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Back on Track With Potty Training

Getting Back on Track With Potty Training

Finally, your preschooler is a potty pro, wearing only underwear. But then – oh no! – your new baby is born, or your child starts a new preschool or he gets too distracted at play to stop for a toilet break. The result? Wet or dirty pants. Yet you thought your child was totally potty trained!

Don't despair. Accidents will and do happen. And you can get your child back across the potty training finish line.

Why Accidents Still Happen

"Since accidents can be admittedly very frustrating, first and foremost it's good for parents to take a step back and remind themselves that kids often have accidents on occasion – even years after they have successfully mastered the concept," says Dr. Laura A. Jana, a pediatrician with Methodist Health System in Omaha, Neb., and mother of three children, ages 9, 8 and 6.

In doing so, consider what's behind your child's loss of bladder or bowel control. So many factors can be at play, says Dr. Jana. They could be a disruption in the family, drinking caffeinated beverages (which increases the urge to go) and even an underlying medical cause such as constipation, a urinary tract infection or diabetes. According to Dr. Jana, parents shouldn't overlook these potential causes because, though they are rare, they may need ruling out.

"He had an accident maybe two months after the babies were born," says Framingham, Mass., resident Jacqui Goldberg of her 4-year-old son, Isaac, who five months ago became a big brother to twin boys. Isaac had been trained for six months prior to the birth of his identical twin brothers, and though his mom braced herself for accidents, she was happy when – at first – he didn't have any.

"Then, a few months later, it started to happen a bit," Goldberg says. Poor planning also could be the culprit, says Dr. Jana, who recommends parents consistently remind their child to use the potty before, say, a long outing, a nap or bedtime to avoid an accident. A child's capacity to "hold it" is way less than that of an adult, so be sure to plan ahead for potty breaks.

What You Can Do

Despite your dismay about your child's accidents – regardless of the reason for them – Dr. Jana and other experts emphasize the need for parents to be calm, matter-of-fact and quick in responding to and cleaning up the child's mess.

"Most important, I hope to help parents remember that there is never an excuse to belittle a child who has had an accident," says Dr. Jana. "Being caring [and] understanding while trying to find ways to encourage a return to routine is best."

Positively and gently reminding your child to use the potty is a good way to get your child back on track, says Naomi Drew, mother, author and keynote speaker on parenting and conflict resolution issues.

This tact worked when Cheri Emmert's 4-year-old son was all too content to poop in his pants and not in the potty. "I found reminders and sitting on the toilet did the trick," says the Reston, Va., mom. When a big change in a child's life is the likely culprit, a parent needs to be sensitive to the emotions the child is experiencing and resultant behaviors, accidents among them.

"Parents need to expect a little regression if your child has gone through a minor crisis," says Drew, of Lambertville, N.J. To get her son Isaac back on track with potty training after he became a big brother, mom Jacqui Goldberg did what she knew would resonate with her preschool-age son: she put the responsibility in his lap. Goldberg explained to Isaac that it is a "privilege" to use solely the potty.

"I made it clear to him that it was a privilege that he got to decide when he went to the potty and that if he couldn't do it on his own then I got to make the decision," Goldberg says. "That was something that he hated, so it worked well as an incentive. I [also] emphasized how proud we were that he didn't have an accident when he made it to the potty on time and tried that type of positive reinforcement."

Dr. Jana says reverse psychology worked for her when her children were young and is a strategy she offers the parents of her young patients.

"Most kids tend to rise to a challenge," she says. "I often say, 'Bet you can't go,' which then encourages kids to try and exert their control to make themselves go and prove me wrong."

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