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Potty Training Series — Troubleshooting

potty training

We're getting there! Ready to potty train your little or toilet train your child with special needs? Are you a teacher working with students with autism or other disabilities? I'm hoping these potty training tips and tricks will help! Check out the earlier installments for Is my child ready to potty train and Potty Training Tips! And bookmark this page to see the next set of ideas!

Today let's talk about some common hurdles we run into and just a few ideas to support your efforts. I KNOW this isn't an exhaustive list, but there are just so many! I thought of situations that I personally have had to address over the years, so I hope this helps someone out there!


Anxiety over sitting on toilet. Little potties often help with this. With any anxiety, it’s just about slow and steady practice. If you have a child with this anxiety, consider LOTS of preparation time: putting doll on the toilet, practicing sitting with clothing on, touching but not sitting, sitting but not going, and so forth. Take your time! Baby steps.

Anxiety about the flushing. Get the elimination out of the way. If you can get them to eliminate, and YOU flush, that’s a huge step! You can work on desensitizing to the flush later.

Fear of hand dryers. Oof! This is common! Most restrooms have paper towels. Use those. Otherwise, pant legs are fine! Those dryers are LOUD!

Anxiety about where the BM is going. Many young children see their poop as an extension of their own body, so it’s pretty scary to see it go down the toilet! Sometimes just seeing mom or dad flush their own poop down helps. Some kiddos respond to the scientific info about what poop is and how it helps your body stay strong. Maybe even a lesson on where the sewers go!

anxious child
potty training visuals

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Resistence to the toilet training process

Wanting to void in diaper. Try having the child wear underwear IN the diaper for a while so they get the “feel” of being wet/dirty (and hopefully don’t like it!). Another option is to cut a hole in the bottom and allow them to wear the diaper while sitting ON the toilet! Eventually make the hole so big that it’s not even worth it to them to wear it.

Doesn’t want to “try” during a schedule time. offer choices; “Do you want mom or dad to take you?” “Do you want to use the big potty or the little potty?” “Do you want the red skittle or the blue one after?” Also try, “After you’re done with…” so they can finish what they’re doing and have some control. Also consider using a timer to signal when it’s time to go (and what the reward is when done!).

Some other random potty training troubleshooting

No pattern. Increase dry pants checks for the few weeks before you start training and see if more data can help recognize a pattern. If there really isn’t one, try waiting another 3-4 months. And if still no pattern, just jump in! Make the interval between trips in the beginning shorter and take more often to gain some success.

Can trip train but not initiate. Try a “Requesting”
program. This teaches you how to prompt the child
to request right before a planned trip, and then you
fade those prompts until the child begins to do it
more independently.

potty superhero

No concept of “when” they're going. Bare butt option might help. If they “see” it coming out (especially for boys!), it might help make that connection. In some cases, you may want to consider a signal device where they wear underwear that makes an alarm sound when it gets wet. Please discuss this with your medical doctor before you do it.

Nighttime training. This typically comes later than day training and often years later! But if you feel it’s time, try to limit fluids for a few hours before bed. Have the child go potty right before bed, and then also wake up to go potty when YOU go to bed. If the child is older and not successful, rule out medical problems. Your medical doctor may help you consider bed wetting alarm, similar to the signal device.

Too much touchy-touchy (especially of the penis variety!). Teach “hands down” or other language. Even better, have them hold onto back of toilet (if sitting backwards) or have them hold something like a fidget. Obviously, an little touchy-touch is normal, so decide what you think it appropriate.

Touchy-touch of the pee/poop variety! Yup, I’ve had to troubleshoot this more often than I want to admit! Again, try having them hold a fidget or the back of the toilet. Sometimes, though, these are battles you may not want to battle right now. You may just have to consider letting the touching go, some serious handwashing after and sanitizing the area!

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