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Potty Training Regression

More Fun With Potty Training Regressions

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

An avid follower, I know you’ve written tons on potty training. And while my 3 year old son has made it so easy for us, I read your potty training columns anyway. You know, just in case we hit a stumbling block. Well, here’s a new one for me and I’m hoping you can provide some guidance.

Until last week, my son had been doing great at sleeping through the night without wetting his pull-up or getting up to let us know he needs to go in the middle of the night (rarely and there’s a gate at his door so he needs help in and out of his room to get to the bathroom). Yayyyyyyyy, tons of praise and recognition given.

So now the stumper. For the last week, not 5-10 minutes after I tuck him in (and after 2 trips to the potty right before bed), he calls to us that he peed in his diaper. Not that he has to go potty, that he’s wet. He goes potty before bath and about 15 minutes later as the last thing before tuck-in. How, I ask you, HOW is it physiologically possible that he STILL has anything left in his bladder to do this? And I verify that he does actually go a fair amount in the toilet both times. And we don’t give liquids after dinner, yada yada, covering all the major do’s and don’ts.

And how do we get over this hurdle without damaging his precious psyche (and mine, which leads me to the answer to your next question, I’m guessing).

What major changes have occurred lately? He is changing to a new school and his last day at the old school was about a week ago a few days before this started. Though he hasn’t expressed anything but excitement about meeting new friends, I know he is/will be sad at not seeing his old friends. AND we have a 2 month old, so being a big brother is new to him. Again, not a significant change in behavior but an acceptable amount of jealousy and demands for extra attention, hugs, etc which I do all I can go meet or exceed.

So with a new baby and the accompanying sleep deprivation and exponential increase in laundry, how can I help my son overcome this potty training regression? At the though of losing more sleep or getting buried further under the laundry mountain, the frayed thread my sanity is hanging by starts to give out. Thanks!


I can already guarantee that my advice will not be what you were hoping for, but hey, the Smackdown is back from its December hiatus and feels like coming back with a bang of complete and utter apathy.

Here’s what you do: NOTHING.

Don’t stress over this. This is a blip. This is will work itself out in time, if it hasn’t already in the nine days since you wrote this email. This is a three year old doing what three year olds do best: Angling for attention in the weirdest ways imaginable.

“But he gets plenty of attention! I am an absolute fount of wonderful, positive attention!” I KNOW, RIGHT? I completely believe you. Doesn’t matter.

I’d call this less of a true “regression” and more of a new-sibling-related, attention-seeking quirk. Because unless there’s something physically going on with his urinary tract (which if so: you would likely notice the same pattern during the day that he pees, then immediately needs to pee again because his bladder isn’t emptying for some reason, plz take him to the doctor), this habit strikes me as something he’s figured out how to do deliberately. Simply because he likes that you come back into his room 5/10 minutes after tuck-in.

And most toddlers/preschoolers play this bedtime game. For some, it’s the endless requests for a glass of water, one more story, or that you check the closet for monsters. Or bring them some toy or fix their covers or correct an uncomfortable pajama-tag situation. Your son has opted to go with a diaper change. Congratulations! You’ve won a great story to tell later while shaking your head in baffled amusement.

You’re changing a lot of diapers already. He notices. And his pride in his potty training is maaaaybe wavering a little, because maaaaaaybe there was one or two times when he asked you for something and got the “NOT NOW, DEALING WITH A NEWBORN DIAPER BLOWOUT” response. Or not! It’s not even worth trying to wiggle through the reasoning here, because he’s THREE YEARS OLD. That’s enough said, right there.

So keep doing what you’re doing. Limit liquids starting two hours before bed. Make him use the bathroom. Make him use the bathroom again. Offer an incentive for keeping his diaper dry. Remind him he can get up and use the bathroom any time he needs to.

(Although…if that gate isn’t 100% necessary, maybe get rid of it? Or replace it with something he can operate himself? But that’s your call — every kid is different when it comes to when they’re ready to say goodbye to baby/toddler containment and have full-house-wandering freedom. We typically granted it around this stage — once they were capable of staying dry at night or could wake up and use the potty independently.)

When the inevitable “I’M WET!” call comes, answer it. Silently. Mechanically. Make him take his own pull-up off and take it to the trash. No chatting/talking. No rebukes, encouragement, whatever. He’s got your attention…but only sorta kinda.

He’ll tire of this game, eventually. Meeting all those new friends will probably help — a new big-kid peer group around this age typically makes potty-training and cool underwear more of a Thing, a source of pride, and he’ll prefer not to seek your attention in this particular, babyish way.

(One other idea: Downgrade him from pull-ups to a For-Real Old-School Baby Diaper until this behavior stops. Not a shaming tactic — and I don’t recommend this for any child who is physically incapable of staying dry overnight yet — but if you suspect a toddler is deliberately regressing, going back to Baby Diapers REALLY makes the game seem less fun for them.)

