It’s no secret that potty training can be one of the most challenging parts of toddlerhood.
So it feels like quite the accomplishment when your child is finally using the potty independently, pooping on their own, and maybe even staying dry for nighttime on occasion!
But what happens when, seemingly out of nowhere, your little one starts having more accidents, wetting the bed, or resisting using the potty?
This is potty training regression, and it can be one of the most frustrating and baffling things to experience as a parent.
So why do these potty training regressions happen?
And how can we get through them, with our patience intact?
In this article: 📝
- Why is my potty-trained toddler reverting?
- Why is my potty-trained toddler pooping in his pants?
- How do you correct regression for potty training?
- At what age should a child be fully potty-trained?
- How long does potty regression last?
- When should I be worried about potty training regression?
Why is my potty-trained toddler reverting?
The number one cause of a potty training regression is often some sort of disruption that leads to emotional stress.
Young children thrive on routine and predictability, so when a change or transition occurs in their lives, it can trigger them to revert back to a time of prior development where they remember things feeling more safe and stable.
Many times this can present itself in the form of a potty training regression.
A child who was doing really well with using the potty consistently may start to have more accidents because they aren’t able to fully articulate their emotions.
The extra attention that they get from having potty accidents ‒ even if it is negative attention ‒ can help satisfy their need for comfort.
For many children, being changed by a close caregiver, particularly mom or dad, brings a level of intimacy and connection that helps them feel more safe during an uncertain time in their lives.
In many ways, when a child has a potty training regression, it is their way of saying, “Please help me. I’m feeling out of sorts and need some extra love from you right now.”
The possibility of a potty regression caused by life changes (like moving, new school, new sibling, divorce, etc.) often depends on the amount of time that separates the stressful event and the start of potty training.
The longer a child has been fully potty trained, the less likely they are to experience a potty training regression.
This is why it is typically recommended that there be at least a six- to eight-week buffer period between other major changes and the start of potty training to give the child a chance to adjust to one transition before moving on to another.
Potty training regressions can also be a result of a medical cause.
Of course in these instances, while rare, it is not your child’s fault in any way.
It’s important that this be ruled out first before determining the best way to help your child get back on track.
Like most adults, children are creatures of habit.
When one small shift happens in their daily routine, it can emotionally and physically throw them off for some time.
Even if a potty training regression is something your toddler is struggling with right now, there are ways to get through it successfully and continue progressing with the former potty training skills that you thought your little one had once mastered.
Why is my potty-trained toddler pooping in his pants?
Poop regressions specifically can sometimes be linked back to constipation.
When your child isn’t pooping as frequently as they used to, it can cause pain or discomfort when they do eventually go, causing them to potentially hold it too long and then have an accident or pooping in their underwear because it reminds them of their diaper (when pooping used to not hurt!).
But a poop regression could also be a result of a change in environment.
For example, a child might start having poop accidents at school because they aren’t comfortable with the bathroom or conditions there.
Maybe they prefer to not poop around anyone besides their parents, or they need privacy in order to go, but the teacher is required to accompany them to the bathroom.
How do you correct regression for potty training?
Generally speaking, there are four simple steps when it comes to correcting a potty training regression.
So let’s get to it!
Step 1: Identify the cause
First, be sure there is nothing medical going on with your child.
A call to your child’s pediatrician may be warranted to fully rule these things out before moving forward.
Next, take note of any recent changes that have happened in your child’s life.
These could be big changes like a new baby entering the family or moving to a new house.
It could also be what we would perceive as a much smaller change like a friend moving away or a shift in their daily schedule.
If you know what could be causing your child’s stress, you can help them find ways to work through it.
Step 2: Stay consistent
The more consistently you keep to your child’s routine that is in your control, the faster they will acclimate and adjust.
Children are comforted by predictability.
Even if they can’t communicate this to you, remember that you are the calm in their storm.
Your child might need some extra reminders from you to use the potty during this time if they are preoccupied with a change that has been going on.
Prompting them to use the potty during times when they would typically need to go, or during transitions when it makes sense to work into the day easily, can help your child avoid accidents and reinforce their potty habits.
Your child can also benefit from receiving a small reward when they show good potty habits to reinforce the proper behavior.
If the rewards helped when you first potty trained your child, try bringing those back temporarily to help your child get back on track.
Step 3: Be an emotional support
None of us like change that is out of our control ‒ it’s something even adults struggle with.
During a transitional period, take a few extra moments alone with your toddler and spend some one-on-one time doing something they enjoy.
When you get home from school or work each day, carve out five to ten minutes where you are completely undistracted and doing an activity of your child’s choice with them.
