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Potty Training Regression

Potty Training Regression

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I love your advice columns and personal blog – my two little guys are close in age to your Ezra and Ike, just a few months behind (our newest is one month old). Anyway, I know you aren’t a huge fan of talking about potty training, but we are at a loss with our oldest son and maybe you or your readers have some suggestions. He potty trained easily and the whole process was very self-led and we declared him trained! just before he turned 2.5 in July. Daytime, nighttime, naps, pooping…he was doing it all, and was very independent about it. I didn’t even really have to ask him to use the potty most of the time, he would just go (can you sense my previous smugness? am clearly potty training expert). We were completely diaper- and accident-free for about 6 weeks or so.

Everyone warned us about the potty-training regression that would occur after the new baby came along. And sure enough, we have had more accidents in the last 4 weeks than we had in the previous 6 months of potty training. We seem to have stabilized on the pee – he just needs to be reminded – and nights and naps are dry. It’s the pooping that is making me crazy. He is pretty consistently pooping his pants (underwear, not pull-ups or diapers (yet)) at daycare in the mornings, and will poop in them at home unless we are super-vigilant about keeping an eye on him and rushing him to the toilet when we can see he is starting to go.

SO. I know this is probably an attention-getting stage, and to be expected, and all that. But what do we DO? Go back to diapers or pull-ups? Offer new rewards? Ignore the whole situation for a couple of weeks to remove the pressure? We are trying really hard to be sensitive to his feelings and our attention and not shaming him, but I would love some sort of strategy. Or maybe I just need someone to tell me that it will pass (soon-ish? please?).


Yep. Yep. Yepyep. Everybody warned us about this too, but naturally I ignored the warnings because pfft! Ezra! Regressing back to diapers? Mr. I’m A Big Boy himself? Puh-leaze. People had talked up the potty training regression before Ezra was born and Noah never went through it (though probably because we were only good to go with pee at the time…poop remained a problem for a few more months). So I mostly assumed it would be a non-issue.

Heh. It wasn’t. We saw exactly what you’re describing. Accidents became a regular occurrence, like nothing we’d ever even seen during the actual hardcore potty training period. Part of it, I think, was that we were simply more distracted and hadn’t realized that we were probably giving Ezra more guidance and reminders than we thought prior to Ike’s birth…in our rush to get two kids AND an infant out the door, that last-chance potty time sometimes got forgotten about, only to catch up with us in the middle of a Target aisle, when…oh. NO. NONONO STOP.

But our distraction aside, there was no doubt that some of the problem was a real and honest regression. Like you, we got the wetting accidents back under control in a couple weeks by being super vigilant (and offering mini-chocolate chips). But pooping on the potty was not happening. Ever. He’d just…go, no matter what he was wearing. I even tried naked naps for awhile thinking that would help. Nope. Just squatted in a corner of his room and went. Then we had repeated issues with him trying to “help” and put the poop in the potty AFTER the fact, which…oh God. The mess. The horrible, horrible mess.

Like you, we kind of flailed around without a plan for awhile. I resisted going back to diapers or pull-ups because I worried that would set him back even further, but then got so frustrated over soiled clothes and bedsheets that I bought some disposable pull-ups and started making him wear them at nap and nighttime.

(I did try reverting back to our cloth diapers, thinking maybe THAT would appeal to his sense of “I’m NOT a baby anymore” pride, but since we HAD gotten back on track with pee, our snap-closure cloth diapers didn’t work. He couldn’t get them off himself to use the potty on his own, so I felt like we were seeing unnecessary wetting accidents in them. We had some very lightly lined cloth training underwear [good for leaks but not much else], but had managed to skip “real” heavy duty reusable training pants since he trained so quickly. I debated buying some, but instead decided to cross my fingers and hope that the regression wouldn’t last long, and thus not require many more pull-up purchases.)

The pull-ups helped us put the issue on the back burner and kind of ignore the problem — he could handle going pee by himself in them, which I continued to praise him for. But I knew he needed to poop before naptime and we would dutifully try to sit on the potty for bit, just like the old days of potty training. Then I would put a pull-up on him, send him to bed, and basically count the minutes until he announced he’d pooped. It drove me nuts, yes. Absolutely bonkers. I would bite the inside of my cheeks to keep from scolding or questioning or letting him know AT ALL that I gave a crap. About the crap. In his pants. That, compared to what I was changing in the baby’s diapers, looked like it practically came from a full-grown man. OMGCHILDYOUHADTHISCOMEON.

