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Let's Ditch the Diapers

Potty training is a stressful time for all involved, and something that all parents have to face at some point. Unfortunately, if your child has a developmental disability it can make the process even more difficult. In my years of consulting with families, this is one of the most frequent areas of frustration that parents ask for help with. Countless times families have tried to potty train, were unsuccessful, and were at a loss on how to 're-start' their potty training journey again. This article will give you a guide of how to set your child up for success on the potty with the least amount of stress possible.

Make sure your child is ready

One of the biggest mistakes that parents can make when potty training their child is to assume that they're ready because they are "old enough". Each child develops differently and age is not always the best factor in deciding if your child is ready for potty training. Most typically developing children show signs of being ready to potty train by the age of 3, but this is not necessarily the case if your child has a developmental disability. If your 3-year-old child is currently meeting the developmental milestones of a typical 12-month-old child, you may want to focus on other skills prior to beginning potty training. Instead of looking at a child's age, we need to evaluate many different factors to determine if a child is ready for potty training. Some things that you want to consider are:

  • Is your child able to sit up unassisted, pull pants up and down, and interested in the potty?

  • Will your child tell you when they have to go (i.e., "I have a poop") or tell you when they are wet/soiled?

  • Can your child follow simple instructions like "sit on the toilet" or "go to the bathroom?".

  • Does your child stay dry for at least 2 hours at a time?

If your child is not showing any of these signs, then maybe now is not the ideal time to start trying to potty train.

Be prepared

If you're thinking about starting potty training, here are some things to consider and help get you started down a successful path.

  • Begin pairing the potty with positives, even before you are ready to start potty training. Have your child sit on the potty a couple of times a day for a few minutes with their favorite reinforcers/toys. This way they will begin to associate the potty and the bathroom with good things when it is time to start training.

  • Have a potty chair or potty seat in place. Make sure that it is stable and comfortable. Your child is going to be spending a lot of time on that potty, so ensure that it is something that they feel secure being on. If your child is a boy, make sure that it has a pee guard that will actually work! I recommend one that is built in, and not detachable. If your child is small you may also need a step stool to put in front of the potty. This will allow them to rest their feet on the stool and sit more comfortably.

  • Start taking data! I know, this seems clinical, but it is so important to your child's success! Look in the resource section for a potty training data form that you can utilize. Track each day and time that your child urinates or has a bowel movement, and if they went in the potty, in their diaper, etc. This will help you to establish patterns and measure success in the future. You may notice patterns, such as they are always wet within 30 minutes of snack time, and you can make sure to target that interval during your toilet training.

  • Make sure your child always has easy access to the bathroom. You'll want to make sure that they can get up from whatever they're doing and go at any time without any problems.

  • Make sure you are choosing a time to start training when you will be home a lot and when there are no major life changes occurring (e.g. new school, new baby, etc.)

Getting started- Create your plan

Having a plan and ensuring that everyone in the family is on board is crucial to your child's success. Here are some things that you may want to consider when you are creating your child's potty training plan.

  • Choose the words that you and your family will use. Make sure everyone is on the same page with their language. What are you going to call the bathroom (e.g. the potty, the bathroom, the toilet)? What are you going to call urination, bowel movements, etc.? Make sure that you and your family members are using consistent language so that your child does not get confused.

  • Create a schedule. You will need to decide how often you are going to be taking your child to the potty. I generally recommend starting out with taking your child every 45 minutes to an hour. If your child is dry when you take them at the scheduled time, then use shorter increments (15-20 minutes) following the scheduled bathroom visit to try to catch them before they have an accident.

  • Each time your child visits the bathroom make sure to have them label "bathroom." This will help to set the foundation for requesting the bathroom in the future.

  • When you go into the bathroom at the scheduled time, have your child sit on the potty and set a timer for 5 minutes. While your child is sitting, allow them to have access to their favorite toy, electronic, or book for the entire 5 minutes. If your child is a boy, is very important to make sure that he is sitting on the toilet, not standing for attempts at urination. If a boy is potty trained standing up, it makes it more difficult successfully toilet train for bowel movements in the future.

  • Decide on what your child will be wearing during potty training. In an ideal world you would want to move them into underwear for potty training, so that you can tell immediately when they are wet. This also helps your child to feel more of the 'wet' sensation when they have an accident. Diapers absorb the urine in order to keep your child more comfortable. However, I am a mom to three young boys and I understand the mess and sanitary concerns that this can cause. Instead, you can use a more gradual approach and move them into elasticized waist diapers (pull-up). Try to find a type that they are able to pull up and down independently. You can also put underwear on underneath their pull-up so they are getting the sensation of being wet, without the mess in your home!

  • Select your reinforcers (e.g. rewards). Reinforcement is needed to increase any new skill, and this includes success in the potty! Choose a couple of highly preferred items and only use them for success on the potty. Try to make sure they are valuable and motivating to your child, something they really love to have! I do not recommend sticker charts or token type systems when starting training, as the delay in reinforcement can be difficult for your child and less motivating. You want something that is immediate and tangible!

  • Throughout the day, provide extra liquids so that there are more opportunities to practice. This means more opportunities for success and more success to reinforce!

Things to keep in mind

  • Be supportive and encouraging, even if they do not get it right away. Do not shame your child or make them feel guilty for not being successful. This leads to them pairing the bathroom with negative consequences and feelings... and can lead to further delays in the potty training process. If a child is consistently met with reprimands when they tell you that they had an accident, they are going to stop telling you.

  • Be patient with the process and know that it can take much longer for some children. That is okay, just be ready to catch that success and immediately reinforce it!

  • Don't get frustrated or angry if they don't get it right away, it may take some time for your child to feel comfortable with potty training.

  • Try sticking with your schedule even if it gets inconvenient at times (e.g. don't let yourself get side tracked by other things going on around you). The more consistent your approach is with this process, the better chance there will be that things will go smoothly.

  • Stay positive, encourage and praise your child throughout the process! Make sure to reinforce their efforts with lots of love and praise.

Even though it may be frustrating at first, the payoff is worth it!

Potty training is a big milestone for your child! It can be frustrating at first...just don't give up because the payoff is worth it! Make sure that you are reinforcing positive behavior and efforts with praise and reinforcement. You want to ensure that your child knows that their efforts, even if they are not yet successful, are valuable to you! This can be a challenging journey, but the most important thing to remember is that potty training is a process. It is not something that happens overnight and sometimes it takes longer than you think it should or want it too! I hope these tips help make things easier for you and your child!

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