Did your child master potty training but lately has regressed? Potty training regression is common and is often caused by your child feeling overwhelmed, insecure or needing more attention. Perhaps there was a stressful life event, change or situation that may have preceded the regression. Whatever the cause, the solution lies in connecting with your child.
Potty training regression often manifests as an increase in accidents, refusal or your child seeming to lose a skill that they were previously competent with. One of the most common causes is something new in the child’s life, such as a new sibling, new house, a loss or other life change. It’s important to understand that regression is actually part of a normal learning journey and is not a sign that your child should go back to nappies. Regression is your child’s way of saying they need you to meet them at their level and understand how they are feeling. The regression is a symptom of the problem, not the problem in itself.
To solve regression, your child needs more connection to you. Here’s the process:
First of all, show your child that you understand their feelings. Acknowledge them as far as you can understand them. So if your child seems to be angry, upset or sad, explain that you can see they are feeling this way. Articulating their feelings is a good way to help them learn how to do this, as well as giving your child the feeling they have been understood. Validating feelings is a key part of the process, so just accept them and don’t try to change or rationalise them.
Once you have validated your child’s feelings, give them time to tell you how they feel in their own way. How you do this depends on the age and stage of your child. For example, a very young child may need more cuddles or ‘time-in’ with you whereas an older child may be able to talk about feelings with words or pictures. Do whatever works to show your child that you are listening and that you acknowledge how they are feeling. This process is very reassuring and builds connection.
Show your child that you know they are having a hard time at the moment. Sometimes, using empathy is enough on its own to solve the problem. Because if you understand that the regression is to do with how your child is feeling, once you have given those feeling space, your child no longer needs to express them through the potty regression.
You may need to go back a bit, to a point when your child was competent with the skill they seem to have lost. This is about meeting your child where they are at. For example, they may need your help with parts they could previously do alone, or they may need more teaching from you to go back over the basics. It may seem difficult to go back a step, but it will help your child to regain mastery of the skill. Remember, your child has already gone backwards, so you have to start from there if you want to go forwards again.
Play offers a practical and therapeutic way of connecting with your child. Play is the language most children use to communicate with adults, so connecting through play is a great way to work with your child to resolve problems. You can use play to role model, challenge resistance, overcome fear or teach any new skill. Using play avoids the need for bribery, rewards or other external based incentives which research shows doesn’t work. Connecting through play to solve regression could include games around the skills your child needs to regain confidence and mastery of, e.g. getting to the potty on time or telling you they need to go.