The New Sibling (Total 100% Nuclear) Potty Training Regression
A mom asks how to overcome her toddler potty training regression, caused by the birth of a new sibling.
We have a 31 month old little lady who is oh so stubborn. She was 90% potty trained a couple months back. Things have gone south since her baby brother was born 4 months ago.
We have here the benefit of the doubt that her regression was just related to the new family member and admittedly it was just easier to go back to pull-ups after weeks of taking care of a newborn and cleaning up accidents.
A couple weeks ago we went back to potty training boot camp. With promises of chocolate and a pet fish for success, We threw away the pull-ups and went naked from the waist down for a week and a half. We have an amazing daycare provider that was okay with this approach. Our daughter did great, no accidents at all outside of a nap-time poop daily in a pull-up. She was rewarded along the way and we were ready to buy the fish once we conquered putting pants back on.
Here is where things fell off the rails. We gave her undies and pants back and she is back to accidents. The most frustrating part of all of it is she doesn’t seem to care if she is wet. If we ask her if she’s wet she replies no and continues on playing and then throws epic tantrums when we attempt to remove said wet clothes. She also resists going to the bathroom when asked if she has to go potty, even if it’s been hours. On top of that when she is wearing the undies she has stopped telling anyone when she has to go.
Underwear-less in Minnesota
So I’ve done a lot (ALOT) of reading about potty training regressions, both for advice column purposes and my own personal purposes, because I’ve yet to train a kid who didn’t eventually regress at some point, for some reason or another. Sadly, despite reading every expert opinion on the subject, I’ve also yet to find a sure-fire magic-bullet solution other than: Stay patient, stay consistent, this too shall pass.
(SUCK IT, EXPERT OPINIONS. THAT IS NOT VERY HELPFUL.)
The birth of a new sibling is like, THE potty training regression trigger to end all potty training regression triggers. (Moving, a change in childcare routine, travel, or any other stressful life event like divorce, conflict in the home, etc. are the other big ones.) So at least we don’t need to Sherlock around for the cause of your daughter’s regression. Her world has just been turned upside down: she’s suddenly really and truly not “the baby” anymore and is questioning whether this whole “big girl” thing is worth it, or if it’s something she should resist. Look at how much attention that baby gets! Look at how great all the grown-ups think he is! Look at how easy he has it, just lying there in his diaper, and how no one ever interrupts his playtime to bug him about the stupid potty. This big kid thing is a RACKET, yo.
I will also humbly submit the hypothesis that 90% potty trained really means that your daughter actually wasn’t potty trained in the first place. Sure, you’ve seen a regression on her progress TOWARDS potty training, but it wasn’t really a completed milestone to begin with, but was a work still in progress. A work that you admittedly derailed by putting her back in pull-ups once the new baby arrived, and you couldn’t devote the sort of time and attention you were giving her (and the potty-training process in general) before. No judgment! No blame! You did what you had to do. But it might make it all feel a little less frustrating to reframe this regression as more of an INTERRUPTION of her training (with the bonus added challenge of new sibling stress), rather than a total regression of a mastered skill.
Her streak of successes, at least, does indicate that she IS ready to master it, which is good. Some halfway-there kids who regress completely after the birth of a sibling were not really ready to train at all, when you objectively look at how much the parents were involved in getting them to go before. Potty-trained parents, is more like it, and once the parental attention is focused elsewhere, the accidents start happening because the kid really didn’t have anything to do with getting their butt on the toilet in time in the first place. So the key is (UGH UGH UGH) to stay patient and consistent. No rolling back to pull-ups. No anger or visible irritation when she has an accident (you don’t want potty training to add to her existing stress level).
