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Regressing in Potty Training

by Bridget Coila, studioD

When your child regresses to wetting his pants after having been potty trained for months, it can be frustrating for you and your child. Fortunately, most regression is temporary, and once you figure out the potential causes, you can help your child get back to a diaper-free lifestyle. Regression can include a complete refusal to use the toilet or an occasional leakage that shows up as a spot on his underpants when he has otherwise made it to the toilet on time.

Physical Causes

Potty training regression can stem from physical or psychological causes, so the first step is to have your child checked out by his pediatrician to make sure there isn't a medical reason for wetting or soiling his pants. Medical causes can include diabetes, an overactive bladder or a urinary tract infection, which can lead to pants-wetting accidents in a formerly potty trained child. Diarrhea can cause a child to suddenly lose his ability to make it to the toilet for a bowel movement. A constipated child may develop problems with urine leakage, if stool in the lower intestines and rectum put pressure on the bladder.

Psychological Causes

Stress and anxiety are important to consider, especially if your child has experienced a recent major change in her life, such as the birth of a new sibling, a family move, parental divorce, the death of a family member or pet, or starting preschool. Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine the emotional cause, but a short conversation with your child may bring to light fears or anxiety that you weren't aware of. If your concern is lingering, speak with her pediatrician.

Dealing with Regression

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, staying calm and being empathic toward your child's potty training troubles is an important component of dealing with sudden regression. Speaking to your child about the reasons she has stopped using her potty can give you insights into what you can do to help her be more comfortable with the toilet. Make using the toilet as pleasant as possible, such as moving the training potty to a more convenient location or surrounding it with some of her favorite toys or books. Offer positive reinforcement for successful potty use and avoid reacting negatively to accidents. Instead, simply clean up the mess and continue on with whatever else you and your child were doing.


If your child wants to return to using training pants, allow her to do so as a temporary solution. Try to continue moving forward with potty training as much as possible, but if your child seems especially stressed, you may need to delay potty training for a few weeks or months until the other stresses in her life have settled down. For most children, regression only lasts a few days or weeks, so remain patient and know that this difficulty will pass.

About the Author

Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.

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