Tips for a Potty Training Regression (and other toddler behaviors)

I've shared a bit about this before, but wanted to go into some more detail for those of you who may be dealing with a similar issue with an older toddler (maybe age 3+). And I think this could apply to other kinds of defiant behaviors, too--clothing battles, food issues, just about anything.

We recently dealt with several weeks of a potty training regression, which was extremely frustrating for all parties involved. Despite having a child who had been potty trained since last summer, we were going through 2-4 pairs of pants/underwear a day, and there was lots of defiance and yelling. It had become an all-out battleground.

Out of desperation, I emailed our school director asking her opinion, since it hadn't been happening at school. She suggested that said child was trying to tell us something, and that it sounded like she was trying to control what others can't.

This is the game plan I came up with.

1. Try and find the cause of the behavior. For us, the behavior coincided with George's mobility. He is now into everything, and the girls' play, meals, and lives in general are often interrupted by their little brother. To the best of my ability, I tried to understand why she was grasping for control, which helped me feel more compassionate toward her, rather than frustrated and angry.

2. Give them choices wherever possible. In the low-stakes areas, let them feel like they're in control of their world. "Would you like an apple or some blueberries?" "Would you like to ride your scooter or your bike?" And say yes whenever possible. Last week she wore her Easter hat to school because she wanted to. Pick those battles.

3. Allow for natural consequences. I had been reminding her to go, and then forcing her to finish on the potty once she had started having an accident. This had become an all-out war. Instead, when I would notice her dancing around, I started look away, and let her get wet if she didn't follow her cues. This very quickly retrained her to recognize her limits, and she once again started running toward the bathroom when she had to go.

I would also have her put her dirty clothes in the hamper and get herself dressed in clean clothes (to the best of her ability), rather than taking care of the accident for her. Make it their problem to handle.

If the battle is clothing--maybe wanting to wear a summer dress on a cold day?--let them be cold. If it's not wanting to eat dinner, let them go to bed hungry. (They'll be fine!) Natural consequences are the best teacher.

4. Remove the reaction. This includes positive attention--praise when they get it right--and negative attention--the scolding/shaming, which although negative, is attention nonetheless. Instead, I would say something very neutral like "I'm sorry to see that you're wet/cold/hungry/etc." and move on.

This put an end to weeks of strife in two days!

Are there any tricky toddler behaviors you're dealing with right now?

photo credit: Anne Katherine Photography

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