The Problem With Potty Training

Charlie is in size 5 diapers.

That seems like a pretty bland fact, but diapers only go up to size 6.

So pretty soon I’m going to have to potty train him, or start investigating diapers for older children.

It seems like a pretty simple answer. I mean, even children with limited mobility can be trained to use the bathroom on a schedule. I get that. If I get my head on straight, I know we could accomplish it.

But then I think about the flip side. . .

Let’s say I teach Charlie to pee every day at two o’clock, and then one day it’s two, life has intervened, and we’re at the mall. I never go to the mall, but you get the gist. . . do I take him to the public restroom? Do I physically pick him up and place him on the toilet? What if they don’t have those cute, protector thingies?

And Charlie is pretty small now–what do I do when he’s twelve and doesn’t weight 27 pounds any more? Which bathroom would we use then? Women or Men’s?

Where the hell is the manual for this stuff? I swear, it can be the most basic thing and I find my self picking it apart for hours, trying to figure out the right solution. I realize that some of these things may not be issues when he’s older, but I HATE that I don’t know the answers.


popsicles 080

Charlie discovers popsicles and also cold headaches–quite a day.

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  1. Felicia says:

    Tena and Invacare make diapers in larger sizes, and they even deliver so you don't have to be running to the store. If I were you, I'd use the ladies' room if there wasn't a handy "family" or unisex restroom in the mall, and anyone in there who didn't get the drill would get a dirty look from me. And if you keep a few alcohol wipes in your purse, you can just wipe down the toilet seat, killing those germs and not worry about those icky protectors that slide all over the place and don't really "protect" anything!
    It'll all come to you as it needs to–you are a wonderful mother.

  2. GingerB says:

    In the glass half full sideof things, don't diapers for an older child become medical supplies you can get on insurance, and pay less? And I am seeing more and more of those family bathrooms than ever before. And I don't know where that GD manual is, either.

  3. I feel your pain. No clue how to do it or when to start. NO CLUE. My heart tells me Oia is not ready yet but she is pretty good at proving us wrong so maybe I better get started…but how?

  4. Danielle says:

    My dd was almost 7 before I got her trained. Thank goodness she was a tiny thing and I was able to use childrens' pull-ups for her.

    I know it is hard, very hard, at times, but just go with what works for you and the rest will just fall into place. Like Felicia said, you are a wonderful mother and you will know what is best for you.

  5. I still take my son (7 1/2) to the ladies room. It will be a LONG time before he uses the mens room. He likes to pick up any trash on the floor. I try to do good hand washing. Sanitizer is a good thing if your child can't handle the sound of hand dryers.

    He wasn't potty trained until age six. But since he was/is a skinny minnie, the size 5 diapers and then pullups worked just fine.

    Typically diapers/pullups don't become medical supplies until the age of 5 (sometimes 4).

    One key to potty training is to not do it if there is anything else big happening. Luke was ready a the beginning of kindergarten. With a new school, new bus, lots of kids, so-on and so-forth, we (special ed teacher and I) waited until February. It only took 1 day!

  6. oh my goodness, you and I have been having the same thoughts. Lately I have been asking Elisabeth's therapists things like, 'what do I do when she's older and we are at the mall or something and she messes her pants? Where do you change a 12 year olds diaper?"

    Really, I'm with you….where's the manual for things like this?

  7. Nadine Hightower says:

    really? pee at a certain time?? But things are different so maybe that will work.

    And I think you're freakin' out for stuff that's way down the road. And there are so many places that offer unisex pottyrooms. And I think a lot of people will totally understand if you have go with him when he's older. no need to carry a chip on your shoulder about that. There will always be stupid people…But let's cross that bridge when we get there.

    Deep Breath. Take it one step at a time.

  8. TherExtras says:

    Methinks you are borrowing trouble on this one, Katy. (Kind of like planning on a bath chair based on his skills at 2 years.) Start the training with a mind to problem-solve as you go (as he develops). I think diaper-changing in standing is good for just about any child whose parent can work it out. (My post on that is 'Standing' under Bridges, middle column.)


