Potty training - what if my child regresses?

Potty training quite often goes to plan without any major problems, but what can you do if your child suddenly regresses and demands a return to nappies? We're here to help

You may be at the wonderful stage where nappies are a thing of the past for you and your pre-schooler, but quite often a big lifestyle change can lead to regression. Starting at a new nursery, moving house or, above all, getting a new baby brother or sister can send potty-trained children right back to the baby stage. You might find they become clingy and less independent, too, or rediscover other babyish habits they’d outgrown.

Find out why

Ask your child why they don't want to use the potty or toilet. It’s possible something might have happened to them while using it – perhaps they got scared because they nearly fell off the toilet or lost their balance getting up from the potty. It may be that while using a public toilet the auto-flush came on before they'd finished, scaring them. There could also be a physical reason – is your child constipated or have they had a recent attack of constipation that could have made pooing uncomfortable?

Don’t be negative

Since your child may well have regressed to get more of your attention, they won’t care what form this attention takes – even negative attention is attention. Clear up any accidents without comment and as quickly as you can so that you’re not rewarding the child for what they've done.

Reinforce potty training

After you’ve cleaned up, sit your child on the potty or toilet to reinforce the fact that this is what they should have done in the first place. Remind them, too: “when you need to go to the potty, you have to come to the bathroom – it’s your job to do that so we don’t have accidents”. This way you underline the fact that it's their responsibility.

Make them feel like a big boy or girl

If the regression is linked to a new baby in the family, stress the differences between your older child and their new sibling: “you’re my big boy, it’s so nice you can be such great company for me when all the baby does is cry and sleep” or  "look at this mess your baby sister made in her nappy – I’m so glad you’re a big girl and you can go on the potty”. Give them the attention they crave, but give it to them only for their big-boy or big-girl habits.

Remember all the praise and attention you gave when they first learned to use the potty? Try doing that again: “wow, you’re so clever you can use the potty instead of a nappy. I wish your baby sister was that clever”.

Be consistent

As with so many parenting techniques, consistency is key. Don’t be tempted to go back to nappies or pull-ups, no matter how exhausted you are. It’ll just confuse your child at a time when you want to reinforce a skill you know they've already learnt.

Related links

Elizabeth Pantley's Potty Training Q and As - part one...Finding potty training a challenge? Much needed help is here in the form of parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley. Read the first part of our brilliant Potty Training Q and A here.

Elizabeth Pantley’s Potty Training Tips - part two: Poo problems! Is your little one happy to wee in the toilet, but not so happy to do anything else? Expert Elizabeth Pantley may just have the answer....

Elizabeth Pantley’s Potty Training Tips, part 3, dribbles, accidents and how long should it all take?!
Expert Elizabeth Pantley answers your questions.....

Your potty training problem solver: Potty training not going the way you’d like it to? If your toddler is using the potty to bath her dolls and leaving damp patches (or worse) on the rugs, try Supernanny’s tips to get her to sit, stay and do her stuff!

A new approach to potty training: Are you desperate for your little one to learn how to become potty trained? Fear no longer, help is at hand from Supernanny expert Toilet Star....

Top tips for fuss-free potty training: Supernanny expert Stacy DeBroff shares her quick tips for potty-training success…

Discuss potty training, ask other parents your problems and offer them your help on our forum.

Potty Training Practical Tips: Does the very mention of potty training fill you with dread? Have you tried and failed to potty train your child, leaving you reluctant to try again? Supernanny Expert My Wee Friend has years of practice at helping kids come to grips it all.

Getting Toddlers to Stay in Bed: The Stay in Bed Technique is a method used in the Supernanny show to help families get an uninterrupted evening and a good night's sleep…

Bedwetting: Try to be patient – bedwetting is not her fault (or yours, for that matter!), and try to treat it as a challenge you work on together rather than a problem.

Find out more

  • Toilet Star - help your your child learn to use the toilet or potty like a grown up in this innovative way. Includes charts, tips and fun!
  • Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel. There’s a boy and a girl version of this book. Cute illustrations and text which focuses on the rewards of potty training.
  • I Want My Potty by Tony Ross. Terrific because it doesn’t patronise, just points out that sitting in a pooey nappy is, well, ‘yuuech’
  • Zoe’s Potty by Dori Butler. Includes a reward chart, stickers and a booklet!

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