Your child was successfully potty trained and things were going great. Until they weren’t. Perhaps they
have began frequently wetting, refusing to use the toilet or holding their poo.
Let us explore some of the reasons for this, and how to support them.
1. Physical Reasons: Sometimes a physical reason such as a UTI or constipation can trigger a
regression. Constipation can actually prompt frequent urinary accidents (as the full colon places
pressure on the bladder). When a child becomes constipated they may find it unpleasant to pass
stools and so hold further to prevent the release. This causes further constipation which may
promote further urinary accidents. Therefore if a child begins frequently wetting or holding it is
important to speak to a GP to rule out possible UTI’s or constipation. A high fibre diet and good
water intake can help to prevent constipation.
In other cases children sometimes misunderstood the purpose of potty training. Some believe
that the aim is to keep their underwear or sheets dry (as opposed to recognise when they need
to go and use a potty or toilet). This may have occurred if they were praised for dry pants, told
off for accidents or potty trained too quickly. The child begins to hold, giving the illusion they are
potty trained, but they then reach a stage were they can hold no more and so frequent wetting
begins. In order to manage this, ensure not to praise for dry pants or sheets and do not scold for
accidents (these are normal and to be expected).
In other cases illness or medication may impact bowel habits – liaise with your GP for advice if
this is the case.
2. Emotional Reasons: Children can often develop fears of using the potty or toilet and these can
begin at any stage, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they were splashed using the toilet or their
potty is uncomfortable. Reassure your child and go slowly in their own time. Never force them
to sit on a potty or toilet. Some children find it useful if you place toilet paper on the toilet water
to prevent it splashing them. If your child refuses to use the toilet it is sometimes advantageous
to take a break from the potty process.
In other instances a child may have experienced significant change such as a bereavement,
house move or family break down which may result in frequent accidents. Supporting them
emotionally and seeking outside support for managing emotions may be appropriate.
3. Social Reasons: It is not unusual for a child to be potty trained at home but they will not go at
nursery or at the homes of friends of relatives. Perhaps they are unsure of how to tell them
when they need to go, or perhaps they do not like going in groups. Try to make sure the
environment is as familiar as possible in all areas, and inform childcare providers and family
members of the language your child uses when they need to use the bathroom.
4. Environmental Reasons: Sometimes change such as a new baby in the home can trigger more
frequent accidents. Sometimes when the focus of attention shifts, children see potty training as
an easy way to redistribute this balance. Making little fuss when they have an accident, and
offering some 1:1 time and attention outside of potty training can help with this adjustment.
This information is meant as a general guide. If you have any concerns about your individual child’s
health or progress speak to your GP or health professional.