8 Tips To Deal With Potty Training Regression And Its Reasons

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Completing potty training is a considerable achievement for parents and a significant milestone in a child’s life. Potty training regression occurs when your potty-trained child has accidents (wets or soils themself) for several weeks. Usually, children are not fully trained for bowel movements until about three years of age. Hence, it is normal for children, though potty-trained, to experience potty training regression due to various reasons.

Keep reading this post to learn more about the signs that a child is ready for potty training, the causes of potty training regression, and how to deal with it.

What Is Potty Training Regression?

A seemingly potty-trained child’s sudden neglect of potty habits, accidents, or renewed need for diapers is called potty training regression. Accidents can happen while a child is learning potty practices. However, a thoroughly potty-trained child can have accidents due to regression. You may look for the causes of potty training regression and fix them.

Becoming potty-trained is a developmental milestone. Most children are potty-trained between the ages of 18 and 24 months. However, some children may not be ready until three years old (1).

There is no need to rush for potty training. Keep an eye out for signs that indicate your child is ready for potty training. Children are usually considered ready for potty training when they (1):

  • Are able to walk and sit on a toilet
  • Are able to pull down and pull up the pants
  • Can stay dry up to two hours
  • Understand basic directions
  • Communicate when they need to visit the bathroom
  • Refuse to wear diapers or pull-up pants
  • Show regular bowel movements

You may look for your child’s overall development to know if they are ready for potty training. Some children may not be prepared or find it difficult to become potty trained, even if they show all the above-listed signs. You can take a pediatrician’s opinion in such cases.

Common Causes Of Potty Training Regression

Potty training regression is temporary and normal in children. Although some children may become fully toilet trained by age three, a few may not. Potty training regression may occur for the following reasons (2).

  • Distraction from surroundings could interfere with bowel movement in children.
  • Unwillingness to discontinue play may make the child wait, and often accidents occur before they reach the potty seat.
  • Constipation could cause hard stools, which are painful to pass. It may cause a child to resist going to the toilet.
  • Intestinal bugs (intestinal infections) may interfere with the potty schedule or cause discomfort or pain and lead to potty training regression.
  • Urinary tract infections may also be associated with bowel movement issues, which may cause potty training regression.
  • Stress and other emotional issues may cause potty training regression in some children. Problems in the family and school are some common reasons behind these issues. Again it is good to remember that things which might appear trivial to us may not be so easy to handle for the little ones and might be sources of significant stress for them.
  • Change of surroundings may increase the risk of accidents. For instance, a child might hesitate to communicate their need to visit the bathroom to their caretakers at a new daycare center.

Try to identify the exact cause of potty training regression or refusal. Sometimes, health issues can be the reason, and the child may require medications. You may also ensure your child is fed with an age-appropriate diet to meet their nutritional needs and have regular bowel movements.

Tips For Dealing With Potty Training Regression

The following tips may help deal with the potty training regression in children (2).

  • Follow a regular schedule: Make a potty schedule for your child based on their potty habits. You may ask them to sit on a potty seat after they wake up from sleep in the morning or after naps. These are the times when a child is most likely to have bowel movements.
  • Make your expectations clear: You may explain to your child that they need to be potty trained. Let them know that it is time to say bye to diapers or pull-ups and wear clean underwear. This may help your child understand why they need to visit the bathroom on time and avoid accidents. Also reassure them that you have full confidence in them that they will be able to do it.
  • Do not overreact to accidents: Do not lose your cool when accidents happen. It is usual for children to have accidents even after the initial months of potty training. Never punish, tease, or scold them for accidents since the fear of accidents may cause regression. Just get on with the cleaning without making a fuss. At the same time remember to praise them for even small achievements like remembering to use the potty after a nap even if no bowel movement happens.
  • No diapers again: Do not go back to diapers or pull-ups if your child had an accident. It may cause the child to become dependent on diapers again, leading to regression eventually.
  • Treat medical problems: Seek a pediatrician’s advice to rule out any hidden medical or psychological issues. Children with digestive disorders may require special care or treatment to resolve potty training regression.
  • Avoid distractions: Keep away distractions during potty time. Set rules for potty time so that your child does not bring along toys or other items that are bound to distract them.
  • Offer positive reinforcement: If your child follows their schedule and does not have accidents, you may reward them. You can shower them with hugs and kisses by way of reward. Even sticker charts work well. Praising them for what they are doing right also goes a long way. This may encourage them to follow the same schedule the next day.
  • Reinforce training: If the regression is recent, you may repeat the timings or techniques that initially worked for your child. Remember, consistent potty training for a few weeks or months is required to ensure that the child does not revert to old toilet habits.
  • Sympathize and try to find out why: Talk to the child and try to find out the reason for their inability to use the potty appropriately. Also, it is a great time to tell them that even you are not infallible and how you overcame your problems. Take this opportunity to guide them into realizing that failures are the stepping stones to success.

Potty training regression may be frustrating at times, but it is common for children to go back to pooping randomly at odd times despite being potty trained. They are still learning and may take some time to understand the process and their cues. So if you do not wish your child to go through potty training regression, you should observe the signs indicating the right time to start the training. If accidents still happen, understand that it is okay and do not panic but calmly deal with it. Try to keep their diet healthy without making any drastic changes and go through the training process again to help them. If no visible cause is identified, consult your child’s doctor for any underlying issue that may require medical intervention.

Key Pointers

  • A child showing disinterest in potty routines despite training could indicate potty training regression.
  • Dietary modifications, tummy problems, new surroundings, and other distractions could be reasons for this change.
  • Be patient, avoid overreacting, set a routine, and explain the need to visit the bathroom to your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When should I give up on potty training and try again later?

It is normal for your child to have some bad days and regress potty training. However, if they see potty training as a struggle, it could be difficult for them to learn. Hence, it is suggested that you take a break for some time (a month or so) and try again (3).

2. When should I be concerned about my child not being potty trained?

Almost 80% of children learn to be potty trained and control the nighttime bowel and bladder by around four to five years of age (4). However, if your child doesn’t show interest by this age or has any other problems, you may talk to a pediatrician.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Potty training: How to get the job done; St. Clair Hospital
2. Regression; HealthyChildren; The American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Potty training problems; NHS.

4. Helping your child with potty training; NCBI

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