Helping your toddler to stop playing to sit on the toilet can be one of the biggest toilet training hurdles I see. As if potty training isn’t stressful enough, battling with your child to pause their fun activity of playing to have toilet time can be a massive battle.
Interestingly, there can be many valid reasons as to why your child is resisting toilet time and wanting to continue their play time. So why are children so reluctant to stop playing for toilet time and most importantly, what can we do about it? Keep reading!
Are Any of these toilet training difficulties familiar?
- Your child is happy to sit on the potty/toilet after meals but refuses to have toilet time when they are playing
- Your child needs a lot of encouragement to stop playing to have toilet time
- Your child experiences big behaviours when asked to stop playing to go to the toilet
- Your child experiences frequent accidents when playing (even if toilet training is otherwise going well)
- Your child is experiencing stool withholding (withholding poop) or is constipated
- Your child does not sit for long enough on the toilet or potty, which then causes an accident
Why Won’t My Child Stop Playing to Sit on the Potty?
(1)Your Child is Happy When they are Playing
When children are playing, they are mostly doing what they love! They are exploring, they’re creating, they’re in their happy place. And even as adults, we know that pausing an enjoyable activity to do something ‘boring’ (like using the toilet!) is annoying! How often do you wait until you have finished the chapter of your book or come to the end of your TV show before going to the toilet? And for adults with well trained toilet skills, this is not a problem but for children, who are still developing these skills, delaying toilet time can then become a problem.
(2) Your child may feel like they need to ‘finish’ playing, rather than ‘pause’ playing:
This is a big one and something that I see a lot. When children are asked to stop playing to sit on the toilet, what we really mean as adults is to PAUSE their play and come back to it in five minutes. But for children, they may interpret this as FINISHING play and not being able to come back to it after going to the toilet. And for a little one who is right in the middle of building the perfect train track or dressing their doll ready for the day, of course this will cause distress.
(3)Your child is having difficulty with transitions:
Transitions simply refers to moving our brains and bodies on from one activity to another activity. As adults, if we wash and dry the dishes, we may then transition (sadly) on to wiping the bench and taking out the rubbish.
Many children, particularly those with additional needs, can have difficulty transitioning from one activity to another. This can be even more difficult when they do not have warning that the transition is coming – they are not able to prepare themselves for the shift in focus and so we may see big behaviours.
(4) Your child is having difficulty with shifting attention skills:
We all have something up in our brains called ‘Executing Functioning skills’. This is an umbrella term that refers to these mental processes that allow us to plan, focus our attention and remember instructions.
Many children with additional needs actually lack these essential executive function skills, making it even more challenging to shift their attention away from their exciting, interesting and motivating playtime to toilet time.
So how can we help our kids to pause play (not ‘stop’ play) and transition calmly to sitting on the toilet or potty? Keep reading as I have solutions for you!
4 Ways to Help Your Child Pause Their Play to Sit on the Potty or Toilet:
(1)Change our toilet time language – “Pause” Play, rather than “Stop” Play
As parents, when we prompt our child to stop playing to sit on the potty or toilet, we of course mean to take a five minute break and then come straight back to play. But in a child’s mind, the word ‘stop’ basically means it’s finished forever. No wonder kids try to avoid toilet time in this instance! A simple trick is to change your language – rather than saying ‘stop playing, it’s potty time’, ‘try saying ‘pause play for potty time, then back to play’.
(2)Countdown to Potty Time:
Pausing play to have toilet time will be a lot smoother if your child knows it’s coming. One of the easiest ways to do this is to do a countdown to potty time. You can do this in many different ways – use an egg timer, set an alarm on your watch or you can even use a countdown visual support. Start by saying ‘five more turns, then toilet sit time’, then slowly count down to ‘last turn, then toilet sit time’.
3.Allow your child to take a transition toy to the potty or toilet
Your child may be much more content to stop play time to go to the toilet if they can take a transition toy with them. Transition toys are generally a toy that your child has a strong attachment to. If your child is really reluctant to leave their train set to have toilet time, try letting them choose a train to bring with them to the bathroom. Or, if your child is enjoying having a tea party, try letting them bring along a tea cup or the tea pot while they sit on the toilet. This can help them to remember that as soon as they are finished potty time, it’s straight back to play time!
4.Use a visual support to show ‘First toilet time, then play’
Visual supports are any kind of pictures, symbols or drawings that communicate a message. Many children LOVE visual supports as a teaching and learning tool, especially children with additional needs, such as ADHD or Autism.
A visual support called a ‘First-Then’ chart is a great place to start. As the name suggests, this visual support shows your child visually what is happening FIRST and what is happening NEXT. Remember all those reasons why children struggle to pause their play to have toilet time? Here’s how this visual support can help:
How ‘First-Then’ Charts Can Help Your Child to Pause their Play to Have Toilet Time:
(1)A First- Then chart shows your child visually that toilet time is coming, helping them to prepare themselves. This reduces the ‘unexpected’ and helps to reduce anxiety.
(2)A First-Then chart shows your child that they don’t have to STOP play time forever – they can go straight back to play after toilet time! Yay!
(3)Remember above how we were talking about Executive Functioning skills? A First-Then chart can REALLY help children struggling with these skills because it is presented visually. This can make it a lot easier for children to understand your instructions.
You can secure your FREE First-Then Chart for toilet time right here by clicking the link below:
More than just a simple template, this resource includes:
1.First-Then visual schedules for potty time ‘print and go’
2.First-Then visual schedules for toilet time that you can edit to add your child’s own photo, making it meaningful and relevant for them
(3)60 activity cards of different games and play activities to add to the First-Then chart:
Teaching your child to stop playing to have toilet time can be a big road block when it comes to potty training but with a few tips and tricks, you can help to make the process smooth, calm and successful.