Potty Training a Toddler with a Speech Delay

Saying farewell to diapers is huge for parents and their toddlers. There’s a feeling of freedom. I know, it’s odd, but getting rid of the diapers is so freeing. It’s hard at first for any toddler. Potty training a toddler with speech delay issues is even more challenging.

There are many ways to overcome communication challenges between you and your toddler. Especially if they have a speech delay or other issues with communicating. I think you’ll find that learning other cues and methods will more than make up for the challenge this presents.

Identify Bladder and Bowel Timing

Getting them to use the potty is one thing. The hardest part? Knowing when. If you can’t communicate with them at first (and they can’t communicate with you), where do you start? Consider this: chart when they pee or poop. After doing this, you’ll have a good starting point for knowing at least when they are most likely to need to use the potty.

Once you have these observations down, set-up a routine. Work towards getting your toddler to sit on the potty at these times every day. If there is resistance, try not to force it. But it’s likely that he or she will follow your lead. By now your toddler is probably starting to trend away from diapers anyway, and is probably welcoming the idea of sitting on the potty. For most kids, any routine helps make a transition easier.

You may want to also include other set times for the potty. For instance, before meals is perfect. This also ensures that your little one will wash her hands before eating. Before bedtime is another time to consider. For us, we always set aside potty time whenever we leave the house―even if it’s just to play outside. No one likes their playtime interrupted!

Follow Nonverbal Cues

Remember when your little one was just a little ball of cuteness? I know, they still are. But how did they let you know what they wanted? If they were hungry or wet, chances are that you followed their nonverbal cues and gestures. As their mom, you know them better than anyone. Whenever they are feeling something, you just know. Take that knowledge into the bathroom with you. Like all their other needs, the cues for using the potty will be there too.

Along those lines, consider hanging a “potty chart” in the bathroom. A sheet of poster board is perfect for this. List each time when they need to go (based on their observed behaviors) and let them put a sticker on the board when they try to go. Don’t make it performance based. Instead, reward them for making the effort, even on those near misses. They’ll adore this. Most of all, they’ll be getting the attention and praise from you they are always craving.

Consider adding in some sign language. Most infants and young toddlers use some form of signing to express themselves. For instance, my daughter was great at signing when she wanted more food, and for saying please. It made understanding one another much easier when she was younger.

Don’t Forget the Books!

Storytime is perfect for potty training. For a toddler with speech delay, picture books are a perfect introduction to anything. The pictures spell out everything without words. And you can still read the words (and should) to develop their vocabulary. For older toddlers, there are even graphic novels (i.e., comics) that handle all kinds of topics. So, books are great not only for potty training but for most any issue you may come across.

An added bonus for using books is that they show other children in similar circumstances. Any change can bring fear or anxiety. Seeing other children their age should help calm those fears.

Make it a point to leave some of the books in the bathroom. We keep a small magazine rack by the toilet. If they have a hard time going poop, picking up a book is a fine distraction. It takes some of the anxiety out of the equation. Further, by reading them a book (or several) while sitting on the potty, you can dramatically extend the amount of time they spend sitting, and increase the likelihood that something good will happen. Remember, your toddler’s speech delay causes anxiety for both of you. Don’t add to it with potty training. Instead, make the bathroom as comfortable a place as possible.

Keep it Positive

This is a big moment for your toddler. Since they can’t tell you what’s going on in their minds, you’ll need to be extra attentive to their cues. Along those lines positive reinforcement will always work best. Potty training any child is a challenge. Add in a speech delay or any other challenge, and the goal of potty training is a huge mountain to climb.

While we want to ditch the diapers, it’s important not to make this transition our own. It’s about our kids and setting them up to succeed. I’ve been frustrated numerous times at all stages with my kids. What I discovered is that my own frustration was usually what impeded their progress. So let’s face it, accidents will happen. It’s all in how we approach them.

The chart referenced earlier is a great way to keep your child involved. It offers the visual stimulation to keep them focused. It communicates what they cannot verbally communicate. And it offers a positive response for their behavior. An accident on the way to the bathroom? Don’t fuss over it. Instead, offer praise for the attempt to get to the bathroom on time. Praise all the positives in their attempts to use the potty. For those small failures, correct only when needed. Highlight the positives and allow those memories to stand out.

Your toddler is at a significant milestone when the diapers come off and they step into their big kid underwear. For kids with speech delays, unnecessary anxiety could fill that transition. Potty training is always a challenge for any child. Instead of adding to their worries, do what you do best. Listen to their actions and empathize with their emotions. Success is sure to follow.