Recently while on the plane, O wet his pants. Lovely really. He’d refused to pee prior to getting on the plane. Refused to pee at home. Essentially, O refused to pee “on command.” No surprise for a strong-willed-spirited just turned 3 year-old. And after he wet his pants, he then proceeded to have about 14 accidents (yes, I’m exaggerating) later that same day as we traveled to his grandparents’ home. Instead of being patient, supportive, and perfect, the husband and I realized we were just plain-old disappointed. And full of judgment.

Potty training takes patience, perseverance and a positive attitude. Many days we don’t have all three, all at once.

O had mastered his potty-trained world well over the last month or so and the wetting accidents weren’t on our to-do list. He’d been dry all day for a number of weeks. The frequency he was wetting on that particular Wednesday coupled with the inconvenience of it being a travel day just wasn’t my pleasure. Although he’d delayed pooping in the potty for a few months (also totally normal but uber-frustrating, too), that had all resolved some months back. The accidents felt like an inconvenience. And although as a pediatrician, I know how to lend advice in this area, it’s the taking advice part that is more of a challenge.

After age 3, when a child shows resistance to using the potty the “right” thing to do, is to carry on with a smile, stop providing reminders for your child, show that you’re unflappable and continue to praise success. Ignore potty failures, praise potty success.

But it is a seriously difficult task at 35,000 feet when surrounded by pee. Consequently, we spent part of the holiday nudging each other about how terrible we were and how we needed to move from D&J (disappointed and judging) to P&C (patient and compassionate).

We kept asking ourselves, “Why now, why him, what’s wrong?” Even though we steeled our faces, stymied our disappointment, and did our best to remain positive we did share many glances. I’m certain we sighed. We vetted the story with our relatives, we sought advice. And we kept providing prompts to get him into the bathroom. I’m certain O knew our sentiment of disapproval on some level. And the urgency with which we kept trying to usher him into the bathroom wasn’t all that good either.

Knowing full well this was normal, I still noodled on why he’d regressed. It didn’t seem stress related since the wetting preceded the start of the travel day, although stress or changes at home are a common trigger for potty setbacks. It wasn’t an illness. He wasn’t constipated. He didn’t show signs of pain with peeing. It wasn’t ….well, really, anything I could pinpoint. And that’s typical. When it comes to setbacks with potty training, rule number one is that it’s the norm. There may not be a singular event that spawns a setback. They just come. And then they fade away again. Just like O’s did.

Children between age 3 and 8 may need reminders for the potty. Children should pee every 2 to 3 hours.

But knowing when to prompt your child to go potty and when not too, that’s a toughie. I believe you’ll need to rely on your instincts for this one.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned that your child doesn’t empty their bladder all the way, has many accidents a day after age 3 1/2 to 4 years, has constipation affecting their toilet-training, or if you have any concerns about a bladder infection.

It’s knowing that these setbacks do go away, finding patience with yourself and with your child, and allowing a return back to baseline gradually where we need support. Avoiding outward disappointment and judging is a goal, too. Moving from D&J to P&C is just one step in the right direction…

Tell me, what did/do you do with potty-training pitfalls and setbacks, and what’s the best advice you’ve heard? What worked??