Potty training regression

Question: My girl is 3 1/2 and she has been toilet trained for about 1 1/2 years about eight weeks ago she has started pooing her pants again. She doesn’t do it at day care or when we go out. I know that she is just being lazy because occasionally she will go to the toilet or the potty. We have try everything and I am at my wits end. Melissa

Answer: Potty learning is one of those skills that are often 3 steps forward and 2 steps backwards. It is not unusual for children to appear completely “trained” then regress. From a parent’s perspective, you might think that there would be no worries after a year of successful pottying. But, as we know, children never comply with adult logic. Potty accidents can occur well into the fourth and fifth years.

Your daughter definitely has the physical control she needs since she is successful at day care and when you are out. Be reassured that she understands the process in those public situations.

What are your options if, as you suggest, she is being “lazy”? You can give her reminders to use the toilet. But, you cannot create motivation if pottying in her pants truly doesn’t bother her. I do not support external incentives to motivate toileting behavior (for example candy or money). A child’s body is their own and “bribes” prevent children from taking personal responsibility for their own needs. Bribes also prevent them from understanding the very nature of those needs.

You can talk with her about her different choices at home and away from home. Acknowledging that it is ultimately her choice where she potties, you can tell her that you would like her to use the toilet. Life was easier when she was using the toilet all the time. She may give you some clue about what precipitated the change. What changed – a new school, a new sibling, or new challenges? If something else changed in her life, you can help her to feel more control over the changes rather than displacing it to her toileting.

Lastly, look for a more informative description of her behavior. Is she too engaged in an activity to stop what she is doing? Is it just not a priority at this time? Is it for attention, power, or to exert control? “Lazy” doesn’t help us to understand or to respond; it just frustrates. Parents feel so much pressure about their children’s potty learning that they often unintentionally add emotional components to an already complex experience. Focus on what you can control – teaching her to understand her body and her feelings and feeling competent about taking care of herself.

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Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.


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