What is Potty-Training Regression?

You and your child have completed the difficult task of potty training—or so you thought. All of a sudden, you find that your toddler isn’t using the bathroom as they’ve already learned how. What’s happened?

Potty-training regression is when your potty-trained child starts to neglect or forget their newfound bathroom skills—having frequent accidents or demanding that they go back to wearing diapers.1 “Frequent” is the key word. A few scattered accidents here and there is not regression; regression is when a child who has successfully been potty trained and was previously confident in using the bathroom all of a sudden seems to stop.2

Why Is my Potty-Trained Child Regressing?

Many children start having accidents when there is a change to routine or during times of transition such as:

  • Starting a new daycare or preschool program

  • Having a change in primary caregiver

  • A new, novel skill being acquired or something fun taking attention

  • A caretaker or parent’s pregnancy or new child in the household

  • Conflict in the household

  • Death or illness in the family

  • Moving to a new home

How to Correct Potty-Training Regression

Helping your toddler overcome potty training regression isn’t quite the same as starting the potty training process from scratch, but it does involve several of the same steps: 1, 3

  • Keep calm and carry on. Don’t make a fuss, and don’t punish your toddler for wetting the bed or having an accident while playing. Negative reinforcement may only make things worse.

  • Understand the root cause. See if you can sus out what’s caused your potty-trained child to regress. Consider any changes that are happening in your toddler’s day-to-day routine and check in with them—mention that you’ve noticed this change in their behavior and ask them why they think it’s happening.

  • Be sympathetic. Let your little one know that you understand that it’s hard to keep up with a new habit or skill.

  • Practice positive reinforcement. Praise your toddler for the skills they’ve learned that they’re practicing well—table manners, hygiene, etc. Especially praise when your potty-training regressed toddler has a successful bathroom visit.

  • Keep reinforcing the potty training you’d previously done. If you trained by having designated times of day to sit on the potty, start doing that again. Get back to the work of including bathroom breaks as part of the day’s routine.

When to See a doctor About Potty-Training Regression

Medical issues such as constipation, or urinary tract infections can cause potty training regression.4 Constipation can cause a child’s aversion to the bathroom as constipated bowel movements are painful! If you have any concerns, check in with your health care provider so they can help rule out medical issues contributing to potty-training regression and/or provide supports for challenging transitions in your child’s life.

If your potty-trained toddler regresses, all is not lost. With refocusing on the bathroom routine and consistent encouragement, your little one will likely be back on track in no time.

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