Keeping it going and dealing with regression


Imagine the situation…

Your previously potty trained child suddenly starts having toileting accidents and appears to be taking a backward step at toilet training.

It’s very frustrating and very common.


Three words; potty training regression

Regression simply means that potty training progress appears to come undone when a child begins having accidents, forgets to ask for help, or just doesn’t want to try anymore.

It’s not unusual for children to experience any or all of these things – especially when the focus comes off potty training and the excitement wanes.

A major cause of regression is distraction.

The child may be distracted by other excitement, and the grown-ups may be side tracked from the usual toileting routine.

It’s natural for accidents to start happen when attention is focused elsewhere.

For us parents though, it can feel like 2 steps forward, 2 steps back.

Learning to hold on causes accidents

When the child starts potty training they will tend to go to the toilet regularly and as soon as they first need a wee.  As the bladder strengthens with practise, the child learns to hold on for longer but still needs to work out when it’s time to go to the toilet.  This takes some practise and the fuller bladder means that when accidents happen they tend to be bigger.  These bigger accidents don’t mean they are regressing, they just mean they are learning the next stage of potty training.

Major life events

Sometimes major life events can cause regression, such as starting  nursery or the arrival of a sibling, divorce, or a house move.  This is normal especially when it involves a change of routine, so try to ensure focus goes back onto making going to the toilet part of the new routine.

How to address potty training regression

It’s important to have reasonable expectations, and to remember that it takes weeks rather than days to fully potty train, especially for older children. Accidents are not always technically regression, they can instead just be on going potty training.

If accidents start to happen remind the child of the potty training routine and remind them to listen to their body’s cues for the loo.

Try to stay calm and avoid getting angry as this can put stress on the child.  Instead take your frustration out on the mess of the accident rather than the child.

Always clean up the child in the bathroom, sit them on the potty to ensure they have fully emptied their bladder and encourage them to help with the clean up.  The more of an inconvenience it is to clean up, the more they will be motivated to try to get to the toilet in time!

Take note of any patterns in accidents and introduce toilet time to try to prevent them.  You may find they are happening when your child is tired or straight from nursery or being out, so try to encourage them to go straight to the toilet before starting their next activity.

Reintroducing rewards may help get the focus and motivation back on potty training, and if it gets really drastic sometimes it helps to explain that some things are only possible if the child is staying dry….you know your child and what works to motivate them!

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7 comments on “Keeping it going and dealing with regression

  1. Kathleen Collins on

    My child seems to want to stay in diapers . Getting extremely upset when I tried transitioning into big boy underwear. Even though he was using the potty successfully . When I told him he didn’t need them because he wasn’t having accidents he cried next day accidents started happening again. What should I do

    • Di Titterton on

      Hi Kathleen, some children don’t like change and are quite happy wearing nappies. It’s all they’ve ever known and they don’t understand the social etiquette that means that they are expected to use the toilet rather than the nappy to wee and poo in. We find that as the child gets older it’s harder and takes longer to change the habit. Forming new habits is difficult and takes time; try to be consistent, if your son thinks pants are optional then it will be harder for him to adapt. It sounds like he is doing really well with potty training, so try to keep very positive and give him lots of praise for being so grown up. Try not to get frustrated with accidents and get him involved in the clean up process, ensuring it takes longer than going to the toilet! If you are still struggling, enlisting the help of the poo fairy to take away the nappies, read how to do this on this blog. Good luck.

  2. Jaime Elliott-Sands on

    My son was doing really well two weeks into potty training he started telling us when he needed the loo or going by himself. However he never has a wee or a poo at the childminders and always has several accidents. After coming home tonight he wet himself and that hasn’t happened for a while. I don’t know how to help.

    • Di Titterton on

      Hi Jaime, your son’s accident at home may have happened because he got distracted or was tired so never picked up on his body’s cues that he needed to go to the loo. To help him at the childminder’s it may be an idea to ask the childminder to go through the toilet routine with him, and possibly also while you are there so that you can ensure he understands what is expected of him and that he is comfortable with everything. Some children are afraid of things in the bathroom, it could be a smell or a noisy flush so talk him through each individual stage and try to gauge if he is comfortable. It could also be that he is worried about missing out on play so he holds on for as long as possible and then has more accidents. It may be an idea to introduce a regular toilet time, a time when the childminder prompts him to go to the toilet. Try to stay positive and calm when accidents occur, he is making good progress and maybe just needs more confidence when away from home.

  3. Elaine b on

    We are 5 months into toilet training our 2.5 year old son. 2 months after we started we thought we had cracked it. Day and night he was perfect. Then he started having accidents. Some days he can have loads and other days he’s great. If he’s naked especially he doesn’t have any but as soon as he gets his pants on he stops caring and just sits there wet or spikes and doesn’t even tell us! We have some reward charts and all the other usual things I’m at a loss as to how to progress. We’ve been in this regression longer than we were trained! I’m lost!

  4. Renata on

    Any idea why my 3 years old started weeing on the floor (carpet) next to the toilet??!She has been doing so well for over a month,even at nursery. She is practically without nappies the whole day and has got a nappy at night. It also seems she is doing it on purpose…it’ss driving me insane!!!….😢😢😢😤


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