ABA for Potty Training

All too often dreaded in the parenting community is the necessary milestone (and frequent hurdle) of potty training a child. 

When it comes to parenting and caring for children living with developmental disabilities, it’s even more essential that this pivotal developmental chapter is entered with a solid, fully thought-out plan to rely on.

Knowing what to expect in this crucial learning process and outlining your main goals is truly half the battle. The ultimate challenge will be sticking to your guns when it matters most – when you’re exhausted and desperately wishing to just throw in the towel and reach for a pull-up.

Here, we’ll break down the main components of creating (and sticking to) a well-informed plan, using applied behavior analysis (ABA) concepts in a step-by-step guide to get your child potty trained effectively and efficiently.

For additional guidance, support, and information on how to potty train a child using evidence-based ABA principles for learning, contact Fast Track ABA Center today!

ABA for Potty Training: A Step-by-Step Guide

There are several critical components to consider if you wish to successfully potty train a child of any developmental level.

Always remember: consistent is the key. Caregivers and parents are encouraged to stay focused on this ever-important goal and lasting life lesson, seeing it through from start to finish. Trust us – your unwavering support in this process will prove invaluable in the end.

The following basic steps, proven tools, and helpful tips to potty train a child have been designed using the fundamentals of applied behavior analysis (ABA). Their goal is to increase the chances of success when approaching this often-challenging yet undeniably imperative developmental milestone.

1. Rule Out Any Medical Concerns

Although all parents must, at some point, face this developmental hurdle, not all parents remember to consult their children’s primary care physician prior to beginning the process.

Checking in with your child’s doctor is the perfect place to start planning. Welcome their professional input in creating a comprehensive plan for the behavioral change ahead.

It’s also always a good idea to have children examined well before you begin making changes to their routine, just to rule out any possible medical concerns that could potentially interfere with the learning process.

Things to Keep in Mind When Making a Plan to Potty Train a Child

Before you get started, consider the various costs and time commitments this endeavor will require. Can you commit to several weeks of focused attention on the goal? Are the dietary needs and laundry expenses – not to mention personal patience and hard work involved – going to be problematic?

Finally, consider whether any upcoming trips or holidays might interrupt the ultimate goal of remaining consistent with potty training your child. It’s extremely important to stay 100% committed once you’ve created a bathroom schedule.

Even when parents feel inclined to lean on diapers or pull-ups in moments of utter exhaustion, consistency is an absolute must.

2. Before Potty Training: To-Do List to Get Started

  • Prior to making any changes, begin by simply observing bathroom behaviors and collecting data to inform your learning plan.
  • For 2-3 weeks before ditching the diapers, notice your child’s frequency of #1 and #2 and note any trends that emerge, such as certain times of day or following particular meals.
  • Don’t forget to check in with yourself, too, as this change approaches. Ask yourself how removing diapers and pull-ups will make you feel before committing to switching your child to underwear once and for all. Also, make sure plenty of clean extras are available before making the change.
  • In addition to observing bathroom behaviors, make a mental note of your child’s daily liquid and salty food intake, both of which will directly impact their bodily output. How much water or juice are they drinking per day? 
  • Reinforcement is a vital part of the learning process, and the designated positive reinforcement for using the toilet should be reserved for this one specific, isolated behavior. In other words, it’s not to be given in other contexts. 
  • An ideal reward is something they really love a lot but don’t get to enjoy very often. For instance, if your child loves soda, consider using it as a reward. Rewards should be specific, consistent, and kept on hand at all times.

3. Start Scheduled Underwear Checks and Bathroom Trips

Start scheduling regular underwear checks and bathroom trips based on the observed time intervals between your child’s usual bathroom behaviors. Set a timer and routinely take them to sit on the toilet for 3-5 minutes.

Note: You want to anticipate and capture their natural window of going to the bathroom. For example, if they’d usually go at 11:30, start heading to the bathroom 5-7 minutes prior.

If your child successfully uses the bathroom, give them the positive reinforcement right away (using the reserved, isolated reward). This should be as immediate as possible.

Especially in the beginning, there should be no delay in giving the isolated reinforcement reward, so they can quickly begin to understand that it’s why they’re being rewarded.

Note: This important step (starting with an instant reward for desired behavior) should not be skipped under any circumstances.

Encourage Their Involvement

Get your child involved in their regularly scheduled checks. Parents might start with intervals of just 15 minutes, then ask them to check if they’re dry. When still dry, they should be given verbal praise, such as, “Great job! You stayed dry for 15 minutes!”

It’s fine to also give small rewards for dry underwear checks in the beginning, but make sure the reward is different from the isolated reinforcer, which is to be given only when your child uses the bathroom. Over time, rewards here should be gradually reduced to just verbal praise.

4. Reset the Timer and Repeat the Process

Whether they used the toilet or simply sat on it for about 5 minutes, reset the timer and return to the bathroom with them after the predetermined set of minutes. It’s fine to slowly make time adjustments as needed. Ultimately, the goal should be to increase the intervals between checks and trips to 45 minutes or an hour.

As more successful bathroom trips are made, reinforcement for going #1 can be slowly reduced to verbal praise, and greater focus can be placed on going #2 in the toilet. Again, be sure to start by giving the reward immediately in response to the desired behavior.

5. Dealing with Accidents

Accidents are bound to happen. When they do, parents should have already selected their approach for how to handle them.

There are two primary methods to choose from:

A. Overcorrection Procedure

This strategy involves telling the child “No,” instructing them to use the toilet, and walking them back and forth to the bathroom several times before cleaning.

B. Excessive Cleaning

With this method, the child handles cleaning up all of the mess while the parent is present and supportive.

Negative Reinforcement and “Punishment”

Regardless of the method selected for handling accidents when you potty train a child, it’s always helpful to involve them in putting on their clean clothes afterwards, so they can more rapidly associate accidents with the extra work that they place on them.

While it may be tempting to simply deal with the mess yourself, consider the following self-inquiry: “If my child has an accident and I do all the work, what is the lesson they are learning?”

The takeaway here is that children should be discouraged from having accidents. By allowing them to observe some of the inherent “punishment” elements that accidents entail, they can more quickly and naturally become motivated to use the bathroom instead.

Recap

Before you even decide to embark on the journey to potty train your child, be sure you can commit at least 3 weeks of placing focused attention on the goal. That means accounting for extra work and costs, along with avoiding any major, foreseeable interruptions. It bears repeating here that consistency is a must.

Next, collect information to help with accurately timing your child’s bathroom trips before replacing diapers and pull-ups with underwear, and keep extras at the ready. 

Watch your kid’s food and drink intake and use isolated reinforcements to help shape their behaviors. It’s a lot of work, but when you commit to the process from beginning to end, success is absolutely attainable!

Wrapping Up

With this useful information in your parenting toolkit, you’ll be better prepared to address this big behavior change with your child. You’ll get them fully potty trained with as few obstacles as possible, building them up on a wave of positive reinforcement – and perhaps most importantly, your glowing approval.

Fast Track ABA Center provides a wealth of resources to assist in fostering ongoing achievements, including building essential personal and life skills for individuals with autism.

If you’d like to learn more about how to potty train a child using science-backed intervention methods, look no further than Fast Track ABA Center. For additional support and personalized guidance using ABA-based strategies, reach out today for more information on all we have to offer you and your child.