Coming Clean on Potty Training – The Last Bastion of Control Revisited

So, I still stand by my potty training post a couple of years ago. However, I’d like to revisit our potty-training efforts in hindsight, and share the progress we’ve made since then. Yep, I’m coming clean! Something my boys have nearly totally but sorta not quite achieved in the toileting area.

I can say with confidence that My Boys are fully potty trained… at school. All day long they are able to hold it. They will occasionally tell someone when they need to go. But more often, their aide or the teacher suggests it is bathroom time and they go… just like all of the other children in their general-education class. However it’s initiated, they get to the bathroom in time from 8:30am to 3:35pm with virtually no accidents. (OK, rare accidents.)  At 6 years of age, they’re flying solo at school. VERY cool! But, the minute they’re out of school, sometimes before we even get in the car, we are flying by the seat of our sometimes wet pants.

Maybe  because they work so hard all day long to stay dry. Perhaps because they have 20 typical children to follow as role models. Could be they’re using toileting as an escape from schoolwork. Or, it might be that they’re just too darn engrossed with life outside of school — the activities they do at home — that they simply choose not to attend to their pottying needs… it’s just a lower priority.

The Boys may be fully potty trained at school, but, apparently, they find the interruption quite bothersome at home!

Here, in our humble abode, if they’re wearing anything besides nothing below the waist – bottom naked with a long shirt for cover-up – then pottying is hit or miss (pun intended). Sometimes they successfully hit the pot on time, sometimes not. On clothed days we’re operating at a 90 percent success rate if I’m at the top of my game. That is, 90 percent of the time, interrupting their play at 45-minute intervals (30, they’ve got nothing and 60 could result in accidents in between) to escort them to the bathroom keeps them dry until bedtime. The other 10 percent of the time, without prompts, they’ll sit in front of the television, Wii remote in hand and pee in their pants — rarely a full-out void, mostly a leak interrupted by a mad rush to the pot. Not surprisingly, the couches, pillows, chairs,  and rugs are all in danger when the pot competes with Wii and I’m too busy working (from home) to intervene! To my DIScredit, I would occasionally put them in a pull-up to pre-empt a mess in case I blew an interval while distracted with a work deadline. That cheat’s not working anymore because at 70 lbs, the pull-ups  fit more like bikini boy shorts than diaps. That safety net has been pulled out from under my tightrope. (Probably a good thing… can’t be lazy about it anymore unless I want to buy new furniture.)

When I’m diligent, what they’re wearing on their bottom has no bearing (baring?) on whether they use the pot. That is, if they’re wearing anything on their bottom — diapers, whitey-tighties, their favorite super-hero briefs, boxers, pajama pants, sweatpants, jeans, no matter — they need prompting to stay dry outside of school. To their credit, more and more often, in between my bouts of diligence, I am pleasantly surprised (or shocked) by their independent pottying.

[Note: We still use ultra-thin maxi pads in their undies to catch little “oops” (and something that rhymes with that), so the boys can get to the pot to meet with success, avoid the clothing change, and save the sneakers. I also stow a hand-held urinal in a back-pack in the car along with wipes, undies, maxi pads, and two overnight diaps in case of emergency.

For us right now, absolute independence comes from being unclothed from the waist down (the NY Times methodology I read about and integrated into my efforts years ago). The bottom naked technique consistently results in accident-free, completely independent toileting success. THIS tells me that My Boys DO know when they have to go and they CAN get themselves to the pot on time. It also proves they’ve learned that they don’t have to bother when there’s something there to catch the mess. The bottom naked technique has also proven that they can HOLD IT, often for hours, until a break in the action, after Wii Lego Batman defeats the Joker and saves the damsel in distress.

Furthermore, when I absolutely, positively insist and give them the 5-count-or-else ultimatum (I find the 1-2-3 magic count didn’t give them enough processing time to make the right decision), they not only go to the bathroom, but they tell me, “Stay Mommy. I do it!” and they go through the entire process all by themselves, COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT from start to finish… except for that ultimatum. I rarely have to vocalize the or else part anymore because they know from the past that it means “Mommy will take you by the hand and bring you forcibly to the pot.” Yes, I’ve done the grab-and-drag once or twice at home. No children got hurt, bruised or battered in the process — but they did get toileted. I know they remember because they sometimes test but always move by the time I get to 5 and, once in the bathroom, they toilet independently.

And, finally, there are these miraculous and gradually more frequent times when fully dressed, in the middle of their play, one of those little angels God gifted me will get up, go to the bathroom by himself and then come get me, pants twisted awkwardly about his waist to say, “I DID IT!!!!!” And I find they have indeed, without anyone – beside their own bodies — telling them it’s time to go! THAT is the ultimate success and sure does make this Mama proud!

