How We Potty Trained Our 2 Year Old with a Token Economy

Potty training is a BEAST. Plain & simple. I won’t sugar coat it for you. Our journey with Paislee was a long one & it took a ton of patience to get through it with her. Every kiddo is so different when it comes to potty training. I heard of parents having their littles trained in like 2 days….um what? HOW is that possible?

The answer I’ve gotten is candy. Candy, candy, candy. “We gave our kiddo an m&m or skittle every time they went potty.” I wasn’t totally against the fact as I’ve used candy as reinforcers for clients I work with as an ABA therapist. Plus, I’m a huge candy lover. But I guess I wanted her experience to have some other type of reward. Something more natural. My thought process was that, eventually, the candy will not be given after she goes potty. I felt that the weaning from that might be too much of a headache. I won’t lie, there were a few times she was rewarded with a cookie or gummies after she went potty. But it was not our go-to.

We started her training around when she was 19 months. Her pediatrician told us at her 18 month check up that she could start potty training. So we went out & bought her a little potty. We just started out with her sitting on the potty. We PRAISED her like crazy for sitting on that potty. And she soaked up every little bit. She actually went a few times. But she just wasn’t quite ready. We would still encourage it but we took a little break for a few months.

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We started back up again once she turned two. I tried everything y’all. We sang potty songs, read potty books, dry erase markers on the potty, went & sat on the potty every 30 minutes. None of it seemed to be working for our girl. She wasn’t showing any initiative to go to the potty. She went through a phase for a couple months where she just flat out didn’t want to go. She would start crying when we told her it was time to go potty. We thought that maybe she just wasn’t ready. We did not want to force her & make the experience aversive. So we stopped. Again. We also had a lot of things going on in our lives at this point in time. We were getting ready to move. We had lots of family coming to visit us during the holidays. Too much for her to focus on going potty when she needed to.

Once we moved into our new house I decided that it was time to get really serious about it. I was home every day during the week. We were going to be in this house for about 4 months. I thought now was the best time as any to crack down on this! So I started the every 30 minutes thing. She was starting to do much better. She had some big girl panties I had her wear most of the time during the day but she was still having accidents. Then I had the greatest idea!

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As I’ve mentioned, I’m an ABA therapist. One of the many reinforcement tools we use with our clients is called a token economy. Token economies are used to reinforce very specific behaviors. That behavior can be anything that a certain child is working on. At work, it’s usually when a client gives a correct response to a certain lesson/target being run or it could be reinforcing every instance of them having gentle hands with their peers during play. I thought this would be perfect for Paislee while she was potty training. So I got to work. Token economies that I usually work with are easily portable & can be carried around. But I wanted to make a big one. One that Paislee would notice & be excited to see every time she went potty. Plus we were almost always home, so we didn’t need to take it anywhere [but a portable one would also be helpful if you’re on the go a lot!].

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One thing that I think really helped make this method effective for us is that I included her from the get-go. I had her pick out the tokens she would earn. Of course, Ana, Elsa, Shimmer & Shine were the obvious choices. Including your child in anything really makes them feel important & special. This experience should not be aversive! It should be fun & rewarding! I also had her help me pick out the colors she wanted to use on the board. I put everything together once she was asleep. I wanted her to start this new system on a brand new day. Fresh start.

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After lots of velcro, cutting & laminating, this was the final product! I love how it turned out & I couldn’t wait for Paislee to see it.

She loved it y’all. And I can’t tell you how much it helped. It was like a light switched in her that day. She was 1000 times more motivated to use the potty because she wanted to put her tokens on her board. I still did the 30 minute rule. I did this so she could really associate the tokens with using the potty. I added a few other goals to make it easier for her to start earning them. The goals I set for her were:

“I sat on the potty when mommy or daddy told me to”

“I told mommy or daddy I needed to go potty”

“I went pee-pee in the potty”

“I went poo-poo in the potty”

“I went 30 minutes with NO accidents”

I added incentives for each goal too. Like if she went & sat on the potty every time we told her to for a whole day she could have any preferred item or food she wanted that day. If any of y’all are ABA therapists reading this, I hope you can relate. I totally do ABA with my kiddos at home too! Eventually those goals were made a bit more challenging to reach as she progressed in her training. Like having zero accidents in a whole day, & eventually in a whole week.

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IT WORKED y’all. Don’t get me wrong. She still had accidents here & there. But they significantly decreased when I started this reinforcement system. I loved it because it was still tangible for her & a great visual to motivate her through this huge milestone. One thing that also helped I think was tossing the diapers & pull-ups. When we started the token economy she only wore big girl panties during the day. We put her in pull-ups at night, but after a few nights she didn’t ever go in her pull-ups. Slowly but surely we had her in panties all day & all night. Pull-ups can be a crutch when trying to potty train. Littles are much less likely to go poop in their cute little undies rather than a pull-up that they know will be thrown away anyways.

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Fast forward a few months during our move & this girl rocked it. We drove from California to Texas. Four days on & off the road. Never wearing pull-ups & she had zero accidents! We did have a little setback when we arrived at our new house. There was a lot going on around her & new surroundings. Any big changes can affect the potty training journey for any kiddo. But we have made it to the other side. The entire journey lasted about a year & five months. Once we started the token economy, it was over in 4 months.

All the praise hands for those parents who speed train their kiddos. We were not so lucky. This is what worked for our family, & everyone is so different! I do truly believe that if you incorporate your child’s choices, wants & preferred activities/items you can get them potty trained in less than 6 months! I feel like this is a much more realistic goal rather than trying to get them trained in a week. No matter what big changes might be going on in your lives. Being a military family, it is sometimes hard for us to have a steady routine. Especially when there are moves coming up, husbands or wives are gone, or relatives in town, what have you. There is probably never a “perfect” time to potty train. Just grab the beast by the horns & run with it!

We are so proud to say that our girl is fully potty trained & our awesome token board is no more!

As always, God bless

Brittany

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