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Successfully potty training your child is no small achievement. Potty training is generally something parents dread, and rightfully so—it's messy, it makes it hard to leave the house and it can just seem plain overwhelming.
Still, you take the plunge, switch your kid to undies and bask in the glory that is no more diapers. But wait. You move to a new house, you have a new baby—or, hey, you find yourself in the middle of a global pandemic—and the day comes when you find your previously potty-trained child sitting in a pool of pee. Your heart sinks. Back into the trenches of potty training you go.
Just like sleep regressions, potty training regressions are totally normal for small children, especially amidst change. So, first, know you're not alone.
Here are a few tips to get you through your child's potty training regression:
1. Avoid shaming.
While it can be frustrating to deal with accidents when you thought your child was fully potty trained, try not to act angry or disappointed. Don't have a big reaction, as even negative attention can reinforce behavior.
It's so easy to say, "You're four! You've been doing this for years, how hard can it be?" This can make your child ashamed of themselves and does little to solve the problem.
Instead, try to keep your reaction as neutral as possible. Say something like, "Your clothes are wet, it looks like you peed. Let's go get some clean clothes."
The calmer you are, the more you show your child that their regression is normal and that you're confident they can overcome it.
2. Create a potty routine.
Build in regular bathroom breaks to your daily schedule to help your child be successful. Use natural transitions like after meals, before going to play outside, and before leaving the house for an outing.
Use language like, "After you use the potty, we'll be able to go to the park," or, "We always use the potty before we leave the house." This provides natural motivation for your child to use the toilet if they are looking forward to the next thing.
3. Involve your child in the cleanup.
When your child doesn't make it to the potty in time, calmly include them in the process of cleaning up.
They can bring you a cleaning cloth or towel to wipe the floor. They can help take their wet clothes off and put them in the laundry basket. Or can choose new clothes from their closet and help put them on.
Involving your child as much as possible will help them take ownership of the process. They will also realize with time, that it takes a lot longer to help clean up an accident than to simply take a potty break in the first place.
4. Offer choices.
One reason children refuse to use the potty is a need to feel in control. This is particularly true when your child is experiencing a big life change. A new house, a new sibling, a new school–all of these changes can be scary and make your child feel like they have no control over their own life.
Offer choices and let your child control some aspects of the toileting process. For example, offer them a fun selection of underwear to choose from. Store the undies somewhere accessible to your child, like a low drawer or basket in the bathroom. If you have multiple bathrooms in your house, let them choose which one to use. Let them choose whether to sit on a little potty or a special seat on the big toilet.
All of these choices are minor and may seem insignificant, but they help your child feel like they have some control over the process of using the toilet, which minimizes the need to boycott the potty altogether.
5. Give extra attention.
Sometimes children regress with potty training because they want more attention from you.
This is particularly true if you have a new baby at home. Your older child will notice the baby getting lots of physical attention, including frequent diaper changes when you drop everything and focus just on the baby.
When possible, try sitting with your child while they use the potty or eat. This isn't always possible of course, especially if you have a baby at home, but regular one-on-one attention throughout the day can prevent your child from having accidents.
Potty training regression is challenging, but remember that it's completely normal and will likely pass quickly. If the regression seems to be lingering or you're concerned that there may be a physical problem, talk with your pediatrician.
6. Be consistent.
If your little one is struggling with accidents, here are some products that have helped us navigate potty training regression with our own kids.
From road trips to errands around town, having a portable potty can be the key to preventing accidents. This compact, easy-to-clean version is one of our favorites.
Independent and easy access to the grown up toilet is solved with a lightweight step stool. This bamboo fiber one from EKOBO has a textured anti-slip top and can even double as storage when flipped over.