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Potty Training Regression: How to Get Your Child Back on Track

Keren Perles
July 19, 2017

Your almost-trained child has started backsliding, and you're starting to lose your patience. What causes potty training regression in children, and how can you reverse it?



You thought that your son was practically trained -- he just had an accident here and there. Suddenly, he's wetting his Superman underwear several times a day. What happened?

Your daughter was doing well with potty training until her preschool teacher was replaced with someone new. This week, she wants nothing to do with the potty. What now?

Once your child is well on his way to successfully overcoming the hurdle of toilet training, it's hard to understand why he may suddenly reverse direction. Luckily, potty training regression doesn't mean that your efforts have failed. Understanding why regression usually happens can help you get to the bottom of your child's sudden accidents -- and stop them in their tracks.

Why Do Kids Regress?

There's no one reason why kids regress when it comes to toilet training. Children who regress relatively early in the potty training process may do so due to inadequate motivation or consistency, says potty training specialist Ashley Hickey, the owner of Successful Potty Training and specialist in training children with autism spectrum disorder. Inconsistency can prolong the regression, sabotaging any efforts to get the process back on track.

Parents can also unwittingly contribute to training regression, says Adriana Vermillion, the owner and founder of Potty Generation. "We've noticed a pattern where parents are so eager to potty train children to be ready for camp or preschool, but then they think they're done," says Vermillion, also known as "The Potty Whisperer." "What happens afterwards is the most important part," she adds. Going back to your normal routine without being mindful of continuing the new habits can set the stage for potty training regression.

In addition to these parent-related causes of regression, children may also begin to have accidents because they become too absorbed in their day-to-day activities to make going to the bathroom a priority. Today's children may find it especially hard to stop playing or watching a favorite show to run to the potty. Extracurricular activities after school can also distract children from using the potty.

Diet can contribute to regression as well. Chronic constipation can cause wetting accidents. If you suspect your child is constipated -- she struggles with bowel movements, for example, and frequently has bedwetting accidents -- check in with your pediatrician to see how best to relieve the constipation. Especially if you find your child having nighttime accidents more than 90 days after training, consider whether your child's diet might need to change to relieve possible constipation.

What Can You Do?

Dealing with regressions can be frustrating. Here are some tips to guide you and your child through this rough patch:

  • Stick to the Plan
    Being inconsistent will only prolong the regression, making it harder to get your child back on the potty bandwagon, according to Hickey. "Parents tend to call it a day when they're done potty training, but psychologically there is a change involved in the routine," says Vermillion. Parents need to take this change seriously and make the potty a normal part of the routine (e.g., before leaving the house, after waking up in the morning). She suggests making sure your child uses the bathroom at least every two hours in order to keep him on track.
  • Focus on Motivation
    Hickey believes that brainstorming to discover the perfect motivation for your child is key to solving the regression. That might mean using a treat, a favorite television show or a prize from a special "treasure box" to motivate your child.
  • Change Your Child's Diet
    Make sure your child gets enough fiber -- and water -- in her diet to alleviate possible constipation -- and try to have her minimize or avoid consuming liquids after dinner.
  • Watch Your Reaction
    How you respond to your child -- both when she successfully uses the potty and when she has an accident -- can have a strong impact on whether she will continue to regress, says Hickey. That means making sure that you're not reinforcing the behavior (with extra attention -- even if it's negative attention) when your child has an accident. Instead, respond calmly and matter-of-factly.
  • Don't Despair
    No matter what you do, experts agree to keep your child in underwear, even during a regression. Vermillion stresses the fact that diapers prevent your child from feeling discomfort during an accident. Hickey suggests that if you are concerned about accidents, you can allow your child to wear a diaper or training pants over a pair of underwear.

Dealing with your child's regression can be difficult, but with lots of motivation and positive reaction (and lots of patience!) you can help him be diaper free once and for all.

For more on potty training, check out How to Potty Train a Reluctant Child.

Keren Perles, creator of Heart and Mind Parenting, is a parenting educator and freelance writer. As a mom of three young boys, two of whom are potty trained, she knows the struggles of potty training parents everywhere.

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