Toilet Training Regression: Supporting a Child’s Toilet Learning Journey

Toilet training regression is extremely common in toddlers and young children. It can happen at varying times upon them first learning to use the toilet and can be stressful and frustrating for both the child and their parents.

In RIE parenting, toilet training is referred to as toilet learning. RIE teaches us that a child will learn to use the toilet when they are ready and do not need to be trained to do so. We have been on both sides of the coin with our children and are now happily watching our youngest child lead her toilet learning journey as we speak. There have been bumps along the way but this is our story so far.

Toilet Training Regression: Supporting a Child's Toilet learning Journey

Ensuring our children became toilet trained quickly and efficiently was something we used to stress about. We read all the manuals for recognising signs of toilet readiness and boned up on how to get a child to be toilet trained in just one weekend, well before our eldest daughter was even close to being out of nappies.

Then, when she began resisting nappy changes and showing interest in using the toilet at 20 months of age, we jumped at the chance to push her into training a little earlier than most. We used all the suggested methods for getting her toilet trained quickly but to little avail. She simply wasn’t ready. It subsequently took her a long while to become confident in using the toilet.


Our second daughter has had the benefit of us learning respectful parenting practices since then. She cruised through her 2nd birthday and although displaying many of the same toilet training readiness cues her older sister had at that age, we resisted prompting, suggesting or pushing her towards using the toilet. Opting instead to trust her and wait until she decided to learn how to use the toilet herself.

It wasn’t until closer to her third birthday that she one day said she would like to try wearing undies. We followed her lead with a gentle reminder that if she wore undies she would need to use the toilet. She agreed.

And she nailed it.

She lead the whole process.

She had very few accidents and soon afterwards went dry through the night as well.

We were amazed at the difference in the girls’ toilet learning experiences and were inwardly just a little smug at the success of using this respectful parenting method of trust and wait so successfully.

However, after 5 months of being nappy free, our youngest began resisting using the toilet. It would be clear (to us) that she needed to go. She would shuffle uncomfortably around her play, sitting, standing, sitting again, wriggling and jumping around to stave off the feeling.

Without us prompting her to go to the toilet, ultimately she would have accidents. She was being sent home from Kindy with up to 3 bags of wet clothes and the stress of knowing that she could have an accident at any time whilst we are out meant that we were having to step in and take more control over her toilet learning.

We would gently remind her and then when it was clear she wasn’t going to go we would end up having to force her. She was getting upset and stressed and the whole situation was turning unpleasant for everyone.

As days turned into weeks, we became increasingly concerned. We wanted her to have more control over the process. She was clearly letting us know that either her mind, her body or both were not ready to be using the toilet at this stage.

So last week, despite being nappy free for the past 6 months, we made the decision to support her by putting her back into pull ups full time.

This was a big decision and one we mulled over for quite sometime, however, we immediately noticed a huge improvement in her behaviour and demeanour once she was back in nappies.

No longer was she concerned about having to get to the toilet on time. She could play without worry and even her Kindy teachers commented on how much more relaxed she seemed.

It was a big relief for us too. No longer did we have to remind her to go. We were able to a step back and she has been able to take back the control of her toilet learning.

Although she is now wearing a nappy full time, she happily takes herself to the toilet when she needs to go (the pull up supports this). There’s no prompting, no panic, no rushing, no urgency and no stress. Just a casual stroll to the toilet when she needs to. Half the time, she doesn’t even tell us about it, it’s not big deal. .

She very rarely wets her pull up. If she does  she comes straight to us to have it changed.

It seemed like a toilet training regression to reintroduce nappies but actually it has been a toilet learning progression. This simple step has helped her become more relaxed about using the toilet and ultimately increased her confidence in her toilet learning journey.

Edited to add: She decided she no longer wanted to wear pull ups after about a month and has confidently used the toilet since.

In Her Own Time: Learning to Use the Toilet ~ Kate Gribble (An Everyday Story)
3 Reasons Kids Don’t Need Toilet Training and What to do Instead ~ Janet Lansbury (Elevating Childcare)
The Joy of Natural Development ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)

My parenting is inspired by the RIE approach. If you are interested you can find more info here or I highly recommend these books (affiliate links):

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (2nd Edition)  ~ Magda Gerber
Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start ~ Magda Gerber
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting  ~ Janet Lansbury
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame ~ Janet Lansbury

Toilet Training Regression: Supporting a Child's Toilet learning Journey


1 thought on “Toilet Training Regression: Supporting a Child’s Toilet Learning Journey

  1. Amy

    Hi Kate,

    Thank you for posting this story a few years ago. I just wanted to share how reading this has helped me greatly with our little girl. She’s 3 and a half and smashed potty training with no fuss, but we’ve had a new baby and she started having the same accidents over and over again.

    After a month of this I came upon this article and Two days ago we decided to go back in pull ups to help her. She’s been so much more awake and happier these last two days and is still having accidents, but will go again when she’s ready. I think she’ll be longer as she adjusts but it’s a lot of stress off her and something I wouldn’t have considered doing before reading this.


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