Episode 6: My Opinion about Potty Training the Difficult to Train Child

Today’s ‘My Opinion about…’ series tackles potty or toilet training and how to train the difficult to train child.

That’s a mouth-full!

Any parent for whom the toilet-training process is feeling frustrating, would understand who a difficult to toilet-train child is.

In my experience these children are the ones who just don’t seem to want to give up the diapers and usually have a language delay and might even be on the autism spectrum.

So by what age should your child be potty-trained?

I really don’t think there are any hard or fast rules on what the right age is to potty train your child.

If your child is typically developing, a good time to potty train will be by about two and a half or three years. For some, introducing the idea of using the toilet to do their business starts at two years or two and a half years.

These children may not be able to stay dry throughout the night but are able to stay dry during the day and usually this child will start by indicating that they want to go to the bathroom to do a number 2 and then slowly get to the stage where they can hold and ask to go to the bathroom to pee.

Potty-training and language delay

The problem is when at three or four years, a child is still in their diapers. These children may have a language delay making comprehension and communication difficult. The first step is usually to get them to develop their language skills. Sign up here for my FREE 3- Part video series: Grow your late-talker’s language course and learn how you can start getting your child to talk more right from the comfort of your home.   

It is easier to potty-train a child who understands but is not verbal than to train the child who neither understands nor communicates. It is easier to train them because they have the ability to understand instructions. Usually the difficulty in toilet training them is due to a behavioral issue which can be rectified.  

Mistakes parents make when potty training

Getting the child who doesn’t want to go in the toilet involves a little creativity. My advice to parents is this:

Be consistent with potty training- Don’t use a diaper on one day and then the toilet on the next

Use the toilet instead of the potty.  It is probably uncomfortable for a child who is four years to sit in the potty.

Be creative in rewarding their use of the toilet. Most children are highly motivated with flushing the toilet. Allow them to flush the toilet ONLY after they use it or give them a sticker or a high five etc. You can also have a special toy that they get to play with after they use the toilet, let the toy be visible but in an unreachable place.  The toy can be placed in the toilet

Model what you want them to do. If they have older siblings who are potty trained, celebrate these older siblings, and make a big fuss about them using the toilet and reward them by getting them to flush it after use. Your child should be able to understand that they can only flush the toilet or get other rewards if they go in the toilet. If they don’t have older siblings use yourself as the model, reward yourself in their view and all this excitement may get them motivated to use the toilet.

Reinforcement- If your child has an accident and poos in their diaper let your reaction be noticeably unpleasant. As you are changing their diaper express your displeasure to them in phrases like, “Yucky diaper again! We don’t do poo poo in the diaper, we do poo poo in the toilet”. Be consistent in your positive and negative reinforcement. Your child should want and look forward to the positive reaction they get when they use the toilet and not the reprimand they get when they go in the diaper.

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Final word

Be ready when training the difficult to train-child.

Roll away all the rugs and the carpets in your house to give you room to dash to the toilet just in case your child wants to go.

Allow your child to stay without a diaper which will make it easier to be consistent with the toilet training.

Time them – If you know when they need to go to the bathroom, which maybe after their morning porridge or after a meal. Have them sit at the toilet at these times while you are getting them excited for the reward they will be getting after going in the toilet. Remember to be creative with the rewards and the reinforcements.

Check out our other blog posts to learn more tips and tricks on how to optimise your child’s development.

I wish you all the best!

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Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

Get your child talking in no time.

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