First of all, rest assured it is not unusual for a child through the age of five to regress in potty training.
In fact, you can generally expect some setbacks during and even after the entire training process.
What causes regression in a child that has already been trained to use the toilet?
There are few factors that can come into play. Stress, constipation or a physical problem are three of them.
Stress – major life changes such as a new school, a new teacher at the same school, a new baby brother or sister, a new environment, a new person in the house, your going back to work, less attention or something similar can all trigger the regression.
Another possibility is that the child does not want to interrupt his play to go to the bathroom.
Sometimes children get so involved in their activities that they simply do not want to stop what they are doing to make a trip to the bathroom.
If there are other siblings, it might be possible that the child does not want to lose the toy he or she was playing with or the activity he was engaged in. If that is the case, tell him that you will watch over the toy / activity while he goes to the potty.
Be aware that physical abuse could also be a cause.
Constipation – It is possible that constipation is the problem. If a child is afraid that it will hurt to go to the bathroom, he may want to avoid it. (perfectly understandable)
Sometimes, their will be a blockage of hardened feces that newer and more wet feces will move around. When this happens you may see clay- like streaks in the underwear.
Making sure your child has plenty of fiber in the diet can be useful here. I read about a suggestion for stewed apples.
Apples contain fiber and can stimulate the bowels to move. Fruits and vegetables are high fiber content foods. ( Additional information on fiber )
If the problem persists you may need to see a pediatrician for additional help.
Physical problem: There could be a physical problem that has developed and this will require help from your doctor.
In any case and whatever the cause, if the problem persists for too long, visit your doctor. Pediatricians are especially well trained in this area. They can detect problems whether they be physical or emotional. A good pediatrician can provide you with helpful advice.
What can you do to help?
Be positive. Don’t use negative reinforcement or punishment. Ask /remind your child to use the potty every 3 hours or after meals. Thank them for trying, even if they didn’t go.
Watch for signs that they he or she needs to go, such as moving to a corner, crouching down or looking at their private parts. When this happens remind them to ‘go potty’.
After meals or every three hours or so, remind him or her to use the potty.
After meals is a typical time to have to go. Have him sit on the potty for five minutes or so, even if he says he doesn’t need to go. Thank the child for trying even if they were unable to go.
Keep a journal to try and figure out what may be triggering the ‘accidents’. If you can pinpoint events or activities or situations that cause the problem, you’ll be a step ahead in solving it.
Always be positive, even when cleaning up the mess. One person suggests having the child help with the cleanup. Whatever activity was going on at the time ends and the child can help with cleaning up by moving the poo to the toilet, washing out underwear etc.
When the cleanup is done, have them sit on the potty for a few minutes to make sure they don’t have to go any further. This also makes the child aware that he will have to go to the potty anyway, so ‘having an accident’ is not a time saver. It would be easier to just go in the first place.
This should not feel like a punishment. At the same time the child becomes aware that there are consequences to his actions in this area. Plus he realizes that he missed the activity that he was originally engaged in. keep it all positive.
The key here is to make sure this is does not seem like a punishment. Be very positive about the whole situation. Avoid using too many words, during the cleanup phase. Don’t make the event an emotionally charged one. Everything should be matter-of-fact and positive.
Always thank them for going to the potty. Most of the sources I found suggested against using rewards, but one of the sources encouraged the use of rewards. So you will have to decide if you want to offer some type of reward and what it should be.
Again, the majority seemed to be against using a reward. They felt that the child should understand that this is a part of their life they need to take care of. (be responsible for)
In rare cases, the child may be ‘having accidents’ out of anger. If this is the case, you’ll want to seek help from a professional.
Wrap up: Unfortunately, you didn’t give me a lot to go on in your question. I answered in a broad way. If this didn’t cover your particular situation, please feel free to comment below or submit a follow up question.
(Readers may also comment or share their own experience in this area)