Is Slow Progress In Toilet Training A Failure?

Children that are slow to learn independent toileting come in many flavors.  There are the children who resist training; they just don’t want to sit on the potty and rewards haven’t made them excited to train.  Then there are the kids who develop fear of painful bowel movements.  And also the children with language and/or cognitive delays, who learn everything at their own pace.

Some kids in the last group spend a lot of time at the stage of scheduled toileting.  They can get to the potty, manage clothing independently or with only a few hints, and wipe, and some can even recognize that they need to “go” without being asked.  They just don’t put the whole thing together.  Is that a failure?

I don’t think so.  I believe that some kids stay at one stage for a reason, and sometimes their reason isn’t clear.  The kids with fears or lack of motivation need an adult to rethink these situations and take action.  A diet change, the use of probiotics or more fluids can make a huge difference.  Finding out that social reinforcers like an older cousin’s comments about the importance of using the toilet can be the key to motivate a toddler.  The biggest mistake, I think, is thinking that there is nothing that can be done. For a child that has fears or avoidance that aren’t addressed , he can assume that this situation is OK with his parents, or that no one is able to help him move forward.

What about the children that learn at their own pace, who take a long time to learn independence in most skills?  I think that being independent but needing to use a scheduled toileting plan is still a big accomplishment, and the need for a schedule can be phased out over time.  Firm routines help, so does pairing toileting with another regularly occurring event like getting dressed, and fading the prompts away one at a time.  If you think about your own behavior, didn’t your mom tell you to “go” before you left the house, regardless of how many times you told her that you had just gone?  Toileting schedule.  Or looking at the clock and using the bathroom before you board a plane to avoid being locked in that nasty in-flight potty?  Scheduled toileting again.

So take another look at your child’s progress and reconsider how you characterize the situation.  It may not be as bad as you think.


By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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