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How to Potty Train Your Child

How to Potty Train Your Child | Parent Like a Professional

As I sit here and type this blog, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I am still home on maternity leave, and though the plan was never to be home with both of the kids (2-year-old and 7-week-old), that's what we are doing because we think it's the safest thing for everyone.

That all being said, both kids are sleeping (OMG YAY!), and I have some time to write so I thought I would talk about potty training.

My fellow BCBAs and I had long ago penned a manual on potty training.  It's the method that we use with all of the children that we work with. 

As successful as it has ALWAYS been, there is something about successfully implementing with my own child, at a very young age, that has further solidified my belief in this method. 

Just like we transitioned our daughter to a big girl bed much younger than you traditionally see it done (Read: Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed: How We Did It), we opted to potty train her very young also, for the same reason. 

I did NOT want to have to change diapers for two kids at once, and with a baby on the way, we decided to tackle the potty training.

In terms of how we did it, we followed the tried-and-true method (subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this page to be the first to learn when our potty training manual will be available). 

However, there was also a lot of prep work that contributed to its success. 

Honestly, sometimes the preparation for a new strategy is almost more important than the strategy itself (Read: Preparation Is the Key to Success).

First off, we knew that we wanted to sit our daughter on the regular toilet using a training seat that goes right on top of the regular toilet (rather than a small potty on the ground). 

How to Potty Train Your Child | Parent Like a Professional

We talk all about why that is our recommendation in the chapter on potty training. 

So firstly, we needed to purchase the potty seat so that we could start introducing her to the toilet. 

Now, don't get me wrong, my daughter spent MANY a morning locked in the bathroom with my husband or me, so it's not new territory.  However, it was going to be new actually having her sit there on the potty. 

When the potty seat arrived, we made sure to take it out of the box excitedly, and ceremoniously put it on the toilet and let her see it.  I suggested we try it out – pulled down her pants and sat her up on it! 

What I didn't expect was her poor, terrified face, and death grip on my arms, "HOLD MOMMY, HOLD MOMMY!" 

Huh? I hadn't considered how sitting over an open hole with water at the bottom for the first time could be really scary – oops! 

So, I immediately pulled her off and hugged her, and assured her that I wouldn’t let her fall in.  I also decided that we would hold on sitting more on the potty until I could get some reinforcers (Read: What is a Reinforcer?) that would be motivating for her. 

We would have to gradually build up her tolerance to sitting on the potty.

How to Potty Train Your Child | Parent Like a Professional

Once we had chocolate chips and marshmallows in our arsenal (both items that she had never had the opportunity to taste before), we hit the bathroom again.  I let her try one chocolate chip and one marshmallow before doing anything further (if she was going to be motivated for them, she had to at least know what they were first).  

Once she was thoroughly AMAZED at how wonderful they were, we went back up onto the toilet.  She was still scared, gripping my arms, but I stayed there and let her hold on to me; after 2 seconds on the potty, I pulled her down and gave her another chocolate chip and marshmallow.  

The next time, I made her stay on for 4 seconds, then gradually tried to peel myself away and have her stay up without holding on to me, then 6 seconds, 10 seconds, etc. 

We did not do it all in one day or sitting, but would naturally hit the bathroom before taking a bath, or when in there with mommy or daddy.  We spent a couple of weeks JUST getting used to the potty before doing any actual training. 

On two occasions, she actually peed while sitting there; we went bananas and gave her a handful of chocolate chips and marshmallows.  Alas, they were just flukes, and we did need to do the actual formal potty training. 

So, when our daughter was 21 months old, during the week leading up to Christmas, I took time off of work and we spent every day in the bathroom.

Within 3 days, our daughter was consistently peeing when we put her on the potty.  We were up to 45 minutes between bathroom trips, and if we kept our eye on the clock and took her consistently, she wasn't having accidents.  

On Christmas day, we left the house for the first time all week and opened presents with cousins.  She had two accidents that day, which demonstrated that, we the parents, were actually more trained than she was at that point – if we forgot to take her or stopped paying attention to her, then she was apt to have an accident. 

As I sit here writing, she has now just turned 2 and is pretty much accident free for urine. 

How to Potty Train Your Child | Parent Like a Professional

We are still working on pooping in the potty, which she has done a handful of times, but she still mostly poops in her diaper (which we put her in for naps and overnight).  She asks to use the potty, but every now and then we catch her doing the pee-pee dance, and we need to rush her to the bathroom (which is a SIGHT TO SEE as I am trying to nurse a newborn!). 

Honestly, the magic of behavior analysis never ceases to amaze me.  Despite watching it work over and over again with the kids that we work with, using it successfully with my own child still makes me sit back and smile.

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