Why Does a Toddler Suddenly Have Potty Training Problems?

by Suzanne Robin

When your previously potty trained toddler starts having accidents, you might rack your brain for reasons for his regression. Some backward movement in the potty training process isn't unusual; learning a new skill isn't always a linear process, but rather one that progresses at different rates in individual children. Sometimes there might be a physical or emotional reason why potty training has been temporarily flushed down the toilet. Spending a little time thinking about your toddler's life events can often help you find the answer and help him overcome it.

Emotional Causes

Changes in your toddler's life that seem inconsequential to you might have a major impact on him. A new teacher's assistant at day care, different kids in his classroom, the loss of a goldfish -- even though it seemed like he never paid any attention to it-- can all rock a toddler's world. Even bigger changes such as starting nursery school, the arrival of a new baby, losing a grandparent or moving can lead to regressive behaviors in many areas, including a breakdown in potty training. Deal with regression from emotional upsets with patience; don't scold him. Assure him that you'll help him with using the potty; address any fears he seems to have acquired about the process, such as fear of the flush.

Physical Causes

Occasionally, physical issues can be at the root of a lapse in potty training. Toddlers can't always isolate painful sensations or articulate why they can't use the potty. Increase his intake of fruits and vegetables if you suspect constipation is causing loss of bowel control, pediatrician Karen Sokal-Gutierrez recommends on Fisher-Price.com. Make an appointment with your pediatrician for a checkup if you feel there might be a physical cause for loss of bladder or bowel control.

Lack of Real Training

It's possible that your "potty trained" toddler was never really potty trained. WebMD.com defines a potty trained child as one who recognizes when he has to go, gets himself to the bathroom and is able to do his business with little help. Maybe you were just good at "catching" him before he needed to go and taking him to the potty. If this is the case, he wasn't trained; you were. When you assume he's trained and can handle getting himself to the potty on time, you may find out he's really not able to take over the task himself. If this happens, go back to cuing him when it's time to go until he's able to make the connection without your input. Wait until he's been using the potty consistently for at least six months before considering him fully trained, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests.

Priority Setting

Toddlers often can't prioritize all the information that floods into their world. Your toddler might wet his pants while playing outside or watching an engrossing TV show. He recognizes the sensation of needing to go, but the signal isn't strong enough to force him to leave whatever fun things he's doing and deal with it. Set a timer as a potty break reminder, rather than nagging your child about going to the toilet every five minutes. Continue to give positive reinforcement without scolding. If he's struggling with buckles or zippers, get him pull-on pants and forgo the overalls. Let him know that you're confident in his ability to handle this important grown-up activity himself.

About the Author

Suzanne Robin is a registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology. She also has extensive experience working in home health with developmentally delayed or medically fragile children. Robin received her RN degree from Western Oklahoma State College. She has coauthored and edited numerous books for the Wiley "Dummies" series.

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