In fact, I think My Boys are being smart little buggers about this whole toileting thing! They know they can’t get away with it at school so they don’t bother trying. Someone there is paid to make sure of that. And they happily oblige!  They also know that once we’re home from school, I’m racing in a zillion different directions and even my trusty GymBoss programmed for indefinite 45-minute intervals, doesn’t  always keep me on track so I can keep them on track. Their distractions and mine often result in one of them skipping a guided turn at the pot and that may or may not result in an accident. More and more often, it does not!

Yes, we’re slowly and steadily moving toward a 100 percent solution, 100 percent of the time. It’s not been a fast-paced training process by any means. I’ve been doggedly at this since the end of their 4-year-old preschool year and, remember, we’re rapidly closing in on seven. Mind you, my previous potty-training experience was with my Old Soul (no DS), who, at 3-years of age, trained fully in one weekend.

So, after two-plus years of diligent and semi-diligent potty training effort (that is, brief phases of I’m plum tired, busy working, and doing the best I can right now), I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no golden key to the throne! No one method will necessarily work for every child, or for any child, with Down syndrome. What I‘ve learned is that the most important aspect of potty training, whatever method(s) you choose, is probably Mommy’s dogged perseverance.  And when I say dogged I mean the never-ending, can’t give it a rest kind of D-O-G-G-E-D! The less dogged, the more perseverance is required!

The truth I’ve discovered [for us] is this: as with so many other potential developmental delays related to Trisomy 21, a child with Down syndrome will do it when he’s ready and on his own time schedule. I know people who started potty training their children with Down syndrome at barely two-years-old and others who didn’t start until five.  The former because they wanted to hit it head on, the latter because their children weren’t showing signs of readiness. Some in both groups are still struggling, years into their effort. Others in both groups have proudly added that milestone to their long list of tasks accomplished. Greater, equal or lesser potty training efforts aside, my personal experience and observations has taught me that starting earlier doesn’t guarantee training earlier. In fact, sometimes it seems that the earlier you start, the longer you’ll be working at it. That doesn’t mean your child might not “get it” at an earlier age because you started earlier. It also doesn’t mean that  they will, necessarily.

Cryptic? You bet!

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t start early. (Heck, in hindsight, the European practice of holding a newborn infant over the loo seems logical to me (after-the-fact) because it eliminates the challenge of unteaching the bad habit of going in your diaper versus into a toilet in the first place… adhering to the errorless learning method recommended for children with Down syndrome. Then again, I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have survived that method with twins.) What I do believe, strongly, is that every parent should start when they’re ready — because potty training is a long and arduous process that takes extraordinary parental commitment — and should do so only when they believe their child is ready (not because they’re a certain age). Because if the kid’s not ready, I believe that nothing will work until they are. What I’m suggesting is that, no matter when you start the process, your child will get it when she gets it. When he is ready to be trained. When she understands her body’s messages and is ready to heed them. THAT’S when it will happen, with a little push from Mom and Dad.

From all the folks I’ve talked to and all the blog posts, forum discussions and books I’ve read on this subject, MY unscientific observation indicates that the most common age for a boy with DS to hit his potty-stride is seven. (I hear girls with and without DS “get it” earlier than boys, generally speaking.) This is cool [for me] because my boys turn seven this month! Yeah baby, after 2×7 years of diapering and potty-training, I am primed to check off this milestone as accomplished! However, I acknowledge that it’s possible I’m seeing/hearing “seven” because we are precariously balanced on the edge of seven and I want it SOOOO BAD I can… ah, smell it LOL. Like seeing green on St. Paddy’s Day, seven is my magic number (this year). And if it doesn’t happen at seven, I’ll probably start seeing eight everywhere I go.

So, in the end, I think it’s not, and has never been, about what I’m doing right or wrong? In fact, it’s less about me and what I do/don’t do than it is all about them. THIS is what my two Beautiful Little potty-trained Men have taught me. Relax, Mama, it’ll happen when it happens…. on their time.

Yes, I can hear the collective chant of the mothers of children with Down syndrome who’ve gone before me, “THEY’LL DO IT IN THEIR OWN TIME!” And, I find this (if not annoying at times), once again and in hindsight, to be more true than not . I sometimes wish a little foresight would kick in… but in this case, I might’ve given up before even trying if I’d known ahead of time that I’d be potty-training for 2-plus years…x2 kids. Also note, when I say “their own time” that’s completely dependent on each child.  It might be typical and it might not be… but, it’s completely driven by them – consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously –NOT by me!

