When Thea was about 3 years old, her auntie sent her a pink potty in the mail. Thea loved the potty. She admired it from all angles and sat on it immediately. Shortly afterwards, one early Saturday morning, Thea woke up with a dry diaper. As soon as I took off the diaper, I set her on the potty just to see what would happen and… instant success. She peed right into the potty! I was so proud. I bragged about it to Thea’s preschool teacher as we arrived to school that morning.
“Great!” She said. “Please send her to school in panties tomorrow, and we will work on it at school as well.” TOMORROW? I thought to myself. I wasn’t really sure how to potty train her tomorrow but I sent her to school in panties. Each day that week, she just peed in her panties. Over the weekend, I bought a LOT more panties and a book that some friends of ours had recommended about potty training that they had had success with.
The book recommended that kids begin training around age 2 as the ideal age and the author was sure that if you followed her plan, it would take about 3 days to potty train your child. She disagreed with waiting until your child was “ready” as most parents do and insisted that parents start potty training at age two and stick to it. She also disagreed with having kids sit down on the potty frequently to see if they will go. She stated that kids need to feel what it’s like to need to go. The book said nothing about kids with special needs. It just recommended that you strip your child down naked and watch him or her carefully. As soon as your child showed signs of starting to pee or poo, you were to pick her up, place her on the potty and tell her that pee pee goes in the potty. Once, you start, she said, stick to it. Do not give up. If you give up, you are setting yourself up for a harder time down the road. Ummm… yikes.
So we stripped Thea down, put potties all over the house and prepared to watch her for signs of peeing. No problem, right? This turned out to be the most infuriating part of the process. We would be watching her carefully, and it seemed that we would glance away and BAM! Pee all over the floor. We reminded her gently, as the book recommended, that pee pee goes in the potty, but I couldn’t really know if she even understood what was going on. We couldn’t have full on conversations about the potty with our child. She was a year behind developmentally, and it was difficult to tell how much she understood us.
Finally, we would get her to the potty on time and think we could take a break from our constant vigilance and she would go again. It felt like we only got half of the pees in the right place. The other half were on our floors, patio, and front porch. We were totally failing. The book told us it would take three days but since our daughter was developmentally delayed, would it take six days, ten days, months? Was it even possible right now? Constantly watching and waiting for someone to pee is probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done. For some reason watching carefully for something to happen, can make you a little crazy. I got so frustrated at one point that I actually went upstairs and threw something just to hear it break. Why didn’t the author say anything about kids with special needs? I was so frustrated, and I continued to doubt our ability to survive this successfully. But I did stick to her plan, and we didn’t give up. I figured that we had started this, and we may as well deal with it.
We did it for five long days. And after the five days she emerged… potty trained. She even made it through the night without peeing in her panties.
She had a few accidents after that but not many. We emerged from our constant vigilance feeling like heroes. It was like coming out of a dark cave, covered in dirt and pee but we did accomplish our mission. We told everyone who was anywhere near us that our daughter was potty trained. We expected lavish praise and probably cake because honestly it felt like we had just defended our thesis and were graduating with honors. It felt like such a huge accomplishment.
Parents who had been through this, understood our deep sense of accomplishment. Parents of kids with special needs will probably get it even more. There’s less to guide you when your circumstances are rare. You have to trust your gut and instinct about when to push your child to do a new thing and when to wait because there is no longer a set map to follow. I’ve learned that each milestone is a celebration whether it comes at the expected age or a little later. When you do reach that milestone there is no less cause for celebration.