As a parent, you change thousands of diapers. But there comes a day when you hit the diaper aisle and think, “This might be the last time I need to buy these.”

You’ve potty trained. Accidents are minimal. Maybe your toddler has started preschool and there’s a “no diaper rule.” You’ve made it. Potty training was a major accomplishment. Maybe you even did a happy dance and bought the little one candy.

But the bliss was short lived. After a few weeks, the accidents started: at night, at nap time, in the car, at school.

You read about potty training regression. But your kid has it down.

Until they don’t.

Your potty-trained child has reverted back to wanting or needing a diaper. Any number of factors might have caused this. But don’t worry. Regression can be fixed. It will just require some retraining, patience, and listening to get back on track.

What can parents do to help?

Even though your child has appeared to master going to the potty, a new situation can throw them off. Their energy and attention are on the new thing, not on staying dry and finding a bathroom. They also may just temporarily lose interest once they’ve mastered the potty, especially if there was a lot of fanfare and attention around toilet training.

Regression can sometimes happen to older kids, too. Changing schools or a bully can trigger a setback. Kids that are mentally and emotionally overwhelmed might be ignoring their body’s signal to head to the bathroom.

Here are eight helpful tips for dealing with potty training regression.

1. Stay calm

Even though you’re frustrated, remind yourself that a period of regression can be normal. It might be happening for a number of reasons, but it can be fixed.

2. Don’t punish

Experts say punishing your child for bed-wetting or any accidents will only backfire. Bed-wetting, in particular, isn’t under your child’s control. And punishing for accidents makes it more likely your child will try to avoid punishment by hiding or trying to not poop or pee at all, leading to constipation and even more accidents.

3. Offer positive reinforcement

Clean up accidents without a fuss and move on. Give your child the attention they want for other good habits they’re showing: at the table, at preschool, washing their hands, etc.

It feels good for any of us to hear we’re doing the right thing. Give plenty of hugs, kisses, and cuddles. A sticker chart or a special treat after a successful bathroom stop also works well for some kids.

4. See your doctor

Give your pediatrician details of the regression. You want to eliminate the possibility of infection and make sure you’re on the right path.

5. Find out why

Accidents in older kids are often connected to the lack of control over a child’s environment. Try to get into their head and find out what’s going on. Knowing the cause can help figure out the solution. Talk it through and get the issue out into the open.

6. Sympathize

You should acknowledge that you know it’s difficult to keep up with everything happening in your child’s life. You can use a story from your childhood about a time when you regressed and tell them that it can be normal.

7. Reinforce training

Remember, what you did before initially worked. You can reinforce that with some set times to sit on the potty. Perhaps it’s before nap time or after bath or meal time. Make it part of the routine. Try not to make it a big deal about using the restroom — and definitely don’t force the issue — just incorporate it into your child’s day.

8. Make expectations clear

Tell your child you expect them to resume heading to the potty and having clean undies. Let them know you know they can do this!

Why does potty training regression happen?

Accidents can happen when a child is stressed. This stress can be minor and temporary, like when your child is exhausted or distracted by playing.

Anything new or different can also cause extreme stress for kids. These situations might be stressful and lead to regression:

  • a new sibling
  • moving
  • a new school
  • a different babysitter
  • a new parent routine
  • social changes in the family

After a 22-year career as a newspaper reporter and editor, Shannon Conner now teaches journalism in the Sonoran Desert. She likes to make aguas frescas and corn tortillas with her sons and she relishes CrossFit/happy hour dates with her husband.