Let’s not beat around the bush- potty training isn’t the funnest or the prettiest part of being a parent. Having a kid with sensory issues makes it that much more tricky and stressful!
Most kids are ready for potty training between the ages of 18 to 36 months (there is no one-size-fits all), but kids with sensory issues can take longer before they’re ready.
So, when your kid is ready, how do you get them ready to abandon the diaper and learn to use the toilet? Let’s get into it!
It’s hard to tell when it’s time to go: Children with sensory processing issues usually struggle with this due to the faulty connection between their bladder’s nerve interceptors and the brain. Try to stick to a regular schedule for using the toilet on a frequent basis.
Kids feel emotionally attached to diapers: Kids with sensory issues stick really fiercely to things that *work* for them- and diapers often work very well. They won’t want to have it taken away and replaced by uncomfortable underwear! To get around this, let them choose what kind of underwear they wear- size, tightness, fabric, color, etc. And don’t make them go “cold turkey” on diapers- just phase them out by introducing underwear gradually more often.
They hesitate to make bowel movements: Aside from the fact that they may not easily recognize the need to go to the toilet, some kids will be reluctant to go number 2, because it feels like they’re losing something important. Start with a potty chair that sits low to the ground instead of a potty seat in the toilet. Also, most kids with sensory issues hate dry wipes- consider trying wet wipes instead.
Bedwetting is common: All kids wet their beds, but kids with sensory issues are heavy sleepers- plus, as we discussed earlier, struggle to identify when they need to go. It’s an obvious recipe for a stained mattress! Just stick with the “no liquids two hours before bedtime” rule to minimize the odds of a midnight leak. Don’t get upset when accidents happen, just have your spare sheets ready for a quick, easy change.
Kids fear public restrooms: For any child, a public restroom can be quite scary. Unfamiliar noises, unfamiliar crowd, lighting, and methods for flushing are just some of the possible reasons. Most especially for children with sensory processing issues, this can be highly over-stimulating. You can minimize the odds of this by having them use the bathroom at home before leaving, but things happen, right?. Just carry some sticky notes with you so you can cover the sensors that indicate when it is time to flush. That way, the child won’t be surprised with the noise. Noise-cancelling headphones can also help in these situations.
Anxiety with their legs and feet hurting: It will help you to be aware that kids with sensory processing issues often have vestibular and proprioceptive issues- in other words, their balance, body awareness, and coordination are thrown off, making toilets a deeply uncomfortable experience. Sitting for more than a few minutes can hurt! Give them a deep pressure massage before potty time (this is easy if you stick to a schedule), and give them a stool to elevate their feet while seated.
Communicate: Kids need to understand why they’re going through this whole “potty training” ordeal, and what’s in it for them. Help them understand why they need to do it in order to develop into a strong, healthy adult. If your kid’s communication skills don’t work for this, try using visual cues or a book to drive the point home.
Be relaxed: As you know, kids totally pick up on other peoples’ energy- especially their parents! If you’re stressed or anxious about potty training, they’ll feel it- and they may feel the same way. So, try to relax. Your kid will, too.
Use incentives initially: Incentivize your kid to use the toilet by offering a treat or tasty snack as reward! This is a great way to get them to start, initially. However, take care not to let this happen for too long, or your kid may refuse to use the toilet without treats!
Potty training isn’t the most glamorous part of parenting. It’s frustrating, messy (emotionally and physically), and accidents happen no matter what.
Remember that your kid needs patience- they’re getting so many strange, novel sensory signals that confuse them. Don’t let other parents or societal stigma pressure you to feel like your child should be potty trained by any particular age!
At the end of the day, remember that this is the mark of what makes you a great and loving parent; being able to handle the hard parts of parenting the same way you handle the fun easy parts- with love, patience, and understanding.