Diagram of five senses for occupational therapy

Interoception and Potty Training: How are they connected?

Have you ever felt thirsty after exercising on a hot day, or felt cold on a chilly November night? Have you ever felt your heart race when you are nervous or felt the need to use the bathroom after drinking a lot of water? If so, you are experiencing something called interoception. 

Growing up, we learn about our five senses being sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. However, we have other sensory systems that contribute to our ability to process our environment which include proprioception, vestibular, tactile, and interoception. Interoception is the sense that tells us what is happening inside our bodies, and what our body needs to maintain a homeostatic level (OTFC Group, 2021).

However, some individuals do not recognize these sensations, which makes common tasks like getting a drink of water, using the bathroom, and eating, challenging.

Child considers food choices

Interoception and Potty Training

Decreased interoception can impact our awareness in a variety of areas related to the acquisition of toileting skills including:

  • The sensation of feeling that our diaper is wet/soiled
  • Decreased awareness of feeling the need to use the bathroom
  • Decreased awareness of having a full bladder or bowel
  • Difficulty discriminating between urinating or defecating
  • Difficulties in coordinating the muscles to push and eliminate bowel movements

(Miss Jaime O.T., 2021)

How can we develop interoception to facilitate potty training?

  • Use descriptive language to assist in identifying the physiological characteristics a child may be feeling (i.e. “I can see you fidgeting in your seat, do you need to use the bathroom?”) (OTFC Group, 2021).
  • Draw a person activities can be used to label basic body parts to improve overall body awareness, including sensations and descriptive words (i.e. these are our arms, they help us to wipe after using the potty).
  • Use a visual representation or schedule to assist with setting a routine (i.e. doffing pants, sitting on toilet, trying to go, standing up, pulling up pants, washing hands) (OTFC Group, 2021).
  • Work on connecting emotions or feelings to sensations (i.e. when I am mad, my hands may be in a fist).
  • Build on connecting sensations (slow, empty, dry, etc) with their respective body parts (i.e. When I feel a thump in my chest, my heart is beating fast). You can connect this to potty training by saying “does your diaper feel full?”
  • Develop strategies to assist with regulation once you identify the way your body is feeling (i.e. deep breaths, exercises).

Strategies to Progress Potty Training at Home

While interoception can impact potty training success, there are certain other tips and tricks we encourage caregivers to trial. One of the most important ones is to allow a child to participate in the process as much as possible. This can include letting them pick out their own small potty seat, and even their own “big kid” underwear to work towards as a reward! Remember to be patient, as each child acquires toileting skills at their own individual pace. Below are some  strategies to incorporate fun when working on potty training!  For additional resources, check out Ms. Jaime’s blog on Potty Training Tips for additional information. 

Barrier Games and Strategies:

  • Use eye droppers to “dye” the toilet different colors using food coloring.
  • Have your child bring their dolls or preferred toys to the potty and role play practicing toileting steps.
  • Have your child complete a preferred activity while seated on the potty (Ipad, board games, pretend play).
  • Tape toilet seat covers to small potty and have your child draw and paint on them.
  • Decorate the small potty with your child’s preferred stickers.
  • Sing with your child while seated on the potty.
  • Social Stories can be found online through a Google search or Teachers Pay Teachers (which supports educators).
  • Potty reward charts. These can be filled with stickers, stars, markers, dot paints, etc. 

Additional Reading:

https://www.kidsensetherapygroup.com/3-tips-for-potty-training-success/

References

OTFC Group. (2021). What is interoception? Retrieved from https://otfcgroup.com.au/what-is-interoception/.

Miss Jaime, O.T. (2021). Toileting and sensory processing. Retrieved from https://missjaimeot.com/toileting-sensory/.

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