The Potty Training 'Reboot'

A (Sometimes) Necessary Break

At One Proud Toddler we’re fond of describing the potty training industry as being similar to the Wild West, with tons of contradictory information out there and a chorus of armchair experts claiming this or that is the "right" way to train. 

The topic of when and how to 'reboot' a seemingly failed potty training attempt is no different. In this post we provide parents with a comprehensive framework for determining (1) whether a reboot is necessary in the first place, (2) what to do during the reboot, (3) how long it should last and (4) how to restart everything.

(1) To Reboot Or Not To Reboot

The most important issue when considering a reboot is determining whether one is necessary in the first place.

Parents often reach for a potty training reboot long before it is necessary, which can reward bad behavior and delay your child's training progress. There are, however, situations when a reboot may be in order.

While a reboot may seem like a welcome relief, the unfortunate news is that it is generally a better idea for parents to continue with the potty training process. This is because the most effective way to potty train your child is through focused and intense parental effort over an initial period of three-to-five days to get the “foundations” right. While parent’s might be tempted early on to conclude their kids just don’t get it, the truth is that things will generally come together PROVIDED you keep at it.  

In other situations, older children (i.e. those closer to two-and-a-half or three) may completely understand what is expected of them, and are instead resisting your training attempts for behavioral reasons. Rebooting in this situation simply kicks the can down the road and demonstrates to your child their resistance has positive outcomes (from their perspective) in changing your behavior.  

Reboot Tip

If you are experiencing continued accidents or push-back from your child, make sure to check out the comprehensive list of common reasons for accidents and how to handle them located in the "Odds & Ends" section at the end of The Potty Proud Approach.  

In short, we generally discourage reboots because most children will eventually get the whole potty training thing and there is more of a risk of you could be inadvertently rewarding bad behavior. That being said, there are three situations when we are advocates of a reboot .

Your Child Isn't "Ready"

night time nap

The most clear cut reason for employing a reboot occurs when there are STRONG indications your child isn’t developmentally ready for training. This situation typically only occurs with children under 24 months old (more commonly 22 months or under).

Although we are strong advocates of training early and generally find that children are ready as soon as their parents begin to suspect it, many times it will only become apparent after diving into training that a younger child isn't quite there yet. 

This is because all children, even those who are ready for training, will be unfamiliar with their bodily signals during the first days of potty training. For this reason, even if you begin to suspect your child isn't ready it's still necessary to give it your all before rebooting—other than the most obvious cases, it simply won't be apparent that a younger child truly isn't ready until you've really given it a go.

Still, some degree of baseline bodily awareness must be present. So, if you've been at it for a while, your child is on the younger side and he or she doesn't seem to be recognizing their bodily signals at all, a reboot may be in order.

Reboot Tip

If your child is over 24 months old, it is highly unlikely that a reboot is warranted on the grounds he or she isn't developmentally ready. Instead, you should keep up the training and try to find the root cause behind your child's accidents. Rebooting because your child isn't ready is truly for those situations where a younger child is oblivious to his or her bodily signals.

Introducing a New Training Method

The second situation when a reboot may be in order is if you decide to “reverse course” and change potty training methods.

So when might a change in training approaches necessitate a “reboot”? Well, if you’ve gone with a gradual training approach, such as the “child led” approach, and have practiced it for some time only to experience continued accidents or child push-back, then a reboot may be a good idea before switching to one of the dedicated "quick train" programs we prefer (for the background on why we think these programs are better check out our post Making Sense of Different Potty Training Methods). 

These programs require a lot of focus and dedicated effort on both your part and your child's part. A reboot can help you and your child “clean the potty training slate” before setting out on what can amount to a three-to-seven day training marathon.

You're At The End Of Your Rope

The third situation is when you are using a “quick train” method such as the bare bottom method and you’ve truly given it your ALL for a week or more but are beginning to lose your grip.  Potty training is a training exercise after all and to get it right, your child will need a trainer (i.e. you) at the top of their game.

This grounds for a reboot doesn’t mean you kinda tried for three days and are over it, or that your child is having a few accidents interspersed with successes. As we stress again and again in our training guide, The Potty Proud Approach, accidents really are “part of the plan”—identifying the reason for every accident and a finding corresponding solution is one of the key tasks performed by every parent during the potty training process. 

Instead, this is a reboot called for because you and your child are having a battle of the wills over the potty training process. You’ve given it your honest best but your child is being resistant to all things potty training and you are at the end of your rope.

If you find yourself in this situation, a reboot may be in order.

(2) How to Reboot

The act of rebooting isn’t all that complicated. Just put the diapers back on, place all the potty equipment (potty chair, toilet ring, etc.) back in the closet and explain to your child that the two of you are going to give things a break. 

What’s actually more important to focus on is what NOT to do. Specifically, do not announce the reboot in the midst of a potty training struggle, as this can incorrectly lead your child to believe that throwing a tantrum will make everything go away. For this same reason, it’s a good idea to avoid multiple reboots—a reboot, if necessary at all, is best only done once.

And do not make the reboot seem like it’s being done due to some failure on your child’s part. In fact, it’s important to be nice about the reboot even if you’re doing so because you've been driven to the brink. The reboot is a time to put your potty training struggles aside so you can begin feeling comfortable again with your child and regroup for round two down the road—make sure to start off on the right foot.

Reboot Tip

Because it’s important to be nice and not make the reboot seem like a big deal, if there is a way to get your child back into diapers naturally do so. For example, if your child is still wearing diapers for nap-time, simply place a new diaper on as soon as they wake up from their nap.

And if your child throws a tantrum about the reboot? Give them one or two chances to try the potty training thing again. Make sure to explain that if things are working they can continue potty training and using the toilet. If they go right back to before, however, reboot and don't look back!

(3) How Long Should The Reboot Last?

The short answer is that it depends.

If you are rebooting because your child is on the younger side (i.e. under 24 months) and you’ve concluded he or she isn't ready, the reboot should last until you start to observe more signs of readiness. This could take a few weeks or even a few months depending on age.

If you are rebooting because you are switching potty training methods or have no gas left in your potty training tank (two reasons that may be inter-related for some parents), then a reboot period of two or three weeks is about right. This allows for a clean break and gives you sufficient time to repair your relationship with your child, but isn’t so long that your child will completely forget any potty training skills he or she may have picked up from your previous attempt.

(4) Restarting Training

So you’ve used up your reboot and it’s time to get back to training. What to do now?

The short answer is to find a training program and stick with it. In particular, if you are rebooting because you tried a "gradual" training approach and found it didn't work or rebooted because you were at the end of your rope, you'll likely want to try a new training method. We'd suggest going with one of the many quick train methods out there, as we find them to be the most effective (check out our post "Making Sense of Different Potty Training Methods" to learn why). And once you've found a program you think will work, follow it to the letter. It’s that simple.

In Parting

At One Proud Toddler we obviously aren’t huge fans of the reboot in most situations. That being said, there is a time and a place for reboots. Do your best to avoid them, but if in your heart of hearts you know you’ve given it your all and a pause is necessary, then trust your instinct.

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