I’ll be the first to admit my experience of potty training is somewhat limited, having potty trained exactly two children. However, I still feel I should write this blog post because despite the plethora of advice out there on potty training, there’s a distinct lack of relevant informaiton for VI parents. Since becoming a parent almost 5 years ago, this has so often been the case, that I have adopted a ‘read and adapt’ approach to most parenting information. This involves taking the bits of advice I can relate to and either disregarding or adapting the rest if I can make it relevant to me and the sight I have. It’s a process I’m certain my fellow VI mums are used to and good at, but it is time consuming and quite frankly, a bit of a pain. So I suppose I’m hoping that by sharing my experience, I might save someone a little time and energy. I can’t offer professional advice, but at least it’s information that doesn’t require decoding before application – bonus points if someone also finds it helpful and even encouraging.
If I’m honest it was unlikely I was ever going to find a guide to potty training that is entirely relevant to me. Even though this blog post is ‘for VI parents’, there is such a spectrum of what people can see when they are visually impaired or even legally blind, that some of my ideas will work for some, but might still need some level personalization. At the same time, although the aim was to provide support to my fellow VI parents, it strikes me that most of what I share could be valid considerations for any parents, sighted or not.
I’ll address some questions a parent may want to give some thought to before potty training begins, because being prepared is a prerequisite of doing anything when you can’t see and particularly crucial when potty training. Then I’ll get to the joys of potty training itself.
Is it the right time?
People potty train their children at different ages and being Chinese, I have known babies who are trained to ‘go’ when held over a toilet from being a teeny tiny baby. I’ve also known children to be in nappies until they are ready to go to school. When to potty train a child is such a personal decision, I don’t think anyone can tell you when is the ‘right’ time. I can only share what seemed right for me. As a VI mum, I waited until my children were developmentally ready. For me, this meant allowing them to master the verbal, physical and emotional skills that make potty training easier and less stressful when you have a parent who can’t see so well. Let me explain why this was important.
Is your child verbally prepared?
I couldn’t tell when my child pulled certain facial expressions or shifted from one foot to the other, the visual cues that indicate to a sighted mum that their child needs to go to the toilet. Without access to these cues, I had to ensure my children could communicate their feelings and sensations verbally. So, long before potty training was on the cards, I began talking to them about feelings in their bodies they experience when they needed to go. When I noticed my daughter would always go and stand by the fireplace when she was about to fill her nappy, we labelled that feeling, so she could tell me she was doing it when I couldn’t see her. I guess it doesn’t matter which words you use as long as it makes sense to your child and you understand what it means to them. The important thing is that they can communicate these feelings to you verbally when you are ready to potty train. We went through some months of ‘my bum-bum had a wee’ and other such delightful exclamations before we started potty training.
Is your child physically prepared?
It was important to me that my children could reliably get to the potty, pull down their knickers and sit on the potty by themselves. Logically, this increases the chances of success and limits the frustration felt by the child, but also as my children are both sighted, they can probably perform this sequence quicker than if they needed me to do it all for them. Of course I need to be there with them, but if they can get there on their own, that’s got to give them a head start, right? On the other hand, if they haven’t yet reached the stage where this is possible, on realising they need to go, I would need to locate the child, take them to the bathroom and navigate through the inevitable obstacle course of toys that is now my home in the process. It would take more time than we would probably have. In the early days of potty training, speed is also key and if your child is sighted and they are able to get themselves to the potty, that is invaluable.
It may sound obvious, and it is really, but sometimes it is overlooked and without these things in place, potty training a child you can’t see becomes very difficult.
Is your child emotionally prepared?
There are lots of resources to help prepare children for potty training including books and cartoons. I would recommend the book ‘Poo goes home to pooland’ by the NHS. I’ll link it here if you want to take a look. Unfortunately it is a PDF which means it doesn’t really work with screen readers, but I did find a nice reading of it on YouTube here.
Pull ups, towelling pants or pants?
