Potty-Training: Our Querulous End Game

As a hardcore advocate for children with special needs – especially those with Down syndrome and specifically for my own children — am I allowed to say that I’m sick to death of potty-training? With three children – my Old Soul and The Boys, identical twins who happened to have been born with an extra 21st chromosome each (being genetically identical and all) – I’ve been diapering a total of 17 years. Using, I believe, the associative property of mathematics that’s three years for the Old Soul plus (seven times two) for The Boys. At this point, I DESPERATELY want to be DONE! Sadly, we are not quite there yet.

But, we are so close I can smell it (LOL)! I recognize I’m INCREDIBLY lucky to even be approaching this milestone when so many mothers of children with special needs are not and possibly never will. But, I’m human and I am just plain old tired of having urine-soaked undies, or worse, on my bathroom floor. And, I’m tired of delivering the “Big Boys don’t poop in their pants!” lecture… to no avail.

Yes, we are in undies full-time during the day. “Yay!” I can hear you applauding my last three (times two) years of potty-training efforts on behalf of The Boys. And, though I’ve said it before, it bears repeating here, we ARE officially potty-trained… (I add “mostly” to be honest with myself). All that “potty-trained” means is that The Boys are trained with minor and/or infrequent accidents that tend to happen when I, or their school aide, take a moment off and forget to remind them that they need to go potty! It’s those not-so-mostly-potty-trained moments that get me… impatient mama that I am! Ha!

I’ve read the research, incorporated the methods and applied the theories. Now, I just have to wait until they “get it” ALL THE WAY! Because, like with every other skill, and every other kid with Down syndrome – or, for that matter, without – they will do this in their own time. Still, my Mom says potty-training prayers for me daily as she witnesses an accident and recalls her own frustrating potty-training years having raised five kids… one of whom would rather change her own diaper than use the toilet (that wasn’t me, by the way).  And, while I keep plugging away at it, I feel guilty for those times when I yell about the mishaps that happen at the most inopportune times.

In my defense, those mishaps I’m talking about are entirely preventable if I never blinked or looked away for even a moment or skipped a reminder and five-count to ensure compliance. Like the time My Little Man pooped on the NEW couch.  Being MOSTLY potty-trained, we finally splurged on a long-awaited, new, though not-very-expensive (still being in the mostly-potty-trained stage) couch for our living room.  Fully engrossed in his game of Wii, the Little Imp was too busy (or, perhaps, too lazy?) to get up and poop in the pot. Couch covers stripped and washed, cushions doused with Resolve and scrubbed, my living room is no worse for the wear but my overly-hopeful “I’m-almost-done-potty-training” psyche was somewhat crushed. I really thought we were beyond THAT!

Then, the very next day, despite my extreme reaction to the first incident, he pooped again… IN THE POOL… And, not five minutes after he sat on the potty – per house rules – before donning his swim suit! Ugh! 90+ degrees and I had to banish everyone from the pool for cleaning and reshocking!  Though it was just the tiniest little bit – sorry, I know, this is totally gross – my Old Soul made a HUGE hullabaloo while My Big Little Man (the non-pooper) sobbed at what seemed like a punishment for something he didn’t do.

Yeah, those kinds of mishaps, at the most inopportune times, are what I’m talking about.

So I quickly visited adultdiapers.com and ordered a couple of very expensive, washable Velcro swim diapers (At 80 lbs, Huggies’ Little Swimmers, even in XL, do not even nearly fit The Boys). Knowing these special swim diapers were not the ultimate answer, I was hoping they would, at least, be a workable interim solution (read: peace of mind) for the odd mishap and for their two weeks of “swim camp” (The Boys’ term) until they made their hard-wired connection between pooping IN the pool and being kicked OUT OF the pool! Unfortunately, the swim diaps arrived WAY too big so I had to think of something else…. Quick.


That’s NOT what it looks like! It’s a Hershey’s Kiss!

