Toilet training a child can sometimes be quite a task, but toilet training special needs children can come with its own set of challenges. The first thing to take into consideration when you are ready to toilet train your child is their readiness. Just because your child may be 2 – 3 years old (an age when parents typically toilet train their children), does not mean that your child is developmentally ready. You want to avoid starting too early because this can deter you child from participating in the toilet training process, cause negative behaviors during toilet training, and/or increase anxiety about using the bathroom.
How do I know when my child is ready for toilet training?
To determine if your child is ready to be toilet trained, there are several key factors to consider such as your child’s bladder control, stool patterns, dislike for wet or dirty diapers, self-help skills, verbal and/or nonverbal cues, motor skills, interest in using the bathroom, ability to follow directives and age. The following explains the signs of readiness:
***Bladder control: If your child is waking up from naps dry or is able to go long stretches during the day without using the bathroom, they may be ready for toilet training.
***Stool patterns: Children who show signs of readiness have a predictable and regular bowel movement pattern.
***Dislike for wet and dirty diapers: Have you seen your child take off their diaper because they do not like the feel of it? This sign of trying to escape their soiled mess is a good indicator.
***Appropriate self-help skills: When your child is ready to be toilet trained, they will start to show signs of self-help skills such as pulling up and down pants (or skirts) and pull-ups. Children should also start to ‘help you’ get themselves dressed during the day.
***Able to give verbal and/or nonverbal cues: Some children will express the words “potty,” “pee,” or “poop.” Other children may use a sign, facial expression, or gesture for these words or use another indication when they have to use the bathroom.
***Appropriate motor skills: Is your child able to walk to and from the toilet? You want to teach your child to be independent as young as possible.
***Takes an interest in others using the bathroom: Sometimes children will imitate others using the bathroom. If you see your child trying to mimic you or someone else in the household, this may be a good time to put him/her on the toilet.
***Able to follow directives: Children need to be able to follow simple directions such as sit, stand, wipe, pull up and pull down.
***Age: I placed age last because this is not always the first indicator. As I stated before, your child may be a certain age but is not developmentally ready yet.
My child is ready, now what?
Once you determine that your child is ready, now the fun begins! However, your child will not be toilet trained overnight, so you need to be prepared to put in the effort to implement an effective toilet training program. You also need to carve out time in your schedule to make sure you are consistently following the schedule. As with a lot of things, consistency is key. You cannot follow the schedule a few days and then take off a few days and wonder why your child is not catching on. When you keep each step consistent, your child will more likely follow the routine quicker. When your child is ready, here are a few tips that you should follow for toilet training:
- Always start the day off right: wake child up, take their diaper off, sit them on the toilet.
- Depending on how often your child goes (this should be determined before you start toilet training them), put them back on the toilet every hour and a half to two hours.
- Make the bathroom fun and inviting.
- Let them play with a toy while they are on the toilet.
- If they use the bathroom, have a reward waiting for them (such as an M&M, car, sticker).
- For boys, have them sit first until they understand the process, then teach them to stand.
- When boys learn to stand, put some cheerios in the toilet and make it a game for them to aim to hit the cheerios.
- Use a visual schedule to help them follow the routine (click here and here for visual schedule printables)
- Keep your reinforcers fun! If a reinforcer is not working anymore, change it.
- Track their progress. It may not seem like they are making progress until you look at their data sheet (click here and here for sample data sheets).
COMMON Toilet Training Troubles
My child will only pee, but will not poop in the toilet. For some children, pooping is a sensory issue. Children will poop in their pull-up or pants just fine, but will not produce a bowel movement in the toilet. If this is the case, keep trying. Or you can just focus on peeing for a while and retry ‘bowel movement training’ later on.
My child has a problem with wiping. I always tell parents to start teaching them to wipe from day one. Wiping is part of toilet training. It is not separate. Once they learn how to wipe in the beginning, it will be a much easier process as you go along.
My child is not catching on. If you are following a consistent schedule for at least two weeks and your child is not catching on (not showing any signs of progress), you may need to evaluate whether they are ready to be toilet trained. By two weeks, your child will most likely show some progress, even if progress is very slow. Reread the toilet readiness signs. Are they hitting all of these milestones? If they are not, you may need to take a couple weeks off and then restart your toilet training program at a later time. Remember, you want toilet training to be a pleasant experience. If you create anxiety over the situation, if may produce undesirable behaviors from your child.
If you are continuing to have trouble, I recommend reading these two books. I found them to be the most helpful (the following are affiliate links):
Book of these books provide steps and tips to help your child with special needs get toilet trained. They are easy reads and provide a lot of advice for parents.
My child’s teacher is toilet training, so I do not have to…
This is another issue that I have heard parents bring up. If your child is being toilet trained in their school or program or toilet training is part of their goals and objectives, you should find out what schedule they are using and follow it at home. This includes reinforcers, data sheets, and/or visual schedules. It is important to be on the same page as your child’s teacher, which will create consistency for your child. Thus, creating an easier time with toilet training. Sometimes parents will do the complete opposite of what the teacher is doing and it can confuse the child. If your child is not being toilet trained, many parents toilet train during the summer months, when children are off from school, to create a less ‘rushed’ experience.
Even though toilet training can be challenging for children with special needs, you will get through it! Remember to stay positive, focus on your child, do not compare your child with other children, do not listen to the naysayers and find parental support!
Are you in the process of toilet training? What are you struggling with?