Much like how the experience of labor and delivery is different for everyone I believe the experience of potty training a child is different for everyone as well. What works for one child may not work for the next, and vice versa.
I had high hopes I would have my son potty trained early. I went out and bought a toddler potty when he was 18 months old, and I began introducing it to him. At 18 months my son didn’t talk at all. He was not staying dry through the night, or nap time, but I had naive first time mom dreams. I very quickly realized that it was way too soon to even start trying to potty train him so I decided to wait.
When he turned 2 I had our second baby so I decided I would attempt potty training at two and a half. By two and a half he was staying dry through nap, and all night long. He was also starting to go into the bathroom, or behind the couch, to “hide” while he had a bowel movement in his diaper. I felt really confident that he was ready to start potty training, but he didn’t talk.
Our son had a speech delay and at two and a half his language was EXTREMELY limited, and for the most part I was the only person who could understand him. I knew it would be tricky trying to potty train him without him being able to communicate to me when he needed to go, but after a little research I felt like we could do it. Here is what worked for us:
1. Once I decided I was going to start potty training him he came out of diapers and went straight into underwear. The only time during the process that he had on a diaper was at night for the first couple of weeks. He has never liked his regular clothes to be wet so I knew he would react if his underwear was wet, and that it wouldn’t take long for him to understand why they were getting wet.
2. Even though he was non verbal I always verbally explained to him everything that was happening, and what we were doing. His lack of speech in no way inhibited his understanding when I spoke to him. I prepared him for weeks ahead of time about potty training, and how he was going to get to use the “big boy” potty. We went out and bought him underwear that he liked, we picked out a special treat he would get each time he used the potty, and I just generally tried to speak about it positively to him.
3. I cleared our schedule and planned on staying home so we could be near the potty.
4. I made a schedule, and then I stuck to it. The day I planned on him starting he woke up, I put him on the potty, and into underwear he went. From there I gave him lots of liquid and took him potty every 20-30 minutes. I never asked him if he needed to go potty I would just say, “ok it’s time to go to the potty”.
5. Every time he successfully went potty he would get one of the treats we picked out. The only time those treats were given were for successful potty attempts, that way they were extra special for him to get.
6. As a mom we always know what our kids non verbal cues are. As a parent to a child who is non verbal you are even more in tune with them. I was vigilant during this time to watch his body language, and learn what he was doing right before he needed to go. For him he would start dancing around and make little grunting noises. I knew that meant he was holding things in and it was time to go try.
7. I never made it negative. If there were accidents I would explain to him that accidents happen, and that it’s ok. I would remind him to come to mommy, or head to the bathroom if he needed to go. I would always remind him that I loved him, and that everything was ok. Children who are non verbal, or have trouble communicating, can be very sensitive to changing moods. If you react hyper negatively it can make them very emotional. Positive reinforcement even during an accident really helps.
8. Each time I took him potty I would point to the toilet and repeat the word “potty” to him over, and over, and over. I said potty so much everyday I thought my head would explode, but it helped him to start making sounds that mimicked what I was saying until he could say it himself.
The whole potty training experience with him went much smoother than I anticipated. It made me realize that just because he couldn’t verbally communicate with me it didn’t mean he couldn’t communicate at all, and that his verbal skills weren’t standing in the way of him doing things. He’s four now and can talk your ear off, he just needed a little extra time to use his voice.
I know the thought of potty training can be daunting whether your child talks or not. My biggest piece of advice would be, don’t stress! They will figure it out when they’re ready! Don’t let other people’s opinions of when they think you should be potty training effect you. Your child, you know best!
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