Do you feel like your potty trained toddler is having accidents on purpose? Are you wondering how many potty training accidents are normal? Take a look at these effective tips to stop accidents in their tracks.
I thought I had my son potty trained for several weeks now—he had been doing so well, especially after only taking three days to master peeing in the potty.
But for several days in a row, he had been having a lot of accidents, making me doubt whether he truly was potty trained.
Sometimes, he wouldn’t tell me he needed to go potty, whereas he had done so before. Other times, he would tell me he needed to go pee, but he’d just sit in the potty without peeing, only to pee all over the floor just minutes later.
The place varied as well, whether at home or out and about, and at all times of the day.
The accidents had gotten worse, making me so frustrated and at my wit’s end. My biggest concern? He didn’t seem to care at all that he had peed everywhere. And sometimes, it even felt like he was having potty training accidents on purpose.
When your potty trained toddler is having accidents on purpose
Perhaps you can relate.
Maybe you’ve wondered how to fix this problem, or whether your toddler is just being stubborn. You have no idea how to make him care that he’s having an accident, or how to motivate him not to have them anymore.
Maybe you’ve even wondered how many potty training accidents are normal and whether you have unrealistic expectations. No matter the reason, you feel like you’re going to lose it with all these accidents.
When is it going to get better?
You’re definitely not alone. After I noticed frequent potty training accidents with my son, I looked for reasons he began to regress in all his progress. Most important, how to course-correct so the accidents don’t happen again.
And it worked! After a while, the potty training accidents became fewer, and he was more conscious and careful about them.
Why potty training accidents happen
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Before we go into how to respond to potty training accidents, let’s talk about why they happen to begin with.
- Potty training is still an adjustment. It’s definitely not a straight learning process. Instead, think of a mountain graph on a chart, moving upward toward progress, but still with ups and downs.
- It’s hard to break old habits. Your child had also, for the first few years of his life, been used to peeing whenever and wherever, without a care. When he doesn’t seem to care that he had an accident, he’s simply doing what he was so used to. This doesn’t make it right, but it does explain how common it is for kids to revert to old habits.
- Playing is more fun than sitting on the potty. Does your child say “no” when you ask him to use the potty, only to have an accident a few minutes later while he’s playing? Compared to playing with his toys, sitting on a potty doesn’t seem like fun, so he’s going to choose the option that sounds more appealing.
- Your child is too focused on something else. Do you find that your child focuses a lot on an activity? He may simply be too focused on what he’s doing to realize that he needs to pee (or is even peeing in the moment).
- The pressure to pee doesn’t make it easier to go. Your child might be feeling the pressure of constant success. Your frustration is likely rubbing off on him, even in slight ways as through a split-second change in your facial expression. This pressure trickles down to his body, making it harder to pee on command. Think of your own body and how you have your own bodily rhythms that don’t always follow the clock.
Take a look at a few tips to help your child have fewer potty training accidents:
1. Stop the rewards
Like many parents, I followed the common advice of rewarding my son each time he successfully peed in the potty. While I didn’t go so far as to reward him with candy or toys, I did hang a “Pee Pee Poster” in the bathroom. Each time he would pee, I’d draw a bright yellow star on the poster.
It worked—he saw all those stars and knew he was on the right track.
But after a while, as all rewards do, the stars fizzled. It wasn’t exciting anymore that I was drawing a yellow star—as it should, peeing in the potty became the norm, and with it, the stars.
His disinterest in the stars coincided with the potty training accidents as well. Not only were the stars getting fewer with all the accidents, they were also not as exciting any longer.
So the poster stopped—and so did the accidents.
We’re driven by rewards, but not for long, and not without having to up the ante each time the rewards lose their fizzle.
Not only that, typical rewards encourage our reliance on external sources of encouragement, instead of internal ones. We’re more driven not by other people so much as the accomplishment and self-integrity we feel inside.
Besides stopping the rewards, offer your child descriptive praise whenever he uses the potty.
Descriptive praise is different from evaluative praise. Describe what he has done, focusing not so much on your pride but on the internal dialogue he would have with himself. You might say, “You did it—you peed in the potty!”
Evaluative praise focuses on what other people think of our success, which increases his reliance on others to feel good. It’s about what you think, which makes him rely on your opinion rather than on his own motivation.
2. Don’t label your child in negative ways
We have a dangerous habit of assigning labels to others and ourselves, and this is never more true than with our kids. You might’ve thought your child was stubborn, defiant, or simply oblivious when it comes to potty training accidents.
The problem with labels, though, is that we behave according to the stories we tell ourselves. And the more we tell ourselves that our kids are one way, the harder it becomes to see them any other way.
How does this apply to potty training accidents? Think about the last time you thought your child was stubborn about using the potty. Your attention zeroes in on all his stubborn behavior, which reflects in your demeanor and interaction with him… which only makes him even more stubborn.
You’re also less likely to see the times when he isn’t being stubborn, overlooking the many times he has listened to others and complied with your instructions.
