Potty training a toddler can be quite a difficult task, but it’s even harder when they have a visual disability. They may have a difficult time finding their way to the potty, understanding what the potty is for, and knowing when it’s time to go. While the visual disability may pose some different challenges, that doesn’t mean your toddler won’t be able to use the potty and then the bathroom.
Figuring Out if Your Toddler is Ready
Most toddlers begin potty training around the age of two to three. However, for toddlers who have special needs, potty training can start later and take longer to fully accomplish. Starting too early will leave you and your toddler both tired and frustrated. Here are some things to consider and understand if your toddler is ready to start potty training.
If they can understand the difference between a wet and dry nappy, they might be ready for potty training. They might pull off their wet nappy and may even ask you to change the soiled nappy. When your toddler recognizes the nappy is dirty, they may remove it themselves, touch it with their pants on, or they may seem or look uncomfortable.
Your toddler may start showing an interest in toilets or bathrooms. They might want to follow you as you enter the bathroom, observe and explore the sink or toilet, and try going in the bathroom on their own to explore for themselves. They may also start asking you questions such as:
- What do you do in the bathroom?
- What is the toilet for?
- Why do people enter the bathroom?
- What is the bathroom for?
Evaluate whether your toddler has developed enough motor skills. They should be able to stand and get on a step-stool independently and should already be able to already grasp basic motor skills such as turning the pages in a book, stacking blocks, and rolling balls. If your child already has good motor skills, it might be time to start potty training since they’ll be using a lot of motor skills when they’re using the potty, such as:
- pulling their pants up,
- going on a step-stool,
- flushing the toilet,
- closing the lid,
- getting toilet paper
If you notice your toddler’s nappy is dry during nap time or playtime hours during the day, this is a good sign your child has control of their bladder.
If your toddler is able to communicate slightly using words or signs, this will help when they start potty training. If they are a late bloomer when it comes to communication or social skills, or you fail to understand your toddler at times, you may want to consider starting potty training a little later until they can communicate more clearly.
Potty Training Your Toddler
Before you begin potty training, look for a potty that’s comfortable and sturdy. The potty should be comfortable to sit on and should not cause pain or discomfort. It may help to find one that has a foam top to keep it soft and comfy for your toddler. The potty should also not wobble around if sat on; it should be sturdy and firm. You’ll also want to find a good quality step-stool for your toddler to reach the sink when it’s time to wash their hands.
Before your toddler begins to learn what the potty is for, allow them to explore it by touching it and feeling it with their hands. Speak to them while they’re exploring. Examples of what you can say:
- “You are touching the top of the potty where we sit on, Nick.”
- “This is the inside of the potty where all the pee and poo go in.”
- “That’s the lid of the potty, Jasmine. You can close the potty using the lid. Would you like to try? Close it like this.”
While your toddler explores the potty, explain what it is for. Explain this is the place where they will go to pee and poo, and that they won’t be using their nappies. For example, you could say, “Since you’re a big boy now, you’ll use the potty to pee and poop instead of your nappy. You’ll call me when you need to use the potty.”
Have your toddler wear underwear and pants that are easy to pull down. Avoid letting them wear pants with zippers and buttons as these are hard to open and close. Find underwear that is comfy and slightly loose.
Avoid having them wear nappies or training pants during the day. This usually prevents your child from feeling the urge to use the bathroom and can stop them from feeling an accident happening.
Keep the potty in the bathroom. While you may be tempted to place it in your child’s bedroom or playroom, keeping the potty in the bathroom is essential so your child can understand that this is the place where they go to use the potty. This may be especially important for children with visual disabilities who need to know where to locate the potty reliably, even without being able to see it.
The best way to teach your toddler how to use the potty is by guiding their hands when it comes to taking off their pants and underwear, as well as other bathroom tasks. Talk your way through as you guide their hands and show them what to do.
- Teach your toddler how to use toilet paper and how to flush the toilet, if they’re using the adult toilet.
- Guide your toddler’s hands and explain what they’re doing by saying, for example:
- “Right now, we’re going to flush the toilet. The pee is going to go down the toilet.
- There we go. Did you hear the toilet? You flushed it.”
Ensure the bathroom is adapted to their visual needs in mind. You may need to increase the lighting, create colour contrasts, reduce glare, and prevent certain bathroom hazards.
Teach your toddler how to wash their hands. If the toddler is partially sighted, try to use a soap dish or container that contrasts with the sink or countertop so they can easily see it. Keep the soap and towel in the same place at all times so your child can locate them easily.
Reassure and help your child with any fears of the toilet. Your toddler may be nervous or frightened around the potty, especially because they’re not able to see clearly what’s going on. They might be afraid of the inside of the toilet, afraid of the noises the toilet or sink make. Address these fears and talk to your child about them, helping them to cope and deal with these feelings. For example:
- “I’ve noticed you start to look startled when you flush the toilet. Would it help to cover your ears right away once you flush?”
- “The sink makes a loud sound since water is gushing out. Would you like me to lower the amount of water coming out?”
