You thought you were done; you’d ditched the diapers and somehow, in just a matter of days, you had entered the magical word of accident-free living. But now, seemingly out of nowhere, your toddler has regressed. As frustrating and baffling as it can be, potty training regression is normal. It is common. And, best of all, it is temporary.
But now what do you do? Well, you’ve trained them once; you’ll train them again. Here’s how to get (re)started:
First, rule out medical causes
There may be a medical reason your child is suddenly avoiding the toilet, such as a painful urinary tract infection or other intestinal bug. Constipation could also be at the root of the problem, as Very Well Family explains:
Children with constipation can have painful bowel movements that make them afraid to go on the potty or toilet.
If untreated, these children can begin to hold their bowel movements for so long that they eventually can’t tell when they have to go and have stooling accidents. This is called encopresis and is often confused with potty training refusal.
Make an appointment with your child’s paediatrician to rule out any possible medical causes for the regression.
Next, ask yourself: What has changed?
It’s possible that your toddler is simply distracted and waiting until the last minute to make their way to the bathroom. That can often account for the occasional accident. But if the regression is more persistent, a likely culprit is something stressful in their environment or a major change of some sort in their life. It can be challenging for little kids to master potty training in the midst of life changes or big emotions—even if they’re of the positive variety.
The American Academy of Pediatrics lists these as common causes of regression:
Change in the child-care routine—for example, a new sitter, or starting a child-care or preschool program
The mother’s pregnancy or the birth of a new sibling
A major illness on the part of the child or a family member
A recent death
Marital conflict or parents’ divorce
An upcoming or recent move to a new house
Talk to your child about how you’ve noticed they haven’t been using the potty as much or have been having more accidents and help them identify why that might be; maybe the bathroom in the new home is still too unfamiliar to them or the potty at their new school is very loud and scary. Talking about the underlying stress can be helpful in brainstorming solutions to overcoming it together.
Stay calm and supportive
First and foremost, you should never punish a child for accidents; it is almost sure to backfire, Healthline says:
Bed-wetting, in particular, isn’t under your child’s control. And punishing for accidents makes it more likely your child will try to avoid punishment by hiding or trying to not poop or pee at all, leading to constipation and even more accidents.
Negative attention can reinforce the behaviour or lead to a power struggle. Instead, it’s best to project a calm and matter-of-fact attitude about accidents, no matter how frustrated you may be feeling. Simply clean it up and move on.
And then, get back to the basics. Ask yourself what worked well the first time around; maybe they were motivated by a sticker chart, and you can start a new one with another fun prize they can work toward. Remember to remind them to try using the potty regularly—especially first thing in the morning, before naps and after meals. Praise them each time they try.
Make sure your child knows that accidents are common but that you know they will get past it and will be successful.
If necessary, it’s ok to take a break
Pushing an indefinite “pause” on potty training isn’t ideal, but if your efforts to help retrain your toddler are causing more stress and the accidents are continuing without improvement, the AAP recommends asking the child if they’d prefer to move back to training pants for a bit. (Do not force that decision on them, though, because forcing it could cause them to feel shame.)
If your child’s regression stretches on for a month or more, you may need to ask yourself whether she was ready to be fully day-trained in the first place. There’s no harm in suggesting that you set the potty aside for a while if it’s clear that this would be a big relief to your child.
In many cases, though, the regression will only last for days or weeks and you’ll soon be back on track.