Is your child at the age where they are transitioning from diapers to potty training? Is it a struggle? Do they have complex needs, such as sensory sensitivities or communication difficulties, that require special consideration? We hear you and our team is here to support! In this blog post, you will find specific strategies, tips, and tricks, suggested by an Emerge OT and SLP, that you can try at home to help your child with the transition from diapers to potty training.

Setting Expectations

The first step to starting the potty training process is making sure to set expectations for your child. One of our favorite ways to set expectations at Emerge is to utilize a social story! A social story is a book that you can read with your child that talks about what you can expect and what you can do in particular situations. We have created a social story template that is attached here – Using the Bathroom Social Story! We encourage you to download and read this frequently with your child to get them ready for the experience of potty training! We recommend that you customize this social story by adding in pictures of your child. Social stories are particularly successful if the child can see themself in it and themself in that situation! 

The next way to set expectations around potty training is to create a toileting schedule or time that you want to work on potty training. It is recommended that you insert these training breaks into your normal, daily routine. For example, when your child wakes up in the morning – you go to the toilet, before you sit down to eat – you go to the toilet. Working to make this predictable can help your child a lot! It is also helpful to look for patterns of when your child naturally uses the bathroom. You can do this using a chart, attached here – Bathroom Tracking Chart, and then use this information to determine when you want to incorporate the bathroom breaks into your daily routine. 

Lastly, it is helpful to set expectations for how long your child should be on the toilet before they get up. We recommend using a visual countdown or playing a potty training song. Using either of these options to set expectations can be motivating and good additions to your routine!


One really useful communication tool for promoting potty training is using a “first, then” chart. It can be beneficial to use a “first, then” language and to pair it with a visual cue to help your child understand what is the plan for going to the toilet. You can use a “first, then” chart to set-up when your child will use the bathroom in your routines or if you want to set up a reward system for toileting! For example, “first potty, then bed,” or “first potty, then cookie.” Another really helpful communication tool for potty training is to put up visual cues (pictures of toilet, toilet paper, etc.) around the house, especially in the places your child most frequently plays. With these cards, you can cue your child to go to the bathroom or model the action yourself! The hope with these cards is that your child will learn how to communicate independently when they feel like they need to go to the bathroom!


Positioning your child on the toilet correctly is important to promote potty training. The correct position for toileting is to have your child sit on the toilet with their hips slightly forward. You do not want them to be sitting completely straight up because they will not be able to engage the correct muscles to go to the bathroom. You also want to make sure their feet and knees are at 90 degree angles. Some tips to ensure correct positioning for your child are having support under their feet, adding side supports for more physically involved children, raising the height of the toilet seat, and using a padded toilet seat. You can also position your child backwards on the toilet to provide increased stability and support. 

Here are some Emerge recommended tools to support your child during potty training!

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Other Tips

Some other tips for toileting include:

  • Move your child away from diapers as soon as you can because they soak up the pee, leaving your child comfortable. The way it feels to have wet underwear can be a motivating factor for using the toilet. 
  • Buy fun and motivating “big kid” underwear that has pictures of preferred items/characters.

If your child is afraid of the toilet…

  • Wait to flush until after they leave the room
  • Add food coloring to the water so it will change colors when the child voids 
  • Put paper in the toilet first to reduce the sounds when the child voids 
  • Use a softer toilet seat to reduce tactile discomfort
  • Adjust the lighting in the bathroom
  • Utilize soothing music


Did you know that poor interoception may impact a child’s ability to know when they need to go to the bathroom? Interoception is our sensory system that informs us as to what is going on inside our body! For children with differences in interoceptive processing, they may have difficulties understanding when they need to go to the bathroom and recognizing those body cues that let them know they need to go. To help children that have differences in interoceptive processing, Emerge therapists like to utilize an approach developed by Kelly Mahler. The steps of the approach are described below!

  • Educate
    • Provide education to families and children 
    • Compensatory strategies- toileting schedules, visual cues, modeling 
  • Implement adaptations
  • Notice sensations
    • Body scan- draw a picture of a person, go through all the different parts of the body, discuss what parts of the body feel different when you need to go to the bathroom 
  • Give them meaning
  • Use sensations to build skills


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