Toddler Regression During Potty Training

Rear view of a dark-haired girl toddler wearing trainer pants sitting on floor, surrounded by toys
Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Your child may initially progress through potty training with ease and confidence, then all of a sudden start having accidents again. There are many reasons why children regress during potty training, as well as steps you can take to prevent or correct it.

A significant event such as the birth of a new sibling, a divorce or separation of parents, or a change in classrooms or teachers at school or daycare can set your child back in potty training.

The best course of action in these situations is for you to help your child relax. It's important that you remain attentive and positive when you interact with them about toilet training. In time, and with your help, your child will get back on track.

If a stressful situation is enough to cause regression, you don't want to add any more stress by punishing or expressing disappointment to your child if they have accidents.

Regression Is Natural

Another thing that occurs frequently, though is sometimes overlooked with potty training toddlers, is a natural regression that comes from having mastered a skill.

When they were a baby, you may have noticed that your child moved with fierce determination to learn to roll over, crawl, or stand unassisted.

After gaining this control, many children move on to other skills with the same determination, leaving the old skill behind. The same process can occur with potty training.

Once your child learns to use the potty with regular success and moves on to other skills, the skills they've already mastered might be left behind.

If you find that your child is having accidents when they're in the process of learning how to put together a complicated puzzle or turn sharp corners on the tricycle, don't be surprised.

Many parents report that it seems like their child is suddenly "too busy playing" and forgets to use the potty, pooping in their pants instead. Indeed, that is precisely what happens: a child is too busy figuring out another important part of their world to pay attention to their body's cues signaling it's time to take a potty break.

Frequently Remind Your Child to Use the Potty

You can help your child by reminding them frequently to use the potty. Don't take "no" for an answer if you feel it's been too long between bathroom breaks.

A child who says "No" when asked if they need to use the potty may not mean "No, I don't need to go" but rather might mean, "I don't want to be interrupted right now."

Show your child that you understand the importance of the activity they are involved in. Use phrases like, "I know you're very busy right now," "I can see you almost have that worked out," and "You're working very hard on that (picture/building/puzzle)."

Once you've acknowledged your child's focus, remind them of the importance of staying dry and using the potty as you gently guide your child to the bathroom.

How Playgroups Affect Potty Training

Children may also have a fear of leaving their activity. This is especially true for children with siblings or those who are in a playgroup or other group setting.

A child may not want to leave a toy or activity for fear that it will be gone, destroyed, or taken by another child by the time they return from using the potty.

In these situations, reassure your child that that you will save or watch over the toy (and be sure to follow through on this promise!) until they return. Encourage your child to ask you to do this each time they need to go potty.

Was this page helpful?