Potty training brings feelings of excitement as kids love doing things on their own and feel like a ‘big boy or girl.’ For children with special needs, learning independence with daily living skills is often difficult. Meeting developmental milestones can be delayed and parents often become worried and frustrated. As a pediatric OT, I’m often asked about tips to help children to use the potty independently. To help, I added a chapter to my book, The Parent’s Guide to Occupational Therapy for Autism and Special Needs. Many different cultures handle toilet training differently, but ultimately the goal is independence.
Here are my best tips for you in this ‘Out of the POCKET OT‘ toileting post.
1) DO NOT PRESSURE your child. Punishing for accidents and forcing a child to use the toilet before she’s ready can cause huge delays in skill development. This is a sensitive topic for families and toilet training can move backward if children become frustrated or fearful. Be positive every time, even if your child has an accident.
2) Look for readiness signs….
- Is your child interested in using the toilet? Does he ask about the potty?
- Will your child wash her hands (this is critical for proper hygiene)?
- Your child should not be fearful of the toilet.
- Does your child indicate or complain when his diaper is wet or soiled? Does he let you know he’s ready for a diaper change?
- Can your child follow one-step instructions? There are multiple steps involved when toileting. If your child has difficulty following directions, he may not be ready.
- Does your child help with dressing? Can he pull his pants up and down independently?
- Will or can your child sit on the toilet or a child-sized potty? With or without clothes on?
- Can your child remain accident-free for at least two hours during the DAY?
If you can answer yes to most of the questions above, your child is probably ready. If most answers are no, give your child some more time. Remember that your child develops at her own pace and there’s NO right or wrong time.
3) Allow your child to choose his own underwear. Go on a fun and special outing together and keep it positive. Make sure underwear is well-fitting. Try wearing the underwear when practicing toilet training and do not yell if the child soils the underwear. He/she is aware and probably embarrassed about the accident already.
4) Keep special toilet books and toys (such as my new favorite Potty Duck) near the potty so that
|Photo from PottyDuck.com|
your child associates the toilet with a positive experience. There are many great books on toilet training. Here are my favorites available via Amazon from my affiliates: P is for Potty (Sesame Street); Potty (#1 Bestseller on Amazon); The Potty Book: for Boys; The Potty Book: for Girls.
7) Be aware of and try to accommodate for sensory processing issues surrounding toileting. A new area we are learning more about is INTEROCEPTION. It’s an area involving the internal system that makes you, you. For instance, our hunger, thirst, urge to use the toilet, heart, breathing are all controlled by our internal body systems. We can be extra or under-responsive in this system in the same way we can in our tactile, proprioceptive, and/or vestibular system. For more information about this, see my earlier blog post here on Sensory Processing Disorder.
Try to maintain a balanced ‘sensory activity diet’ with activities at least every two hours while awake. Ideas include: walking like a crab, bear, or other fun animals; wrapping up in Lycra fabric; chewing fruit leathers, dehydrated fruit, nuts, veggies to give ‘heavy work’ to mouth muscles; jumping jacks or other physical activities. For more ideas, check out our downloadable sensory activity idea cards.
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