A young child’s love language is often quality time.
They might not be fully capable of telling us, “I’m scared”, “moving to a new house has been hard”, or “are you still going to have a place for me in the family now that little brother is here?”.
Instead, they ask us, “Can you play with me?”.
Taking a few extra minutes each day to be silly, use your imagination, and let your child lead out in a game of their choice will help them not only feel safer, but it will also help them jump back on that potty training success train sooner!
You can even turn potty time into a time of connection, where you read your child a special story, sing a song, or play a game together while they go.
This helps them feel satisfied so they don’t need to resort to accidents to get that extra attention from you!
Step 4: Stay positive
Children easily sense our moods and feelings.
It’s very difficult to hide our energy from toddlers because they are often very in tune with their default caregiver’s emotions.
Because of this, it’s imperative that we remain positive, and strive to focus on what they are doing well.
If your child pees their pants and asks to change their clothes, focus more on the positive factor that they asked to change their clothes (which means they recognized the accident) and less on the accident itself.
Finding small wins in the situation will keep you from feeling only frustration.
And if your child sees that they are only getting the attention they crave from using the potty and not from having accidents, that regressive behavior will fade more quickly.
When our children feel that we are on their side and cheering for them no matter what, they’ll be much more likely to work hard to achieve the milestones that we are helping to guide them through.
Should I put my 3-year-old back in nappies?
The worst thing you could possibly do during a potty training regression is to bring back diapers or pull-ups, which would just create even more change!
You also want to avoid your child feeling like they’ve let you down in some way or that you’ve lost faith in their ability to use the potty.
Keep at it with the potty training routine that your child has come to know and use every day.
Should I punish my child for potty accidents?
When accidents do occur, simply respond in a very matter-of-fact way.
Don’t shame, scold, punish, or lecture them but also don’t act like it’s okay to pee and poop in their pants.
If your child has an accident you can say, “remember, pee and poop only belong in the potty now, let’s go to the bathroom and clean up.”.
You can include them in the cleanup process to help show them that it will be much faster if they use the potty next time.
Punishing a child for a potty accident can actually end up making the behavior worse.
But there is also a difference between a punishment ‒ which usually involves no teaching ‒ and a consequence.
If accidents persist for a couple of weeks or more and you’ve determined that they are simply a result of laziness, stubbornness, or defiance, it is acceptable to institute a consistent consequence for choosing to not use the potty and have an accident instead.
For example, “If you don’t put your pee in the potty today, then no tablet this evening”.
At what age should a child be fully potty-trained?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting potty training between 18 to 30 months old, as this is often when children will be physiologically capable of learning this new skill.
But instead of focusing on age alone, it’s important to look for developmental signs of readiness that would indicate a sweet spot for starting the process.
Is it normal for a 2-and-a-half-year-old to not be toilet trained?
Every child achieves milestones at different ages and potty training is no different!
There are a lot of other factors that come into play besides age such as mental or developmental disabilities, sensory processing issues, physical limitations, and more.
Because of these things, there isn’t a clear-cut age that all children “should” be potty trained.
Keep in mind that potty training is a process, not a one-time event, so it is something that takes place over several months and not just a single weekend, like some popular methods may make it sound.
How long does potty regression last?
Regressions typically only last for a few days or weeks.
Pediatrician Noah Schwartz, MD says, “It’s really common for kids to have accidents and regressions, though. And how their parents handle them can make the difference in how long they continue.”
The main deciding factor on how long a potty training regression will last is directly correlated with how parents and caregivers respond to the regression and deal with it.
Keeping consistent and committed to the potty training process will ensure a shorter struggle and help everyone jump back onto the potty training success train!
When should I be worried about potty training regression?
As a parent, it sometimes seems like the worries never end!
So if a potty training regression occurs, you’ll probably be worried no matter what!
But for the most part, potty regressions are harmless and temporary.
However, if you notice that your child seems to be physically or emotionally affected by the regression, or if the regression persists for longer than a few weeks, try reaching out to your doctor to be sure there isn’t something deeper going on.
It’s rare, but sometimes going back to diapers can help everyone recover from the stress associated with a regression so you can start potty training over again with a clean slate after some time has passed.
As frustrating as potty training regressions can be, try to view the situation from your child’s eyes.
Change is scary!
Keep calm, be encouraging, and try to stay positive.
Take each step one day at a time and remember that your child is capable and will get back on track very soon.
(And if you’re after a little extra guidance, there are resources available.)
Remember, if your child is going through a potty training regression, it will pass, and most importantly, you’re not alone.
If you want to talk to other moms who get it, we’re having the conversation on Peanut.