How To Handle Potty Training Regression

After what felt like forever, your child has finally ditched the diapers and is officially part of the Big Kid Club. Life is suddenly sweeter, since you’re no longer tied to the toilet bowl any longer. Then, out of nowhere, your kiddo starts peeing their pants again. It’s enough to make you want to collapse on the floor and cry, but it’s normal (and kind of expected) for your child to have potty training regression at some point. This is why your kid might have a relapse and how you can handle it.

While it might not offer much comfort as you’re cleaning up feces from the floor, it’s actually a good sign for a child to regress in potty training. “Potty training regression is a part of the natural process of learning and adjusting as children transition from diapers to using the toilet,” says Dr. Bidisha Sarkar, M.D., a pediatrician and child specialist at ClinicSpots. “It can happen any time during the training process.” That’s all well and good, but you still might be looking for answers as to why your child is asking for their pull ups again.

Here’s what you need to know about potty training regression.

They’re Tired Of Potty Training, Too

Thought that you were the only one who was tired of reminding your tot to pee on the potty? Not so, says pediatrician Dr. Cherilyn Cecchini, M.D. “Your child may reach a stage where he or she just refuses to use the potty,” she says. “It can be because your child is tired of being reminded or has been told too often that they are ‘failing’ to use the potty.”

There’s Been A Schedule Shakeup

More often than not, your child’s behavior might be motivated by outside factors. “We find that potty training regression often happens when there’s a disruption in the child’s routine,” continues Cecchini.  “For instance, moving to a new home or school or hiring a new childcare provider can be causes.” Even if the change is a good thing (for example, starting preschool or the birth of a new sibling), it can be enough to cause your child to regress to an earlier stage. And the opposite is true: a separation or divorce can be a stressing event for your kid to go through.

“Regression is a common side effect of transitions,” agrees Leigh Ellen Magness, LCSW, RPT-S, a licensed clinical social worker. “Just like when I am stressed, I am not able to use my best reasoning skills and I may be more likely to snap at someone unintentionally, toddlers also have limited access to all the skills they’ve mastered.”

There’s A Medical Issue

Sometimes, potty training regression isn’t a result of emotional trauma, but a physical issue that needs to be addressed. “If your child experiences a sudden decrease in potty training progress or starts showing signs of extreme distress during bathroom routines, then it may be a sign of something more serious,” says Sarkar. “There may be an underlying medical issue that needs attention.” Urinary tract infections are common in kids, and might be the culprit to a regression in potty training. Another possible condition: early onset diabetes, which needs to be diagnosed right away.

They Might Not Have Been Ready

Sure, your child was dry during the day and night for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean that they were actually potty trained. If you rushed through the process a wee (ha) too quickly, that might explain their accidents. In reality, though, if your child wasn’t completely potty trained, it wouldn’t count as a regression, though, but rather a continuation of their training.

They’re Afraid Of The Potty

From the moment they were born, your baby has worn a diaper. So imagine going from feeling secure when they’re doing their business to suddenly having to tinkle in a toilet. It can be traumatizing to your child, especially when they hear their poop plop in the toilet or are afraid of falling in. That loss of control can cause your child to either restrain themselves and result in them peeing or pooping themselves when they can no longer hold their bowels.

How To Handle Potty Training Regression

Be Kind To Your Kid — And Yourself

Potty training regression can feel like a failure for both you and your child. Thing is, you’ll need to be a cheerleader for those times when your kid doesn’t quite make it to the potty on time. “When this happens it’s important not to shame the child or make them feel bad for their accident,” advises Magness. “We can say something simple and nonjudgemental like ‘Accidents happen,’ and then have the child help in the cleanup process. For example, they can help you get new underwear, bring paper towels, and put their wet clothes in the hamper or washing machine. The goal is to keep calm and make it a team effort in case of an accident.

Sarkar agrees, adding: “The most important thing you can do is remain patient and understanding as your child works through their regression. It’s natural for them to feel frustrated or overwhelmed at times, and your support will help them keep trying until they achieve success.”

Offer Incentives

Listen, we’re not above bribes, and getting your child on the potty training track again is no different. While it doesn’t mean swinging through the drive-thru every time your tot tinkles in the potty, you can look for other reward methods, such as stickers for every dry day they have. Even using positive, affirming language can make a big difference. “You can try giving incentives for using the toilet and praise in particular is important,” advises Cecchini.

Keep Your Perspective

Let’s face it: potty training isn’t fun. When you’re in the throes of it, it can feel like forever — kind of like labor. But if you’re asking yourself, “How long does potty training regression last?” well, it depends on your kid. “The length of a regression can vary widely based on the individual child and their developmental stage,” says Sarkar. “Generally speaking, it should not last longer than two weeks before you start seeing improvement in your child’s behavior.”

Consult With Your Pediatrician

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still left wondering how to fix potty training regression, it might be time to call your pediatrician. “If a child continues to refuse the toilet after three months even with a positive reward system (like a sticker chart) and is older than 4 years old, talk to your pediatrician,” advises Cecchini. “They can help determine if there is another cause that may be the reason for the regression.”

It’s normal for a child to regress in potty training, despite feeling like a bump in the road of your child’s development. Practice patience, hold your child’s hand through the process and it should hopefully resolve sooner than later. And in the meantime, be sure to stock up on paper towels and cleaning supplies.

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