What do I do About Potty Training Accidents?

Help your child know when he has to go

Boy in bathroom
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Reader question: How should I handle potty training accidents?

My three-year-old son has been "potty trained" for about a month now. At least I guess he's potty trained. He is no longer in diapers, instead wearing underwear or a pull-up-type garment (mostly when we go out and I am not familiar with where the facilities are or are going to be someplace where there will not be an accessible or clean toilet). At night he wears a "night-time" diaper just so I know his sheets will stay dry, but he has been giving me a hard time about it. The problem is that during the day, he still has accidents, maybe once a day (at night he does stay dry). I don't think he is doing it on purpose, he just loses track of time and suddenly finds himself wet. He feels bad when they happen and I never scold him for them, but I'm losing my patience and I'm wondering how to best handle this situation the next time it occurs.


When one of my children has an "accident" -- whether it's spilled milk or of the bathroom variety -- one of my favorite expressions to repeat to myself to help me maintain my patience is "That's why we don't call it an on purpose." So off the bat, I agree with you, I don't think your preschooler is purposely having potty training accidents. To be honest, it sounds like your son is off to a great start. But a month into the potty training process, that's what it is -- a start.

Understanding Potty Training from Your Child's Perspective
Believe it or not, it takes some little ones a full six months to become totally accident-free. While some children do figure out the process quickly, it takes most kids a little longer -- especially at night. There's a lot to comprehend about potty training -- not only the mechanics of how everything works and how to sit on the seat, but also to learn to recognize "the feeling" -- knowing when to go and learning to listen to it early so you don't have an accident.

How to Respond to an Accident
If your child does have a potty training accident, it might be tempting to yell or scold him, but that's the worst thing you can do. Potty training isn't easy for young children and chances are they are just as upset by the accident as you are (after all, they are the one is wet and cold).

Stay as calm as possible and work as quickly as possible to get your child into clean and dry clothes. It's important to stay positive and focus on what your child does right. Scolding a child for doing a perceived "wrong" will make him feel bad about himself and could slow the process down. Instead, praise your child for staying dry when he does.

When to Give Potty Training a Break
If your child is having more than two accidents a day and doesn't seem to be learning, it might be time to give the potty training a break for a little while. Give it a couple of weeks or a month and see if your child is able to do better. If you are noticing some potty training regression -- a totally or nearly trained child suddenly is having constant accidents, consider what is going on in the child's life that could be causing stress. Is there a new baby on the way? Have you recently moved? Major life changes can definitely cause a child to have some potty training regression so it's important to stay on top of your child's feelings and emotions.

If you suspect there is something more going on, call your child's pediatrician.

Related: Preschooler Self-Care Skills

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