How to Deal with Potty Training Regression



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Probably one of the most frustrating experiences of parenting a toddler is potty training. The next most frustrating experience has got to be potty training regression. You figure you’ve got this potty training thing down. He or she is going potty. Hasn’t had an accident in a month or two. You’re contemplating underwear at bedtime or relishing in the glory of not having to worry about dropping an extra change or two of clothing at the daycare, or washing to many extra sets of clothes and then … for some apparent, unexplained reason, your son or daughter starts peeing in every place other than the bathroom, or won’t pee in the potty at all.

Causes of Potty Training Regression

As with most things, part of the trick to identify why a behavior is occurring is to try to track down the trigger. Children can’t always verbalize what’s going on with them or why they’re behaving a certain way. It’s up to us as parents to put some of the pieces together and help them figure it out. There are several triggers that could be the root cause of potty training regression.

1)      Genetics – The trigger may be as simple as the difference between boys and girls. Girls are traditionally easier to potty train than boys, although no one can really figure out why. Boys are traditionally more active than girls, which may play a factor in boys’ apparent disinterest in going pee when there’s something more interesting going on that they don’t want to miss out on.

2)      Distraction – As mentioned above, some children get to the stage where they simply are too involved in what they’re doing to either notice that they need to go pee, or to put off going pee until they can’t hold it any longer. This can be exacerbated by the amount of fluids they’ve had, and the amount of activity they’re involved in.

3)      Stress – Children respond to stress in many different ways and it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint. This is one of the areas where you have to be vigilant about analyzing all the things going on in a child’s life and helping them deal with that stress through different means than peeing on the floor. Children can feel stressed when there’s a change in their routine—whether it’s starting a new daycare, the arrival of a new baby, a move to a new home, or marital conflict. “[R]egression can actually be a healthy way for a child to meet her emotional needs at a time when life feels overwhelming.” (AAP)

4)      Infection – If the accidents occur really suddenly and are accompanied by a burning sensation and strong ammonia smell, your child may have a urinary tract infection. It’s a good idea to contact your doctor and arrange an appointment, until then cranberry juice (100% cranberry juice not blended with other juices) is a simple home remedy. It is quite tart so mixing it with water, ginger ale or apple juice is fine, just make sure there is more cranberry juice in the mix. This usually works in a day or two. If potty issues continue, you will know that it’s likely not a medical issue, but a psychological one.

How to get Potty Training Back on Track

Of course, the question remains, what do you do about potty training. Do you go back to diapers for a bit? Do you punish the child? Do you ignore it as just a phase and rest in the thought that things will get back to normal soon?

One of the misconceptions about teaching children many things is that they will automatically know when they need to go pee and will tell you, when it’s really about us helping them recognize when they need to go and to establish this as a normal and okay life practice. So…

1)      Be patient and firm: Be patient about redirecting their attention and efforts to go potty. This includes following your “mommy” instincts. If your child is saying, “No, no, no. I don’t have to go” but he’s wiggling or hasn’t used the potty in about an hour, you need to take his hand and lead him to the bathroom. You’re the parent. You need to reinforce the behavior you want him to follow. Reading books about potty training can help with the reinforcement, as well. Children will identify with children in the books and start to accept that it is normal and okay.

2)      Identify the problem and address it and their feelings. Take care of any possible medical reasons for the potty issues. Look into dietary or schedule-oriented issues. Make sure you acknowledge their feelings if it’s a stress or schedule-oriented issue. For example, “I know you’re afraid Billy is going to touch your toys. I will watch them for you while you go potty.” “We can’t go in the car until you go potty.” “When you go potty, then you can play with that toy.” This lets the child know that going potty is the priority, while also acknowledging how they may be feeling about a particular situation.

3)      Be consistent: Keep the rules consistent. This is particularly tricky where many children live in separated homes and there may be different rules in the ex-spouse’s house. The most important thing is not to go back to diapers. This will only further confuse the child.

4)      Offer positive reinforcement and rewards: Every child has their “price” --things they respond to as rewards. Nowadays it’s probably frowned upon to bribe your children, but there’s nothing wrong with a little positive reinforcement of good behavior. For some children this is as simple as a potty dance or hug or a big “Hooray”. For other children, it may be a special sticker or the promised ride in the car. Believe it or not, letting the child clean up the mess is not punishment, and is actually positive reinforcement—if done with the right attitude. You’re reinforcing the fact that going to the potty is their responsibility and if they don’t do it, there are unfortunate consequences. Children usually like to help, anyway. Jumping up and down and screaming (which is probably very tempting) is obviously negative reinforcement and can actually make the behavior continue. Not only is the child getting attention, but your reaction can also put additional stress on them, only adding to the stress that could be causing the behavior in the first place.

Yes, this is an extremely frustrating time. You’ve just figured out one set of rules and your toddler decides to change them on you. Relax and know that it’s not unusual and is actually common, particularly among boys. If you keep the above tips in mind and use them consistently and in conjunction with each other, you will soon truly conquer the pee puddle problem.


Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for


End Potty Training Regression Now. Geizer, Emily. Child Perspective: Real Parenting Solutions. Web . Aug 13, 2012.

Ages & Stages: Regression. American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. Aug 13, 2012.

Ask Dr. Sears: Peeing In Other Places. Sears, Dr. William. Web. Aug 13, 2012.


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