Everything is going well, your child seems to have mastered potty training, and you think you've said goodbye to nappies and accidents for good. But then, suddenly, he starts having accidents again, and you wonder what has happened.
It’s not that unusual for a child to take a break from the whole process when it comes to potty training, and there are lots of things you can try to support your child to become dry and to wear big boys' pants!
Back to square one
When potty training regression occurs, it can be disheartening for both the parent and child. It can often happen if there have been some changes in your child’s routine, such as a new arrival, a house move or even a new bedroom.
Whatever the scenario, be patient. Even if you have started and believe that they are ready but don’t want to take the final step of coming out of nappies, stay positive about using the toilet or potty and don’t make toilet training a taboo subject. The most important point here is that when they are ready, willing and able, they will let you know.
It’s important to stay calm and consistent; all children and toddlers will continue to have occasional accidents once potty trained; try not to be tempted into putting them back in nappies. Often, with toilet training, it is trial and error - once we accept this, it’s simply a waiting game for dry pants.
Often, our children use soiling as a means to gain attention. It can be hard to understand, however for many children it’s more of a learned behaviour. The reason can often be because when they soil, it gains a reaction from the parent, which in turn feeds into the situation; the more attention we pay, the more the child hangs on to that.
I have worked with some children that have a fear of pooing because they have experienced it hurting, and they get into a habit of retaining to avoid that pain. In instances such as this, try to stay calm so that your child won’t become overly distressed.
On the other hand, if you believe it’s something more than just behaviour, attention or a fear, and your chid is four years plus, often they can experience a condition called ‘encopresis’ which is another word for extreme constipation. This can happen after your child has successfully toilet trained; if they are resisting to poo, it can build up, and as a result the bowel is impacted and, instantaneously, poo leaks - which the child has no control over. Other symptoms can be loss of appetite or pains in their stomach. This can be upsetting for everyone but can be overcome in a very positive way. If you have concerns, contact your GP for advice and support.
Getting back on track
To break the cycle, prepare your child by reading a story-themed book, like 'It Hurts When I Poop’ by Howard J Bennett, or ‘My Big Girl/Boy Potty’ by Joanna Cole.
Remind him about going to the toilet around the time he is due - judging by his regular daily pattern.
Create a toilet picture sequence by the bathroom. This is a means of visual communication so your child knows what happens each time he goes to the toilet.
Lay on the praise! Our children need to see how positive and happy the parent is when he achieves going to the toilet – the more praise we give, the more it enhances him feeling good about himself. Also, you are focused on the positives rather than on the soiling.
Keep calm as best you can; children are very quick to pick up on our own feelings and emotions. If we are stressed, this can be very obvious – the calmer and more relaxed we are, the more confident your child will feel.
Create a reward chart or token jar – this can be placed in the kitchen where everyone can see - creating opportunity for praise and encouragement.
If your child is attending a crèche, allow your child know that both parents and crèche are communicating that he is now trying his best to stay dry.

Aoife Lee, Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare



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