Prev Next
Total Eclipse of the Potty Training

Total Eclipse of the Potty Training

By Amalah

Hi Amy

My youngest son is 2.5 years old (my other two children are a 14 yr old boy and 4 yr old girl) and up until 2 weeks ago I thought we had cracked potty training, but then he started to pee. Indiscriminately. He pees in his clothes, he pees on the floor, he pees on the furniture. I am at a loss as to what to do. He is still using the potty or the toilet to have a poo, so I am assuming that this regression is behavioral but I have no idea what triggered it, or how to tackle it.

I would be grateful for any advice.



Call your pediatrician. Like, today, right now. Quite often, these sorts of all-out, totally nuclear potty regressions are NOT behavioral at all, but are a sign of a health issue. My guess, since this is so pee-centric,  is that he’s got a urinary tract or bladder infection, or had one quite recently. (These infections often go away on their own, but the resulting potty-regression symptoms can last for days or even weeks afterwards.) Call his doctor and schedule a urine culture ASAP.

A UTI or other infection would make him feel like he has to “go” all the time, thus making it difficult for him to determine when he ACTUALLY has to pee. And when he DOES have to pee, there’s a terrible, immediate urgency that doesn’t allow enough time for him to make it to the toilet. Plus, it might burn or sting when he pees, so he holds it in and avoids going, which makes the infection gets worse and it’s just a big ol’ mess of accidents. He doesn’t WANT to have accidents, so he’s making it to the potty to poop, but the pee problem might just be beyond his control right now.

I speak from first-hand experience here. I too misidentified one of these random, total-eclipse-of-the-potty-training regressions as behavioral, and futilely attempted to fight back with sticker charts, incentives, making my kid clean up his messes, etc. It only got worse, and pretty soon he was avoiding the potty all together, for pee AND poop. You can imagine how much fun THAT was.

He never ran a fever, never complained that anything hurt. Eventually, after GOD KNOWS HOW LONG, there was some visible redness. We took him to the doctor, who misdiagnosed the redness as some surface irritation and gave me a topical cream. It didn’t help anything and we were referred to a urologist, who couldn’t understand why a damn urine culture hadn’t been run on this poor kid, because yeah. It was a UTI. Not even a really bad one, but uncomfortable enough to torpedo potty training back to square one. (I’m guessing the infection had come and gone a few times, given the timeframe of accidents.)

We left with some antibiotics and a warning that the potty problems might stick around for awhile longer — once a toddler has a scary/painful experience they tend to hang on to the fear/avoidance. We were to increase his fluid take and the number of trips to the bathroom, overruling any and all protests that he didn’t have to go. I think it was about another week before everything went back to normal. But it did. One day, the accidents just stopped, and everything was fine.

Anyway, yeah. Rule out a physical cause before treating it like a behavioral problem. If the culture comes back clean, there’s still the possibility that he DID have an infection that cleared up and now it’s just a matter of him forgetting about the “unpleasantness” of the symptoms and getting back on track. Give him TONS of water and non-sugary fluids. (Note that cranberry juice, the go-to recommendation for us laaaaaadies to prevent UTIs, has not been shown to be all that effective for children, or in treating an active infection. Water is the best thing for your son, if he indeed has an infection of some kind.) Set a timer and get him to try going as often as you can. If you go out, make sure he has frequent opportunities to go so he’s not holding urine in.

If there really isn’t a physical cause, time and patience are probably your best bets. Maybe something happened in a bathroom at daycare or a friend’s house that scared him (a falling toilet seat, a weird painting, the dreaded auto-flush!), or he had a nightmare, or maybe he’s seeking negative attention and needs some extra one-on-one time or lots of positive praise and feedback. Maybe he needs frequent reminders/prompts because he’s getting too distracted or is just plain waiting too long because he doesn’t want to break from whatever he’s doing.

(This is also A Thing that happens. You think you’re “done” with potty training and put it on a mental back burner. You go from constantly thinking/asking/obsessing over your kid going potty to not really giving it much thought at all, overconfident in their ability to handle things themselves. Meanwhile, your kid is used to your reminders, still kinda needs them, and starts having accidents. Ahhh, parental hubris!)

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon