Toilet training is a major milestone in bringing up your child -- for the developing youngster, it establishes the lifelong abilities of self-control, body control and willpower. So much work, from both parent and child, goes into reaching this developmental breakthrough that relapses present a pretty distressing picture. But fear not -- toilet training relapses are a fairly common and, like many bumps along the way, can be overcome.
Occasional accidents happen, even after kids have successfully completed toilet training. Consistent accidents or the regular refusal to use the toilet after successful potty training may indicate relapse. Relapse can also happen during potty training -- some toddlers may start training and, seemingly suddenly, take a turn for the worse a few weeks or months in. Most commonly, regress occurs in kids about 3 or 4 years old.
Why It Happens
The concept of control is central to many relapses. Speaking for Huggies, child development expert Dr. Catherine Neilsen-Hewitt says that some young children relapse when they feel they're losing control of their world, which can happen when they start attending preschool, experience major travels, move houses or have a new sibling, for example. Painful bowel movements or sudden fear of the toilet -- perhaps causes by something like a startlingly loud flush -- may cause relapse as well. General stress and pressure can also cause potty training regress, so avoid coming down too hard on your child when she has an accident.
Just as reasons for relapse vary, many methods may help you get your child out of her slump. Try transferring a sense of control back to your child by letting her know that using the potty is her decision. Remind her of the consequences of her decision, such as having to go back to diapers or training pants instead of big girl pants. Keep a visual log of your child's progress to encourage her. For instance, a running count of days since the last accident -- perhaps with a reward marking a certain number of days -- serves as a positive, morale-boosting reminder. If regress happens during training, try easing the pressure. Talk to your tyke about the potty regularly, making her as comfortable with the concept as you can, but wait until she feels ready to dive back in to training on her own accord.
Neilsen-Hewitt estimates that 15 percent of kids are not potty trained by the age of 3, and 4 percent aren't trained by age 4. She notes that toilet training is not linked to intellect in any capacity. Consistent accidents after age 5 may indicate a smaller-than-average bladder, which may require consultation from a pediatrician.
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