Ask Dr. Nikki
Question: My 5-year-old's potty training has regressed the past few months. How can I help get them back on track?
Answer: Regression in children’s behaviour like toilet training is to be expected when there is change in the home such as the birth of a sibling, parental conflict or life changes from the pandemic. This can feel disappointing for a parent who perhaps saw freedom from diapers and pride in their child learning a new skill and developing into a self-sufficient little one. All is not lost, you can take comfort in the accomplishments your child has already achieved, wherever they are in the process.
Try to identify the reason they regressed. Talk to them about it and help them understand and express their feelings. It is important to try not to push your child into toilet training if they aren’t ready, or create additional stress and a need to perform. The child has complete control over their urination and bowel movements — they can hold it if they want too and that is not good for them physiologically. We want to create a positive and supportive environment to celebrate this great achievement in a child’s life. If you feel the time is right, both in your home environment and the child’s emotional life, then encouragement can be helpful.
You may also choose to stop using the diapers during the day. Talk to your child about this and explain they are growing up and can wear underwear. It could help to let them pick out their own so they can be excited to wear them. There will be accidents, so make sure your family is home and prepared for them (if there does not seem to be any change in about a week it is best to go to the doctor to check out medical reasons). The feeling of being wet can be helpful for some children to “feel” the urine to help them make the association with the internal feeling and learn to hold it. Try not to resort to using diapers again (during the day), as this can be confusing and can feel like defeat for the child. It is also helpful to try and be aware of your feelings and attitudes towards the accidents. Your child might feel embarrassment, shame or guilt and these are not feelings that should be reinforced.
Understand and validate their feelings, and build their confidence, autonomy and resilience by highlighting their strengths, achievements and capabilities. Everyone has accidents and makes mistakes, especially when we are learning something new. This is a great achievement in a child’s life, a time to learn to make mistakes and try again, to succeed and to be proud. Provide lots of praise and encouragement for both of you and celebrate this milestone.
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The content, including information and or advice provided on this site or by Dr. Nikki Martyn is intended for informational purposes only and are the views of Dr. Nikki Martyn to be used generally as guidance. If you have concerns about your child or parenting please see your doctor or health care provider for specific health and or wellbeing concerns they can assess and provide a referral if necessary. If you think you have a medical emergency please call 911 or the emergency services in your area.