Toilet Training When It’s Difficult

For all you parents who are having trouble toilet training, especially your boys, here are some thoughts.

Special needs kids need more time. Our two older children had some special needs and were most ready at 3 years, 8 months. (Not sure why!). I attempted training at two previous times, around the 3 year mark and then again at 3 years & 4 months, but they didn’t successfully get it until 3yrs, 8-9months. A sign of needing to wait longer is inability to feel when they’re wet, inability to hold it in (i.e. peeing a little bit every five minutes), or extreme anxiety/crying about using the toilet. Failure in itself is not a sign, but actual inabilities, non-comprehension, or extreme attitude problems should be taken seriously.

Don’t feel bad if you have to wait longer. It is better that they feel happier about it, than if they are in diapers for a couple extra months (or even an extra year). In the long run, training later means the child can usually be more independent during the whole process and have fewer accidents… so less mess and stress for you.

Children who are really afraid of the toilet…

  • Try a cartoon toilet seat
  • Make sure their legs are supported by a stool… sometimes they get the circulation cut off if they sit for a long time, or are just plain nervous about having their feet off the floor
  • Take their pants off yourself and place them on the toilet if they are getting upset with the undressing/climbing on process.
  • Throw a cheerio into the water and make “aiming” a game
  • Drain the water out of your toilet and paint a smiley face where the hole begins, with nail polish. You can drain and remove with nail polish remover when you’re ready.
  • Give them some kind of special treat for using it successfully. A small bowl of M&Ms or Skittles on the back of the tank sometimes helps.
  • Sometimes kids are really motivated by flushing and sometimes really scared by it. Obviously don’t make them flush if that is the scary part. And make a really big deal about them getting to do it if that’s the part they like (ONLY when they’re successful, though.)

Children who really want to poop in their diaper and make you get one for them, or get it themselves… Try laying a row or two of toilet paper across the seat where their bum goes, and then sit them on it. The gentle resistance that the toilet paper provides as their bowel starts going into the toilet usually makes them feel better. (And the toilet paper falls right in there as they go.) It’s no big deal if they need this for awhile, they won’t need it forever.

Children who can’t talk to you about needing to go… Make two cards, one with a picture of peeing into a toilet and a reward for it (like a Goldfish or pretzel) and one with a picture of pooping into a toilet and a reward (like an M&M or chocolate chip). See if you can get them to use the cards by handing the right one to you, or pointing to the one they mean. To teach them, you can hold the appropriate card in front of them while they’re going, and point to it, then show them the reward.

The child who pees all the time… Usually this means they are either drinking too often during the day, or not getting all the pee out when they actually go. Have them bend over at the waist while they’re seated on the toilet, to empty that bladder. And give them drinks only at mealtimes while they’re intensely training.

Also, try bowel training first. For a child who has problems holding it in, bowel training can be easier because it is less frequent and more noticeable, internally. Once they get the idea of using the toilet for their bowels, working on the peeing can be easier because at least they already know how to use the toilet, do the pants, etc.

Nighttime wetting…. Use a diaper or pull-up at night until they can hold it in. Don’t rely on their abilities to wake up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom by themselves (at least, not while they are young). If they need to do this, they probably are drinking too much in the evening or not quite ready for underwear at night. Most kids can have their last drink around 6pm, pee before bedtime, and then go to bed and stay dry until the morning. (8-12hrs). Don’t do the “drink of water before bedtime” thing if you don’t have to.

Other easy tips:

  • to avoid boys spraying you, teach them to “point down” while they are seated on the toilet. Gently have them tuck their penis down to the water, or have them lean slightly forward so they are aiming down.
  • have them practice washing their hands after every trial. Later, you can refine it to have them wash only when they have been successful, or only after a bowel movement (for boys). But it is easier to remind them that they don’t have to wash, than to remind them that they do.
  • use padded underpants rather than Pull-ups if they can’t feel themselves while wet.
  • Have them carry a vinyl placemat with them to sit on while you are intensely training. It is easily wipeable, dryable, and portable for cars, buses, or couches.
  • use pants or underwear a size bigger if they are having trouble undressing
  • Go without clothes during intense training times, or make sure shirts aren’t too long; DON’T wear socks or shoes–the pee will get them.
  • Teach your boys to hold up their shirt with one hand, when they get good at aiming.
  • Get them to try all aspects of bathroom etiquette by themselves as much as possible from the very beginning, including turning on and off the light, pulling down/up pants, etc. It is definitely a lot to remember, but it is important that the child have all parts of the process in their memory banks if you want them to be independent. At four years old, your child should be able to do all parts by him or herself, with the exception of wiping sometimes (which can be tricky). We always encouraged our children to wipe however it was easiest for them (i.e. some had to stand up, others could sit), but then gave them a bath every evening to reach those “hard to reach” places.

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