If you’re anything like me, this is one of those subjects that brings about mixed emotions. We know we need to encourage independence in the bathroom, but it’s not so easy for many of our kids, especially those that are already late in reaching developmental milestones. The thing is, our kids basically hold the cards where potty training is concerned. We are not in control as we are used to being, as parents. It’s not like bedtime or what food to offer when. But, with just a few bits of information to understand what it takes for our children to be ready for this important step, it can go easier with less frustration for all.
First of all, it is important to understand that not every child is ready for potty training at the same time. Second, THAT’S OKAY. No matter what the grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors & friends say. This is one of those times that you will need to just do what you know is best for your family, no matter everyone else’s opinion. And it does seem like everyone has an opinion on potty training. So, let’s see what the experts say on the subject, the doctors, psychologists and developmental specialists.
They all agree that a child must show signs of readiness before you should even attempt to potty train. They do not need to have every single sign, but a good number of them will assure you that you’re not trying too early. In no particular order, here are most of the signs you should be looking for:
- the child is aware of being wet or messy & doesn’t like it
- he can communicate in some way when he needs to use the potty
- she is aware of her body enough to know when she is “going”
- he can pull his clothes up and down
- wet diapers are fewer because of holding urine
- bowel movements are fairly predictable
- an interest in other family members’ usage of the toilet develops
- an overall interest in the potty develops
So, you think your child is ready, you see the signs, and you are also ready. First thing, make sure that all involved maintain a positive attitude and that you’re all on the same page. Each person involved in your child’s care needs to understand the current expectations, and consistency is important. It can be very confusing to the child if they are given different expectations and attitudes which may cause a delay in potty success. Set your child up for success by making it a happy fun time, not a stressful demanding situation where your child is given higher expectations than they are capable of meeting. Try not to connect your approval and happiness directly to your child’s potty skills. Do not shame him or her for accidents.
Locate all the toileting items in the bathroom, including diapers and wipes, so that your child associates this activity with the correct room. Find a potty that you like or pick up one of the toilet seats that sits directly on your toilet and “shrinks” the size of the hole. Either way, your child needs to be able to access it easily and quickly for obvious reasons. A small stool would be helpful. Make sure your child is comfortable and that their feet are supported on the floor or a stool. You can set a small basket of books or little fidget toys in the bathroom that are only used during potty time.
Teach your child the different terms that go along with using the potty so that communication is clear and easier. There are cute books about using the potty for boys and for girls. You can find videos, and, of course, now there are even apps. I am not going to recommend any of these because I have not done a review of all that is out there, but suffice it to say that you will find plenty available. It doesn’t hurt to check out your library for different media resources. This is a terrific time to ask friends and family what they used (and could you please borrow it?). A quick search on Pinterest brought up many links to books, parent blogs, and a variety of tips on toilet training kids with autism spectrum disorder and other special situations. Incorporating a reward system with potty training is a little controversial, so this is an area you will need to decide for yourself and what is best for your situation.
If you know your child’s usual times for bowel movements or urinating, try to time plan sitting times in a schedule. Expect to sit for a good 15-20 minutes at a time, but if your child doesn’t go take a break and try again later. Don’t be surprised if he goes just as soon as the diaper is back on. When he’s ready, it will happen. Throwing a big party for every success may overwhelm your child, so show happiness and give praise, but keep it low key. Part of the reward is to have your child feel pride in himself and to see how much nicer it feels to stay dry and clean.
Toilet training a child with developmental delays or with any kind of special needs may have some added considerations and challenges. Most important to keep in mind is you are the Number One Expert on your child, and you should follow your instincts. Do consult the professionals working with your child to advise you on any issues to consider. For example, if your child has low muscle tone, you may want to pay extra attention to the way she is seated on the potty, making sure she is supported enough to be comfortable. If she is working too hard to just stay on the potty, she may not be relaxed enough to use it. For children with language delays, you may need to work on communication adaptations, sign language or picture cards.
Individualize your approach based on your child’s needs. Follow your gut. Keep it positive and low pressure. Try not to compare your child to others; there will always be some precocious child that’s way ahead. And have patience. It will happen when your child is ready. And, silly as it sounds, you may even experience a bit of sadness as your child makes another big leap in their quest to be independent of you. And that’s also OKAY.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L