Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Guest Blogger: Potty Training for Children Who “Take Their Sweet Time”

We’re so excited to welcome Laurie Bowen from Kids on the Move as our guest blogger! 

Kids on the Move offers all kinds of programs for parents and children, from preschool to parenting classes; and today Laurie is sharing some secrets that their Bridges program uses to assist parents in potty training their children.

Most kids are ready to start potty training somewhere between the ages of two to shortly after their third birthday. Boys usually fall somewhere near the end of this range. Usually when kids start to let you know their diapers are messy they are about ready.

Some of the main signs that a child is developmentally ready to begin potty training are:

  1. A bowel and bladder that are mature (i.e., can hold larger amounts at one time and can “sense” the need to void/eliminate staying dry for at least 2 hours at a time (including nap times)
  2. The child can recognize that she is voiding/eliminating (you can also recognize they are by their facial expression, posture, place they go to do it, what they say, etc.)
  3. Your child notices and/or becomes distressed by having a wet/soiled diaper
  4. A “willingness” to sit on the potty (without fear, with or without diaper/clothes still on)
  5. The child is able to walk to/from the bathroom, get on the toilet, sit, balance, and get off the toilet or potty chair with little assistance
  6. The child is able to pull his pants down by himself
  7. The child can follow simple instructions/directions/commands
  8. The child is asking to have his wet/dirty diaper changed or to use the potty
  9. Your child is having regular bowel movements

You can capitalize on this natural readiness by:

  • Prep work! Start a couple of months in advance after you are noticing signs that they are psychologically, physically, and mentally ready. Let them go pick out special big boy/big girl underwear, let them pick out a potty seat. Decorating the potty seat with stickers they like may be helpful.
  • Reading aloud together as a family one of the many good books that describe potty use as a part of growing up. Illustrations of firefighters, doctors, babysitters, and parents all going to the bathroom will interest and educate your kids.
  • Watching the same-sex parent or older sibling in the bathroom reinforces this process.
  • Buying him fun new underwear can further encourage him.
  • Allowing him to pick out a potty seat and using non-food rewards for potty use can also make the process fun.
  • However, there are other forces that can make potty training difficult even for typical kids. Fear often plays a major role. Potty training tends to come at an age when children’s fears are most intense. It is important to de-pressurize the situation. If your child seems to be afraid of the toilet itself, then gradually acclimatize him to the potty.
    • Have him sit on one of the little potties fully clothed for a few minutes each day while you read to him or tell him a story.
    • When that becomes old, take his diaper off so he can sit on it just like Dad and Mom.
    • Begin putting the contents of his dirty diapers in the potty so he can see what happens.
    • Then, give him the opportunity to run around bare-bottomed so he can try to go on the potty if he wants. The desire for approval is another strong motivating force that impacts potty training.
  • Although some people would recommend pull-ups, I personally would recommend just starting with underwear, unless the child is very aware of their bowel movements/wet diapers already and is uncomfortable.

It is important that you have set aside a lot of time, especially in the beginning, to dedicate to the process. Also, do not start the potty training process at a time that is already stressful for the child. Do not do this at the same time another child is being born, doing a move, or at the same time as starting preschool. Kids need some time to adjust to all the new stressors in their lives. If these methods are still not working, here are some intensive methods that parents have found successful. *These methods also work well for children with autism/PDD-NOS*

The Naked Method
Many people have used the naked method where they allow the child to run around naked (while at home) in order to have the kid really feel and realize when they have gone to the bathroom. This is a messy one but can be successful.
The intensive method refers to taking a whole week (such as a spring break from school) to intensely concentrate on toilet training. This can include letting the child be naked, or without pullups in clothes and working very hard on getting a success in the toilet that you can reinforce heavily. For some kids this may take just a couple days, for others more.
Spend at least one week charting the times of day your child eats, drinks, wets, soils, gets changed (with results), and sleeps. Use a day planner, chart or simply write down each item and the time it occurs in a log. At the end of the week, look at the data (or log) and see if you see can pick out some general patterns of toileting.

Intensive Toilet Training
This is a highly structured schedule that starts the child sitting on the potty every 30 minutes.A reinforcer is anything that will motivate and be an incentive for the child. It is important to find several things that may work, which can be put into a special potty basket that can be placed within sight, but out of reach in the bathroom.
The potty reinforcer must be only for going potty in the potty. Do not offer it at other times or it will lose it novelty, and we want it to be really tied to potty successes.
A sticker chart for going potty can also be a great reinforcing tool, especially for visual learners. A sticker for each time they go potty can then add up to a special reinforcer, like a trip to their favorite restaurant or park.It is important to tie the reinforcer with social praise at all times.
To start out:

  1. Set a thirty minute toileting schedule, and set a timer so the child has a visual and auditory cue indicating when it is time to go sit on the toilet.
  2. Take the child as consistently as possible every thirty minutes to sit for a couple minutes on the potty. Even if the child does not have success, make sure to reinforce the child for sitting and trying.

This is a great time to cement the toileting routine and encourage independence in self help skills. Have the child pull pants up and down and wash hands with the least amount of prompting necessary.

Praise and Reinforcement
If there is not a success praise the child for trying and for sitting nicely and tell them we will “try again later”During this time it is important to stay positive and reinforcing. We don’t want the whole process to become traumatizing for the child. It is important to stay consistent and that the child understands the expectations of the bathroom routine.
When there is a success, make sure to be excited and praise the child immediately.
Make the social praise very obvious and immediate, it is important that the connection is made between the praise and the fact that the child has had a success in the toilet . Let them stand and look at the toilet and point out so that they can see visually that they have had a success.Make sure that your verbal reinforcement is very specific.

Accidents Happen…
Accidents will happen frequently in the first couple weeks. If the child has wet or made a mess in their pants, say very matter-of-factly, without anger or emotion, “You are wet (or soiled, or had a boo-boo, or had a BM). Big boys (or girls) do that on the potty (or toilet).” Take the child to the bathroom and have them start the routine and sit on the potty so you can model the correct toileting behavior and so you can reinforce them for sitting on the toilet appropriately.
Then have them change themselves as independently as possible. This may be difficult but it is important to remain neutral and consistent. This is not meant to be a punishment, but rather a natural consequence of not using the toilet. If you don’t use the toilet then you will have to change yourself into new clean dry clothes and put the soiled clothes in the hamper. This is to help tie the idea that going to the bathroom in your clothes and not the potty is comfortable.

We’ve had so many comments on this blog that we’ve created a “Part 2” for all those out there that may have a more difficult situation. Good luck!


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