Many of my clients are in a rush to get their kid trained in the next few weeks for school. They have been making some headway over the summer, but things can stall out half-way through. Here are some common reasons (but probably not all of them) why kids hit a plateau:
They lose that initial boost of excitement in achieving a “big kid” milestone. Using the potty isn’t an accomplishment now, it is just a chore.
Parents and caregivers aren’t able to keep up the emotional rewards they need. It is hard to be as excited about the 10th poop in the potty as the first time.
The rewards used aren’t rewarding anymore. A sticker or a candy might not be enough to pull someone away from Paw Patrol.
An episode of constipation or any other negative physical experience has them worried. Even a little bit of difficulty can discourage a toddler.
Too many accidents or not enough of a result when they are really trying can also discourage a child.
Using the potty is now a power play. Some kids need to feel in control, and foiling a parent’s goal of toileting gives them the feeling that they are the ones running the show. “I won’t” feels so much better than “I did it” for these kids.
Their clothes are a barrier. When some families start training, it is in the buff or with just underwear. Easy to make it to the potty in time. With clothes on, especially with button-top pants or long shirts, it can be a race to get undressed before things “happen”.
Should you pause training? The answer is not always to take a break. I know it sounds appealing to both adults and kids, but saying that this isn’t important any longer has a serious downside. If your child has had some success, you can keep going but change some of your approaches so that they don’t get discouraged or disinterested. If your child really wasn’t physically or cognitively ready, those are good reasons to regroup. But most typically-developing kids over 2 are neurologically OK for training. They may need to develop some other skills to deal with the bumps in the road that come along for just about every child.
Sometimes addressing each one of these issues will move training to the next level quickly! Take a look at this list and see if you can pick out a few that look like the biggest barriers, and hack away at them today!
Is potty training after the toddler years different? Yes, and no. Here is what you need to consider when you are looking at the equipment for an older child that is still in a diaper or a pull-up. Whether they have language or not, whether they have rigid or stereotyped behaviors or not, your set-up when training the older child is very important.
Your child probably won’t fit correctly on a toddler potty seat. Unless your child is significantly shorter and thinner than her peers, she won’t fit. Children that are nonverbal or very compliant may not complain about sitting so low or so tightly. They just won’t do well. They may only sit for a short time, get agitated, or withhold. They may cling to you when transferring on and off because they are sitting so low. It can look like they either don’t understand what to do, or won’t comply. Both can be wrong. The defiant ones will cry and refuse to use a seat that doesn’t fit them. Some crafty parents have adapted the smaller seats for their slim little ones, but not everybody can do that. Look at my post on the adult toilet Low Tone and Toilet Training: Transition to Using The Adult Toilet for help to reconfigure your set-up ,giving your child a better chance at success and comfort.
The right environment for toileting is not in front of the TV. After all these years of using diapers or pull-ups (which is developmentally really a diaper that you wear, not absorbent underwear), using the toilet can seem as silly to them as going into a restaurant and cooking our own dinner would be to us! If you have the room, use the bathroom for training. Bring them into the fold by requiring them to assist you with all aspects of diapering, turn off the TV so you have their attention, and when you do watch potty videos, make sure you are there reminding/encouraging them. Your demonstrated interest has more power than you think!
You are gonna need a bigger boat (wipe). Nod to one of my favorite movies, Jaws. But seriously, using those tiny little toddler wipes from the cute dispenser might not do the job on a 5 year-old heine. Not enough wiping with a tiny one, and if they aren’t clean down there, it is not only messy, it is a hygeine issue. Use the grown-up wipes and put Paw Patrol stickers on it if you have to sell them as appealing.
