Later this month I will be speaking to a combined parent and staff group on special needs toilet training. This is a terrific opportunity to build bridges and help both groups learn more about my targeted sensory-motor approach. I am truly honored.
Among the topics I have been asked to address is this one: how can we improve communication between home and school during potty training?
It isn’t easy. There are a lot of barriers. But success often requires everyone working on potty training to be close to, if not on, the same page.
Here are some of the major points I intend to make. As I get closer to the date, I am sure that I will think of a few more. That always happens. And usually while I am in the shower, or taking out the trash, or folding laundry. My mind wanders and gets creative. The big takeaway is that both sides CAN come closer together to make this work.
- Need to be as descriptive and measurable as they can be about what happens at home. The amount of time a diaper stays dry, the number of minutes the child will sit before they will no longer sit, the number of accidents and under what circumstances they happen. The more they paint a clear picture of what is happening at home, good or bad, the better the staff can be at squaring it with what they see at school.
- Can be clear about what vocabulary they and any other caregivers use. Every culture has its words, and words matter. I am not suggesting that the school staff have to speak fluent Russian, but learning a few words could make a difference in a child’s response. The truth is that usually bilingual families use their “mother tongue” during their child’s bathing, dressing, and diaper changes. These are intimate actions. So sharing a few phonetic words could be really powerful.
- Must be honest about whether they are ready to train and what they need, to the extent they know their and their child’s needs. There is no shame in being overwhelmed. Parents of special needs kids are routinely asleep before their heads hit the pillow at night! There could be a family crisis that takes a lot of their time when a child is in school. The right time to train is when enough people have enough time and energy to train.
- Need to ask the right questions in order to get the answers they seek. Expecting parents, particularly first-time parents, to know how to think about potty training is going to fail. Lots of mistaking curiosity for being critical, lots of misinterpreting innocent feedback. Think about how to ask questions like the actors on “Law and Order”.
- Demonstrate as much empathy as you can manage. Then add a bit more. Parents, even the ones who are demanding and don’t have the smoothest delivery, are really stressed over toilet training. Lead parents to give you the information you need while showing that you care and understand how hard and confusing this is.
- Report successes and why you believe the success happened. It might be clear to you. It might be a mystery to a parent. Bonus points if you mention some of the child’s strengths or the parent’s helpful information or carryover. Parents really need to hear these things!