Correcting Regressive Toddler Behaviours

Over the last two years and four months, I have learned that the only predictable thing about toddlers is that they are unpredictable.

When Gavin started running to the bathroom and banging on the door to be let in, I thought all my toilet training worries had been unnecessary.  Toilet training seemed almost too easy.

And then I discovered that nasty thing called “toddler regression”.  Gavin would waver backwards and forwards between telling me he needed to use the bathroom and decidedly not telling me.  I suspect his toilet training regression might have something to do with me being pregnant.

Toilet training isn’t the only thing he has regressed with.  Just when we thought we had solved all our hair cutting problems, Gavin decided he really didn’t like getting his hair cut after all.

To correct his regressive behaviour, I have resorted to bribery.  To encourage him to start telling me he needs to use the bathroom, I have a sticker reward system.  Each time he informs me that he needs to use the bathroom before doing the deed in his diaper, he gets a sticker.  Once he has succeeded in collecting ten stickers, he’ll get the Sodor Suspension Bridge he so quickly requested when I first presented this plan to him.

We started this reward system last week.  To date, he has only collected two stickers.  He wasn’t progressing very well, so I increased the reward to include Rosie the tank engine for the first time he succeeded in telling me he needed to pee or poop into the toilet bowl.  Despite sweetening the carrot, it didn’t seem to have any effect on Gavin.  He would still pee and poop into his diaper.

So I decided to make it easier for him.  When he succeeded in peeing into the toilet bowl (only because Daddy put him onto the toilet after removing his diaper), I quickly rewarded him with a sticker and Rosie.  Technically, he didn’t tell us but I decided to use this experience as example of how “easy” it would be to get rewarded.

The second sticker was won when Gavin succeeded in telling me he needed to poop.  I suspect that the only reason he alerted me to the fact and didn’t poop into his diaper was because he was slightly constipated.  It required a bit of a struggle on his part to get it out.  I’m not naive enough to believe that he would have told me at all if he hadn’t been constipated.  My suspicions were proven correct when his subsequent poop landed in his diaper instead of the toilet bowl.

Looks like the rewards system is failing us as far as our success with toilet training is concerned.

On the other hand, small rewards have worked in other instances.  Returning to our other example of regressive behaviours – hair cutting – blatant bribery had been pretty effective.  When he continued to insist he didn’t want his hair cut, Daddy brought out his secret weapon – Arthur the tank engine.  Now that got his attention and his agreement to get his hair cut.

Other instances where rewards have been pretty effective to encourage desired behaviour have been when we offer him a piece of chocolate or some snack that he likes to eat.  It hasn’t always been automatic obedience, but in most cases, the desired end result was achieved.  For instance, we will offer him his favourite panda biscuits to entice him to sit in his pram, or a piece of chocolate if he’ll take his bath.  Those seem to work fairly well.

Looks like we’ll have to try some other tricks with the toilet training – anyone got any suggestions?


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Correcting Regressive Toddler Behaviours

  1. i so agree…that they’re so unpredictable! all the tricks up our sleeves to get them to obey or do what we want them to do! gosh i also have to use food to get her on her stroller.
    waiting see when my Eliza’s ready to toilet train…so can’t help u much here…but press on & hope Galvin will get the hang of it soon 🙂


  2. I’ve also found that if I promise to take him to a place he wants to go, he’ll happily sit in his pram. E.g. “Do you want to go to Toys ‘R’ Us?” Of course it has to be a place he wants to go to. Once he’s in the pram, I’ll detour past the things I want to see :-p

    As for the toilet training… ah well… it’ll happen eventually, right? He can’t be in diapers until he’s 18! :-p


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