy with things that we forget and then we have an accident.”

2. Offer Rewards

We’re guessing you’ve already discovered this, but four and five year-olds are very bribable! As Kristin D. shares: “Instead of punishing him when he doesn't do it, reward him when he does…Every kid has a different trigger though, so figure out what he really likes (that isn't too expensive) and use that."


You may need to experiment with different rewards to see what's most exciting for your child. Stickers, candy, or small toys for each successful bathroom trip or accident-free day may work. Meanwhile Jodi H. found a bigger prize motivated her older son to stay accident-free for a longer stint: “I told my son that when he is potty trained, (which) I defined as no accidents for a month, he could get a big boy bed. He picked out a Lightning McQueen bed, sheets and a comforter. It was quite a motivator."

3. Relinquish Control

Older children crave control, so many Circle of Moms members strongly recommend making your child feel in charge of her bathroom habits.

Laura C. explains: “We did the treat thing, the sticker thing, the toy thing, the negative consequence thing, the ignore it thing - EVERYTHING!  It was awful!  What we finally figured out was that we were putting too much pressure on her.  We had to let her know that this was her choice and we weren't going to bother her about it anymore…She was really anxious about HAVING to get to the potty.  When we told her she didn't have to anymore, the anxiousness dissipated and she did it on her own.”

Jaci W., whose daughters potty trained at ages 3½ and 4, agrees: “I found that if I pushed my girls too much that they would do the opposite of what I wanted them to do. I just let them wear training pants around and when they were ready to go they went. We just gently encouraged them to go."

4. Establish Rules for Dealing with Accidents

Giving your child control over using the toilet isn’t the same as giving free reign to play on mommy’s couch in wet underwear. It's fine to set guidelines for what should happen in the event of an accident. For example, an older child can get changed into dry clothes on her own after an accident and let you know she's put dirty clothes in the laundry room. (Remember to thank her for doing so!) This helps reinforce the message that she's a big girl and able to handle her bathroom responsibilities independently.

5. Encourage Copycat Behavior

Since kids love copying other children (especially older ones!), putting your child be in the company of other potty-trained children can encourage their curiosity and motivation.

Heather L., a mother of seven children, advises: “A lot of kids want to do what the other kid is doing, so if your child follows the other one into the bathroom and sees them doing it, most likely, your kid will want to try it too. Four of my kids potty trained themselves by following their sibling, cousin or friend into the bathroom.”

Note: Instead of vocally bragging about the other child’s bathroom habits, try to let your child’s curiosity be naturally piqued.

6. Keep a Positive Attitude

In keeping with the last point, try to avoid shaming your older child into using the toilet. Instead, as mother of two Michelle R. advises, offer praise for successes and treat accidents nonchalantly: "I suggest praising them to the hilt when they do use the toilet and just cleaning up the accidents."

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