Regression In Potty Training

Why It Happens & How To Cope

Toddler regression in potty training is very common.

Very, very common.

Just ask any parent with a child over the age of 2, and you will likely get that knowing nod of the head and the 'Aaahhhh, yes, that happened to mine when...'

The birth of a new baby is by far and away the most common time for regression in potty training.

However, any upheaval or stress in your child's life could trigger this problem. For example:

  • -Family problems
  • -Starting - or a change in - daycare
  • -Moving house

Be sure to rule out a urinary tract infection as the cause of toilet training regression before delving into possible psychological reasons.

Why Does Regression In Potty Training Happen?

Obviously it is a response to something that unsettles your child, but what exactly is going on in their head? There may be several reasons:

Attention Seeking - no, don't shake your head and wonder why you've got a mini centre-of-attention specialist on your hands. Parental attention is what makes every toddler tick. It's totally normal and as inevitable as the sun that rises in the morning.

If there is a new baby on the scene, your toddler may be to be jealous of all the attention the newborn is getting; sees and remembers the nappies or diapers that she used to wear herself, and thinks "Mmm. If I wet myself, I might get to wear those again and get all the attention this new intruder is enjoying".

This may not be immediately obvious if your toddler appears affectionate towards the new arrival. What is going on is a whole bunch of unacknowledged mixed feelings.

Comfort Another school of thought puts regressing down to the need for reasurance in the emotional roller coaster that is toddlerhood.

The years between ages 1 and 4 are essentially a push-and-pull between the dependence of babyhood and the independence of the preschooler stage.

Learning new things is exciting but also scary - wet trousers, asking to be fed like a baby and so on are all exercises is revisiting an easier, less challenging time.

See the page on understanding toddlers for more information on this.

How To Deal With Potty Regression

There are various strategies you can try to get your junior toilet trainee back on track:

Keep it positive - wet and soiled pants in a child who is already trained are infuriating but giving vent to your feelings will backfire. The whole point of regressing is that your child is expressing self-doubt. Any negativity on your part will only aggravate the situation.

Introduce some special 'accessories' that you didn't have the first time round: branded hand wash and/or a hand towel emblazoned with their favourite cartoon character. These should be used only when your child manages to produce - or they lose their power as incentives. 

Rewards such as stickers and small toys are always a good idea. It is worth spending a couple of (toddler-free) hours in town scouring the charity shops/thrift stores for small items to use as cheap rewards.

For boys who previously sat on the potty or toilet, you could introduce the idea of standing up for a pee. Putting some ping pong balls in the toilet (which float) that they can aim at may persuade him that standing is the way forward. But - as with all regression in potty training strategies - don't push it.

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