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How to Know if Accidents Are a Matter of Toddler Behavior

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

Inside: How to know if potty training issues are a matter of toddler behavior, or something else.

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Every time I put on a pair of ice skates, I feel like I’m either going to fall back on my bum or land flat on my face. (Skating lessons would be smart.) So what happens?

I turn into the slowest moving skater on the ice. Because I haven’t mastered the balance. I don’t where to lean. Forward? Backward?

Instead I wobble back and forth and skate with zero confidence. Hesitating every move.

Picture a moment when your toddler was digging in. Not wanting to do something. A time when you were doubting whether to be firm or gentle.

Should you set boundaries and stick to them?

Or is this when you should lead with nurture because your child is having a tough time?

It feels impossible to parent when you’re filled with doubt.

Wobbling back and forth on what you should do. You wind up looking all wishy-washy in the eyes of your toddler. And that’s when things can get messy.

Toddlers can swing from adorably sweet to whining, bonky forces of energy in a matter of mere minutes. So here's the question..

How do you know if the potty training accidents you're seeing are a matter of toddler behavior?

How to know if accidents are a matter of toddler behavior

First, remember that YOU are the expert on your child.

So if you're circling through days of many misses and stepped into potty training all prepared and feel like you're not over-prompting — then you may be seeing some behavior as the reason why your child won't step up to go potty.

Resistance and behavior are two different things.

Resistance is often a way of the child showing you (since toddlers don't have the language) that they're feeling overwhelmed in the process. You're likely (unknowingly) hovering, overprompting, and there's a swirl of anxiety circling through the house when you're seeing resistance.

BUT behavior feels different.

1. Does it feel like your parent chain is being pulled?

You'll know it.

Are you dealing with toddler behavior or something else?

If your child looks you straight in the eye and says no and throws a toy at you when you calmly try to prompt her to go pee in the potty — that is likely behavior.

That's when you FEEL like your parent chain is being pulled.

Sometimes it's not clear.

As a potty training consultant, I work with a lot of moms who thought it was behavior, but it turned out to be a potty training issue and not behavior at all.

Not sure if what you're seeing is toddler behavior?

Don't assume your child's unwillingness to use the potty is behavior.

There are many situations where the potty training accidents or toddler resistance you're seeing is NOT behavior. And then if you treat it as behavior when it's really the child having a tough time with potty training, that can set in a bad spiral of MORE behavior.

Sometimes behavior comes into the process along with other potty training problems that are truly physical.

Because, toddlers. And we don't potty train in a vacuum so there can be more than one why.

Again, life marches on even when we're potty training so you may see toddler antics along with learning this big new skill. There could be a physical issue with potty training along with toddler behavior adding to the drama.

2. Are you sure it's behavior and not a physical issue or learning glitch?

I consult with a lot of mamas who have treated poop misses as behavior. Here's the deal with poop.

Whether you're starting out and moving through the process (or have been at it a long while with potty training) and you're seeing poops in the pants, that is likely a poop issue. It's very unlikely that your child is being manipulative and pooping in his pants as behavior. So if you're seeing poops going everywhere but the potty, I recommend reaching out for support.

Especially if you've been treating poop accidents as behavior. Potty training can really go off the rails when the child doesn't feel like you're on their team.

So first, you want to know what's happening as the parent.

Why isn't it working?

And then it's much easier to move forward.

What about the pee? What if all was going swell but then you added in pants and all the wheels came off the bus? Then you want to consider if it's a learning glitch and your child has not quite nailed pushing down the pants.

3. Think about how you get your child to comply with other things around the house.

So here's the magic sauce you're really looking for if you're SURE you're seeing behavior.

The tone of your voice. The language you use.

You want to think on how you get your child to COMPLY with small things, like brushing teeth, putting shoes away, etc. Dancing around using the potty with a high-pitched "let's go potty!" is unlikely to be met with success with many toddlers.

Because think on it. Is that how you get your child to comply with other small things like going to take a bath?


So that puts this swirl of anxiety around the process of using the potty. When you want to normalize the process for the child.

Ways to know if accidents are a matter of toddler behavior

Here's what to consider so you can find ways to get your toddler to comply with going pee in the potty..

  • Does your child react better to being given small choices?

  • Does your child react strongly to loud voices? Does your child resist less when you're using a softer voice?

  • Is your child argumentative and strong-willed?

  • Is it easier to get your child to do something if you challenge him?

Next, match up the way you ask your child to do the small stuff at home with how you prompt your child to go potty.

Because each child will be different with their personality.

Small choices can also help with your toddler getting dressed. Set out two outfits for your toddler to choose from in the morning.

For some toddlers, a playful prompt will be met with a *no way* vibe and you won't get anywhere.

For other toddlers, choices make them feel more independent and less resistant to doing something.

The trick is tapping into that confidence so you can feel steady on your feet.

It's tough to feel confident in potty training when you don't know how to move forward.

Because you need that confidence. Whether you're dealing with a toddler saying no or thinking about skating on that frozen pond (with snowpants on, in case there are falls.)

Illustrations: Citrus and Mint Designs


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