When My Little Man coveted the Hershey’s chocolate Kisses that a visiting friend brought over the weekend, I decided to implement a simple chocolate kiss reward program for at-home toileting. One chocolate kiss for peeing independently on the pot and two chocolate kisses for pooping independently. With a number of successful forays to the pot under our belts before Camp started, I was feeling a smidge more confident. Truth be told, The Boys’ school toileting routine had been working pretty well so I was not all that fearful about their toileting at camp, in general.  At school, their typical peers used the bathroom at regular intervals during transitions so The Boys only needed a prompt, “do you need to go to the bathroom?” to be consistently successful. Peer pressure is a beautiful thing in my world! (BTW – peer pressure is why and how inclusion works so well!!!) I was pretty sure that this behavior would carry over in camp as long as the counselors provided 45- to 60-minute-interval potty-prompts. The pool-thing… another story.

In the pool, I was pretty sure it’d be a peers-be-damned kind of thing. My Boys would surely stay in the pool to play before EVER taking a potty-break… no matter what the other kids were doing. With daily pool sessions planned, the camp staff was forewarned of the need to rigidly follow the sit-on-the-pot-before-swimming rule to keep them clean and dry. Miraculously, we got through camp with NO ACCIDENTS! Not even ONE… Hooray for My Big Little Men!!!

My Big Little Man: First Day of “Swim Camp” with Denise, his Counselor/Aide

Turns out, his counselor/aide took it upon herself (given my openly expressed apprehension) to supplement with a reward program, sticking one tiny little sticker to The Boys’ shirt every time they volunteered to go to the bathroom when the opportunity was offered to all of the camp kids (with and without special needs). It worked PERFECTLY… for those two weeks of camp anyway.

On the home front, we’d been hit or miss — albeit far more hit (as in getting to the pot) than miss (going in the pants) but we were still missing a little more than I wanted to be. (WARNING: impatient mama is in the building!). God bless my friend, Joan, for bringing over those Hershey’s chocolate kisses when she did!!! I’m finding them AMAZINGLY effective as I increasingly dole out double doses of sweet chocolate kisses for The Boys’ #2 hits. Not only are they toileting independently but they’re rushing back to tell me they’ve gone so they can collect their kisses, letting me know exactly how many they’ve earned. And, for an added bonus, I know just when they need a wipe… which makes things a tad less messy. I thought about buying some stock in Hershey since I figured I’d be doing this for quite some time before the behavior became ingrained without the support of a chocolate kiss or two. Interestingly, the Big Little Man has already stopped asking for his kisses after successfully choosing to go on the pot. Still, I intermittently give him his kisses to remind him that he’s earned the reward as well as my admiration. The Little Man (who’s technically bigger by five pounds, these days) is doing #1 without reinforcement but is still adamant about receiving his two chocolate kisses for going #2. (Could be why he’s five pounds heavier, huh?). Interestingly, he’s OK with the reward being delayed, even overnight (I try not to pump my kids full of sugar at night), and by morning, he’s mostly forgotten about last night’s activities and is working on earning today’s chocolate quota. So, I do believe we may be slowly and steadily rounding the bend toward the home stretch on extinguishing the reward and being fully, accident-free potty trained…. Though, to be safe, I plan to keep a stash of Hershey’s chocolate kisses… just in case.

S0, who says you can’t teach this old dog a new… OK, an old trick? Yes, technically, I knew all of this, once upon a time. I guess you could call it text book knowledge (though I revisited this topic the first go-around in K1 when the teachers weren’t using effective motivators and The Boys learned N-O-T-H-I-N-G all year long!) Still, every time I encounter this situation, it reminds me of the primary lesson in my college behavior modification class: the key to successful behavior management is finding the right motivator for each setting/situation/kid. No matter how dogged you are about your behavior modification (aka today as ABA therapy) – and God knows I’ve been more than dogged these past three years – if the reward is not really important to the subject, the behavior will not change. At school and camp, the opportunity to be like everyone else and do what their peers do is enough to keep The Boys on track. At home, chocolate kisses are currently working wonders. And, for the pool (or while playing Wii) we’ve switched up the philosophy and semantics such that The Boys believe that swimming in the pool and playing Wii ARE the reward for pooping (or making a sincere attempt to poop) in the pot.

So, what’s working for you? I’m looking for some ideas for alternative reinforcement in case we hit chocolate kiss fatigue before The Boys are hard wired for independent pottying.

For more reading on our potty-training efforts, method and progress, check out these old posts:



and for a potty-training-related laugh: https://walkonthehappyside.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/the-long-term-effects-of-potty-training/


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.
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