I have a confession to make… I was absolutely terrified to start potty training my first child.
Even though I started babysitting when I was thirteen, helped in Sunday School and in the nursery at my church, and was a nanny for over ten years, I still struggled with how to even start potty training my son with special needs.
Now, I have two special needs kids and both are almost fully potty-trained, but it required A LOT of outside help from doctors and therapists. I wanted to give special needs families some tips on how to make the transition to potty training so I asked Kristin from Little Mama Jama to write a guest post about it. Here are her tips!
How to Start Potty Training Your Special Needs Child
Potty training easily makes the list of least favorite parenting milestones! Before we potty trained our first child, I experienced months of anxiety. Is he ready? Will he have meltdowns about using the potty? Should I purchase a steam cleaner for the carpet? Potty training required a lot of patience on our part, but it was worth it! We found these five things helped us navigate the process of potty training our special needs children:
1. Let Your Child Take the Lead.
We tried to potty train our son when he was two years old. He figured out how to control it and turned it into a game. The bottom line: he wasn’t ready. We tabled the idea until he was excited about the process. Your child will often tell you – verbally or non-verbally – when he is ready. Involve your child by allowing them to pick out underwear or select a potty seat.
As with every aspect of special needs parenting, we need to approach potty training with patience. There will be messes to clean up. There will be setbacks and frustrations. Consistency, which is always critical for our children, is also the key to potty training. If we remain patient and consistent, the rewards are big. Our kids will learn at their own pace.
3. Ease the Transitions.
Transitions can be extremely challenging for our children. Providing verbal and visual cues will help your child with what is to come. Use timers, picture schedules, social stories and/or verbal warnings to prepare them for using the bathroom. Sing his favorite song or read her favorite book while they sit on the potty to help them cope with the change.
4. Use Rewards.
Every time our children kept their underwear dry, we praised them and allowed them to place their sticker of choice on a potty chart. Stickers may not interest your child, but use something that motivates them. Our children were rewarded after bowel movements on the toilet with one wrapped gift (approximately $1 in value) to celebrate their achievement. Positive reinforcement is important!
5. Incorporate Something They Enjoy.
We sang our son’s favorite song each time he washed his hands. It was difficult for him to lather the soap by rubbing his hands together, but we worked on the mechanics of hand washing while making it an enjoyable activity. Incorporate your child’s interests into the potty training process to make it a positive, fun activity.
Potty training a special needs child can be a daunting process. With consistency, patience and a reinforcing, positive approach, we can make it a better experience for the whole family.
Were you nervous about starting potty training for the first time? What tips and tricks did you use in potty training your special needs child?
Kristin Novotny is the lifestyle blogger behind Little Mama Jama, which focuses on special needs parenting, DIY, and recipes. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, with her husband and her two children with autism. When she’s not reaching for her next cup of coffee, you’ll find her planning her next DIY project.