Potty training can be a challenging milestone for both parents and children. However, with the right approach, it can become a smoother and more manageable process. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) offers a structured and effective method for teaching new skills, including potty training. Our seasoned BCBA’s Kirsten and Yousra are here to lend some helpful tip when it comes to potty training your little one.

Let’s explore how ABA principles can be applied to facilitate successful potty training.

Preparing for Potty Training with ABA

Before starting potty training, it’s essential to assess your child’s readiness both physically and behaviorally. Look for signs of readiness such as showing interest in the toilet, staying dry for extended periods, and following simple instructions.

Physically ready for potty training usually involves a few key signs:

  1. Control Over Bowel and Bladder Muscles: The child demonstrates the ability to control their bowel and bladder muscles, typically indicated by longer periods of dryness in their diapers.
  2. Awareness of Bodily Functions: They may show signs of awareness when they’re urinating or having a bowel movement, such as stopping their play or indicating discomfort.
  3. Coordination: They can walk to the bathroom and climb onto the toilet or potty chair with minimal assistance.
  4. Fine Motor Skills: They can manage pulling down their pants or lifting a skirt and pulling them back up afterward.
  5. Communication Skills: They can communicate their needs effectively, either through words, gestures, or cues.
  6. Curiosity about the Toilet: They show interest in the toilet, asking questions about it or observing others using it.

“The ability to remain seated for up to five minutes in order to have successful voids on the toilet…we have to be sitting there for a minute and we can’t just expect them (kiddos) to sit and void it takes them a minute to learn and understand what’s going on.”

Kirsten Yaksich, M.S., BCBA, LBA

Behavioral readiness for toilet training involves signs that your child is emotionally and psychologically prepared for the process.

Here are some indicators:

  1. Interest in Independence: The child expresses a desire to do things on their own and shows enthusiasm for learning new skills.
  2. Following Instructions: They are able to understand and follow simple instructions, such as “sit on the potty”.
  3. Desire for Cleanliness: They show discomfort with dirty diapers and may try to remove them or express a preference for clean ones.
  4. Ability to Express Needs: They communicate when they need to go to the bathroom or when they have already gone, either through words, gestures, or facial expressions.
  5. Consistency in Routine: They have a fairly regular bathroom routine, such as having bowel movements at predictable times of the day.
  6. Willingness to Cooperate: They are cooperative and willing to participate in the toilet training process, rather than resisting or becoming anxious about it.
  7. Positive Reinforcement: They respond well to praise and encouragement for using the toilet or attempting to use it, showing motivation to continue.

“We need to get barriers and behaviors to a lower level…Meeting those needs first before we’re like okay let’s jump right in.”

Kirsten Yaksich, M.S., BCBA, LBA

Create a consistent routine and set up the environment for success by choosing appropriate reinforcement, praise or small rewards.

Implementing ABA Strategies in Potty Training

Break down the potty training process into smaller, achievable steps. For example, start by introducing the toilet, then progress to sitting on the toilet, and finally using the toilet independently. Use prompting techniques to guide your child through each step, gradually fading prompts as they become more confident. Reinforce successful attempts with praise, attention, or preferred rewards to increase the likelihood of repetition.

“One program I’ll put in first is tolerating the toilet…like sitting on the toilet…sometimes I’ll have to start for 5 seconds because that’s all the learner might tolerate at first and then slowly increase up to 5 minutes.”

Yousra Nasir, MA, BCBA, LBA

Addressing Challenges and Modifications

Potty training is not without its challenges, and setbacks are to be expected. Stay patient and persistent, and be prepared to adjust your strategies as needed. Modify your approach based on your child’s individual needs, such as tailoring reinforcement to their preferences or adjusting prompting levels to match their skill level.

Keep in mind, that accidents DO happen and having an accident plan in place can be helpful when addressing the situation. Kirsten M.S., BCBA, LBA, shares some insight on what she does to help mitigate an accident, and signs to look out for when there is a potential a kiddo might have an accident.
Kirsten states:

“First off I ask my technicians to do dry checks every 15 minutes and I’m hoping that this client is in a pair of gray pants or shorts or something easy so we’re looking that way so that we’re going to be least intrusive but we’re monitoring those accidents and then otherwise we’re going to watch for precursors of accidents…[such as] Are they squatting? Are they going to isolate themselves because usually, when they’re having voids they’re going to be alone so when we see these things I want to try my best to catch the accident or even as they’re about to have an accident.”

Coming up with a Plan for Potty Training a Kiddo 

In the quest to potty train a child, employing a systematic method combined with reinforcement techniques is paramount for success. Kirsten outlines 3 fundamental steps to initiate the potty training journey:

  1. Increase Fluid Intake: By encouraging the child to consume more fluids, it helps to stimulate the need to use the potty more frequently, facilitating the learning process.
  2. Establish a Consistent Schedule: Consistency is key. By adhering to a regular potty schedule, the child becomes accustomed to the routine, making it easier for them to understand and follow.
  3. Collect Data: Tracking the child’s progress through data collection provides valuable insights into their potty training journey. Monitoring patterns and milestones can guide adjustments to the training approach, ensuring steady progress.


Free CEUs and Resources for BCBAs and Families

BCBAs looking for detailed guidance on potty training, our podcast Blossoming Together offers FREE CEUs. Please visit our CEUs page on our website to watch our podcast episode: ‘Episode 02: Potty Training Using ABA’ and complete the corresponding quiz to earn your CEU.
We also have Downloadable Potty Training Resources to share which will help professionals and families alike. By understanding and applying ABA principles, parents (and professionals) can support their child’s development and help them achieve this important milestone with confidence.

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