Ask any parent who has taught a child to use the toilet (one who is truthful, anyway), and you'll hear that kids have many pee and poop accidents. Just like when you were learning to drive and didn't get the gist of parallel parking right away, these tots are total novices, and should be treated with gentle understanding when they goof up. The more lovingly you handle this phase, the better you will cement the bond you're creating with your child.
Be patient with the greenhorn. Soothe yourself with the knowledge that child development experts typically regard occasional bed-wetting as a normal thing until age 6! Don't view slips as bad behavior; keep reminding yourself that your child's body and mind have to work together for potty training to be a total success.
If you think this is long, arduous, and frustrating to you, just think how it feels to him — a tough learning curve that thrives best with unwavering support. Tell your child, "I know you'll be using the potty all the time very soon — you'll learn to remind yourself." So what should you do? Don't bring up potty training at all for a two-day break. Both of you take a breather. Change those training pants like a trouper and say nothing at all about pee or poop. You're the three monkeys of see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil.
Practicing to avoid wet pants
Run back over the whole potty routine. You can do this right after a slipup — unless he seems upset by his mistake. In that case, wait to have your chat until the mistake is a few hours behind him.
Announce to your child: "You're going to practice how to avoid wet pants. You'll remember — you were getting very good at it a few weeks ago, and I know you can do it again."
Take him through the steps, one by one. Go slowly. Speak clearly and with pure patience.
If he resists ("I don't want to!") wait a few hours, then try again. Instead of taking a "you'll do as I say" tack, talk to your trainee like you're his best friend who just wants to help him learn something he needs to know. "This is what big kids do in school, so you need to know how to use the potty before then. I want you to feel comfortable in school someday."
Encourage him to role play what he could do the next time he feels a need to pee. The spirit should be, "Hey, I know what you can do next time you need to pee." Keep it casual. "Show me what you'll do, the next time you feel an urge to go potty. I'll clap my hands when you get through. Let's pretend you need to go pee right now." Pause. "What I'd like to hear you say is, 'I think I can do that.'"
Returning to training pants
If your child has already advanced to wearing regular underwear, you can put him back in training pants for a few days. Tell him that you're not doing this because you're mad at him — you just want to provide some backup for a few days, until he feels ready to go back to underpants. Be sure that you have no hint of scolding or sarcasm in your voice.
You'll know it's time to make this exception to the rule of never moving back to training pants when your child's embarrassment takes on scary proportions — he's crying and over-the-top upset. Tell him: "I know this is hard to do sometimes, and I can tell you get frustrated. But, don't worry — I'm with you all the way, and soon, you'll get to the potty on time — every time."
In addition, if your child is experiencing some major-league backsliding, a return to pull-ups is probably a very good idea to reduce the embarrassment factor. Make it clear, though, that this is just for a few days. "It's just taking your body some time to adjust, and that's okay."
Imagine his thoughts: "But what will we do? You gave the training pants away when I got my big pants!" "Sweetie, we'll buy some more. You probably will only need one package, and then you'll be back to using the potty again and wearing your big-kid underwear."
Say everything, do everything, feel everything. Use both words and actions to make him feel safe and secure, loved, and accepted.
During the initial backsliding, do not refer to the potty chair at all for a few days. If he mentions it when he's with you in the bathroom, tell him that you're sure he will want to use it again. "You'll get back to it again, and that will be nice when you do. I'm sure you'll do well at using the potty again soon. You are a sweet, cooperative child, and I love you."
If you're just real darn lucky and he's suddenly inspired to use it right then, agree that he should go ahead. And, feel free to act delighted that he brought it up. "What a good attitude you have! You want to try again."
Stay low-key. Sometimes, when mom or dad or babysitter makes a huge, over-the-top deal of it, a child starts feeling weird or squeamish and decides that the issue is too heavily weighted, that he felt more comfortable when using the potty wasn't something that was expected.
Try a brass-tacks approach to handling the practicalities of backsliding. In giving him tips, use a neutral here's-what-you-do tone that has absolutely no accusation in it. Just the facts, ma'am. You may want to use the following tips, which will help your child to get past his backsliding hurdle with no bad memories:
- Limit his intake of fluids right before bedtime.
- Encourage him to get out of bed as soon as he notices that it's wet.
- Don't force potty-sits or cleanup.