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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ABA: Why Do It? A Therapist’s Perspective

I always tell people how much I LOVE what I do. And I. DO. But just like any job, there are some really rough days. I have just recently started with a new company & it has been quite an adjustment. New clients, new coworkers. But one thing that stays the same is the therapy that is given. I’m gonna shine a little bit of light on what I do & the amazing outcomes & benefits I have witnessed first hand.

“I LOVE what I do”

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is basically is a therapeutic intervention mainly used with those who have special needs. But the amazing thing about it is that it can be used with literally anyone. More specifically though, it has shown substantial improvement with children who have autism. I have seen it firsthand. I have worked with children & adults ages 3 to 21. Not one person is the same. Autism is such a complex thing. There are so many different behaviors & delays that you would never even think of. That’s where myself & my supervisors step in.

The supervisors, or BCBAs,  on each case [child] create the programs and targets that need improvement basically. The therapist, that’s me, applies those programs & hits those targets during each session with the client. Let me emphasize the importance of this program by saying that EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY. Red flags start to show their color early on in life- as early as the first year of life. Kiddos can be placed in ABA programs as early as 18 months old. The biggest sign that is the most prominent is regression. Parents will say that their child was hitting all of their developmental milestones- crawling, babbling, even talking in 2-3 word sentences. Then all of the sudden they start to lose those skills. Their child will stop making eye contact, seem disengaged, & participate in repetitive movements or sounds. Or others may display some serious social deficits- not picking up on basic social cues, laughing out of context, or making inappropriate comments that don’t fit the current situation. Like I said before, every kiddo is different. To make the diagnosing process a little easier there are very descriptive guidelines & criteria a child must meet in order to receive the diagnosis of autism.

“EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY”

I do not have any personal ties with autism. Which might seem a little weird. I feel that most people I come into contact with in my line of work have some sort of common ground with it. Which inspired them to get more involved with special needs. I’ll save my story of how I became a therapist for another time, but for now I’ll just tell you that it is truly my passion. I become so invested in my clients’ success & watching that “click’ happen is a miraculous thing, y’all. I can’t even begin to explain it to you. I have been an ABA therapist for about 1 year and 9 months now, & here are the three most important things about ABA I can pass along to you.

No. 1 It’s Effective

Now, I’m not going to give you stats [which are pretty high btw], but I will share with you what I have witnessed with this program. At the first center I worked at, I was placed on the case of an adorable little 3 year old. She was mostly nonverbal, meaning she didn’t use words or many sounds to communicate. I started with her after she had been with us for about 6 months or so. I watched her go from making some letter sounds to saying full words requesting things she wanted & random objects around her. It was so awesome! All because of the intensive ABA therapy she was receiving.

No. 2 It’s Positive

This is a HUGE one. the biggest thing that is drilled into our heads & what we are taught in our training is the power of positive & negative reinforcement. I know, I know. “Negative” doesn’t sound positive. But it can be! Sorry, don’t mean to confuse you…let me explain. Positive reinforcement is exactly what it sounds like. Giving a child, or adult, vocal praise or some type of preferred item in order to increase a behavior. Essentially, you’re adding some type of stimulus in order ensure that behavior will happen again in the future. Negative reinforcement would be like washing your hands then drying them off. The action of drying your hands off results in the water being gone, thus increasing the likelihood of you drying your hands off in the future. These types of reinforcements are engraved into every lesson, target, & behavior we come across on a day to day basis. Imagine if you made your hubby his favorite dinner. He got home & was SO happy. He gave you a big smooch & said, “Thank you babe, you’re the best!” Would you be more likely to surprise him with his favorite meal again in the future? Well yeah, most likely.

That’s what I do. Even if it’s the tiniest of goals. Like saying “b” for “ball”. Every time that kiddo reaches for a ball & says “b” you better believe I’m giving them that ball. And providing praise at the same time. “Great job asking for ball!” Then eventually that goal will be shaped into what the client can do. “Ba”, “Ball”, etc. I keep saying this, but y’all it’s amazing to watch these kids grow and see how powerful the impact of positive reinforcement can be! The overall goal is to improve their quality of life by helping mold basic & more complex life skills.

No. 3 It’s Flexible

There is no black & white when it comes to ABA. At least not in my eyes. Any kind of goal can be created for every kiddo. I had an older client who was really into anime, so there were targets created based on anime characters she liked that could also represent her emotional state. It was reinforcing to her & it was a functional way to help her communicate how she was feeling at any given time. You have to be really creative sometimes in this line of work. Actually, a lot of the time. If you make it too structured or too loose, it can be really hard to find what is motivating for that specific client.

So…why do it?

As a therapist we see a lot of these kiddos/adults. Most clients attend ABA 20-40 hours a week. For instance I only have two clients at the moment but I see them 6 hours a day. That’s 12-18 hours with just me. That’s what I love about this job. We get to really build rapport with our clients. Which is the base of all successful outcomes. If you don’t have a strong connection with your client, it’s very hard to have them comply with demands you place on them or to just have fun with them in general.

I work with a lot of challenging behaviors on a daily basis. Tantrums. Aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing. Spitting. Elopement (running away). Stereotypes (repetitive behaviors). Noncompliance (big one!!). And self-injurious behaviors. Among many, many others. It would take me forever to list them all. But these are the most common I see. When I explain this to others they kinda give me the look like, “Why the heck do you put up with that?” and it’s simple really….because I just love what I do.  Yeah one minute my client may be pushing me in order to obtain a certain item they want, but then, after redirection & many times of practicing, they finally use their words to ask for it. Sounds silly & something that everyone should know how to do. But those with autism don’t know how to regulate their emotions properly. They don’t know how to express their needs in words most of the time. They may need to use an electronic device that talks for them because they just simply can’t get the sounds to come out [another reason why early intervention is essential].

“It challenges me & makes me stronger”

It’s a hard job. I come home, just after 6 hours of working & get back to it with my own little toddlers. My feet hurt. I can feel my arm starting to bruise from my client who got a little too frustrated & I was the closest person to them. I’m tired from waking up before the sun rose because there’s no way I’m going to the gym AFTER work. I’m hungry because I didn’t get to finish my lunch due to having to give my full 110% attention to my client to make sure they ate their food & stayed at the table. Please don’t misconstrue this as complaining, I’m just giving you a small glance into the life of an ABA therapist.

It’s difficult. It’s tiring. It challenges me & makes me stronger. And it’s so rewarding.

As always, God bless †

Brittany