I have a sister (she knows who she is) who once gave me a book that discussed all the ills of reward-based parenting. The book poetically waxed on and on about how children should just be expected to do things that were expected of them. That by rewarding them you were teaching them that they deserved a reward for things they should already be doing as members of a family unit. That life doesn't give you treats if you clean up your room.
I read it. I studied it. Then, frankly, I threw it in the trash. I threw it in the trash because it's cr@p. Your boss does give you a treat if you do your work that you are expected to complete. It's called a paycheck. In some jobs, you get a bigger paycheck if you did better in school. In some jobs, you get a bigger paycheck if you do a better job than everyone else. This salary plan is often called Pay-for-Performance. Pay-for-Performance is a pay plan of which I am all too familiar with from my former life.
I decided to implement Pay-for-Performance Potty Training at my house. One M&M for the easy stuff, a handful of M&M's for the more complicated parts of successful potty training and NO M&M's for peeing on the bathroom wall just because you thought it was so cool that you could actually pee on a wall. It's kind of like getting a good review for peeing in the appropriate place but getting a really great review for pooping in the potty. I think that a reward be given commensurate with your success. I really don't think that doing the bare minimum should earn you a GS-15, a corner office and the right to give out really, really BAD reviews to your employee who had the HIGHEST RECOVERY OF THE YEAR while your preschooler sleeps under the conference table in your corner office because she was too sick to go to daycare but not too sick to come into the office and cough on all the door knobs. Not that I'm bitter.
Another controversial Pay-for-Performance subject, the jury is still out on Pay-for-Performance for high school grades here at my house. My husband says "no" but part of me says "yes." I mean, if your kid gets a 4.0 in high school, it's less money you'll have to pay for his mediocre college education since you won't have the $100,000 a year to pay for his Ivy education (assuming he gets accepted). I don't think you should give a kid a $20 bill for a C, but maybe there is something to giving them an incentive to do well. I'm not saying your kid should get paid for everything he does. I'm just saying it might not be a bad idea to create an incentive to do something that results in good habits being formed. Like not peeing in your Bob the Builders, if you know what I mean. Luckily we have another 10 years to
argue maturely discuss paying for grades.
Now is a good time to tell you that reward-based parenting doesn't work with my kids anyway. Apparently they have a very high price on their personal freedom and decision-making. Sticker charts? My kids spit on sticker charts. They laugh at sticker charts. They draw on sticker charts with rogue Sharpies found hidden away in drawers. Which means I'll be changing diapers until these kids go to college. Hopefully they'll be going with a 4.0 average.
My firstborn trained himself at 6 months.
Kidding. I'm kidding. Oh, laugh already. You guys need to lighten up. I like to think that without my potty training failures the other mothers in preschool would have to complain about my inability to control my children at drop off every day of school. And my excessive use of the word "FOCUS" as we try to navigate all those mothers with carefully coifed little girls who appear to always walk nicely beside their mothers.
Potty training is craziness. Some start it later, some start it sooner and there is not a person in the world who won't tell you EXACTLY how they did it successfully with their children. Which will, under all circumstances, NEVER work with your child.
Nathan has decided to potty train himself at just under two but I ask you, who is actually potty trained? Me or him? If I don't ask him, he can either stay dry or fill his diaper. If I ask him, he wants to go to the potty. He woke up in the middle of the night and if I had been able to understand him, I would have realized he was saying he had to go the bathroom. He ended up going in his diaper and then he was mad at me. Really, really mad.
Then we had the incident at the mall where I am positive he was wearing a diaper when we arrived but when he peed down the front of his father who was carrying him, we discovered no diaper. Nathan likes to take it off when it bugs him now. No, I don't know what happened to that diaper. Every once in a while I tell myself that I am sure I just forgot to put one on him but I know in my heart of hearts that is not true. Someone somewhere in a mall found a slightly used diaper under a rack. I just know it.
