What to Do When Your Child has a Potty Accident

Potty training can be difficult.  Throughout the process there can be slip-ups and accidents.  If you have a child who is already potty training, or if you have a child who exhibits signs that he or she is ready to start potty training, then keep these helpful strategies in mind for when an unavoidable accident occurs.

Strategies for dealing with a potty accident:


  1. Environment:  Create a friendly and inviting bathroom environment.  Provide different books that your child can read while she sits on the toilet.  You can even offer to play different songs while your child sits on the toilet and tries to go potty.
  2. Schedule:  Make sure that you, along with everyone who is with your child throughout the day, is on the same potty schedule.  Using this potty schedule, select a certain amount of time that you want your child to practice going on the potty.  You can start with having your child go to the potty every 30 minutes.  Set a timer. When it goes off, have your child stop what she is doing and try to go to the potty.  After she tries, reset the timer and wait for the next 30 minute potty try.  If your child is still having accidents on a 30-minute schedule, switch to 15 minutes intervals to catch the accident before it happens.
  3. Praise:  If and when your child goes to the potty on the toilet, have a mini celebration!  Provide lots of praise and reinforcement for your child.  If your child does not go potty on the toilet but remained dry for the 30-minute period, still provide praise. Let her know that she did a great job of staying dry, and that she will try to go potty again in 30 minutes.  Make sure that when you are praising your child for actually going potty on the toilet, you are providing more praise and reinforcement than just when she remained dry for the 30 minutes.
  4. Reward:  After your child goes potty on the toilet, you can give her tangible reinforcers of stickers, stamps, little toys, extra time to play with a toy, time to watch TV, or even a special treat.  Choose a reward that is meaningful to your child and that will motivate her to want to earn one again.
  5. Choices:  If the timer goes off and your child refuses to try to go potty, give her the option of either walking there on her own like a big girl, or tell her that you will help her.  If she does not pick a choice or still refuses to walk to the bathroom, physically guide her to the bathroom and help her sit on the toilet to try and go potty.
  6. Oops:  Accidents are going to happen and when they do, try to remain calm.  Help your child get to the bathroom as quickly as possible to reinforce where elimination should happen.  If you cannot catch the accident quickly enough, still have your child go sit on the toilet to make sure she has completed going to the bathroom.
  7. Cleanup:  After your child has an accident, have her help with the cleanup process as much as possible.  Even if this means that you need to clean the majority of the accident, still have your child do a final wipe down of the area.
  8. Talk:  After the accident, after your child has sat on the toilet and after she has helped with the cleanup, talk with her to find out what happened and why she could not make it to the bathroom in time.  For example, ask her if she was too involved in playing that she did not recognize the urge to go, or ask if she did not want to miss out on her favorite story or TV show.  Advise her that these activities will be waiting for her upon return from the bathroom next time.
  9. Stories:  Creating a story with your child about why we need to go potty in the toilet can also help.  Have your child help with this story as much as possible.  The story can be used both in and out of the bathroom.  You will also want to review it after an accident happens. There are also many potty storybooks available that help reinforce this process.

Keep in mind that potty training accidents will happen.  It is just part of the process of your child learning how to independently take this next development step.  Be patient, use the above strategies, and keep working with your child so that she will be potty accident free soon.  If you feel your child needs more potty training help, join us for our upcoming free potty training workshop!

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