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6 Ways to Handle Potty Training Regression

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It was a three-day weekend and I was on a mission. I rolled up my area rug, stripped my two-year-old down to his Spiderman underwear, and handed him glass after glass of water. Drink up, kid! “Three-Day Potty Training” had officially commenced. Over and over again, I asked him if he had to go and—praise the Lord—on the third day, we experienced a miracle. My son was potty trained.

Then a month passed aaaand he wasn’t. Potty training regression had set in and the struggle began. I can’t tell you what made him backslide, but the next few weeks were filled with frustration and laundry. If you’re about to potty train or you’re experiencing potty training regression now, here are the reasons it happens and how to handle it without losing your mind.

Reasons for Potty Training Regression

Just Too Young

The most common reason for potty training regression is that the child wasn’t ready in the first place. I think this was the case for my son. It was new and exciting at first, but when the novelty (and the treats) wore off, the intrinsic motivation wasn’t there. Our kids not only need to be physically able to ditch the diaper; they also have to want to do it.

A Schedule Shake-Up

Any changes to their environment like a new baby, a new preschool classroom or daycare, or a change in daily routine can shake things up in their tiny brains.

Stress at Home

Stress at home like a divorce or separation, the death of a family member, or a lot of fighting has to manifest somehow. For some kids, it appears as potty training regression. Adults might channel stress through a workout, journaling, or just hiding under the covers, but kids react differently.

Environmental Stress

Your kiddo could be taking steps backward because of the pandemic. No, a three-year-old doesn’t worry about vaccinations or health care, but kids do feed off of your stress level. So it’s fine to go ahead and blame COVID.

How to Handle Potty Training Regression

Keep perspective.

When I was super anxious about my son, my mom would say, “He’s not going to walk down the aisle in diapers on his wedding day.” In other words, while this problem is stressful, it’s temporary. Bedwetting is in a different category and can last into later years, but as far as daytime potty training, these things tend to work themselves out.

While potty training regression is stressful, it's temporary. Click To Tweet

Don’t punish your child.

It’s tempting to interpret a child wetting his pants as disobedience. After all, he’s been trained! But even a child who is deliberately wetting out of defiance doesn’t deserve to be punished. Don’t let your frustration add more pressure to the situation.

Use a reward chart.

You might be saying, “I tried rewards the first time and clearly it didn’t stick.” This time, try a chart that tracks the number of accident-free days, kind of like an OSHA poster in the office workroom! iMOM has some great habit trackers and reward charts that are perfect for tracking with stickers.

Get on a schedule.

Have your child sit on the potty for a few minutes after every meal and right after waking up. Some kids don’t want to miss out on the action and need to be forced to take a bathroom break. Kids who don’t go regularly or don’t drink enough water can become constipated and painful bowel movements can make them fearful to go on the toilet.

Don’t take steps backward.

Resist the temptation to go back to diapers. You’ve been repeating, “You’re such a big girl. You don’t wear diapers like a baby anymore.” So seeing a pack of diapers in the grocery cart will cause stress. Stay the course.

Use old training techniques. 

Revisit some training strategies like frequently asking your child if he or she has to go. Some kids backslide because they try to hold it for too long or just get hyper-focused on what they’re doing. A little mindfulness from Mom might just be what your child needs to succeed!

What has been your biggest struggle with potty training?


Why is it usually a bad idea to rush things?

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