You’ve changed hundreds of diapers and now you’re finally free!
Your kid can go pee and poo on command, tell you when they need to go, and maybe even wipe their own butt.
Just when you begin to celebrate your new level of freedom, they regress.
Potty-training regression is incredibly common and can happen at any age for a variety of reasons.
But don’t freak out, healthy kids will get past the regression – you won’t be changing diapers forever!
In this post, you’ll discover how to deal with potty-training regression regardless of the age this behavior occurs.
3 Reasons for Potty-Training Regression
The first question you should ask yourself is: Was my child really potty-trained to begin with?
Sometimes, parents think that their child is potty-trained when in reality, it’s still a very new skill that they haven’t mastered yet.
In some cases, the novelty of going potty has worn off and the child is ready to go back to the diapering life.
I mean, wouldn’t it be convenient if we could all just use the bathroom whenever and wherever we wanted to?
Especially if you used rewards to potty train your child, once the rewards begin to wane, so does the motivation.
A child who is truly potty-trained will want to use the potty.
So before you call your pediatrician and say that your child has “regressed,” think about whether or not your child had mastered going potty of their own free will. It could be, they just need more time.
If your child has truly regressed, there will probably be a reason for it and if you think hard enough, it won’t take long to figure it out.
1. Life Changes
Have you had any significant changes or transitions in your child’s life lately?
A move to a new house, starting a new preschool, the arrival of a new baby, or a divorce or death of a loved one?
Any significant change, whether good or bad, can affect your child’s desire to go potty on their own.
If there has been a change, talk to your child about it.
Even if they can’t fully express themselves, they can certainly understand you.
Remind them that everything will be okay, and that they are still a big boy or girl.
Bring back some of your old potty-training methods and spend a few days reviewing.
2. Change of Routine
Even if you haven’t had any major transitions, even a short change of routine can disrupt your previously perfect pooper’s pattern.
A visit from the grandparents or a family vacation could trigger a regression.
Has your child had a recent change of daily routine?
My oldest would always regress a little when we traveled. He just didn’t like to potty at somebody else’s house.
All he needed was a little encouragement and after a few days back at home, he would get right back into the swing of things.
All it takes is one painful trip to the bathroom and your child says to himself, “heck no, I am not repeating THAT!”
And thus begins a horrible cycle of holding it in, which only serves to worsen constipation and continue the cycle.
The 5 Best Ways to Deal with Potty Training Regression
1. Play It Cool
The most important thing you can do as a parent when your child is dealing with potty training regression is this: remain calm.
It’s incredibly important that your child does not feel shame, fear, or guilt so whether they’re having a few little pee-pee accidents or they pooped on the slide at school (again), you need to play it cool.
Reactions that show disappointment or frustration by saying things like, “not again!” or “you know better than that!” will only backfire and cause your child to feel humiliated, ashamed, frustrated, and angry.
Instead of feeling motivated to try again, they’ll feel like giving up.
Not only have you now prolonged the process of potty training with your words, but every day will feel like a constant battle.
Your child wants to please you, but by showing your frustration at their inability to control their bodily functions, they will often respond by refusing to go to the toilet (because if they do it wrong, you’ll be upset) or hiding in a corner when they need to go.
Instead, remain calm and chipper.
You can say something like, “Oops! Looks like you had an accident. Let’s clean that up and try again.”
When they do have a successful trip to the potty or keep their underwear clean all day, be sure to praise them and tell them what a great job they’ve done.
Children respond well to praise, but punishment only serves to break their spirit.
2. Set a Timer
Some children regress because they’re too busy having fun playing to worry about going to the potty. It’s not that they don’t know how, it’s just that they have better things to do!
Who wants to go potty when there’s a giant box of toys to play with?
If your child is just a bit absent-minded and forgets when they need to go, the easiest solution is to set a timer and take a pause each hour or so (depending on age) to sit on the potty.
Remind them that their toys will still be there when they return or pause the movie so they know they won’t miss anything (though children should have less than an hour of screen time per day).
3. Calm Their Fears
Is your child afraid of the potty?
Some children have anxiety around the toilet for any number of reasons.
Even if they used to go potty, something may have happened to cause them to fear the toilet.
The sound of the toilet flushing scares some children, or they are afraid they will fall in.
When I was a kid, my brother told me that there was a terrible monster living in the pipes that would come eat me, so I refused to go to the toilet at night.