I do wonder whether any of the steps I’ve taken has readied them sooner (or delayed them further). I even occasionally wonder whether my Little Devils would have ultimately potty trained themselves given the appearance of control and choice they seem to have over whether and when they choose to use the pot. But if history – and the experience of every mother of a child with Down syndrome who came before me – is  any indication, I believe that My Beautiful Little Men are on the cusp of hitting this coveted milestone as a function of their readiness AND, hopefully a little bit, by my nearly constant diligence and dogged perseverance.  It’s just finally OUR time!


About Maggie

I'm a stay-at-home mother of 3 children including a 15-year-old daughter, the Old Soul, and 11-year-old identical twin boys who've been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down Syndrome). I happily spend my time doing all that I can do -- breaking the proverbial box wide open -- to foster my children's development and then sharing what I learn with you through this blog.
This entry was posted in down syndrome development, potty training, Toileting, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Coming Clean on Potty Training – The Last Bastion of Control Revisited

  1. starrlife says:

    I think I am in the in their own time” group, probably since I didn’t have any other kids to compare too. I just plain old used pull ups at nite with no compunction whatsoever as long as she needed them- she’s 12 and I’d say that she was not fully potty trained a night/sleeping until she was 10. However, she was fully trained for daytime by kindergarten (age 6) but with occasional accidents (pee) and I supplied alternate clothes probably until 2nd grade because if playing on the playground was gripping she still might’ve forgotten. What worked for me was just to prompt for bathroom every 2 hours as routine until she completely got it. I never really worked at it but just integrated the potty stuff into day to day life and assumed that eventually it would click. Of course, for #2 she was remarkably regular, every 2 days in the evening.
    Sounds like you are doing a great job! Lovely photo!

    • Maggie says:

      The Boys were pretty regular as well (daily in the evening). That helps the whole process along. We’re still in overnights but my Big Man wakes up dry 9 times out of 10. Though my Little Man is usually wet in the morning, I believe this is due to lingering apnea episodes that wake him and his bladder during the night. That or he prefers their morning playing and giggling in bed over the mad rush I make for the bathroom every morning. I’d be more diligent if I had a bathroom upstairs… but we don’t and midnight runs are tough. The round trip and lights wake everyone up.

  2. Karen Post says:

    So nice to find your blog! i found it because I was researching tonsils that grow back in DS children, which has possibly happened to my son. He is 13 yrs old, the youngest of 5, and his older sister(16) was born with hydrocephalus and has a seizure disorder. We have been through many surgeries and hospitalizations between the two of them but they are best friends and we wouldn’t trade them for anything.
    Nathan wasn’t potty trained until last year, which I couldn’t believe! He had an incredible teacher at school who worked with him and i guess he was finally ready. He is a “big” boy too-weighs 109 but is only 4’6 so finding diapers that would fit him were a challenge. I found Goodnites, they are overnight diapers and they go as big as 125 lbs. and we used them day and night. i usually could get coupons for them either by mail or in the paper for between a $1.00 or $2.00 every so often and then would stock up on them when they’d go on sell. They kept him dry day and night also. the trick was convincing him after several months of being dry at night that he didn’t have to wear them anymore.
    He has some feeding issues (has had a nissen for reflux and has no peristalsis) and doesn’t like any sweets or treats, so finding motivation for him for rewards was a challenge. Somehow we made it though. I never thought he’d be that old before he ws potty trained but one thing I’ve learned as a parent and as a parent of 2 special need children(actually,I like to say that ALL my children are special need)that each one is so unique and individual and that each one will do things in his or her own time and to not put so much pressure on ourselves to have our kids perform like everyone else in certain areas. Easier said than done right!
    I look forward to reading your blog and you can check mine out too if you care to. So nice to find another Mom with such a positive outlook. We too have people that pity us, they just don’t get it do they?

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Karen – I also use the Goodnights on my boys at night. One wakes up dry but most of the time ends up urinating before he gets downstairs to the potty (we don’t have a bathroom upstairs). My other guy is a restless sleeper… if he wakes, his kidneys do too. Rarely dry in the AM… But we’re working on it. Trained at 13 is the best “in his own time” story I’ve heard. Congrats to him and to you. As for the tonsils, so far so good. Ours have not “grown back” and our ENT said he’s never seen it happen in 20 years of practice… ALTHOUGH, he acknowledges that he’s heard that it sometimes does. It’s a rarity. Good luck with resolving that… again.

  3. Pingback: Potty-Training: Our Querulous End Game | Take A Walk on the Happy Side

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