Common Potty-Training Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Children can have problems with potty training. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, like an aversion to the toilet (it’s big and scary, it makes loud noises, and things disappear into it).

Other times, it is harder to figure out. For instance, if your child has trouble going on the potty because of anxiety or discomfort, try these tips to help:

1. Taking Your Child to the Bathroom Too Frequently

Even with the best potty-training plan, it’s possible for kids to backtrack on toilet training. A child might revert to diapers for many reasons, but most of these setbacks can be avoided.

Sometimes, a kid just needs more toilet or potty seat practice. When this happens, be patient and offer lots of encouragement. Don’t force toddlers to use the potty chair when they don’t want to; doing so can heighten bathroom anxiety, making it more difficult for them to learn. Instead, keep the potty chair fun by playing games, bathing guys or dolls, and reading books in there. It can also help provide a footstool to alleviate discomfort for older children who have trouble sitting for long periods.

Another reason for potty relapse is that some kids are simply ready to poop in the diaper but haven’t yet developed enough body control to let it happen on their own. If this is the case, it’s not a failure; you can help them ease into it by allowing them to poop in a diaper during the day and night until they’re ready to go without one.

Other relapses might be related to a specific issue, such as a fear of the flushing noise or not washing hands. If your child is having these kinds of problems, address them by discussing them in a lighthearted way and offering them reminders such as the ones portrayed in Hope Vestergaard’s charming book, Potty Animals: What To Do When You’ve Got To Go! The book features relatable preschool-aged animal characters who forget to flush, wash their hands, and wipe their bottoms.

Any sort of change can affect a potty-training kid, including happy changes like visitors or vacations and less-than-happy ones such as a death in the family or a new baby sibling. If a tot starts skipping the potty or wetting their pants again, it’s important to remember that almost all kids get back on track eventually. Just try to make sure that any additional changes don’t interfere with your training schedule or become stressful for the family.

2. Keeping Your Child in Diapers Too Long

Many kids experience toilet training setbacks, even if they are ready for underwear. This can be due to family events such as visiting grandparents, holidays, or vacations, or life changes such as the arrival of a new sibling or the end of a nanny’s contract. It can also happen when a child is sick, injured, or otherwise stressed. But reversing these setbacks is relatively easy, says Neuberger. “All you have to do is be patient, reassure them that they’re doing well, and offer a lot of positive reinforcement,” she says.

Another common pitfall is putting your child back into diapers too soon, says Banks. “You may see that your toddler has all the signs of being ready: they’re curious about the potty, they’ve started to undress, and they’re going for longer periods of time without wetting their diaper.”

But if you try to move them into underwear too early and they’re still having accidents, you risk confusing them. Instead, you can help your child make the connection between a dirty diaper and having a bowel movement by taking their old one off and letting them sit on the potty for a few minutes with their pants or trainers on. “It’s an opportunity to teach them that you want them to sit down and do their poop on the potty,” Banks says.

You can also help your children make the connection between their bodies and their bathroom activities by reading books like Hope Vestergaard’s charming toddler book, Potty Animals: What to Know When You’ve Got to Go! It features preschool-aged animals that remind children of bathroom steps (like zipping and washing hands) in a playful and practical way.

Consistency is key for potty training, and consistency should extend to every household member. Be sure that spouses, grandparents, uncles, babysitters, and teachers are on board with your potty-training plan so that everyone is working toward the same goal. And remember that scolding your children for having accidents is counterproductive. Instead, focus on re-engaging them with the process by giving lots of praise and encouraging them to take their next step in the right direction.

3. Taking Your Child to the Bathroom Too Often

Even when a toddler is seemingly potty trained, they can still have occasional accidents. Toddlers aren’t known for their cooperation skills, and it’s not uncommon for them to regress just as they’ve started taking steps forward (and putting on big kid underwear). Rather than getting frustrated with a relapse, you can help them get back on track by ensuring everyone is on the same page. This includes spouses, grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, and teachers. They should all be ready to jump on the Toilet Express. This will help prevent a relapse by limiting the amount of time a child is in diapers.

Children should have a say in how they use the bathroom, and parents can encourage this by offering them rewards when they do something right, such as choosing their very own potty chair or a new pair of underwear. They can also be rewarded for having an accident-free day by doing a fun activity that they love, like reading a book or playing with their favorite toy.

Another thing that can cause a potty-training regression is that they feel left out or abandoned when you take them to the bathroom without offering them anything to do while they sit there. This can make them start to withhold urination and stooling as they don’t want to waste their time on the potty. Fortunately, this problem is easily solved by making the bathroom an inviting place for your child to be.

One way to do this is by allowing them to choose their own potty chair or underwear and showing them how to put them on, which will give them ownership of the process. Additionally, you can make sitting on the potty more fun by letting them decorate it with characters and objects they like and providing them with toys to play with while waiting.

You should also try to avoid making the potty experience a battleground, and it’s best to stay home for most of your day on days 1 and 2 of the process, but you can still go on outings, such as a walk in the neighborhood, by day 3. Resist getting caught up in comparing your child to other kids when it comes to learning potty skills. They all learn at their own pace, and trying to race them can create a negative association with the potty that may last a long time.

4. Taking Your Child to the Bathroom Too Often

If your child continues to have frequent accidents despite your efforts to train them, it might be time to pump the brakes and consider what the problem is. They could be feeling pressure to potty train even though they aren’t ready, or they may have an underlying medical issue like bladder or kidney problems that require additional care. It’s also possible that their pelvic floor is weak, and they are leaking in between voids.

A common mistake many parents make is attempting to train their toddler too quickly. This often leads to a lack of progress and can make your toddler resistant to the process, which makes it much harder for them to learn to use the toilet. The best way to avoid this potty-training pitfall is to take your child to the bathroom on a regular schedule but let them initiate the action and remain in their diapers if they are not ready for this.

When they decide to void or stool, encourage them to sit on the toilet for a specific period. Try playing fun, imaginative games with them while sitting on the potty or in the bathroom. This can help them become more comfortable with the act and will teach them how long to stay on it (which is important if you want them to succeed).

It’s also important to remember that accidents will happen during the process. Overemphasizing their mistakes can lead to a sense of shame, which can interfere with future attempts and cause more accidents. Reminding your toddler that accidents are normal and part of the learning process is one of the most effective ways to approach this situation.

It’s also important to resist the temptation to compete with other parents about whose child is potty trained first or fastest. This can be a stressful, counterproductive experience for both you and your child. The truth is that most children will learn these skills in their own time, and rushing them through it will only result in great frustration for everyone involved.