Ok, there is definite potential for US-UK English language confusion here. So, I’ll try to clarify (deep breath… here goes), Nappies means diapers, Pull ups means disposable training underwear, towelling pants means washable training underwear and pants (for a boy) and knickers (for a girl) means underwear. I have daughters so I tend to use the word ‘knickers’, and when I do, I am referring to regular underwear.
Pull ups: I didn’t use these for potty training unless we were going on a long car journey. I know people do use them at the beginning of potty training and have success with them, with the added bonus that accidents don’t make a mess, so if it works for you, that’s wonderful. For us, they were too similar to nappies and I felt my daughters would treat them as such. Actually, they did. So we used them in the place of nappies for the weeks running up to the start of potty training. After I changed my daughters, I would encourage them to pull them up themselves and then pull their trousers up too. My youngest called them ‘big girl nappies’ and she said when she was grow up enough, she would get ‘big girl knickers’.
Washable training underwear: We skipped these altogether, but I can see how they might help in the early days as they feel significantly different to nappies yet they are absorbent, meaning accidents easier to deal with. At the same time, the child gets to experience the sensation of the wet bottom which could be a good motivator to go to the potty.
Knickers, pants, underwear: Everyone says let the child choose their underwear, and I agree. My youngest really wanted Baby Shark knickers and talked about it in the months leading up to her potty training. When she decided she was grown up enough, we bought her them and she was very excited. She also didn’t want to wee on her beloved Baby Shark, so that was an additional motivator.
I decided i needed a potty rather than a child’s toilet seat and steps combinaion. I talked about how as a VI mum I feel it is crucial to me that the child is physically able to go to the potty themselves. So it seemed a bit counterproductive to me, to then add in a mini obstacle course between the child and the toilet. Further down the line, these are great, but in the early stages, it wasn’t for me. However, I know some mums who had an issue of their child not liking the potty, maybe because they use a child size toilet at nursery or day care and in that case, a child’s toilet seat could be the perfect solution. Now when it comes to potties, there are so many fancy options available, but I prefer the simple ones. For me, it must be sturdy with rubber grip on the base and it must have a lift away part that is easy to clean. With my eldest, I tried letting her choose the potty, because I read somewhere that’s what you should do. Obviously she chose a hugely impractical model with a high back and toilet roll holder and endless layers of lids and seats that were impossible to keep clean. It slid along the bathroom floor when she didn’t sit down at quite the right angle and the seat was a bit wobbly. After a while even my daughter lost patience with it and we replaced it with a much simpler option. There was one feature of the abandoned and later donated potty that I was intrigued by though. It sang a tune when the child successfully did their business. At first I thought this would be useful as I couldn’t see if there was anything in the potty after each try. This was something I had wondered how I would deal with, but actually I found the weight of the potty, when you lift it, tells you all you need to know! It’s another personal choice and if a fancier potty gets your child interested and you find one that suits your needs, that’s ideal. For me, simple worked better. In fact although we had moved to a different continent when it was time to potty train my youngest daughter, I scoured the internet for the same potty we had the first time round because I knew it suited us. Joyfully, my daughter never complained that it was too plain! If you want to get your child involved in the preparations, but don’t want to invite a disastrous potty choice, l;et them choose their underwear. You can’t really go wrong there.
Where to keep put the potty?
I liked to keep it in the bathroom so it is always in the same place and this is where my daughter knew she needed to go when the time came. In fact, I would suggest having it in there for a period of time before the potty training begins so it is cemented in the child’s mind that this is where it is. Many people also like to take the potty into whichever room the child is playing so it is quicker for them to get there. I can see the benefits of this, but it is not an option that was right for me. As a general rule, the more vision I have lost, the more I value things being where I expect them to be. No more so than when the thing in question has the potential to have the most unpleasant of contents! So to eliminate the risk of the potty being knocked over, bumped into or just misplaced, I preferred to keep it in the same spot in the bathroom. I also feel the consistency was a positive thing for the girls. When we lived in a two storey home, we had a potty on each level, and when we lived on one level, one potty was just fine.
