As a parent going through potty training currently, I can relate to how you could over praise your child. My son loves gum. I figured that sugarless gum would be a great reinforcer for going potty on the toilet. It is better than candy, cheap and easy to transport. The problem? Now my son will run in and try to go potty even if he doesn’t have to go in order to get gum. While the gum was initially an incentive, it has now become the focus. I have started cutting back on the rewards. Now he does not get gum every time he goes potty. The behavior I am trying to shape is going potty. In order to continue the shaping process and have going potty like a big boy or girl be the ultimate reward I will have to make the reinforcement I use more intrinsic and less tangible.
Rewards and positive reinforcement are important. However, as parents we need to make sure not to over do it. We need to make sure the reinforcer is appropriate and does not interfere with the shaping of the behavior. What needs to happen is my son will get his tangible reward (gum) every other time he goes potty. Then after a couple of days it will be every third time and so on a so forth. I will then choose to reinforce him with a tangible reward if he uses the potty for the whole day. Then it is time to implement a sticker chart system so he can view his progress. It is imortant to replace the tangible item with positive reinforcement in the form of verbal praise for the times that he does use the potty. I will not over do the praise, I will just say great job using the potty.
Praise is great it can be given anywhere by anyone and it doesn’t cost a thing. The problem that parents often have is they use tangible and non-tangible reinforcement too often which results in a child who becomes reliant on the reinforcer. It is important to only use the reinforcers at the beginning of the shaping process; then they need to be faded out. The reward should be using the bathroom; not whatever item you have paired with the process. I suggest not potty training until your child is interested. Modeling the behavior by using the potty seat or toilet with a doll during playtime is a great first step. Take the diaper or underwear off the doll and place them on the potty. I would pretend they went and give the toy praise for going potty. When you see your child doing the same type of play activities using their doll or actually trying it themselves that is often a good indication that they are ready.
It is very important to observe your child. If they will preform the behavior without a reinforcer then do not use one whether it be praise or tangible items. Watch the above video from Juice Box Jungle to learn about more on the subject of praising children.