Watch when your toddler makes signs indicating that they have to use the potty. When your child starts to wobble and shake (also called the “potty dance”), or hold onto their pants, and make an uncomfortable look, they probably need the potty. If you recognize these signs, ask your toddler if they have to use the potty. If they do, take them right away to the potty.
Instruct your toddler to tell you when they have to use the potty, whether it’s using their words or making a sign, whatever is easiest for them. Explain to your child when they might need to use the potty:
- You might use the child’s name and say: “When you feel a funny feeling right here, you might need to use the potty. Tell me right away when you feel like you need to go, and I’ll take you to the potty.”
- “Whenever you find yourself doing the potty dance, make a sign for potty and I’ll take you.”
During the day, allow your toddler to sit on the potty for short periods, usually about 10-15 minutes. This encourages them to use the potty, prevents accidents, and allows them to get used to and comfortable with the potty. If your child is too bouncy and wants to leave the potty early, try to distract them. Read them books, sing songs, and hand them toys or stuffed animals so they can play.
Know how to react when your toddler has an accident. Accidents are normal and will happen, whether your child is sighted or not. When you notice an accident or if your toddler mentions it to you, get them to explain how they feel about what’s happened. When your child changes their underwear and pants, explain how good it feels to be dry and clean. Then provide further direction on how to use the potty in the future (e.g., “When you feel a funny feeling right here, tell me, and I’ll take you to the potty.”). Some examples of what you could say to your toddler when they have an accident include:
- Oh, your pants and underwear are wet. You’ve had an accident. You probably want to change. Let’s go change into nice, clean clothes.”
- “Oh, why are your pants wet? Have you had an accident? You probably feel disappointed! Let’s go change into dry clothes.”
- “Oh no, your underwear is wet! Have you had an accident? That’s okay. Let’s go change into clean, dry clothes. You probably feel uncomfortable in wet underwear.”
When your toddler successfully uses the potty, celebrate and exclaim how great that is. Provide plenty of praise when they’ve used the potty; it’ll encourage them to use it again and keep it up. For examples you could say:
- “Great job, you did it! You used the potty! I knew you could do it.”
- “You did it, you used the potty all by yourself!”
- “You peed in the potty! Nice job!”
Avoid scolding your toddler or getting upset. Your toddler may be a late bloomer when it comes to potty training, and may have a lot of accidents, especially those children with a visual impairment. Know that this is okay, and your toddler will get the hang of it with more time and practice. Stick with it and keep trying, but avoid scolding your toddler. This can cause fear when it comes to potty training, and will end up making them learn even later out of fear.
Making the Training Easier
Potty training isn’t easy and can be a long, daunting task to deal with every day. Make the process easier by making the training fun and enjoyable for both you and your toddler.
While your toddler stays on the potty, you can sing songs, tell poems, and make up rhymes about using the potty to encourage your child to stay on there and encourage them to use it as well.
While your toddler sits on the potty, read stories of children with visual impairments or normal toddlers using the potty. This encourages your toddler to use the potty and helps them understand they’re not alone. While they may not see the pictures of the story because of their visual disability, they’ll still enjoy the fun of storytelling. It can also distract them if they’re too bouncy and want to get off the potty too early.
Playing games to encourage your child to use the potty, makes the process more fun and easier for both you and your toddler. You can role-play with toys to demonstrate and teach your toddler to use the potty. You can provide a tray of toys and colouring pages so they can get distracted while they sit on the potty.
When your toddler successfully uses the potty, you may want to provide small rewards. This encourages them to keep using the potty and will prevent accidents. Some small rewards you may consider for your toddler:
- Small, mini toys. You may offer tiny plastic cars, small yarn dolls, mini-sized bouncy balls, etc.
- Sweets. Some parents are wary of giving out sweets when their toddler does something good due the negative effects of sweets, but others find it a good reward.
Stickers. If your toddler is partially visually impaired, use colourful, jumbo stickers so they’re able to see the stickers more vividly.
Share the success with others. When your toddler successfully uses the potty, be sure to tell others in the household. You can cheerfully say, “Guess what Avery did today?” when their other parent comes home. Be sure your toddler hears you clearly when you tell others the news. This encourages them to keep using the potty.
Throughout the day, allow your child to drink plenty of liquids such as fruit juice, milk, or water. This can help them use the bathroom more often, allowing more training so they can have a chance to practise using the potty. Your toddler may also like:
- Fruit juice popsicles
- Ice lollies
- Shaved ice
- Flavoured ice cubes
Consider using training pants at night. Throughout the day, allow your toddler to wear underwear so they’re able to feel the wetness of the urine if they have an accident. During the night, consider having them wearing training pants in case they do have an accident while they sleep. Potty training at night is possible, but it’s best to focus on training during the day until they’re more experienced, to make it both easier and less complicated for you and your toddler.
Your toddler’s doctor or therapist may have more advice and tips to help your child with potty training. They may suggest different methods, ideas, and products to make the training easier while suiting your toddler’s visual needs, as well as answer any questions or concerns you might have about your toddler’s training.
Don’t panic or stress. Your toddler may take longer than a normal toddler would because of their visual impairment, and that’s okay. They may have more accidents and it will take lots of time, patience, and lots of encouragement. Your toddler will get there, don’t stress!