How to Potty Train a 4-Year-Old With Sensory Issues

By age 4, many kids are ready to get out of diapers and on to the potty, but 4-year-old children with sensory issues have unique challenges that must be addressed. Your sensory-avoidant child may be frightened of the potty, which, in the world of a sensory-shy 4-year-old, is awfully big and noisy. The sensory-seeking child may be too busy climbing trees and tumbling off the couch to even notice that he's wet. Regardless of the particular sensory issues, it is possible to potty train a 4-year-old with sensory issues.

Identify your child's particular sensory issues. If she doesn't seem to be bothered by a soiled diaper, dirty hands or a messy face, she's probably sensory-seeking. If she dislikes certain textures, smells or foods and wants to be changed as soon as her diaper gets wet or dirty, she's most likely sensory-avoidant. Some kids may be a combination of seeking and avoidant, so address each issue individually.

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Introduce your child to the potty. Children with sensory issues may be uncomfortable sitting high up on the adult toilet, and a sensory-seeking child may leap off mid-tinkle and get hurt, so a potty chair is usually a good idea. These can be found at most discount and baby supply stores and come in a variety of styles. Four-year-old children can be quite independent, so let your child help choose his own potty, even sitting on it in the store -- fully clothed, of course -- to make sure it's comfortable for him. This lets him know that he has some control over the process. Once the potty chair is home, set it up in the bathroom and let your child sit on it and investigate it before you try to get him to use it.

If you're comfortable using the bathroom with your child in the room, let her accompany you to the bathroom. Don't pressure her to use the potty, simply let her observe and ask if she wants to go on her potty. This usually works best with the same-sex parent.

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Set the scene for the potty experience. Sensory-avoidant children may need it to be very quiet in the bathroom, with extra-soft toilet tissue available and soft lighting to allow them to relax. Sensory seekers may benefit from music playing or a small toy to play with on the potty.

Take your child to the potty every hour. Remove his diaper or training pants and set him on the potty. Have him sit on the potty for several minutes, but don't force him to stay. Running the faucet at a trickle may help encourage urination. Four-year-old kids tend to be pretty silly, so make up a song about using the potty. A good laugh might just get things going.

Observe your child carefully throughout the day. The sensory-avoidant 4-year-old may let you know right away when her diaper is soiled. Note when this happens and try to get her on the potty at those times. Putting cloth underwear or training pants on your sensory-avoidant child may encourage her to use the potty, because the sensation of being soiled will be more pronounced than when she's in a diaper. It may be harder to tell when a sensory-seeking child is soiled, so check her often and watch for facial cues, such as straining, to tell when your child is soiling her diaper. As soon as you think your child is ready or beginning to eliminate, place her on the potty.

Experiment with things like padded potty seats, wearing socks or slippers in the bathroom to combat cold floor distraction, and gently brushing or stroking your child's arms before putting him on the potty. Be aware of the techniques that calm your child and use those to help ease any anxiety.

Some children, especially those with sensory issues, may be afraid that what's coming out of them in the bathroom is part of their bodies. Talk to your child in simple terms about digestion and elimination; a brief explanation about how your body gets rid of the parts of the food you don't need so that there is room inside for more good stuff may calm her fears.

Ensure that your child eats a diet rich in fiber so that elimination isn't painful or uncomfortable.


Avoid pressuring or shaming your child into using the potty. Kids become potty trained at different ages, and kids with sensory issues may require more patience than other children. Before potty training begins, read a book or watch a video about potty training.

Let your child pick out new underwear to wear once he's all done with diapers.

Remember that nighttime dryness usually occurs after the child is using the potty during the day. Special nighttime training pants are available for kids who urinate in their sleep.


If your child seems to be in pain while using the bathroom or stops going for a few days, consult your pediatrician.