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Potty Training Readiness: Noticing and Regulating our Body’s Signals

Potty training can be intimidating for parents.  If you are a parent of a child who processes sensory information differently, it can be extra challenging.  However, you can help your child tune into their internal signals through development of the sense of interoception.  

What is interoception?

Interoception is the 8th body sense, the ability to notice our body signals and connect the sensation with the emotion or body need.  Once we can notice and make the connection, then we can learn to regulate the sensation.  For example, noticing that your belly is rumbly might indicate that you are hungry and you might regulate this sensation by eating lunch.  Children who have sensory processing disorder, autism, or other neurodiversities often process sensory information differently.  These kids can be under-responsive or have muted responses to certain signals such as hunger, a messy face, or a full bladder.   Sometimes these same kids can be over-responsive to other signals demonstrating intense responses to sensory input.  This information can be confusing and can make it difficult for kids to appropriately notice, interpret, and respond to the information. 

Okay, so how can I help develop my child’s 8th sense to prepare them for potty training?  You can help your child develop this skill through play!  Try building their interoception ability by providing them with play meant to evoke strong sensations.  This can be through tactile play, proprioceptive play (think jungle gym, or trampoline), vestibular play (for example the swing set or a rocking horse), play with different textured foods, different temperature drinks, etc. 

A few examples:  use sand, rice, water beads, play doh, slime, shaving cream, or bubble foam for fun tactile play.  Dry or messy play is great.  Try exploring foods such a cut lemon and compare that with a cut orange.  Support their play with conversation, give words to the sensations.  For example, “Is that sour or sweet” and “Is that sand soft or rough?  Is the bubble foam wet or dry?”  also using question such as “How do your hands feel?” can help develop interoception.  You can use these strategies throughout the day to talk about how different play can make us feel different things in our bodies. 

Using the above strategies, you can have the same type of conversation regarding  toileting.  Try asking the question “Do you have that poop/pee feeling?” to help your child make the connection that their body is giving them information that they can learn to interpret and regulate.  A toileting routine is important as your child begins learning to successfully use the toilet, but keep the focus on recognizing the internal sensations instead of external rewards and you will be on your way to developing those toileting skills!  If you have more questions or concerns an occupational therapist can help support you on your parenting journey! 

Lindsay Fowler, OTR/L