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Habit Training

Typically, the goal of toilet training is to teach your child to be aware of the need to eliminate and to independently access the toilet. For children who lack the awareness of the need to eliminate and the level of independence needed to go on their own, habit training is an alternative to the usual toilet training techniques. Habit training is an adult driven and highly routinized and scheduled program.

Habit training is appropriate when:

  • Child has not been successful with other training techniques
  • Child lacks awareness and/or aversion to being wet or soiled
  • Child lacks awareness of the need to eliminate
  • Child is resistant to toilet training
  • Child is disinterested in toilet training
  • Toileting patterns are difficult to determine

Habit Training Steps:

  • Complete the Daily Intake and Elimination Record. Collect at least a week’s worth of data to get a good picture of your child’s patterns. Download a printable chart here.
  • Set a toileting schedule based on the times of day your child is likely to eliminate. If he has no set pattern, plan for six toilet trips per day based on your usual routine and daily activities. Predictability is a key element of habit training. So, try to schedule toilet trips at times that work for your daily routine. Set up yourself and your child for success with a schedule that is realistic and that you can follow on a daily basis.
  • Keep communication simple. Use words, manual signs, and/or pictures that your child understands. Coordinate the language you will be using with other caregivers and your child’s school so that you are all using the same terms for the toileting routine.
  • Use pictures for each step of the toileting routine so that your child knows all the steps that will occur and when. Use pictures and words that your child understands. Here are examples of pictures you can use.
Toileting only routine
  • Make a daily picture schedule of the activities your child engages in each day, placing the picture for “toilet” on the schedule during all of the times you have determined for toilet trips. When it is time for each activity including toileting, have your child take off the picture for that activity as he completes it. To encourage and reward toileting, schedule a favorite activity after each toilet trip. For more information, see Part 23: Using A Visual Schedule.
Daily schedule toileting kit
  • Use pictures for each step of the toileting routine so that your child knows all the steps that will occur and when. Use pictures and words that your child understands. Click here for examples of pictures to use.
  • Reward your child and provide almost constant positive reinforcement as he gradually incorporates this new habit into his routines. Break the toileting process into a series of steps and reward your child as he accomplishes each step. Positive reinforcement can be as simple as saying ”Good job! You went on the potty!” or by showing affection with a hug or high five. To set up a toileting reward system, develop a list of items and activities that are highly motivating to your child. Next, choose those that you will only use for toilet trip rewards. A reward can be a small food item such as cracker or fruit snack or a toy or activity such as an action figure or watching a short video on a tablet or smart phone. Avoid using these rewards for other behaviors and events throughout the child’s day. Be sure to inform others of the rewards that you have identified for toileting only so that they too can be consistent and supportive.
  • Use an accident as an opportunity to teach and to reinforce using the toilet for elimination. Stay calm and neutral as you take the child to the toilet and have him complete the toileting routine despite the accident. For more information, see Part 21: Handling Accidents.
  • Hang in there! Toilet training is likely to be a long process as your child learns this new habit. Celebrate the small successes and keep working on the toileting routine you’ve established for at least three weeks. There will be bumps in the road; talk over any problems that occur with other caregivers or your child’s teachers to generate ideas for how to adjust your plan.

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