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Regression in Toilet Training

by Renee Miller

Toilet training is no small task, and many parents become discouraged when their toddler has multiple accidents or refuses to use the toilet after being successful in potty training for weeks or months. This regression is normal and occurs often. While it is frustrating, you can get your toddler back on track as long as he is ready to use the toilet.

Regression Triggers

Even toddlers that are ready to use the toilet can later regress, and these regressions are usually triggered by stress. According to Scholastic, a major cause of toilet training regression is the addition of a new brother or sister to the family. This is natural and is the result of your toddler trying to take back attention he feels has been taken away by the new baby. Changes in routine caused by illness, family issues or a parent going out to work can send a trained toddler back into diapers. Unpleasant experiences related to the toilet, such as a painful bowel movement, teasing or being punished for an accident can also cause your toddler to regress.

Determining Readiness

Many toddlers are ready to potty train by the age of two, but some may not be ready until up to a year later. Toddlers that are toilet trained before they are developmentally ready might be more likely to regress later. The most obvious sign of readiness is when your toddler shows an interest in the potty or toilet or asks to wear underwear. Other signs include grabbing at diapers or telling you diapers need to be changed or hiding when having a bowel movement. If your toddler understands about potty time, follows basic directions and stays dry for longer than a couple of hours, he might be ready to start using the toilet. Pulling his pants up and down independently is also a sign he is ready. If your toddler isn’t showing these signs or is rebelling against the idea of using the toilet, it’s okay to wait a little while longer before beginning toilet training.

Overcoming Regression

Regression is common for many toddlers, so don’t get frustrated or angry if your toddler suddenly starts having accidents. Never put training pants or diapers back on your toddler as punishment for regression. Be aware of stresses in your toddler’s life, such as new siblings, illness or schedule changes that might be triggering the regression. If you can adjust the situation to alleviate that stress, your toddler might go back to using the toilet as she did before. If your toddler is having accidents after using the toilet successfully, you may need to limit fluids, particularly between dinner and bedtime, to prevent accidents.

Toilet Training Dos and Don'ts

Keep potties in areas where your toddler plays so it’s easier for him to use it on his own, and take some time to show your toddler how the toilet works. Eliminating the mystery also reduces any fears that might crop up later. Suggest, but never demand, that your toddler use the potty. By allowing your child to decide when he goes to the toilet, you give him an active role in toilet training. Don’t force your toddler to sit on the toilet or potty when he doesn’t want to, even if you know he has to go. Accidents will occur, so try to keep a sense of humor and be patient. Make toilet training fun by using a smaller potty in your toddler’s favorite color or with his favorite fictional character, and make time on the toilet fun by sharing books or songs while your toddler goes. Never punish your toddler for an accident. Anger or frustration, even when meant in fun, can discourage him from using the toilet.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images