I have three children, and my first two BOTH reacted to the new sibling with some sort of potty-related regression. It wasn’t always immediate — in fact I think they both waited a couple months, as if it took them awhile to realize the baby wasn’t going anywhere and could be a noisy, annoying attention-hog. It was always temporary, however, and the only way through it was through. Lots of positive attention and a jaw-clenching, stoic lack of attention (positive OR negative) whenever they had an “accident.” (THAT WERE SO ON PURPOSE.)

And my youngest doesn’t have a younger sibling. But he’s three. And competing with older siblings for attention. So…yeah. I feel you. It’s just kind of normal for kids to act kinda weird at this age.


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

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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  • Erin

    January 5, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    Not to be an alarmist, but if he is really going a fair amount of potty at all of these trips – how is he going during the day?  Has that changed, as well.  It is probaly just a blip, but if he is urinating a lot more than usual, please check with your pediatrician – this can be a sign of Type 1 diabetes (and I just had a friend go through the same type of symtoms and this was the case).

  • Ali

    January 5, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    So I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 4 month old. While my 2 1/2 year old isn’t potty trained yet, we have noticed a HUGE regression in night time behaviors in general since the birth of my little guy. While my older son used to go to bed without complaint, he now requires multiple “Check ins” before he finally goes to sleep. I’m guessing this is your son’s version of the same thing. As my pediatrician advised–this too shall pass. 🙂

  • Myriam

    January 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    As an add-in to Erin, being a Type 1 diabetic myself, this post did not even register “diabetes” on my radar. I think OP was just saying she was surprised he still had pee, and did not see to be withholding pee at earlier trips. Peeing large amount around the clock (including at night, which doesn’t seem to be an issue here), being constantly thirsty or dehydrated, losing weight, etc., all these together would warrant further investigation…. Better safe than sorry, but I wouldn’t worry about this right now…

  • Maggie

    January 5, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Just chiming in to say that little boy bladders are a great mystery to me. My 3 year old can pee a substantial amount and then not even 10 minutes later insist in going again and produce an almost equal amount. He makes me so nervous going out because using the potty right as we leave is no guarantee he won’t ask 5 minutes into the grocery shopping.

    • IrishCream

      January 6, 2015 at 9:26 am

      It’s not just little boy bladders. My 30-something lady bladder has that same miraculous capability. : )

  • slydegirll

    January 6, 2015 at 9:40 am

    I’m having a sort-of-kind-of similar problem. My oldest has been completely potty trained, day and night, since June (at around 38 months). Yet for the past…two months or so? He’s started using going pee at night as a way to stay up waaaay late. He will go right before bedtime. And then within ten minutes of us leaving his room, he gets up to pee again. And then ten minutes after that. And then ten minutes after that. He’s a smart little bugger – anything else (water, books, tucking in) I would tell him to either do it himself or its too late, you’re in bed. But I can’t tell him not to pee! It only happens at bedtime, and only every few nights or so. We have to turn on the bathroom light and/or help him with his jammies. ah 3-year-olds. He’ll be four soon, and I look forward to not saying that any more….;)

    • Claire

      January 6, 2015 at 2:13 pm

      A relative’s child was doing something similar, and it went on for a LONG time. It was pretty clear he was just playing games, so finally someone suggested just going back to diapers, and letting the child spend the night wet (once you are in bed, that’s it). A few nights of wet diapers, and problem solved. Just another idea if you get tired of playing games!

    • AmyRenee

      January 9, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Not sure if this would solve the problem or create a new one with a potential mess, but what about turning up the heat, sending him to bed with no pj pants just undies and putting a little portable potty in his room next to a night light? If he doesn’t get mommy attention or to leave his room maybe he’ll stop.

      Alternately, try doing everything after the first potty break with a bare minimum of interaction. Take him to the bathroom, take of jammies etc with no talking other than direction like “wash your hands now” and when you put him in bed after a potty break just say “go to sleep”. If possible sit him on the potty and turn your back to him or step just outside the door. If mommy and daddy are no fun during potty breaks, maybe it would get old? Maybe. Three year olds are crafty boogers, mine is also in the “whatever it takes to extend bedtime” trial phase.

  • j

    April 2, 2015 at 12:48 am

    My 30 month old has just recently started successful daytime potty training. Plenty of praise and encouragement for success.
    Just tonight however, immediately following bedtime; she wants potty, goes potty, goes back to bed (unhappily); and immediately wants, and goes potty again. This pattern repeated 3 times before we said enough and just changed her in bed.
    She has older siblings, but sees them only once a month, so this isn’t a stressor.
    Is this ‘bedtime defiance’, attention seeking, or just an indicator of potty training success in progress?
    Would you still recommend doing as little as possible to correctly alleviate the after-bedtime-wetness?
    Potty training is new to me as the older siblings didn’t live with me long enough for me to potty train them.