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Child looking up from the potty

The Potty Training Regression of Mystery

By Amalah

Hi Amy! Maybe you have previously answered this question, but I will be honest, I did not have time to do an archive deep dive. Probably because I’ve run to the bathroom at work 3 times already because I swear I still smell pee on me. (I pray it’s only in my head…)

Anyways, my daughter will turn 3 in November. I also have an 8 month old. Soon after my second daughter was born, my first started showing sign of wanting to potty train. I was skeptical at first, but we tried! And we did! And it went well! We are still in diapers for nap and bedtime, which is fine with me. She usually wakes up wet and I don’t want to deal with wet bedsheets in the middle of the night.

However, at daycare, they don’t do diapers at nap time, so there’s about a 50/50 chance on any given day that she’ll wet herself at nap time. Which I thought was fine, but now I think may be the cause of her back sliding, because the last 2 weeks we have essentially gone back to square 1 and it is so disheartening. We’ll ask her if she needs to go, we’ll get a No and then 10 minutes later she is wet. Multiple times a day. She doesn’t mind being wet. She loves to clean.

We’re back to bribing each potty session with a small snack, but even that doesn’t work. We’ve offered big rewards for going whole days without an accident (cookies! TV! popcorn! All 3, dear lord, just stop wetting yourself!), but we don’t even get past the morning without losing it. I’ve threatened going back to diapers, which she doesn’t even balk at. I also can’t think of any reason for the sudden regression. Besides nap time accidents at daycare, we had been accident free for months! And we had almost had a week of whole accident free days! And then it all came crashing down in a sopping wet, cookie-losing puddle.

I’m at a loss and running out of clean toddler underwear for the second time already this week.

Please help!
Will trade dry undies for cookies

Ohhhhhhh, has she been to the pediatrician lately? Because while this could be a potty training regression…it could also be a bladder or urinary tract infection. Or, not. So step one, get her to the doctor to rule out anything physical that could be the cause of the accidents.

Usually, potty training regressions are brought on by any kind of big change in a toddler’s life — the most common being a new sibling, a new school, a move or some other shift in their routine or home environment. (Did she recently change age rooms at daycare? Get a new teacher? Did anyone she know move away or did she get a new toddler bed or….?)

This might seem not seem new-sibling related, since she didn’t even start potty training until after her sister arrived…but it’s POSSIBLE that her interest in potty training got her all the extra attention and praise and validation she needed in the initial new baby days. And once she mastered the skill and no longer got said praise and validation on a regular basis…well, she just plain lost interest, and you’re stuck with a semi-belated new sibling potty regression. Negative attention and wet underwear are just fine with her, thank you very much, if it makes you put that dang baby down for a minute and make a fuss about her instead.

Working on that theory, you’re going to want to downplay the accidents as much as possible. Don’t scold or make a scene. Since she doesn’t mind staying wet and “loves” to clean — strip her out of the wet clothes quickly and silently. Hand her fresh clothes and then leave her to dress herself…and then clean up any other mess on your own without her. (You probably praise her for her lovely helpful cleaning skills, right? Of course, you do! So make sure there’s really nothing praise-worthy about wetting herself, including the clean up.)

Put her on a potty timer and schedule rather than asking her if she has to go — the answer will probably always be “no” because of her lack of interest. No bribes, it’s not optional, she’s a big girl who uses the potty now and she needs to use the potty and keep herself dry. It’s a house rule, as matter-of-fact as using our inside voices and not running with scissors. Pee goes in the potty, not our pants.

Use positive reinforcement (lots and lots of positive reinforcement) when she does sit on the toilet. Or when she does go. Or when she goes an hour (or 30 minutes, whatever) and keeps herself dry. Lots of praise and applause and smiles. You can give her a reward or incentive for potty-related stuff AFTER she does it, rather than a bribe. Likewise, make sure she’s getting plenty of positive attention throughout the day in general, and praise her for good non-potty behavior as well. Thank you for saying please so nicely, I love how you shared that doll with your sister, wow, look at how high you stacked those blocks, well done!!

And then if/when an accident happens: You become an emotional robot, just going through the very boring motions of cleaning her up. An attention black hole.

If this continues and you really don’t see any improvement, diapers are indeed an option. (I had a pediatrician who was a big proponent of using diapers dealing with regressions — not in a shaming way; I think she more saw it as a way to call their bluff.) I know there’s always the worry that diapers could cause an even bigger, more permanent backslide…but dang, you’re already covered in toddler pee and out of clean underpants. I’m not sure things could get any worse. And there’s the off chance that while she might not balk at the idea of diapers at HOME…she might feel differently about wearing them to daycare, where they might attract a little unwanted attention from her peers.

Again, you don’t want to shame her…but you also can’t change reality! She needs to use the potty and keep herself dry. You know she CAN do that. So if she’s really going to REFUSE to do that, well….*gestures to the Pampers with a helpless shrug.*

Once you’re back on track, by the way, any chance you can push back on the no diapers at nap time “rule?” Because it’s a pretty silly rule, and one that really doesn’t make sense, given that staying dry while sleeping and/or waking up on their bladder’s signal are entirely different physical/physiological milestones than daytime potty training. And wouldn’t it just be EASIER for them to have her change really quickly into a disposable pull-up or waterproof training pant before nap time than to deal with wet clothing, blankets, and other bedding?? I mean, that sure as hell sounds better to me.

But really…start with the pediatrician visit. We once misdiagnosed a UTI as new sibling regression, and believe me, ain’t enough positive reinforcement in the world that can make a toddler with a vicious UTI stop peeing on the damn couch.

More on Potty Training Regressions from Alpha Mom:


1. Total Eclipse of the Potty Training
2. More Fun With Potty Training Regressions
3. Potty Training Troubleshooting


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.

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