‘Potty Whisperer’: Potty-training classes are changing

Laura Donovan Contributor
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Wendy Sweeney, a mother of six, was inspired to start her unique nationally recognized potty training boot camp about ten years ago when her incorrigible son wouldn’t learn to use the restroom. The “Potty Whisperer,” who has three special needs children, found it interesting that her boy with no special conditions was the one to have toilet issues.

“My oldest is now fifteen; he’s the reason we have this program, because he was a nightmare to train,” Sweeney told The Daily Caller with a laugh, adding that her boy finally got the hang of it before turning three.

Sweeney’s son wasn’t alone in taking a little longer than normal to tackle toilet training, and that’s why his mother came up with instructional classes and methods to assist children and parents. In opening up “Booty Camp,” Sweeney created a safe space for special needs kids, which make up half of her clientele; children who fail time and time again at figuring out the bathroom; and parents who have no clue how to even begin introducing their young to the concept of potty training. And in some cases, her courses are the default course of action for parents with kids of potty-training age.

“If they want to get it done quick and fast, or if this is their third child and the first two trained very easily and they just feel like they’re head-butting with this child, sometimes somebody just wants a third party,” Sweeney told TheDC.

“Sometimes it’s just a mom, it’s their first child and they haven’t tried at all and they don’t even know where to start,” Sweeney said. “Sometimes it’s somebody who has been working with their child for a year and they’re just overwhelmed because their family has been telling them that as a baby they were trained at age one and they don’t understand why this child is two and not trained.”

Jennifer McGuire, a Chicago resident, said Sweeney’s Booty Camp was a success for her 11-year-old autistic stepson.

“Wendy is our biggest support system,” McGuire told TheDC. “At first, I thought ‘this kid isn’t going to eat these foods or go to bed at 5:30,’ but I just had faith in her and she got Danny trained. We had to change our whole diet, he was eating Pringles and Fruit Loops before, but now he has gluten free foods and drinks spinach artichoke-beet juice.”

Sweeney, who has many types of customers, says a lot has changed since she launched her business nearly a decade ago, when her parent-child potty training courses were viewed by some as similar to the Gymboree experience.

“In the beginning, it was almost like a Gymboree class,” Sweeney told TheDC of her sessions, which require parental attendance and involvement. “I’m definitely more as a last resort, whereas in the beginning it was just kind of something maybe fun to do with your kids.” (New doll shows little girls how to breastfeed)

Things are different now, as Sweeney sees a higher number of older kids and younger children who suffer from serious digestive problems. The average client is four years old, not an infant or toddler like the typical client ten years ago. Sweeney believes poor eating habits in today’s world could be at fault.

“I have kids between ages eight and 12 who are typically developing and are coming to the class because they have such screwed up GI [gastrointestinal] systems,” Sweeney said, noting that kids with these health issues aren’t typically special needs children. “That was not something I was getting when I started. I think it has to do with the American diet … I think there’s a correlation with the quality of food we’re putting out there.”

Sweeney says many of her current clients experience confusing, traumatic bathroom mishaps in public and aren’t grown up enough to process or understand what’s happening to them.

“[Kids come to me] with a ton of different bowel issues, and when I restructure their diets we are able to get them off stool softeners,” Sweeney said.

The RN says it’s “alarming” that these specific issues affect her non-special needs clients most.

“You see preteens who are so anxious and [adults] want to put them on anti-anxiety medicine. I’d have anxiety too if I was sitting in my classroom and … [had restroom malfunctions],” she said.

Sweeney also attributes shifting family dynamics to the changes she’s witnessed.

“I think we don’t have the family support that maybe we had years ago when more extended family was around, that’s what it seemed to be with the business when I started ten years ago,” Sweeney said, explaining that she tweaked her program to provide one-on-one attention to each child.

Though Sweeney aims to guide kids through the travails of potty training, she’s been criticized by many for seeming to enable slacker parents.

“In the beginning the [negative comments] used to really bother me…I always invite them to come to a class,” Sweeney said of Booty Camp opponents. “Even people who come to the class sometimes don’t get it, and that’s okay because it’s definitely a different type of parenting style … I know what works for us.”

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Laura Donovan