  9. Nadine, Barbara:
    I completely respect y'all's opinion, but I don't believe it's "borrowing trouble" or "freaking out" to want to know what my options are.

  10. caryanne says:

    I got all excited when I saw this post, thinking that maybe you had it all figured out…and i could just do whatever you do.

    Daniel seems ready to potty-train, but not Ben. Should be interesting…I'll keep you posted on any progress we make around here.

  11. So this is something we have been working with Zach on for a few months now. I would have never thought that he could be potty trained already but he sure is proving us wrong.
    We are not at a point yet where he can tell us when (but we are getting really close) but when we put him on the potty he will go.
    Just because he can't talk does not mean he doesn't know whats going on. I bet he would do great with it!
    I think Zach would be doing a lot better if I was more dedicated to the process right now.

  12. Can Charlie sit well? In alot of your photos it appears he is sitting well! I would get one of those little plastic toilet chairs with a high back and sit him on it in the AM and read books with him or do a project and see if he goes (or wait until he goes)? Why not try now? You could use an ABR wrap around him and put a piece of velcro on the back of the toilet chair to keep him positioned. Just a thought!

  13. OK, I'm in the middle of dealing with this. Max is such a skinny kid he still fits into size 3T-4T Huggies, I have to say… If and when he needs a bigger size, then as Felicia notes, there out there.

    I think, as we always tell ourselves again and again, you can't look too far into the future with our kids. You know me, I overthink EVERYTHING! But with potty training in particular, I have just focused on taking first steps. And that's basically all you can do. Who knows, maybe he'll take right to it, or maybe he'll take to it in a year or so. You just don't know. You've just gotta take those baby steps.


  14. Wahzat Gayle says:

    Well this is what I think…
    brace yourself it will be an interesting and at times VERY difficult task potty training and that goes for any child whether disabled or typical.
    At first you will have to take him to the ladies with you. I say you have up until age 11 before eyebrows are raised.
    AND!!!! You are working towards the fact that Charlie is going to walk on his own when he gets older right?
    Well then after 12 maybe before he will be able to go to the gents by himself and know that you will hover outside fretting about all what may or may not be going on in there. I very rarely let my son do the gents now but he is getting older and more aware so he walks in the gents and I fret until he comes out and then breathe a sigh of relief.

    I know a young pre-teen with CP, he goes by himself and he does a good job of it.

    It is hard to not wonder and fret. So take my advice give yourself the time fret away then do as you always do which is to act.

    You will be fabulous… and so will Charlie.

  15. One step at a time :-)

    In Texas {not sure about LA} diapers are medical supplies at age 3. Because of Caleigh's short bowel diagnosis we were able to get them paid for at 2. Thank goodness! She uses tons of them… We get 300 a month.

    I've thought about this a lot and was even told that pre-school will teach them…HAHA

    You know Charlie and you know his patterns. Like when you change him and such. I know Caleigh's main potty patterns and they are pretty erratic. I love the idea of potty time during one of his usual going times.

    Make it fun like you do with everything and don't get discouraged. oh…sticker boards, prizes for going…

    Think John and Kate + 8…I remember them bringing the tiny pottys everywhere with them! Yuck :) Have one for the car too.

    And now with all of that pep talk out of my system maybe I should try it too! The short gut thing may be our main enemy. Good Luck!

  16. My Luke is non-verbal. The ASL sign for potty (shake a t – like your fist is nodding yes) is one that he will use. You know you have succeeded when he yells the sign at you (i.e. in your face) when you don't respond or if you ask him to wait and he can't.

    As a starting point, use the sign whenever you talk about using the bathroom. Even with "mommy needs to go potty" shake the hand up and down.

