You want to celebrate – but you’re afraid you might jinx it. It looks like your 2 ½ year old is fully potty trained! They go to the bathroom when they feel the urge without a reminder, and they don’t need any help. There haven’t been any accidents in the last 4 weeks. Can it be true? Are diapers and pullups a thing of the past?

The age when children are ready to be potty trained varies greatly.  Some parents report good results with children as young as 18 months and others don’t see readiness signs until the child is three years old. Once the child appears ready, the process itself takes time and it’s rarely a smooth ride. When children make it through the days (and nights) without accidents, many parents think this task is over. However, children often have a period or periods of regression when daytime and nighttime accidents can recur. Some children even express a desire to return to diapers. This is not uncommon.

“It is very common for occasional setbacks in the early days, months, or even years of potty training,” says Dr. Scott J. Goldstein, a pediatrician at The Northwestern Children’s Practice in Chicago. “A truly potty-trained child should want to go to the potty. So, a child who has several accidents every day and doesn’t seem to care about [them] should not be considered ‘potty trained’.”

Try to Determine the Cause

If your child is showing signs of potty-training regression, the first step you should take is to determine the cause. Most of the time, a regression can be linked to changes in the child’s environment. Changing nannies, day cares or schools can cause the child anxiety that results in regression. A new sibling changes the routine of the entire household that may lead to regression. A child may hear a story about monsters in bathrooms or may slip getting on the toilet and develop a fear of the bathroom. The child may just become bored with the bathroom experience and prefer the ‘ease’ of diapers or miss the positive reinforcement associated with the training phase. A child can get so involved in a new activity that they fail to recognize the signs that they need a bathroom visit.

Sometimes the causes of regression are physical. A case of constipation may disrupt the child’s routine and result in accidents. There could also be an illness, infection or other medical reasons for the regression. You should check with your pediatrician if you suspect a physical problem.

Once a physical issue is eliminated or resolved, what do you do? A child experiencing potty training regression will need retraining. Parents and caregivers should remain calm and not overreact. Potty training regression is not the end of the world! It may be frustrating, but it can be resolved. Review what worked initially and reinstate those practices. First, make sure the child understands that using the bathroom and having clean underwear is expected. Be encouraging – let them know you are confident they can do this – after all – they’ve done it before. Avoid punishing the child for accidents. This is non-productive and could lead to undesirable behaviors such as hiding ‘evidence’ or ‘holding it in’. Instead, clean up accidents without reacting and stick to your plan.

Regression is Common

Remind yourself that you’ve done this before and will again. After all, the process worked, and you can use gentle reminders throughout the day. You may even have set ‘potty’ times such as first thing in the morning, after meals, before naps, and before bed. You don’t want to make a big deal out of this – just incorporate it into their daily routine without fanfare. Some parents use a reward system. This may also be reinstated if it was successful before.

The key is to remember that potty training regression is a common childhood situation. If you’d more information, here are additional tips on potty training. Although it may result in additional laundry and inconvenience for parents and caregivers, it is important that the child not be blamed or shamed. You can empathize with your child by discussing the changes in their environment and even tell stories of others who have had this happen and how it was successfully resolved. Reinforce that they stayed dry before and can do it again!


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