Are You Potty Training TOO LATE?

There is a simple answer:  you train when you train, and not a minute before that.

But you can train too late, and there are hidden consequences that should no longer remain hidden.

In the current tide of emotions on social media, there is plenty of mom-shaming and blaming going around.

Just stop all of that.  People do the best they can almost all the time.  They really do.  Even when it isn’t good enough.  Even when it is very poor indeed.  They are almost always doing the best that they can deliver at that moment.  And people are fallible.  All of us.  All the time.  We make mistakes because we aren’t machines.

OK, my sermon is over.  Time to offer something more than support: INFORMATION!

Time to point out what is rarely said but important for parents to know:  training late has real consequences for the child and the family.  Brazelton did more to harm toilet training than any single professional, IMPO.  He insisted that the harsh training had to go, and that the child should lead.  And he was right about that.  It is always best not to force anyone to eliminate.  That won’t work well.  It causes constipation, anger, and more.  He made a fatal mistake because he wasn’t working closely enough with families that has cost parents and kids a lot of pain:

Brazelton assumed that parents and teachers could read a child’s training readiness in the ways he could.


He was a highly skilled doctor.  We are mere mortals.  Big difference.  It took me years of clinical work after my professional training to be able to “read” a child well.  Same for him.  But parents have only the short period of time since conception or adoption to get it right!  His guidance is off by miles because he doesn’t do a great job of teaching parents and other adults how to evaluate readiness in all of its forms.  He never intended this to happen, but he went to his grave having harmed some families instead of helped.

In my two special needs toileting books, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone  and The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child  , I go into a great degree of detail regarding how to assess readiness.  This is because readiness is even harder to see in kids who aren’t typical in their development.  But it is there.

What are the costs of waiting a long time to potty train?  Mine is not an exhaustive list.  But it should get you thinking hard and long about waiting:

  • Missing the window in which your warm reaction is reward enough.  Younger kids want to please you.  They love the potty dance and the candy piece.  They love stickers.  Older kids have more complex thought processes, and if they are going through the phase in which saying “NOOOOO!” predominates everything, you are in trouble.  They want to challenge you and feel their own power more intensely than they want to please you.
  • Missing the window when they aren’t focused on complex play and can leave what they are doing to use the toilet.  Once a child can sit through a show or play intently for 20+ minutes, they don’t WANT to leave what they are doing to poop.  It is easier to let it go into that diaper and worry about the mess later.  Really.  They don’t care.  Which leads us to…
  • They have been using a diaper for years.  This is familiar and easy.  Older kids don’t like to fail.  Little ones fail all the time and don’t have the cognitive ability to assign meaning to failing (for the most part).  Do you think that your toddler minded falling down while learning to walk?  Nope; they got up and tried again.  Kids who don’t learn to walk until 3 but have full social/emotional awareness get very frustrated.  They are old enough to assign meaning to the struggle.
  • They can pee and poop A LOT.  The volume held in a 5 year old bladder is enormous.  So is the amount of poo they can hold in their gut.  Not a small explosion by any means.  The sheer amount can scare them.  It can scare YOU!
  • They can want privacy without being able to ask for it.  Cue resistance without an explanation.  A young child doesn’t have the emotional maturity to sense that this is something private.  An older child can, even if they don’t know the meaning of the word “private” yet.  This is not true of all older kids, but more than you think.  If you have ever been in a bad relationship but not able to describe to anyone what is so bad about it, you know what this feels like.


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!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: