What happens when potty training regression hits

Potty training regression is real and it can be bizarre, much like toddler behavior. This article is about recognizing potty training regression, finding the cause, and deciding on a course of action.

When we experienced our first regression in the second week of potty training, I was befuddled. My daughter had been using the potty consistently for several days with minimal accidents. I was pretty excited and couldn’t believe that she was potty trained! Then, she went to daycare and suddenly refused to use the potty altogether.

Facing a regression was easier once I understood what was going on. So, here is what to do when potty training regression hits.

Potty training regressions

Regressions are very common and are a normal, emotional response to stress in a toddler’s life. (Source) For a toddler, regressing to what has been the status quo for them can feel like a safe place when they’re stressed out.

As adults, we face regressions too. They may not be as noticeable or pronounced as toddler regressions but they exist. If we’re frustrated about learning something, the progress isn’t going to look that great. We may take a break from it and come back later with a new resolve to learn with more patience.

Learning how to use the toilet isn’t a steady, linear progression like most may think. I definitely thought that once my toddler figured it out, there would be no turning back. I was so wrong

I witnessed firsthand what regressions look like. A toddler may take 2 steps forward one day, then 4 steps back the next day. It may take a few days or a few weeks for them to get back to where they were.

Related reading: Pros and cons of potty training under two

Finding the cause

potty training regression

The learning curve is pretty steep and my daughter didn’t adjust easily to the sudden removal of diapers. In the beginning of potty training, we were definitely walking on thin ice. She was doing great but I didn’t realize that one little crack was going to crumble the whole process.

In our case, the cause of regression was easily identifiable. When I told our daycare that we started potty training, they made a number of changes in a short period of time.

I thought it was excellent that they were supportive with my toddler’s potty training but the changes at daycare came on too quick and too fast. First, she got moved to the 2-year-old room with a new teacher and a new potty training environment. Then, on the first day back at daycare, she was transitioned from the crib to a floormat for naptime.

So, she had to get used to new faces, a new person helping her with the potty, and sleeping on a mat for a nap, all in a matter of a day. It was too much for my toddler to handle and she regressed quickly.

When you’re looking to identify the cause of regression, think about any change your child has gone through recently. It can be very obvious or it can be very subtle. 

My toddler tends to throw tantrums when she’s tired or stressed out. Has your child thrown a tantrum recently? If so, what prompted it? What is your toddler’s overall demeanor? Have there been any changes at home or at daycare?

potty training regression

Common causes of regression

  • Moving to a new home
  • Travel
  • Starting daycare
  • Transitioning from a crib
  • Birth of new sibling
  • Teething
  • Sleep regressions
  • Sickness
  • Using the toilet in new environments  

Working through a regression

When a toddler regresses in potty training, it can be very frustrating and disheartening as a parent. Sometimes, it can feel insurmountable.

After my daughter’s first potty training regression, she started having a lot of accidents and refused to sit on the potty. It was devastating because, days before, she was doing so well. I would take her to the potty when I saw her sign and she would release on the potty immediately.

The first thing I had to do was reign in my own emotions. I was tired, frustrated, and confused. I understood why she regressed but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

potty training regression

The only positive action I could take to work through it was to remain calm and stick to the routine, even though my toddler was actively resisting it. Surprisingly, this worked. After a few days, my toddler’s resistance settled down and she started using the potty regularly again.

I had renewed hope in the potty training process.

Deciding to take a step back

Right at the point when my toddler overcame her first regression, we were hit with Easter and the decision to take a day long trip to see family.

I really wanted to go because we had missed Easter in 2020 due to Covid, so we packed up the toilet potty ring, a change of clothes, some spare Pull-Ups, and headed out.

In hindsight, I should have known that taking a day long trip would cause another regression. She was freshly out of a regression and only 2.5 weeks into potty training at this point. Apparently, we were still on thin ice.

I had high hopes that we might be able to stop at a gas station and use the toilet (um, yeah right!) and that she would be able to use the toilet at my relative’s home with her potty ring (nope!).

The first sign that I should have completely backed off on potty training that day was her fear of the gas station bathroom. Face palm. The rest of the day was downhill from there. We attempted to use the potty but she held in her pee for long periods of time to the point of scaring us.

Needless to say, we were back to having tons of accidents and utter refusal to use the potty. Then she went back to daycare again. So, we were at a point where she had gone days without even using the potty in Week 3 of potty training!

At this point, we decided to take a step back, rediaper, and rethink our approach because the regressions were crazy. We decided that we could all use a break from potty training.

Final thoughts on potty training regression

Regressions in potty training really surprised me and threw me for a loop. Obviously, they were not in the potty training plan. I wish things had turned out differently but I can’t turn back time or undo the decisions we made.

The daycare regression was out of our control because we needed childcare as full-time working parents. Easter was Easter and maybe we should’ve canceled that trip. I don’t know… I also realized that I couldn’t take anything back and these were all learning moments for my family.

The only thing that you can do with regression is decide how you are going to move forward, whether that’s working through it or taking a break.

I have full faith that my toddler will be potty trained, whether it’s 2 months from now or a year from now. It will happen, so relax and don’t stress. 

If you’re reading this article and want to know how to get through potty training regression, that in itself tells me you are an amazing parent and your kid is lucky to have you.

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