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Potty Training and Down Syndrome, by Sylvia Bass

Ok, I’m going to let you in on my little secret to success with potty training and Down syndrome right off the bat: I did it the same way I did it with all my other children. Shhhhhhh!

Regina is 3 now, she will turn 4 in December, and she is officially day trained. With all my children, I do not night train. You heard that right: I do not night train at all. Does that mean my 9 year old is still in diapers at night? Nope! I just wait until I finally notice that they are sleepily walking into the bathroom at night while still in their nighttime pull-ups before I switch them to underwear at night. Or, if I notice that they are waking up with dry pull-ups. At this point, I have to check the trash, because they are usually old enough by then to be dressing themselves in the morning and throwing away their own pull-ups, anywhere between the ages of 4 and 6. Let me tell you, I do not miss finding exploding diapers in the washing machine because the 4 year old forgot to throw away her pull-up when she tossed her pajamas from the night before into the dirty laundry hamper. But, I suppose once we put Regina into her big girl bed, I will be reliving those fond memories yet again. Hashtag momlife.

Moving on to the way more labor intensive part of potty training: day training (cue ominous music.) I must admit, I really hate it. I hate chasing the naked toddler around all day who somehow still manages to get pee and poop everywhere but the toilet (seriously, what talent!) I hate doing 20 loads of pee/poop laundry a day. And I hate being confined to the house and the one time I finally think that we are safe to venture out in underwear, they immediately pee on my mom’s leather chair. BUT! On the plus side, lots to offer up for the conversion of poor sinners. Mostly myself. To return to the point of this post, I will go through my Bass household steps for potty training. Note: I do not use the three day method, as it has never worked for my kids. Not once. And I have tried with all five. I am very happy for you if you managed to potty train your 18 month old in three days or whatnot, but quite frankly I have no idea why you are here. To quote The Princess Bride: “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”

BEFORE TRAINING: Starting from 18 months old or so, whenever the child is straining or actively pooping into their diaper, I point out to them that they are pooping. Eventually, they start telling me that they are pooping. And then some time after that, they tell me when they need to go poop, and then I start sitting them on the potty for them to poop. This usually gets the poop training out of the way while they are still in diapers.

STEP 1: I put the child in underwear and sit her on the potty every 20 minutes. If she is reluctant to sit down, she gets a treat for sitting down (chocolate chip, sticker, whatever). If anything goes in the potty at all, she gets a treat. This day is a disaster and accidents abound.

STEP 2: Whenever she has an accident, I say, “Oh no, you’ve had an accident! You’ve made [beloved character pictured on their underwear] very sad by peeing/pooing on him/her! You have to keep your undies clean and dry, ok? Pee pee and poo poo goes on the potty! [Indicates toilet.]” Say this every day, several times a day for as long as needed. Eventually, they take it to heart, I promise. At this point, she gets a treat for keeping her panties dry between potty trips whether she goes potty or not.

STEP 3: Start lengthening the time between potty breaks. I usually go from 20 minutes to half an hour, and then eventually to an hour. She gets two treats for poo on the potty and one treat for pee. Because if I can avoid cleaning up poop, I would give you unto half my kingdom. If it has been 3 weeks of doing this and you see no change in the amount of accidents and you haven’t been able to lengthen amount of time between potty trips, then I put them back in diapers and take a break for a few months. I have had to do this with a few children, including Regina. Do not worry, this does not mean you or your child are a failure. No future employer is going to request that she put the age at which she was potty trained on her résumé. After you both regroup, the second time around is always way better.

GOING FORWARD: Just an FYI, my kids usually need to be reminded to go potty every 1-2 hours for about a year after being potty trained before they start going to the bathroom on their own. I’m anticipating Regina might need reminding even longer than that. I usually use pull-ups whenever we leave the house for the first few months that they are potty trained out of consideration for everyone else who weirdly objects to pee on their chairs and floor.

But the main moral of this story is, don’t underestimate your child with Down syndrome. Some kids with Down syndrome aren’t fully trained until they are 6 or 7, and that is ok! The fact is that they still were able to be fully potty trained. But as with all things Down syndrome, there is an extremely wide spectrum with some kids training around the same age as their peers, and some much later. But they can do it. You just have to believe in them and give them time and patience. I was seriously shocked that Regina caught on so soon, but I really shouldn’t have. She was definitely the most adorable potty trainer of my first five that have been potty trained. Every time she had an accident, she would bury her face in her hands in shame like a maudlin scene in some melodrama, and instead of getting frustrated, all I could do was giggle and give her a hug and reassure her. She is such a sensitive plant, just like another one of my daughters. They are so empathetic and feel things so deeply. It is such a gift and a privilege to watch them all grow up.


Sylvia Bass is a Cuban Catholic wife and mama to five girls and one baby boy. She hung up her attorney spurs in exchange for the domestic life. She is the proud mama of a child with Down syndrome.She blogs at Tales From the Mommy Trenches where this post originally appeared.

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