Are the essentials easy to access?
I found it useful to keep a few things easily accessible, near the potty. I kept a basket of items for my daughter including baby wipes, cream, a clean baby towel and spare clothes. (If your child wont sit for long enough on the potty you could also put a couple of their favourite books in here and let them read then to encourage them to sit for longer). I also had a second basket which held cleaning supplies in case of an accident, including paper towels, old towels that I don’t mind getting dirty and antibacterial spray or wipes. With these frequently used items all in one place, I could stay with my child on the potty and simply reach out my hand and find what I needed in one of these two baskets. I didn’t need to go searching for anything when an accident happened. Accidents do happen and they can be stressful when you can’t see your distressed child, the accidental puddle or the route to the cleaning cupboard, so being prepared really does make life easier.
Can I prepare my home?
Specifically, parts of your home that may be harder to clean if your child has an accident. I used waterproof sheets which I already had for the cotbed to protect a spot on one side of the sofa and a dining chair. My daughter knew that while she was learning to use the potty, this is where she sat. We have wooden floors in most of our home so I wasn’t too worried about that, but the sofa a dining chairs were fabric and did not have removable covers. We only did this until my daughter got the hang of things and became more confident using the potty. Then she was super proud when we took the covers away because it was sign that she was doing so well and she felt really grown up.
How does potty training fit into our schedule?
Honestly, it doesn’t. Since becoming legally blind, I have noticed that doing one thing at a time is less stressful and carries a higher success rate. While potty training, as much as possible I concentrated on the job at hand. No playdates, no outings and no supermarket trips (thank you Sainsbury’s Online!). It was not only important to stay within reach of a potty, but also to keep things simple for myself. (Well, as simple as I could – I also happened to be weaning the baby the week that my eldest announced she wasn’t going to wear nappies anymore but that’s another story… sigh). Another benefit of staying home for the first few days is the sense consistency you provide for your child. I imagine it can be pretty stressful for them and It would only add to the confusion if you swap between underwear at home and pull-ups outside. Some of my friends kept a potty in the boot of their car and pulled over if they needed to. Carrying a potty wasn’t really an option for me. I already had a toddler, a baby, a buggy and a diaper bag. Oh, and I had a cane, and I took the bus… it was all too much for me to even stop and question if it was remotely acceptable to ask a bus driver to pull over so you can whip out a potty for your toddler. Probably not, on reflection. Probably best to stay at home. This worked well with baby number 2, as it was a sensible project to undertake during the early stages of Covid-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020.
How do I potty train my child?
I’m going to share with you a few things we did that worked for me as a VI parent, but I am not suggesting this will be the right way for all VI parents.
First I had to decide what my child should wear for the days ahead. Some people say leave the bottom half naked for ease, some use towelling pants, some prefer pulls ups. I opted for regular underwear and a dress or shorts. It was spring/summer so we didn’t have to deal with tights, jeans or other tricky clothing choices, but even if you potty train in the winter, it’s probably best to turn the heating on and put your child in easy on and off clothers. Next, remember to relax. It’s easier said than done, but in this situation, it’s important to try. If we the parent are relaxed, our children will in turn feel like it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s an important milestone yes, but is it the end of the world if our first attempt fails and we have to try again in a few months? No, not at all. So bear that in mind
Right, accidents will happen, but I tried to avoid them. When you can’t see them, it can be quite an unpleasant and tricky job to clean them up. So with this in mind, on day one I took my daughter to the potty every twenty minures. I set an Alexa timer and we did it for the whole day. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty good. There were a couple of little accidents, easy to clean thanks to the waterproof cover on the chair, but generally our success rate was pretty reasonable for day one. The next day, I found my daughter started to go to the potty without me reminding her when she heard the Alexa alarm. I thought this was great at first, but on reflection, it all felt a bit too Pavlovian for me so I stopped using the alarm after day 3 and kept an eye on the time old school style instead. There was the occasional accident as potty trips were not always productive and she hadn’t yet grasped the idea of going to the potty in between set times. But we kept talking about the sensations in her tummy and whether she needed to go, and eventually it clicked. I think for both of my children it was around day 3 or 4 when they made the connection between the sensation of needing to go, and physically moving themselves to the potty. As they did this more frequently, I left longer periods between the mandated potty attemplts and that is how we continued. We stopped scheduling potty trips on day 4 and after around a week or two we took the cover off the sofa and the chair.
