What Causes Delayed Potty Training?

If your child is over 3 years of age and still hasn’t successfully potty trained, he is considered delayed, according to Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., in “Toilet Training Problems: Underachievers, Refusers and Stool Holders.” This, however, does not include children who have not tried or started potty training 123. Potty training isn’t easy, and it isn’t abnormal for a child to find going from diapers to toilet difficult 3. Sometimes delays are simple, correctable matters, while other delays require professional intervention. By understanding your child’s readiness signs and determining whether he is truly delayed, you can help him get on track with the transition.


Most children are ready to start potty training between 18 months and 3 years, but that doesn’t mean all children are. Potty training can take up to three months to successfully complete. Before getting started, your child should show readiness signs, such as taking interest in the potty, asking for dirty diapers to be changed, being able to understand simple directions, having the physical capacity to take his pants on and off and recognizing the need for a bowel movement or the sensation of a full bladder.

Biological Reasons

Potty training can be delayed from a bladder or urinary tract infection. According to Barton D. Schmitt, M.D., in “Toilet Training Problems: Underachievers, Refusers and Stool Holders,” infections disable your child’s ability to hold his bladder or recognize when he needs to go 13. Daytime and nighttime accidents are frequent during this type of situation. Children with constipation may also have difficulty potty training because recognizing the need for a bowel movement or struggling to have a bowel movement create negative feelings toward going to the bathroom. If you suspect your child has a biological delay, take him to his pediatrician to receive medication for it, such as antibiotics or a laxative. Only start potty training after the pediatrician has approved it and if the biological delay is under control.

Behavioral Reasons

Potty training occurs during a trying time for toddlers. Toddlers want to exhibit their independence, and to do so, they embark on a power struggle with their parents. You may notice your toddler refuses to use the toilet or chooses to wet himself even after attempting to use the toilet moments before. Defuse the issue by backing off the topic for a week or more. Then, restart potty training calmly and avoid over-reminding your toddler. BabyCenter recommends placing a child’s potty seat in a central location of the house -- where he can see it -- to encourage him to try using it on his own rather than being forced. You might notice your toddler is ready to try going, but he is afraid of the toilet itself. Overcome this by using a smaller potty chair until he is ready to sit on the larger one. Try personalizing the chair or letting him pick it out so that he can see it is nothing to fear.

Regression Issues

If your child has been successfully using the toilet and recently began to have accidents, he isn’t delayed -- he is regressed. Regression typically occurs during high-stress times when your child turns to what is familiar to him for comfort. High-stress situations can include moving, a new baby or even switching caretakers. For your child, diapers are familiar and comfortable; thus, he regresses back to them for comfort. Consider taking a step back and allowing your child to use his diapers until the high-stress period is over before starting again.