  17. The Schaeffer Family says:

    Hi. I discovered your blog via No Time for Flashcards. I know all about problems with potty training. My 'little' guy is 78 pounds. We grew out of size 6 a long time ago, and if I count the number of times I've called Kimberly Clark begging them to make bigger pull-ups, I'd run out of numbers. I don't know what it's like to have a child like yours, but I do know what it's like to have a child with special needs (like mine). My only advice is – use the women's room and don't feel bad about it. If you get the stink eye from anyone – just ignore them. If they can't figure out that there must be a good reason your male child is with you in the girls' room – then they're not worth the time it'll take to explain it. I buy diapers on ebay because they're often cheaper than the stores. Although I haven't gone this route yet – – I know some people can get a prescription for diapers for children over the age of 3. I know there are restrictions, but it might be an option for you. Oh – and there is NEVER a normal day, so training your child to use the toilet at a specific time will probably backfire. What happens when the public toilet is be repaired? What happens when you're stuck in traffic at precisely 2pm? What happens when your washing machine overflows and you need to stop the water at the exact time your child needs to use the toilet? I often ask my son's teachers that while I think it's great to be predictable, don't be rigid. Life is full of fire drills, substitute teachers, assemblies, unexpected visitors…..

    Anyway…here I am….some stranger off the blogging street. Just want to say hello and let you know that I get it.

  18. Hey Katy,
    I know I left you a message elsewhere about diapers but I hadn't yet read your full post.

    During W's most recent IEP revision, I was talking to his therapists about planning to train him. Quite a task since he can no longer support himself in many ways.

    The PT said that I should get a "urinal". I'm not exactly sure what this thing is but she said you can get them at Walgreens… good, right!? From the way she explained it, it is a device that you place over the penis and they urinate in it, into a reservoir.

    (In my head I see it as a kiddie truck driver and an empty 20oz but that is beside the point.)

    She said that way, I can put W in his feeder seat first thing in the morning, show him the urinal, and then put it on him… hoping and praying he'll use it, I guess. From there, if he "gets" it, we will move to a strict potty schedule until he can let me know he needs to go.

    W has been dry in the mornings a few times a week(even with being pump fed all night) so I think I will start trying this summer.

    Anyway, I am all ears (eyes?) about this. I'll try to get to Walgreen's this weekend and see what this "pediatric urinal" is. I'll let you know.

  19. Baylee and Blair's page says:

    I know with the girls I'm not ever scared of taking them to the public bathroom…. at least for the germ factor. We just make sure we wash our hands really good after we are done. I tell them not to touch the potty, but we know it's going to happen soon enough! 😉

    You are an awesome Mom and will get it figured out. I don't know about the diaper thing, but I would check in to getting those through insurance as well. Good idea!

    Hugs – Tiff

  20. Alan wears diapers, like Attends. He has never learned how to use the bathroom, and they were/are covered for us as a medical expense.

    Everything in due time, and I am sure that Charlie will be a pro at that, too!

  21. I stumbled on to your blog from No Time for Flash Cards. I just wanted to tell you that I think you are doing wonderful things for Charlie and he is so lucky to have a mom like you!

  22. I don't think you're freaking out at all. Potty training a normally developing child is a headache enough with these added concerns. It's something I fret about at least once a day re: Eli, because I've never potty trained a boy before, and also because I SO want him to be toilet trained before the baby comes but I also SO hate the power struggles of it! I'm beginning to think if I wait til he's ready he'll be four years old…
    Anyways. Just wanted to say, you're totally not overthinking. Some things you can't help but think about.

  23. Wherever HE Leads We'll Go says:

    As always, you hit the nail on the head! I wish there was a manual for these kinds of things. Emily is already too big for those baby changing tables in public restrooms and I always wonder how I am going to change her when we are out and about. The car is always a possibility, but this issue really concerns me when we travel – the car is full so there is no room to lay her down to change. Then what? For now I have been changing her in her stroller (no easy task!), but that won't work for long!

  24. Oh, I feel your pain. I didn't attempt potty training Graham til he was FOUR. And all of those things you mentioned ran through my mind. I wondered if diapers forever wouldn't just be easier.