Me? I'm not so great at the remembering to remind. I'm all about remembering around that stinky time of the day because never have you known such a foul odor as the one that comes out of this child. Last week I timed it perfectly 5 days in a row. Then I got caught up one day at 8:55 a.m. with something important like Twitter or a rediscovered stash of chocolate or "look, something shiny!" and we were back to square one.
I mentioned at preschool that Nathan had expressed an interest in going to the potty and Miss J questioned me on my methods. A mother of 4 grown children and a toddler preschool teacher for 24 years, I knew my answer to this bastion of childhood development was going to be wrong.
K: Um, I sit him on the toilet and he goes.
J: Does he ASK to go or do you ASK him?
K: I don't know (wondering how I can't possible know the answer to this question. It's not complicated).
J: You don't allow him to stand.
K: Heck, no. I make him sit.
K: (realizing I just answered incorrectly and now I am NOT getting that rose that says I am still in the running). Isn't that what you do?
J: NO. We teach them from the beginning how to pee.
K: Miss J. You are more than welcome to teach him how to pee that way. Me? I'm too lazy and too fat to be cleaning the bathroom all the time while he is hosing it down. Knock yourself out.
The trouble is, I'm not even trying with this potty training thing. I'm sure this is a window and I should take it, but I have bigger fish to fry like heartburn and "look, something shiny." The whole stay at home for a couple of days in your birthday suit worked like a charm with Ethan. Maybe I just need a timer for Nathan. I mean for me. Well, you know what I mean.
I've always been a beats-to-a-different-drummer kind of girl, so it makes sense I suppose that I'm never quite dialed in on conventional parenting wisdom--especially when it comes to things like when's the best time to potty train or learn to swim or learn how to clean up after yourself. I usually need a little nudge before I realize I better get on this thing or that, and most of the time it comes from my kids or society at large begging me to get with the program.
I don't remember buying big girl panties for Madeleine or deciding We Are Potty-training Now or any of that. We did buy a potty when she was two and we did make a big deal whenever she decided to sit on her thrown and squeeze out two drops of pee or the tiniest little poo. But she wasn't that into it and neither were we. She seemed so little to me, and I was still new enough as a parent to feel insecure about setting up structure when I was so unstructured myself.
My big wake-up call came when she was three and a half and talking about going to school. School? Do you mean nursery school? She had no idea, of course, other than that she was bored out of her mind at home. That much I knew was true. So I checked out the nursery school scene and quickly discovered to my horror that potty-training was required. Yikes! It was only then that I did a little inventory of her peeing and pooing habits. She absolutely was dry at night. Check. She absolutely could go for a few hours and stay dry in a pull-up. Check. She adored public restrooms. Check. And she almost always saved her big dumps for the potty--at least ever since the one time I gently suggested she not unload that full pull-up under the desk on the living room floor.
I told Madeleine the deal which wasn't hard since she was halfway to FOUR. You can go to school, but they really, really want you to do your business in the potty. Can you do that? It's just a few hours, I begged. So wise at three and a half, she nodded solemnly and got her ticket out of the nut house with mom and the new baby and spent many blissful mornings making incredible messes at finger paint center. Her pull-up stayed as dry as the Sahara Desert. It wasn't too much longer before she was ready for big girl panties like the other big girls at school and was dry all day long.
I was ecstatic.
When I reported this parenting triumph to my friends, they nodded subdued congratulations and then graciously pointed out, "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JEN, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT???? THE CHILD IS ALMOST FOUR YEARS OLD?" And it was only then, in true oldest child I-had-no-idea-what-the-rest-of-you-people-were-doing-all-this-time-fashion, I was truly shocked that anyone thought I was delinquent or that Madeleine was late.
It seemed to me we got there right on time.
My toileting crisis came much later when Madeleine decided in a fit of misdirected girl power that she could pee in the yard like any of those "stupid neighborhood boys". But I'll save that for another post.
Any other non-toilet trainers out there? Leave me your success stories in the comments below, so I'll know I'm not alone. Sage warnings also welcomed if your hands-off approach totally backfired. We'll take it all.