We tend to attract whatever we think about, so the more we think of our kids in a negative light, the more we see those negative traits in them.
Instead, focus your attention on your child’s positive traits and how he’s willing and capable of peeing in the potty.
And when he is acting stubborn, chalk it up to his behavior (the doing) and not so much his personality (the person he is). That way, he doesn’t identify with being a stubborn person, which is harder to change, but rather behaving in a stubborn way, where behavior is easier to manage.
3. Go back to the drawing board
Potty training accidents are especially frustrating for many parents because it feels like their kids should be past this stage already. They know their kids can pee in the potty and feel discouraged when the accidents happen.
But setbacks happen, as they do with everyone and with just about everything. We ourselves experience setbacks when we’re learning something new or trying to reach a goal. Potty training accidents aren’t “proof” that your child isn’t getting it or is behind.
Instead, go back to the starting point as if you were potty training from day one. If you used the 3-day potty training method, set aside a weekend once again to re-start the process. Prepare for accidents by placing lots of towels around the house. Watch her more closely so you can anticipate her potty needs.
Setbacks sometimes mean we need to “re-train” them again, but the good news is, it usually doesn’t take as long for your child to adopt the habits the second time around. By starting from scratch, you reinforce the lessons he needs to relearn moving forward.
4. Watch your reaction
I like to say that kids don’t test us, they reflect us. The same is true with the way we react to potty training accidents.
Your child picks up on your mood, from frustration to dread to discouragement. When accidents happen, remind yourself that they’re normal and inevitable, rather than scolding him for “not knowing better.” Don’t punish him either, as this only discourages him even more.
Instead, think of potty training in a bigger picture: no child ever gets potty training use perfectly every time. They hit snags and stages of regression, just as we all do. In fact, focus less on the dread of cleaning up accidents and more on the potential learning your child is doing.
Better yet, use positive reinforcement: focus more on the times he does pee on the potty while keeping your reaction neutral when he doesn’t. He’ll find that he gets more attention—a positive one at that—when he pees on the potty.
5. Take your child to the potty frequently
Frustrated when your child has potty training accidents just minutes after he said he didn’t need to use the potty?
Don’t wait until your child asks to use the potty—simply take him frequently so he has a better chance of peeing in the potty instead of on the floor. You can even use a timer and set it to every 30 minutes to an hour for a potty break, so it feels more “official” than simply mom telling him what to do.
But don’t feel disappointed if most of these tries end up with no pee in the potty—you wouldn’t be able to pee either if you were to go this frequently. The point is to increase those chances when he does pee that he’s doing so in the potty.
You also want to make potty use a regular part of his day. Routines give him the predictability he needs so he knows exactly what to do and when. You might use the potty after waking up, before leaving the house, after eating meals, or before bath time.
6. Practice good potty training habits
After your child has been doing so well in the potty, it’s easy to forget all the habits you had established earlier on. Take a look at these effective tips and tricks to get your child to use the potty well once again:
- Bring toys to the potty. This way, your child doesn’t have to choose between playing and sitting on the potty. He’ll be less bored when he has something to keep him occupied in the bathroom.
- Move your child to the potty the minute you see an accident. Don’t allow your child to continue peeing on the floor—rush her to the bathroom and have her hold her pee until she reaches the potty. This way, you can correct her while it’s happening and reinforce the boundaries around peeing.
- Explain the consequences for potty accidents. While you don’t want to punish your child, you do want to consistently explain the “real” consequences for potty accidents. That she now has to change undies, or that you have to clean up the mess. (Discover consequences for kids that actually work.)
- Give your child plenty of water. Seems counterproductive to give him water when you’re trying to avoid accidents, but more water can help him pee something out, and pee more frequently.
It’s definitely hard when your potty trained toddler is having accidents on purpose. You thought you were past cleaning up the mess, and you wonder whether your child is even motivated to pee in the potty.
Rest assured, potty training accidents are common and expected—yes, even after your child seemed to have mastered it already. But you can still do plenty to help him get back on track.
Stop rewarding him with treats and stars, and instead rely on descriptive praise to encourage him along. Don’t label him in a negative way, as your thoughts color your expectations. Watch how you react to potty training accidents and stay positive about accomplishments (while neutral about accidents).
Take him to the potty frequently to increase the chances of peeing in the potty instead of on the floor. And if need be, start from scratch and re-train him once again.
Potty training accidents are never pleasant, but with a positive and encouraging mindset, you can help your child get back on track—even without a “Pee Pee Poster.”
p.s. Take a look at The Potty Train by David Hochman, a fun children’s book all about getting your child excited to use the potty:
Get more tips on what to do when your potty trained toddler is having accidents on purpose:
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
- How to Potty Train Gradually
- Potty Training Books for Toddlers to Ease Their Anxiety
- How to Potty Train Twins: The Ultimate Guide
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Preparing for Potty Training
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