    But you figure it out. Things just work themselves out. You make it up as you go along, and it works.

    Whatever you decide to do, will work.

    And potty training sucks the big one, whether it be with a special needs or a typical kid. It just sucks.

    good luck.

  25. As Charlie is presently a wheelchair user (and may likely choose to use a wheelchair for mobility out of the house as an adult, which many/most people with his level of mobility impairment do) I would imagine that he will mostly need to use wheelchair accessible restrooms, which in the UK are frequently unisex.

    As well as conventional continence pads (diapers/nappies are for babies, big kids and adults use pads even if they're structurally identical) there are a ton of other options.

    For a boy (or other person with a penis) who is not continent of urine, who can't say that they need to go, or who can't hold on for long enough to get on a toilet, a Texas or Condom Catheter is a great option. It's worn like a condom, with a tube that drains into a bag typically strapped to your lower leg. I have an indwelling catheter which drains my bladder directly through a hole in my abdomen into the same tube-and-bag setup (a Suprapubic catheter if anybody's interested) and nobody ever knows the entire shebang is there unless I tell them.

    For people of either sex who can indicate that they need to pee but who cannot easily sit on a toilet (hoisted, needs significant postural support or whatever) a urine bottle works great. Ya, just like truckies :) urine bottles come in loads of different styles and formats, including spout designs usable by people with female anatomy. I used one for a couple of years and it worked well for me. There are wheelchair cushions available with a removable cut-out to facilitate using a urinal.

    Unless you are fortunate enough to live somewhere with Changing Places toilets, for a young person too big for the baby change units (bear in mind they're usually safe up to ~30 kilos, if the kid doesn't mind their legs hanging off the edge!) then the solution usually involves carrying a thin, light changing mat and lying on the floor to do the deed in an accessible toilet/restroom. It sucks deeply and I'd like to see publicly funded Changing Places-standard bathrooms all over the world

    Um, as y'all have probably noticed this is something I have a lot of ‘hands-on’ (yuk!) experience with. I'll shut up rambling now but if anybody wants to ask something specific or I can go find some brand names I'd be happy to help. I generally feel a very strong allegiance to the Next Generation of the disabled people's movement worldwide – which is to say, your kids. :)

  26. Candace says:

    Katy we struggle with this too! Pampers does make size sevens Target usually sells them. We use a mix of the pull ups overnights and the small underjamers.

  27. JennieB says:

    Fortunately, the size 5s seem to last a long time. We just moved up to size 6, but I swear it's been a year. You can get size 7 on

    My guy (autism) is turning 3 at I feel like we're SO far away from potty training. Like years. Fortunately, others have done it before us!

  28. Amy Genn says:

    Great post…again! :)

    Lots of great responses!!!

    I read online some moms of special needs kiddo's who were advising a mom about what van to buy….and they all recommended buying a 15 passenger van so you always have room to change a diaper in public.

    I totally FREAKED out when I read all their responses because I hadn't thought about THAT! UGH.
    I think Eli will always wear diapers….and when he weighs alot…I guess we'll do that!

    For now we carry a little floor mat in the car, and can pull over in a park (or cemetary as we did on our way to the beach! HA!!) or in a parking lot even and change him….
    you know…if the weather permits!

    :) HUGS!!!!

  29. I hear you Katy. Elijah is also in size 5 diapers and this topic is on my mind a lot. I believe you'll get there with Charlie and we'll get there too. But, it's not easy and you're right…there isn't an instruction manual unfortunately.

  30. pixiemama says:

    Overnights. My boys are 7 & (almost) 9 and wear XL overnights. They cost a fortune, but what else can I do?

  31. Potty training isn’t impossible just because one has CP, as long as his cognition is intact, hes aware of his surroundings, can follow simple instructions, and has no neurolgical issues affecting bladder and bowel control. Ive heard several cases of successful toilet training with CP