And then…it stopped. Just like that. No rewards, no hassling, no nothing. One day he came out of his room and announced that he had to poop. Then he walked into the bathroom and went while I stood there slack-jawed in shock. Ike was about two, maybe two-and-a-half months old. We kept him in pull-ups in bed until we ran out, just to be safe, and then went cold turkey at nap AND nighttime. He had maaaaybe two accidents during the final days/weeks of pull-ups, but has been absolutely golden ever since. At school, at home, at night, at the Target, THANK GOD.

So my advice? Do whatever you need to do for your sanity and whatever helps you keep a cool head and a poker face about the problem. Which will probably correct itself relatively soonish, no matter what approach you take. He’ll stop seeking negative attention and once again revel in your positive attention, once the baby ceases to be such a world-changing thing to him.


Photo credit: Thinkstock

Published September 28, 2011. Last updated March 12, 2018.
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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  • SarahA

    September 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    My mom made me wash my underwear when I regressed when my sister was born (I was almost 3). She told the daycare that, too so they would have me rinse out my undies after an accident. I was pretty mad but I guess it worked (I don’t remember any of this).

  • bethany actually

    September 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    We had friends whose older daughter M was 3.5 and totally potty-trained when their second daughter D was born…six weeks early, with some drama, and a small amount of continuing drama because D was a preemie.

    M, who had been completely potty trained for ages, totally regressed on the poop front. They even had to remove her from preschool for a while because she had so many accidents. Her parents tried everything and were going out of their mind not knowing how to fix it. Finally they asked their pediatrician, and he told them, “Back completely off. Put her back in pull-ups, continue asking her to go potty in the toilet, but when she does go in the pull-ups don’t treat it like a big deal at all. Just very matter-of-factly change her. When she does go in the toilet, make a point of praising her.”

    It took a month or so of wearing pull-ups and ignoring the accidents and praising the toilet use, but then they were all fine.

  • Kimtoo

    September 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Gotta second not letting your frustration show. I got into a total power struggle with my daughter. Worst parenting move ever, and there are still ramifications to this day. (PPD was definitely a part of it, but still – wish I had been able to stay calm.)

    (And how cool is that video?)

  • JCF

    September 29, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I could have written your letter word for word after my third baby was born. It took my older son about 2 months to start pooping in the toilet again, every day of which, I thought I was going to lose my mind. I tried so hard to remain neutral while changing my son’s dirty underwear, and was successful most of the time, though we certainly had some ugly moments in those months. We went through the same thing again with BOTH of my older kids when we moved recently. After about a month of changing dirty underwear 7-8 times a day, I told the kids they couldn’t watch TV until they pooped on the potty. If they had an accident, no TV for the day. It took two days for both kids to realize I meant business, and they’ve been doing great ever since!

  • Karen

    October 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks so much for this! The key is to definitely do what works for you and stay calm. I can’t remember exactly what I said the first few times my 2 year old crapped her pants, but it was not a proud time in my life… some swear words were even uttered. Massive parent fail! Lately, my husband and I have matter-of-factly cleaned her up and put her in a Pull-Up. She didn’t mind at first (she was in underwear before), but then suddenly had an epiphany “This is a diaper, Mommy!” She’s stopped pooping her pants.. for now.. fingers crossed it lasts. Love the video by the way!!!

  • Christine

    October 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I’d just like to chime in to mention that sometimes a regression happens without even having a new sibling to blame it on. I thought my daughter was done, pretty much, at the start of the summer when she was 2.5. Then we went away (five hour time difference) for three weeks in July, it all went to heck, and hasn’t come back since. She’ll be 3 next month. Gah. It’s frustrating, but it’s totally a control issue (that is, not a physical one) – she knows exactly what she’s doing. I keep calmly saying that when she’s three there’ll be no more pullups, and I’m hoping some sort of miracle will happen then.