Try to give her as much one-on-one special attention as possible, and keep the attention POSITIVE. Praise her over every small thing. Satisfy her desire/need for attention so she isn’t tempted to resort to seeking negative attention in the form of resisting the potty or having accidents. (“Do you need to go potty? Do you need to go potty now? How about now?” Yup, that’s some damn fine attention-seeking she’s doing, right there, plus attempting to find a sense of control in a world newly full of baby chaos.) Talk to her and validate the feelings you think she might be having, that it’s okay to feel sad or angry that things are different now, that you still love her and she’s still your special baby. Take her someplace special, just the two of you, no potty-reward required.
If she refuses to change out of her wet clothes and there’s no immediate NEED for her to change out of her wet clothes…well, maybe let her stay wet for awhile. This was a trick that worked with my youngest, though not immediately. He was another “90% trained” kid who abruptly went back to 0% for no particular reason. His preschool teacher suggested we not rush to change him after an accident. He didn’t seem to particularly care at first, but EVENTUALLY, he did. Or he just needed to come seek help with getting clean clothes in his own time, on his own terms. (That pesky I’m-in-control thing, again.)
(Tangent! That same teacher also told me not to call them accidents. She explained that kids hear “accident” and immediately equate that word with something bad happening — like a car accident or someone falling and getting hurt. She felt this undermined the whole staying positive “that’s okay, we’ll try next time!” attitude if we used a word with negative meanings when they didn’t make it to the potty. She preferred using words that just described what happened. “Oh, your pants are wet now, you went pee in your pants instead of the potty, let’s get dry pants and try again next time, etc.” It makes a heap-load of sense, when you think about it, but admittedly the “accident” terminology was too deeply seated in my brain by kid #3 for me to drop it at home.)
One last thought on the pull-ups/diaper thing. This is usually the biggest debate about regressions: Does caving and regressing them back to pull-ups or diapers help or hurt? In your case, going back to pull-ups CLEARLY hurt her progress, which is why a lot of potty training experts advise parents to avoid going back at all costs. My personal experiences and observations tend to agree — with regards to PULL-UPS ONLY. Pull-ups can really become more of a hindrance than a help for some kids — they send the conflicting message that “you’re a big kid now” while also being not all THAT different than a regular old baby diaper. They go on like underwear (and most of us talk them up to our toddlers as being different and a big-kid step when we introduce them), but your toddler can totally pee and poop in them with near total containment confidence. So maybe they leak a little or a design disappears off the front. Meh.
Rolling back to full-on diapers, on the other hand, we had success with. There’s no mixed message there: This is a diaper. Like babies wear. Because babies pee and poop in diapers and not the potty. If you don’t pee or poop in the potty, well, you’re going to wear a diaper. You do the rest of the math.
Keep the expectation on your daughter to stay dry during the day. She has accidents? Fine. But you KNOW she can do this and you won’t let her backtrack again. Maybe stop asking about going/being wet (you KNOW the default answer will always, always be NO) and be a bit more hands on and just physically take her to the potty when she hasn’t gone in awhile. Set a timer she can hear and don’t make it debatable — timer goes off, we sit on the potty for a few minutes. If you do it without tantrumming and go pee you get a reward. And then for naps and bedtime…maybe try going back to diapers. Call them “baby diapers,” change her where you change the baby, send the (matter-of-fact, non-shame-y!) message that hey, sorry, you’re not using the potty, so I’m going to have to put you in a baby diaper until you do. I know you can, though! Maybe after nap or tomorrow!
Be prepared for her to NOT CARE at first, or maybe to even welcome it (ATTENTION! I’M THE BABY AND I GET ATTENTION!), but hopefully she will care eventually. Because babies also don’t get pet fish. Babies aren’t allowed to eat chocolate. Babies can’t (go to the movies, the zoo, etc.).
Good luck! It’s frustrating as all hell, I know. But it WILL pass, and she WILL train, I promise. Hopefully this is simply a “darkest before dawn” last hurrah on her part that she will simply snap out of one day and get with the 100% potty trained program. (That also happens. Like a lot, actually. Sometimes I wonder whether anything we did really mattered, because all of my kids eventually turned on a dime and just…IT’S DONE. IT HAPPENED. IT’S OVER. THANK GOD.