How to Handle Potty Training Regression

Girl Using the Potty
Potty Training Regression. Laura Natividad/Moment/Getty Images

It is not unusual for younger children to have setbacks with potty training. In fact, many children aren't even fully potty trained at age three, especially for bowel movements.

What Causes Potty Training Regression

School could be the cause for this regression. Stress is a common cause of regressions in potty training and starting school, even preschool or daycare, can be stressful for younger children.

Bringing a new baby home, moving, or any other big changes at home can also commonly cause regressions in potty training.

You might also see if anything at school has changed or if he has a problem using the potty there. It could be that he had an accident and got in trouble, or if he is constipated, he may have had a BM that hurt.

You might also make sure that he isn't waiting until the last minute to go and simply can't make it to the bathroom. Many younger children don't want to take a break from playing to go to the bathroom. Having a schedule or reminding him to go every two or three hours can help with this.

Treating Potty Training Regression

At this point, if there are no other problems, you may just need to offer reminders to use the potty so that he has a bowel movement there instead of going on the floor. This is easy if he has his BMs at about the same time each day, but even if he doesn't, you might have him sit on the potty or commode for 4-5 minutes when he wakes up and after meals.

Those are times when most children are likely to have a bowel movement. Even if he doesn't go, you can offer praise and extra attention simply for the fact that he tried.

And try to treat his accidents lightly. That means cleaning them up matter-of-factly and reminding him that he is supposed to go in the potty.

This is not a situation that requires any kind of punishment. And as Vicki Lansky says in her guide to Toilet Training, be sure that you don't overreact. You want to be careful that you don't reinforce his behavior since any negative attention he gets for doing this can reinforce it. And you don't want to make it a power struggle.

A reward chart or for the days when he doesn't have an accident can also be helpful. As can reading some of the potty training books for children.

Since he has been potty trained for so long, this is likely not a time to go back to diapers or pull-ups. You should also avoid anything else that makes him feel ashamed for having accidents.

Remember that it is normal and common for children to have set backs with potty training.

Constipation and Potty Training Regression

If your child seems constipated and is having large, hard, or very firm bowel movements, then you may need to address that problem before working on potty training again.

Children with constipation can have painful bowel movements that make them afraid to go on the potty or toilet.

If unrecognized, these children can begin to hold their bowel movements for so long that they eventually can't tell when they have to go and have stooling accidents.

This is called encopresis and is often confused with potty training refusal.

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