If you suspect that your child is afraid or anxious, try to get to the source of their fears and work out a solution together.
My niece was scared of the sound of the toilet flushing, so the solution was to wait until she had left the room to flush.
My son (who is now four), on the other hand, is afraid to be alone upstairs, so if he needs to go to the toilet, somebody needs to be upstairs before he’ll go.
If your child believes there is a monster hiding in the pipes, try telling them that monsters are pretend.
If that won’t work, just play along and tell them that the plunger will keep the monster away, or that monsters are scared of toilet paper.
You may want to get your child their very own potty chair until they feel comfortable using the toilet again, or if their fear is in public restrooms, keep a potty seat in your car for running errands or visits to friends’ homes.
4. Make Potty Time Fun
Another strategy is to make the toilet a fun place so your child won’t be afraid anymore.
Put fun stickers on the bathroom wall and keep a few books or toys in a basket next to the toilet.
Bring in a stool for you to sit on so you can read books or sing songs with your child while you wait.
When my oldest was struggling to poop on the potty, we would choose episodes of his favorite cartoons that centered around going potty and watch them in the bathroom together.
Remove the fear by making the bathroom a place your child wants to be.
5. Let Go of Control
It could be that your child simply doesn’t like being told what to do.
Some children are very strong-willed and want to have control, especially when it comes to their own body.
They would rather sit in a wet diaper all day than have you tell them when they should go potty.
If that is the case with your child, then let them have the control that they desire. It doesn’t have to be a power struggle.
Simply take away the diapers and let them decide when they want to go to the bathroom.
Wet underwear is incredibly uncomfortable so it won’t take long before they decide they’d rather use the toilet than get their underwear wet again.
6. Up the Fiber
If your child has regressed due to constipation, then you may want to talk to your doctor about trying a gentle laxative for a while and increase the amount of fiber in their diet.
If pooping hurts, they will avoid it for as long as possible, which only serves to increase constipation and increase the pain.
In some cases of constipation, the child holds it in so long that they have a small amount of wet stool leak into their underwear.
It may look a bit like diarrhea, but this is the result of constipation and a sign that they need to drink more water, eat more fiber, and may even need a laxative.
It’s important for your child’s health to have regular stools, so if they are constipated you should do something about it as soon as possible. Call your pediatrician and follow their advice.
Encourage your child to drink more water and eat more fiber in the form of beans, vegetables, and fruit. Prunes, apples, and pears are high in fiber and will get things moving again quickly.
You can also give your child a fiber supplement in the form of gummies or try a probiotic.
5 Tips for Parents Dealing with Potty Training Regression
Remember, potty training regression is a perfectly normal phase that most children go through.
Here are a few important tips to keep in mind as you help your child navigate the world without diapers:
- Empower – remind them that they can do it!
- Encourage – use rewards, not punishments.
- Be patient – Rome was built in a day, and neither will your child change their habits overnight.
- Relax – don’t let potty training become a power struggle or a source of anxiety for you or your child.
- Be flexible – your child’s comfort is more important than your own, so be flexible when it comes to time, place, method, rewards, etc. Do what works best for your child.
How Long Does Potty Training Regression Last?
Each child is different and the length of the regression will depend upon your child’s personality, age, and the reason for the regression.
In some cases, your child will be back on track in just a few weeks or less, but for another child, it might take much longer.
One child may experience multiple regressions during their first five years of life, and that is okay.
My oldest child was constipated and until we managed to increase his fiber and reduce the stress that he felt around going to the toilet, he struggled off and on until he was five.
My middle child, on the other hand, gets so busy playing that he forgets to go from time to time, but we now know that all he needs is a few reminders throughout the day and we’ll be accident-free.
If you can find out why your child is regressing, you can tailor your response to their specific situation and in most cases, they’ll have conquered the regression quickly.
Wrapping Up Potty Training Regression
While you may be eager to put the diapers away for good, focus on keeping potty training a stress-free experience for your child and don’t worry so much about how long it takes.
If you have any concerns, talk to your pediatrician but in most cases, a little bit of time and a patient parent are all your child needs.
While some moms may brag about how fast their child potty trained, don’t let comparison rob you of your joy and lead you to pressure your child unfairly.
Each child goes at their own pace, and that’s just how it should be. Patricia is probably exaggerating, anyway.