My honest story about potty training relapse (regression) and parenting pains

The second part of my oldest son’s potty training story is mostly about potty training relapse.

My son was almost 3 years old when we potty trained him, and it took about 2-3 weeks to do so. The bowel movements part was rather challenging, as my first part of the story tells, but all-in-all I thought it went pretty well.
And I was certain, after a few weeks, that we were done with potty training.

Apparently (as we were soon about to find out), it was not the end of the story.

Potty training relapse and parenting pains

We started to see significant toilet training regression, about 1.5 or 2 months after my son had been fully potty trained.

This regression had basically taken the shape of:

    * Not-wanting-to OR not-succeeding-to make poop in the toilet.
    * Avoiding and withholding bowel movements
    * Soiling the underpants on a daily basis

There were no problems at all when it came to peeing in the toilet.

At first I thought, my son’s potty training relapse had to do with the new Preschool he’d started that fall. I also assumed it had something to do with his baby brother, who was 5-6 months at the time and had started to become more “present” around the house.

At that point my husband and I still thought it was going to be a short regression phase, so we kind of “rolled with it”, and waited for the issue to resolve itself.

The main problem was -- it wasn’t just happening at home. Most of the “soiling episodes” took place in the Preschool premises, and the Preschool’s crew was neither equipped nor happy to clean him up whenever that happened.
They did take care of it most the times, but occasionally there had been a more “serious soiling episode” which required bathing and I would get a phone call to come pick him up.

I soon started worrying about the reactions he might be getting (though I didn’t have any actual evidence), from the other kids AND from the Preschool’s workers, about his soiling accidents.

    Especially in those times when he had to sit aside, waiting for me to come pick him up. I imagined he was feeling ashamed, and my heart went out to him.

Unfortunately, feelings of guilt and identifying with your kid -- don’t do much difference. So things went on pretty much the same way. There were some good days in between, where both me and my husband (always the optimistic), believed this whole potty training relapse was coming to an end. But it always came back.

Besides feeling guilty, I also felt frustrated, angry - at times, and generally doubtful about my whole way of handling things. It didn’t seem like my son was doing any of it “out of spite”, and that made it even harder for me because I felt he was trying, and I was worrying about pushing him too hard.

Getting help for our potty training relapse

It took a few months, and 1 week of especially-bad soiling accidents in Preschool, and we finally came to the point where we said “that’s it”: it’s not working. We can’t drag it any more. We need help.

I made some phone calls and got a very strong recommendation from our former Daycare’s manager, to contact this behavioral psychologist (consultant) who specialized in potty training.

A few days later we were sitting in her office, just my husband and I. She assured us she “only needed the two of us for this”, because the key was in changing our attitude, and that there was absolutely nothing wrong with our son.

Here’s the essence of what I took from that memorable session:

  • There may be different reasons for my son’s potty training relapse, but in this case I need to treat the symptom itself, instead of worrying about the reasons.

  • On the same note: My son’s reluctance to be fully potty trained at 3.5 years, and his daily soiling accidents, is a behavior that I’m not willing to accept any more.

  • In order to move forward, to stop this behavior, I need to be very certain within myself that “this stops here”. As long as I’m feeling: guilty / frustrated / unsure of my son’s ability to overcome his difficulties -- I’m transferring those feelings to him, and we’re not going anywhere.

  • What she said we should do in practice: Keep a close watch on the child for a week or so; don’t let him get away with soiling his pants and avoiding the toilet; whether we “catch him” during the act or afterwards -- we need to take him to the bathroom and explain that “we don’t do this here anymore” (pooping in the pants).

We came out of that session feeling a new sense of clarity. Also, we felt very much in-sync with each other about how we wanted to “parent this situation” from now on.

Funny enough as I remember, we didn’t have to do all that much in practice. Something just “clicked”, and it reflected in our attitude. And it seemed as though our son had picked up on that and did the work by himself.

There were a couple of episodes afterwards, and we went about them very differently from how we used to in the past; there was that strong sense of “I don’t accept this from you anymore” that led us, which sent a very clear message.

I should mention that we had to be careful not to become aggressive in making-our-point. It took some “fine-tuning” before we found the right voice. Anyhow, our toilet training regression ended very quickly after we got that help.

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