secretly wish child-rearing came with a manual?! Like how to know when it’s time to start potty training? And how to actually go about teaching a tiny, impulsive human how to direct their inner recycled goods into a tiny throne several times a day?
While I can’t tell you exactly how to potty train your little one (there are soooo many approaches), I certainly can try to help you understand the telltale signs of when your kiddo is ready for potty training.
Did you know that, developmentally speaking, the transition from diapers to big kid undies actually follows a fairly predictable progression?
Many kids become mostly potty trained between 2-3 years of age, with boys typically achieving the feat later than girls. However, it’s not about starting at a specific age, it’s about starting when your child is physically and emotionally ready. So tune into your toddler and see where she’s at with this progression. You may end up starting earlier or later than you thought.
Signs your child may be ready for potty training:
• She experiences discomfort when wet or soiled. She may walk with a wide-legged waddle or tug at her diaper when it’s soiled. Kids with low sensory awareness may lag on this one because they are less likely to feel the extra junk in their diaper.
• She indicates or communicates when she has a dirty diaper. Kids will often do this by patting or pointing to their diaper in the presence of their caregiver. Yours may even use words or signs to communicate if they are old enough and know the appropriate words to use.
• She has regular bowel movements on a fairly consistent basis. Many kids are able to be trained to poop in the toilet before they are actually “potty” trained, so this is an important one. In my experience as an OT, kiddos who have restricted diets due to picky eating and/or who experience constipation due to diet or medications often struggle with this one, and this typically affects their ability to learn to use the toilet.
• She can sit on a potty for a short time when placed on it. Make sure the potty is situated so her feet are supported rather than dangling from the porcelain throne. This is especially important for children who have low postural muscle tone (such as those with Down Syndrome, Autism, or a generally weak core) or postural instability. Foot support is also important for little ones who are afraid of being off the ground. Some examples include the Fisher-Price Cheer for Me Potty, Fisher-Price 2-in-1 Portable Potty, and the Sesame Street Elmo Adventure Potty Chair (which is what we have, pictured in the cover photo at the top of this post).
• She demonstrates a pattern of being able to stay dry for about two hours or more at a time. This means her bladder muscles are mature enough to hold potty for that long.
• She can pull down her pants and even remove her diaper fairly independently. Not totally necessary, but extremely helpful in moving toward toilet independence.
• She demonstrates interest in watching and imitating others’ bathroom-related actions. This translates into MOTIVATION, which is a huuuuuuuge part of potty training.
• She can follow basic directions.
*The above-listed skills tend to develop between 1-2 years of age.
• She communicates the need to go before it happens. This can be done through words, posture, or facial expression. Many kids I’ve worked with will often hide in a corner or turn away from others when they feel the need to poop (just before they start grunting and working hard, if you know what I mean!). It’s really cute and pretty amusing. However, some children with sensory or developmental issues lack the internal physical awareness that sends the signal from the bladder to the brain that the bladder is full and needs to be emptied. This lack of internal communication makes these kiddos very accident prone in the potty domain; they may need a more regimented potty schedule as opposed to relying on them knowing and communicating when they need to go.
• She wets her diaper at consistent intervals.
*The above-listed skills tend to develop between 2-3 years of age.
If you nodded your head in agreement to most of the above-stated milestones, then your child may be ready for potty training! Try your best to choose a potty training time frame that is relatively stable and calm (do those even exist in the parenting world???). What I mean is, avoid beginning the potty training process just before or during a big transition such as a move, right before or after the addition or return of a family member, etc. This will help you and your kiddo maintain as much consistency and follow-through as possible.
Here are some additional milestones to keep in mind as you continue on your potty adventures:
• Seats self on toilet and uses it independently.
• Attempts but may need help with wiping, fasteners, and difficult clothing.
• Independent toileting. She can tear the toilet paper, flush, wash hands, and manage her clothing on her own.
*The above-listed skills tend to develop between 3-5 years of age.
Still unsure about whether your child is ready for potty training? Take a quick online quiz measuring your child’s potty training readiness by clicking here.
Looking for more info on exactly how to potty train your kiddo? Check out these resources:
If you are really struggling with potty training, be sure to mention it to your child’s pediatrician. He or she may have some recommendations for you, especially if the issue is related to constipation and the need for a supplement to “get things moving”, so to speak.
Keep in mind, too, that children with developmental, sensory, or communication difficulties may struggle with potty training more than their typically developing peers. Occupational therapists and Speech therapists can be hugely helpful during this challenging time and can assist with the development of the motor, communication, and cognitive skills necessary for your child to succeed. And if your kiddo is working with behavioral therapists they, too, can also be a highly effective part of the potty training team. While I wouldn’t recommend seeking out OT, ST, or Behavioral Therapy for the sole purpose of potty training (we are not necessarily potty training experts!), I do think it is appropriate for these disciplines to address potty issues through goals that can be applied to situations related to potty training (such as following commands or routines, initiating communication with an adult, requesting help, managing clothing and fasteners, improving balance or postural instability, etc.).
For those of you who have already potty trained kiddos: What are your suggestions for identifying readiness and actually potty training children?
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