The Scoop on Poop A Plan for Independence
The Scoop on Poop A Plan for Independence
This too shall pass,” can be a term of annoyance. I am talking about poop. Yes, you can call it many other things: dung, feces, excrement, or even crap. However, at the end of the day, it is less about a bowel movement and more about achieving independence.
For many parents of children with special needs, this is an obstacle that consumes us. There are so many layers of emotion: the guilt, the judgment, the lack of understanding and the presumption that our child is not smart because they struggle with being able to perform a function that most children and adults take for granted.
As I have often stated, I am not a health or educational expert. I am just a parent who has tales from the front lines. I remain in the trenches each and every day. I, like you, obsess about basic skills. What are simple functions for others are MONUMENTAL achievements for our children. I only wish to tell it with truth, love and a bit of humor.
My goal is to encourage and to let you know that if I could live to tell about it….so can you!
My, “path of poop”, as I like to call it, was nearly an eight year journey. I suppose at some point my son may hate me for sharing our saga. He may even bribe me – I suppose forgiveness can be bought. However, it’s a risk that I am willing to take. You see, to achieve something others take for granted, you often have to make unreasonable choices to succeed – to master the daily functions of independence.
I wave my banner of toilet paper with pride. I have rolled through many strategies and dumped several behavior plans until we finally figured it out.
You see our son, like many children, had the “pee part“down first. I must qualify that statement by saying that it too was a delayed process. It took us until he was almost five years old. I had obsessed that I had controlled every aspect of his life in an effort to advocate and push for his achievement. Urination was a station he could control. So, when he could finally conduct and direct this basic bodily function, I thought we were home free.
I was so wrong. The next two years would be consumed with getting him to do it the old fashion way – in the potty and not in his pants.
Our son would try to hold it all day long at school. He preferred doing it at home. This restraining process resulted in accidents and other mishaps. We could go for weeks without any issues and then would have a flood of incidents. It was very frustrating for him and for us.
Like a crazed scientist, I researched many options online and reached out to other parents for their suggestions. Below is a list of all of the things we tried.
A second list details what finally worked. Since every child is different, I believe that success can be achieved in many different ways or combinations.
So here is what I have lived and what I have to give in terms of tips of achieving independence and living “poop free:”
What We Tried (but were not successful):
- Placing a Toy Chest in the Bathroom: One friend gathered up small toys from her son’s room and wrapped them in bright holiday paper. She told me how ingenious it was because she did not have to buy anything new. Her child delighted in the concept and was excited about the “new toys.” I must say my son was quick to pick up that the prizes were not new. I also think it was not a strategy that worked long term.
- Cutting a hole in the pull up: I had read on-line that children often do not like the feeling of the bowel movement leaving their body. So a possible solution was that you cut a hole in the pull-up and let them sit on the toilet with the pull-up on and then produce the movement. My son was very confused by this and thought it was very funny that I cut a hole in his pull up.
- Bribery: We all want to get paid for what we do. I tried promising the latest Thomas the Tank Engine toy or trip to the mall arcade. I even read of a parent who promised to eat his kid’s deposit if he did it in the toilet. I think I decided that I just did not love my son enough to promise that one!
- Leaving them to run around in the “nuddie until they doodie”: I can’t tell you how many sweet and endearing parenting articles I read about letting kids run in the great outdoors until nature “moved them.” It all sounded like a Hallmark moment; something that would have been portrayed in a Norman Rockwell portrait.Can I tell you that my experience was quite the opposite! I tried it. I put the potty on the pool deck. I let the fruit of my loins run free like a child of Adam and Eve. He swam in our pool, frolicked in the green, grassy, back yard and then it came. Just as I prepared for a scream of joyous triumph, it happened. Our son squatted over the little potty. There, on the scene, was my dog…poised perfectly, so I thought. In an instant, he wolfed down my son’s poop with great delight! Horrified, I let out a yell and broke down. This was NOT what I had signed up for! It is always at these moments of self-pity that our greatest breakthroughs occur. As I wept uncontrollably, my sweet child wrapped his arms around my neck and pressed his face against mine. Despite the fact that he could not speak, he did not want me to be sad. He demonstrated an emotion that showed he connected with his world. He also cared about how I felt. Most of all, he tried really hard to do it. Although this spark was small, it was a sign that I needed to press on. I needed to forget my dog’s delight and nurture this sweet boy’s affection towards a direction of independence.
Here is what eventually worked for us:
- Develop a Schedule: We found that at school our son was in a routine. On the weekend, we wanted to kick back. However, we realized that our child was accustomed to that structure during the week. So we needed to continue it at home over the weekend. You can create schedules with the most basic paper and crayons. You can also use a timer to estimate these potty breaks. Our son really responded to the timer. I just used an egg timer, but, you can also use the function on your cell phone.
- You Gotta Have Traction: Our son was a very late walker. I learned early on that he could not poop if he was lying down. He had to be able to use his legs and feet to push. Consequently, it is often difficult for children to master this if they don’t have a stool or something to support their feet while sitting on the potty. We also found that our son developed his own method of gripping the counter. The point is that our children often need traction either under their feet or by gripping. Try to determine what you need to add to your bathroom to help them: a stool, books, a countertop, or something else.
- Don’t Estimate the Power of Water: Our son was almost seven before he started eating. He lived on Pediasure. He had been tongue tied. Eventually, doctors clipped his frenulum to allow greater movement of his tongue. It was difficult to get him to eat fruit or digest fiber. He was so smart that he would detect it in everything, even chocolate syrup. I was so focused on trying juices and other sources of fiber that I had actually forgotten about trying plain old water. I guess you could call this the big “DUH!” moment. I was so obsessed with finding “the magic bullet” that I lost sight of the basics. Keeping your child hydrated is essential to regular bowel movements.
- Exercise: Keep them mov’n: Our son loves being outside. So, the more we ran him on the beach or integrated play, the better our chances of keeping everything “moving.” It seems pretty basic but if you do this with lots of water, it all comes through! Praise, Praise, Praise and MORE Praise!
- We found that when our child did “The Super Poopie!” we would all run to see it and make a big deal of how proud we were. It seems a bit basic but heck we all like to receive praise! My husband asks, “When will you come cheer when I do one?” Like all good things…… he will have to wait! Honestly, this was really the biggest driver. Our cheers, hugs and kisses were the biggest re-enforcers. Now, if we are in another part of the house, our son will drag us to the bathroom to show us. We never hesitate to thank him for showing us and more importantly for doing it! It’s not easy but it can be done! The rewards are great. When your child bursts with pride from the accomplishment, it makes it all worthwhile. I also think the process can be the driver for future successes. It is a road less traveled than some of your peers, however, it is a journey that many share. Reach out and learn. Share your story to encourage another family. That’s what it’s all about – supporting each other in the effort to lead all of our children towards independence. There is no greater gift or sensational achievement! I’ll stake my bottom dollar on it!
- Important Life Skills to Teach Your Child with Special Needs
- Baby Steps Tips for Encouraging Your Child Toward Independence
- 4 Features of Total Fitness: The Foundations of Better Living
- A Complete Guide on Dental Care for Children with Special Needs
This post originally appeared on our July/August 2011 Magazine