This is a magic potty. It will make all your parenting potty training dreams come true. It's pink, it looks like a royal throne, it will even play music for you if you fill it. Lucy picked it out and promptly decided it will never work after we got home from the store.
To say I'm the world's worst potty trainer would be an understatement. I should also add that the potty training gods haven't exactly been kind to me. Here's my report card:
1. Josiah- trained at almost 4 years old, you read that right, 4. years. old. He showed no interest whatsoever. I played it cool until a hair past 3 and when I finally asked him if he was ready he said, "No mom, but I'll try." We did (after consuming about 20 dum dum lollipops) and he wasn't. Fast foward 8 months and he trained in one day.
2. Jack- Oh Jackie-boy...he trained around 3 years 8 months after many tears and much drama. He showed interest much earlier but I either "missed the window" because I wasn't ready for the hassle of potty training, or he wasn't as ready as I thought when we started trying.
Now I'm a pretty gentle parent but potty training brings out the absolute worst in me. Jack would act happy to sit on the potty to try and as soon as he got up he would run to another room and pee on the floor. My favorite was when he would hold it until we got to the park, climb to the top of the jungle gym and and look at me while he pooped.
I did everything horrible to try to get him to train and made every mistake in the book- I made him clean up his messes, I shamed him, I even punished him by sending him to his room. It was clearly about control. When I gave up, he trained in about 3 days. For the life of me, I still can't figure out how it became such a big deal.
3. Lucy- 3 years, 3 months- in process. I was determined to not repeat the Jack debacle (especially with this stronger personality) so I acted very cool and laidback. I brought up the idea 6 months ago and was met with resistance so I immediately back off. We had a baby shortly after so I decided I would try again in January. So here we are on day 5. The pullups had to disappear. She wasn't crazy about the idea and did a tiny bit of testing to see if it was really true and has done well since. She still will not #2 in the potty but other than that she's training very quickly. An ideas on solving this problem?
So when potty training was one of the top contenders on the question list, I was nervous. What can I possibly tell you? I'm hoping my other sisters will come to my rescue, especially the one who is currently successfully training her almost 2 year old boy.
This is what I know so far:
1. Our reader Becky was so wise (she's trained 3 boys)- get rid of the pullups, stay home and let them run around without clothes on. Pump them full of drinks and let the practice begin. Be willing to stay home for a few days until you can get into a good routine.
2. Training is easier in the summer. You can wait until then. Follow the "so what" advice of this smart lady with those around you who are giving you the Judgey Joanna eyes. The preschool teachers reminded me of this very thing last week when I was stressing about Lucy. There is no required time or age, it is just some crazy expectation we like to put on ourselves as parents.
3. Look for signs of readiness. No BM's at night. Routines are developing and shows signs of awareness (hiding, squatting, etc.). Longer periods of dry diapers. Can begin to dress him/herself. Shows interest in the toilet and can follow simple directions.
If your child isn't showing signs quite yet, wait. Emotional readiness is just as important as physical. I'm pretty sure no one will be heading to college in diapers so don't worry too much. You can always consult your pediatrician if the questions are multiplying in your parent mind.
4. Being consistent in a casual way is the key. No judgement or frustration can be looming in the air. Keep creating opportunities for success yet still leaving room for your child to guide.
5. Candy rewards are a toss up. They never seemed to work for us but it might be the particular personalities we are working with. I know other families where a Rolo went a longway so the jury is still out on this one.
General celebration, potty dances and high fives seemed to do the trick. Picking out special underwear and a bottle of kid's smelly handwashing soap also created some potty buzz.
5. Books, books, books. Buy books about the potty, read books to your kids while they try, save special books for kids to look at during potty times. It's a great time to promote some literature love.
So there are the lessons learned by a potty trainer still very much in training. Now we need you to weigh in, share with us your best potty training tips in the comments. Help a sister out, will ya?