All About Potty Training Regression and Accidents

8 MIN READ

Kid sleeping on the bed
Potty training is kind of like learning to ride a bike: There can be setbacks. Just like you fall off the bike a few times when you first start to pedal, the same learning process is true of potty training. Sometimes these setbacks can happen long after you think potty training has been mastered. If your kid has been toilet trained for some time now, but is suddenly having some accidents, you might be wondering why it’s happening and how you can help get things back on track. We’re here with the difference between potty training accidents and potty training regression, why each can happen, and what you can do about it.

The Difference Between Potty Training Regression and Accidents
How Many Potty Training Accidents Are Normal?
Reasons for Potty Training Accidents and Regression
How to Handle Potty Training Accidents and Regression
The Bottom Line

The Difference Between Potty Training Regression and Accidents

There is a difference between potty training accidents and potty training regression, here’s the low-down:
Potty training accidents are occasional and unexpected, and they are usually nothing to worry about, especially in the under-5s club. You can chalk these incidents up as little hiccups in your child’s journey toward being completely toilet trained. What classifies as purely an accident can be hard to define, so to give you an idea, here are some examples of toilet training accidents:
  • Your kid has the odd accident or two one week but is back to being dry the following week

  • Your kid is around the age of 3 and wets him or herself once or twice after having been dry for about eight months

  • Your kid is so absorbed in a game that he or she doesn’t make it to the toilet in time—this can happen even when your little one is around 5 years old.
Potty training regression, on the other hand, is trickier. It’s not a one-off or an occasional event, but rather it’s when your child wets him or herself often over several weeks after having been potty trained for a long time.
To give you some examples, potty training regression could be at play if your 8-year-old wets the bed after being dry for several years, or if your 5-year-old start to plead to return to diapers.

How Many Potty Training Accidents Are Normal?

There’s no one-size-fits all answer when it comes to how many potty training accidents are normal. Instead the broader context is what is important. If your child has one or two accidents after a long dry spell, and then doesn’t have another accident for a long time, it was probably just a hiccup. But if your child is wetting him or herself many times over several weeks after having being toilet trained it may be a sign of regression.
Until the age of 5, potty training accidents can be pretty common and it’s nothing to lose sleep over. In fact, around 15 percent of 5-year-olds still wet themselves during the day sometimes.
Try to remember that just like learning any new skill in life, becoming fully toilet trained also takes time and patience. Although the cleanup can be a pain and you may be anxious for your child to reach this milestone, it might help to keep in mind that even over the age of 5 daytime slip-ups or nighttime bedwetting incidents may still happen from time to time.

Reasons for Potty Training Accidents

Potty training accidents can happen because your kid is still learning the ropes and needs a little more time to recognize the signs of needing to pee—and the importance of getting to the toilet in time!
For example, your child may be so absorbed in an activity that he or she doesn’t recognize the need to use the toilet until it’s too late. And, sometimes, your child may just be having too much fun playing with a friend to stop what he or she is doing to race to the toilet.

Reasons for Potty Training Regression

Often potty training regression is a result of psychosocial stress. When a child feels like he or she has little control over a situation, they can start to feel confusion, anxiety, or fear. Anything involving change can make your kid to feel this way. Some common stressors include:
  • changing school

  • moving to a new home

  • having an extended family member move in

  • a parent being illness

  • being bullied

  • having a big change in routine

  • the birth of a sibling

  • a death in the family

  • conflict between the parents or divorce
To get to the bottom of whether emotional stress may be behind your child’s regression, think about what has been going on in your family’s life, and listen to what your child may be saying about what’s going on in his or her world.
Other causes for potty training regression include:
  • A desire for attention and wanting to get your attention by wetting him or herself

  • Having an active imagination and even becoming fearful of using the toilet, for example, by imagining that there is a monster in the toilet bowl

  • Wanting to imitate a friend who hasn’t been toilet trained by copying him or her

  • Wishing to return to the comforts of toddlerhood when your child was very dependent on you—this is what may cause your child to ask to return to diapers.
Sometimes the reason for potty training regression may be medical. This is much rarer, so your child’s healthcare providers may only look for a medical cause once stress or other emotional reasons have been ruled out as a cause. Possible medical reasons for potty training regression include:
  • a bladder infection

  • constipation

  • type 1 diabetes

  • threadworms.
If you’re unsure what is behind your child’s potty training regression, ask your child’s healthcare provider for a personalized diagnosis.

