Interoception & Potty Training: How are they connected?

Helping your child understand inner body sensations for potty training

Interoception, known as our 8th sense, is the sense that interprets our body’s internal sensations. Receptors throughout our body constantly send signals to our brain, relaying information about hunger, thirst, temperature, pain, and helping us stay in touch with the inner status of our body.

While babies are born with the ability to consistently respond to hunger signals and discomfort on their skin (like the discomfort of diaper rash!), there are many other signals coming from inside that they have to learn to interpret over time.

This is where the connection between interoception and potty training comes in.

Your child's ability to attend their inner sensations of hunger or thirst similarly relates to their understanding of urinary or bowel urgency. Take time to check in on your child's interoception skills before embarking on a potty training journey. Does your child consistently communicate about inner sensations? If not, you can begin facilitating these skills, along with the motor skills that will help to ensure success.

Simple activities to build interoceptive awareness:

Inner Sensations and Potty Training
When your child begins potty training you can help them describe the accompanying sensations with questions like, "Does your belly feel full, heavy, empty or soft?" The greater awareness of inner sensations, the easier it will be to recognize their urges.

Talk about what’s happening inside
Talk with your little one about other moments of awareness so they get acquainted with these signals. Model it by discussing: “Are you thirsty? Does your tongue feel dry?” “Are you hungry? Where do you feel it? In your stomach?”

Share what’s happening inside you
Don’t be afraid to share with your child how you feel when it’s time to use the bathroom, or what the sensation of hunger and thirst feel like to you. Sharing your experience gives them a better understanding on how to communicate what’s happening inside them.

Use Exercise
Just after fun and engaging play, encourage your child to describe the sensations: "I feel my heart is beating faster! My face feels hot. I can feel the sweat on my forehead. I can hear the sound of my breath." Using external sensations is a great way to help them better understand inner experiences.

Read books
Books that accurately describe inner sensations are ideal for building interoception. Books like My Body Tells Me How I Feel by Tracy L Hawkins and Listening to My Body by Gabi Garcia are great examples.

Play the "a little/a lot" game
Simply check in every so often and ask your child what they are feeling and if they feel it a little, or a lot. Start with easy concrete examples like hunger, thirst, pain or temperature. Model this for your child, for example "I feel a small rumble in my tummy, I am feeling a little hungry. I stubbed my toe, I am feeling a lot of pain."

Breathe and Listen to Body Sensations
Try setting a timer once a day, stop, and model a few deep breaths with them. Pretend the two of you are holding a flower, inhale deeply and then pretend to blow the petals. Afterwards, describe to your child how your body is feeling, linking the sensation with the experience.