How do you deal with accients you can’t see?
Accidents do happen, and when they do, we need to clean them up fast. Cleaning generally, as a person with very little sight presents a whole set of obstacles which I could talk about at length, and cleaning up children’s accidents are no different. I found that my second child didn’t always tell me when she had an accident. On a couple of occasions I noticed her bottom was wet and I needed to locate the scene of the crime. I would ask her to take me to the accident, but sometimes she didn’t remember or didn’t want to. If like me, you have an older child who can see, that is very handy. If not, the first places to check were the two areas I designated for her to sit. If those were clean, I would have to work methodically through the room to find it. I found that feeling the floor with my the palm of my hand, working across the room one way, taking a step back then working the other way, is a pretty good technique to find things on the florr generally and works well here too. Yes, this means sometimes as a VI mum you have to put your hand in wee. But by this point in your parenting journey, most VI parents have had to deal with unpleasant moments like this while changing nappies by touch. Unfortunately, being squeamish is just not an option when you’re a VI parent. We became masters of hand washing and sanitising long before the pandemic hit! Once I had located the offending spot, I grabbed the basket I kept with the paper towels, old towels and disinfrectant in and I would have everything I needed at my fingertips.
The next question was what was the best way to clean up the child. I would usually take her wet clothes and throw them straight in the washing machine with the clean up towels and some laundry disinfectant. I did this immediately if I could, to avoid any unpleasant odours.
I tended to stand my daughter in the bath and give her lower half a quick hose down if she’d had an accident. Without being able to see what I am cleaning, I tend to go for more of a ‘clean everthing’ approach.
Should rewards be used?
Many children respond well to sticker charts and other rewards. Some children might not require this and lots and praise and hugs from their parents is enough. For others, stickers or little treats for successful potty trips can be really helpful. Do whatever feels right for your family and encourages a positive response in your child.
What is it’s a big disaster?
Sometimes, even with the most thorough of preparations, the timing is just not right. If it really doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. So If that’s the case, rather than putting the whole family through a whole lot of stress, just call it a day for now and try again at a later date. There needn’t be emotion involved in this decision, it simply makes sense. Many of my friends have said they did exactly this and the second time around, things were so different and less stressful because they and their child were truly ready.
Bonus Tip: Share, don’t compare
We all know this, but sometimes we need a reminder. If your interest in other people’s experience is with the intent to get some advice and support, then it can be a very beneficial exercise to learn how other parents are doing. However if you find that instead of building your confidence, the stories of others brings you down, you are comparing, rather than sharing. Where sharing builds us up, comparing only ever leads us to question ourselves. In the context of VI parenting, it’s such a dangerous trap to fall into. As VI parents, our situation is simply not compatible to those around us, even amongst other VI parents. Not only is comparison not useful, it can be damaging. Vision aside, all children are ready at different times and even then, they will conquer the potty at different rates. It might take days, weeks or months for a child to truly be confident in their toileting. So, although sharing can be such a help to us all, we must be mindful, not to turn the experience in a comparison exercise. As I share my experience here, my hope is that readers will find comradeship, self belief and get a few ideas. Remember, throughout time, blind parents everywhere have potty trained their children and soon, you will join their ranks! Best of luck, and feel free to share your experiences here.
As always, thank you for reading and I hope to see you again soon.