Since writing The Practical Guide To Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone, I have been asked for a list of missteps that happen on the way to success. Here they are:
Ignoring their own readiness issues. Parents who are unaware of their own lack of readiness will not be able to be the effective coach and teacher that their child needs. Training requires extra laundry, cash outlays and can create lots of frustration for adults. If you don’t know how you will handle all of these issues, your reactions could make potty training harder. Even if you have trained older children, life situations change. A parent with a more demanding job or simply more “irons in the fire” will have to figure out how to devote the necessary time and attention to toilet training this child. Learn more about readiness by reading Low Tone and Toilet Training: The 4 Types of Training Readiness
Assuming that defiant children will be LESS defiant in toilet training. Older toddlers and preschool children that are still in diapers can be the most difficult to train. Developmentally, they are at the stage in which they are learning about their ability to assert control over situations and people and handling the consequences. Some children have temperaments that make toilet training harder any age. The shy child can be overwhelmed by accidents and expectations, and the spirited child can balk at being told when to sit on the potty and resists following a routine.
Using equipment that doesn’t fit the child. The wide range of equipment available doesn’t mean that parents will pick the one that has the best chance of success. Children with motor or sensory issues are especially vulnerable to failure when the equipment doesn’t meet their needs. Typically-developing children can respond negatively to poor equipment as well. A seat insert that is wiggly can seem frighteningly unsafe to them, and a potty on another floor can result in so many accidents that they insist on a diaper for security.
Ignoring the sensory processing component of low muscle tone. Many children have low muscle tone, including children with ASD, sensory processing issues, and syndromes such as Down and Prader-Willi. Parents are aware of the balance and stability components of low tone, but don’t recognize any of the sensory components. The one that derails training the most frequently is a lack of interoceptive awareness, which is limited perception of internal sensory experiences .
Assuming that speech delays mean training delays. Children can learn to use the toilet without any verbal abilities at all. They do need some receptive language skills, but the level of comprehension to master a toileting schedule isn’t as high as parents think. Creating a good plan is the challenge.
Interpreting accidents as failures. No one likes to have an accident or clean one up. But accidents are signals that learning is happening and/or changes in the training plan are needed. If you or your child react dramatically to accidents or interpret their meaning incorrectly, this can create training resistance or refusal. For some more ideas on addressing accidents with your special needs child, read Not Making It To the Potty In Time? Three Reasons Why Special Needs Kids Have Accidents.
Not knowing how to anticipate bladder fullness or bowel routines. What goes in must come out. If a child wanders around with a sippy cup, it will be nearly impossible to anticipate when that bladder will be full, and when sitting on the potty will be a success. Understanding how to make early training successful by guiding a child the the toilet at the right time is key.
Minimizing the importance of clothing choice for independence. Children have the cutest clothes, but during toilet training, cute styles can spell disaster. “Dressing for success” means clothes that can be slid on and off easily, and don’t get in the way of seeing and feeling the call of nature.
Ignoring fears and withholding behaviors until they derail training. Some children are truly afraid of the sounds, feelings and even the smells of elimination. They can even think that they will be flushed away! Avoiding addressing withholding issues can create behavioral but also medical problems. Ignore them at your own peril.
Waiting until the last minute to train. After a few years of diapers, children can assume that this is how their parents want them to eliminate. Not using pre-training strategies that inspire and prepare children, even children with special needs, makes training harder than it has to be. Take a look at How Early Can You Start Toilet Training? to understand more about training readiness at any age.
My book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your child With Low Muscle Tone, helps parents through all the complexities of potty training . The e-book is available on my website tranquil babies. It is also available on Amazon.com and at Your Therapy Source.
There is nothing out there that does as complete a job of helping parents succeed with toilet training children with low muscle tone. I looked. All the other books on special needs potty training shrug their shoulders when they discuss neuromuscular issues, because teachers and psychologists don’t truly understand the ways neurophysiology contributes to the struggle. I have provided readiness checklists and chapter summaries for quick answers to your questions. Medical and therapy terms are fully explained so that you don’t have to run to Google to figure out what each term really means.
My book provides parents with ideas they can use today to move forward with potty training!