  • Dee

    June 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I want to thank you for a great discussion board. I don’t follow any blogs/social media/forums/posting things, so I’ve never responded on one before (I’m so very behind the times). Though my story below may be long, I promise the main take away is that this is the best advice board/forum/blog I’ve found on regression. (see, I don’t even really know the correct terminology).
    So, I have found myself smack in the middle of the potty training regression, and the only thing I know to do when I need answers is to do a google search for ‘potty training regression’. Which I did about a week and a half ago. That brought me to tons of sites to do this or that, most definietly don’t do this or that, act this way or react that way… yada yada. Maybe it’s because I’ve finally found folks with a similar mindset as mine, but this is the first site that made me feel normal and capable of getting thru this.
    My daughter is 3 1/2. Potty trained during the day (trust me, I’m going to be hitting up your night-time potty training advice section next), has been in undies, going on the potty on her own for about 6 months now. Our son was born 13 months ago, and she actually got potty trained while I was on maternity leave. Went great. Flash forward to present day, her brother is a year old, absolutely nothing is new in our lives, and here comes the dirty underwear. Poo and pee. LOTS of times in a day. Color me frustrated and confused. So, I’m looking online for help cause aparently I’m no longer speaking her language and we’re having such a communication battle it’s exhausting. They mention reression for a new sibling, but our son is a year old… not newborn! They say to absolutely not revert back to diapers, but how much laundry can one person take?? They say to not get upset at her for ‘accidents’, but they are darn well not accidents… she makes no effort to even get to the bathroom. We were in her room picking up toys last week, and a nugget just rolled out her pants leg onto the floor. Whaaa? (she had dressed herself and was wearing sweatpants with no undies). I asked why she didn’t go on the potty and she said cause she couldn’t get there. We’d been in the same room for 20 minutes and she had never made a move to go. The other day she was out swinging. I told her to come in and take a potty break, and when she did, there was a mess (poo) in her undies… she’d been swinging and smushing it all in there with no concern at all. So it’s not an ‘accident’, it’s a ‘choice’. Very clearly. There’s not much info out there for what to do when she just stops choosing to go on the potty. So, 3 days ago I had had it. I put her back in pull-ups. This was received with ‘I get to wear pullups?’, so no skin off her back at all. I didn’t care. I was loosing my sanity and did it anyways. I immediately felt 100% better after making that decision. No more stressing over what kind of reaction to have or the anticipation of dissapointment that comes with yet another pair of dirty undies. Whew. So, now, a few days later, my previous internet searches are weighing on me, making me feel like I did everything wrong. I did a self-pity search about now having put her back in pull-ups, and some ray of light led me to this discussion. Real people. Honest words. The original questioner, your response, and even all of the additional great people who responded – fantastic. I see that this is an ‘old’ topic from last year, but I was so darn impressed by everyone that I had to say thanks. We’re not out of pullups yet, not ‘trained’ again, but at least I feel like a good mom again. I can’t say enough how releiving it is to hear that other people loose their cool, resort to all sorts of measures, give in, give up, and still make it through everything. I was tired of hearing “absolutely don’t to this, or you must do that”. Ugh. One thing I read on here that I did not anywhere else is to “do whatever you need to do to keep your sanity”. That is golden.
    Thank you so very much for pulling me back to the world of the hopeful!

    • Erica

      June 28, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Dee,
      I have also never done this, but just had to share in response to your post. I recently spoke to a potty coach who has trained over 1,000 kids. She said that most regression happens when the younger sibling is AT LEAST 6-9 months old. At 6-9 mos, the younger sibling is cuter and more interactive than when he/she mostly slept as a newborn; therefore older sibling is more likely to experience jealousy later than sooner. Perhaps this explains some of your daughter’s regression 13 months after her brother was born? all the best to you and yours… Erica

  • Lauren

    September 22, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    My son will be 3 on Friday and I have a daughter who will be 5 months on Saturday. I was afraid of my son regressing on potty training when my daughter was born so I hadn’t started potty training at all until after she was born. He was doing great and not having any accidents so we moved him to underwear. He’s been in underwear for awhile but all of a sudden he started pooping in his underwear every time. He refuses to try and poop on the potty but has been doing fine with peeing. So far, we have been very calm when changing him and reminding him about using the potty and not going in his underwear. He agrees but then we are back at the same point the next day. It’s becoming very frustrating. I’ve been afraid of moving him back to pull ups but I think we might have to keep our sanity. 

  • Janie

    November 2, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    I’m so glad I found this board to know I’m not alone. This has happened TWICE now with my son. He was three when his sister was born and he regressed. He was barely potty trained anyway so I just kind of let it go and started with pull-ups again. Well, after a few months he started using the potty. Fast forward to now. He turned 4 in Sept and stays with my mom during the day. She also keeps my sisters son who is 9 mos. He is wetting his pants there multiple times a day and 4 of the last 5 nights he has pooped in his night pull-up at home. What gives? This is driving me crazy

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