When a child becomes potty trained, it’s a glorious day: no more diapers, no more wipes, no more blowouts in the middle of a crowded mall. But, unfortunately, just because a child learns to use the toilet, that doesn’t mean they stay that way forever: potty training regression is common, particularly in children undergoing some kind of transition.
This is, of course, disheartening for parents: you assumed this crappy part of childrearing was a thing of the past. But don’t panic: there are simple ways to get your son or daughter back on track.
Make Sure It’s Really Regression
The first thing to do is make sure what your child is experiencing is really regression. It’s always possible that your child was never fully potty trained in the first place. It’s also possible that they’re merely having accidents – those might continue to happen from time to time for several weeks (and sometimes months and years).
Still, a child who is truly potty trained will want to use the toilet. If your kid suddenly looks towards the bathroom with indifference, potty training regression is likely.
Look for Answers
A regressing child is regressing for a reason and it’s up to you to solve the mystery: a little Nancy Drew meets Nancy Doo-doo. As mentioned previously, transitions involving big changes are sometimes the cause. If your child starts a new school or gets a new babysitter, they might regress. It’s also possible that something about the toilet frightened your child – they almost fell in or something in the bathroom worries them. Physical reasons are possible too – a child who isn’t getting enough fiber may avoid the toilet because of fear of discomfort.
The most important thing is not to get angry or upset at your child if accidents happen. If you can pinpoint the reason behind your child’s accidents, you can find other ways to support them and get them back on track.
Children occasionally regress for no other reason than they want your attention (Look ma, I’m pooping my pants!). So don’t provide them with any sort – not positive or negative (it’s still attention). Not even if they look super cute as they apologize. Instead, clean up accidents quickly and quietly so that you’re not rewarding the child for what they've done.
Go Back to Basics
The biggest step in reversing regression is returning to the basics: the ABCs of the 1 and 2. Reestablish the importance of the potty with your kid: remind them to tell you when they need to go, tell them about “big girls and big boys” using the toilet, and focus on avoiding accidents. Children like responsibility so give it to them: tell them over and over that it’s their job to make it to the toilet.
Bringing a new baby into the house is often a cause of regression in toddlers: they see the baby in diapers getting attention and they want it too. This is why it’s important to acknowledge the differences between babies and big kids. Give your big kid the attention they want by praising their use of the toilet and reminding them that diapers are for infants.
Bring Back Rewards
Every parent knows that children respond to rewards, so use this to your advantage: after all, rewards worked the first time you potty trained. But don’t go overboard – you don’t want your child to “regress” every time they want a new toy. Sometimes verbal praise is the most effective reward you can give and, as an added bonus, it’s the cheapest too.
Regression is common – don’t overreact if it happens. Address it as soon as possible and don’t return to diapers, no matter how up to your elbows you are in urine. Diapers will only regress your child further. If they learned to potty train once, they can certainly learn again: be consistent and, if you want to scream and yell and pull out your hair, do it somewhere your child won’t see.