How to Handle Potty Training Accidents and Regression

Although potty training accidents and regression have different causes, how you respond to both situations can overlap. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to dealing with potty training accidents and regression.

Dos

  • Identify the problem. If your potty-trained child is suddenly having lots of accidents over a period of weeks, let him or her know that you’ve noticed a change and that it’s OK but that you will work together to get back on track. You may even want to ask if there is a reason for it. Listen carefully to your kid’s response and try to get him or her to communicate what the problem is. If your child is too young to communicate feelings well, consider whether there have been any major changes in your child’s life or your family’s home life recently.

  • Sympathize with your child. Let your child know that you understand how difficult it is and maybe even share a few stories of your own, especially if you’ve had similar experiences while growing up, to show empathy. You’ll want to communicate that it’s OK to feel anxious or disoriented by change but reassure your kid that he or she is safe and that everything will be OK.

  • Talk to your healthcare provider. Although potty training regression is usually psychosocial, if you’re worried it could be caused by something physical or medical, get advice from your child’s healthcare provider. Your child’s provider can also give you advice on how to help manage your child’s stress, or how to handle big live changes that are happening in your family so that your child doesn’t feel overwhelmed.

  • Take practical steps to help your child feel safe. If your child is feeling stressed, or simply wants a little more of your focus, spending quality time together can help resolve the feelings associated with the regression. For example, carve out time to spend together doing something fun or take your child to school and use the alone-time to have conversations about the day ahead. If fear of the toilet is behind the regression, find ways to make the toilet less scary. It could be by sticking fun posters up, reassuring your child that he or she won’t fall in, or reminding your child that the sound of the flush is nothing to be afraid of. What tools you use to reassure your child really depends on your kid’s age and what the fear or stress is about. If you’re moving houses, consider surrounding the potty or toilet with familiar objects from your old home, like maybe a favorite toy, a picture, or a carpet that was there before.

  • Offer positive reinforcement. When your kid does well, make sure you give her hugs, praise, a pep talk, or even some fun treat-like stickers on a potty training chart. What you offer as positive reinforcement will change depending on your child’s age.

  • Be clear with your expectations. Be understanding and patient but also clear that the goal is getting back to being toilet trained. Reassure your child that everything is OK and that you are confident that he or she is going to be able to do this even if there are some hiccups along the way.

  • Consider training underwear. If your child is wetting themselves often, you made need some help from the Squad! Absorbent underwear like Ninjamas can help you in your battle. Ninjamas prevents the mess associated with a wet bed, and gives your child confidence because they look just like normal underwear. Talk to your kid to see how he or she would feel about underwear that looks just like normal underwear and is practically invisible under PJs but absorbs any accidents. If you need more tips on how to stop bedwetting and make the morning cleanup easier, then we’ve got your back!

Don’ts

  • Don’t return to diapers. It’s OK to turn to training pants or waterproof underwear but avoid returning to diapers.

  • Don’t scold, shame, or discipline your child. We understand; dealing with accidents can be frustrating, especially because you had thought this stage had passed. Try to remember your child is not having accidents on purpose and there may be an underlying cause for the regression. Also, if your kid is worried about upsetting you, it could make the problem worse rather than better. Instead, be reassuring and clear about the fact that despite these setbacks, you’ll get back on track together.

  • Don’t confuse your child by stopping and starting potty training too often. If you’re reading this as the parent of a toddler who is still at the start of the potty training journey, try not to start and stop too often as this can be confusing for your child. It’s OK to start and stop again because you’ve realized your child isn’t actually ready, but make sure you leave it for a few weeks before trying again, and try not to do this too many times. Instead, wait until you see the signs that your child is ready for potty training before getting started.

The Bottom Line

Potty training accidents are probably just that – accidents. Your child may be focused on something far more fun than going to the toilet and so an accident happens. He or she will be back on track soon enough!
Potty training regression, on the other hand, may have a psychological or emotional reason behind it. Help your child get back to being fully toilet trained by trying to identify what’s causing the stress or worry in the first place, and taking steps to help reduce the stress around it.
Although it can be frustrating when your child wets him or herself, try to see it as a bump in the road that can be overcome with patience and reassurance. With the Ninjamas Squad ready to help make the cleanup easier, you and your child can really focus on getting back to dry days and nights.

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Mayo Clinic. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.