Monday, September 13, 2010

Potty: The Loss Column

Let me take you back to a time when you felt cheated, helpless, and vengeful.

You might have been 3; you might have been 13. In any case, you were under the care of your parents, and you were angry.

You were a kid. You messed up. You did something you weren't supposed to do, and your parents responded by punishing you, particularly by taking a privilege away or removing a toy from your possession. The message that they wanted to send to you, I'm sure, was that only good behavior deserves rewards and whatever it was that they took from you was a reward. I'm not talking about parents telling their kids to turn off the TV for the evening and finish homework. I'm talking about taking away TV for a week, or hiding the video game controls for a marking period, or even "grounding," meaning not letting a child go out anywhere except for school and wherever else they NEED to go.

It doesn't really sound unreasonable, to revoke privileges from a child, but I'd bet that if you were anything like me, your parents' actions didn't quite yield the results for which they were hoping. I'm sure that they expected that, partially because of your desire to please them and partially because you really wanted that privilege back, you'd work diligently to improve yourself and learn your lesson. Now if that were true, you'd not have at least a dozen memories of this punishment. You'd also not have at least 2 dozen memories of doing whatever it is that you could to sneak around and get to whatever it is that you wanted despite your parents' order that you not be permitted.

Please understand, I'm not saying that parents shouldn't be able to limit pastimes such as TV and video games, particularly if there are concerns about the amount of time spent on those in favor of other activities. This isn't even really about that. I'm just trying to set the stage because I'm concerned that I'm heading down that path with The Boy, and I don't like it.

What I mean is, I think he's feeling cheated, helpless, and vengeful because, among other things, I took his puzzle away.

Twice today, while assembling his 25-piece Spiderman and Friends puzzle, he has had an accident on the floor. The second accident was of a dual nature if you catch my drift. And both times, his puzzle was taken away, to be returned to him the next time he used the toilet.

I don't think that this is a productive way to handle the situation. But I don't really know what to do--he gets very engrossed in his activities, be it television, puzzles, books, or playing outside, and doesn't want to stop to use the bathroom. Never mind being reminded--he fights even when we know he has to go. He was even getting better about that, until these past few days. The potty training literature is geared toward the 2-year-old, and the parent of the two-year-old, who is unfamiliar with the process. Not the 3-year-old who was well on his way to being trained, knows exactly what he is doing, only to have been set back by a family vacation.

By the way, Happy New Year.

Having accidents gets him more attention. Being on the verge of having an accident gets him more attention. Threatening to get off the potty before he's really done gets him more attention. Leaving while I'm in the middle of something like the dishes to go upstairs to his favorite toys, and then have an accident, prevents me from doing what I'm doing, and he knows that.

The problem with taking actions such as taking away the puzzle that he loves so much, or even taking him to the potty when he doesn't really think he needs to go, is that he feels stuck in the loss column and wonders how he'll ever get out. I spent a LOT of time restricted from watching television due to various transgressions as a child, but you bet your booties I didn't spend the time that I wasn't watching TV thinking about how I could make it up to my mother and become a better person. I felt like since I was so firmly in the loss column, there was no point in trying. And then when she was out of the house I'd watch TV anyway. Don't worry, readers--my mother already knows this because I got caught plenty of times.

At this point I need to insert a disclaimer that my mother was a wonderful mother and not a terrible person. I'm just going back in time to experience these emotions again so that I can figure out a better way to help The Boy to work with me not for fear of punishment but because our relationship is built on trust.

I think that to have him help clean up the messes is a logical progression. At least the wet messes. Which there will be, because I'm going to remind him occasionally to use the bathroom, but that's it.

Two interesting theories that definitely fly in the face of what we've been doing, one from Dr. Sears and the other from Dr. Karp (The Happiest Baby On The Block guy): Dr. Sears says that placing too much emphasis on the child being a "big boy" or "big girl" can backfire. If the child would prefer to stay a baby and receive attention in that way, particularly if they have a younger sibling, they won't be motivated by having to grow up. So we need to nix the "big boy" stuff and use other terms. Dr. Karp, with whom I am really not that familiar, says that making a big deal about the child's peeing and pooping can backfire. It can become something too important and, more to the point, it can become something that the child uses against you when s/he is mad.

Hmmm...cheated, helpless, vengeful? What kind of control does The Boy really have over his destiny? Well he can sure get us all riled up about poop.

Oh, and by the way, if you're thinking of telling me "oh, you should wait, he might not be 'ready' after all," don't. There are many additional psychological barriers that he has as a result of his life experience, some of which I can't even imagine, but the answer is not to put him back in diapers. For once in his life, he needs some dignity. Some kids just "do it" and they're all well and good on the potty. Others do it gradually. My kids don't seem to do anything "all of a sudden," so potty training won't be any different. It's not developmental, and I keep saying that, and no matter how hard a time we have with The Boy, I will still maintain that it isn't developmental, at least not the "readiness" part. The "readiness" part is a fabrication of the disposable diaper industry. It's a habit. But why would anyone bother building a new habit when it takes away from their TV time or puzzle time?


areyoukiddingme said...

Wow. Those doctors don't leave you with a lot of options, do they? I guess you could switch things around to rewards/bribery rather than punishment. You could tell him that he can play with his favorite puzzle after he has used the bathroom X times that day (sort of removes the flexibility of play, but...) or that he needs to go before he can play when he asks for the puzzle. Also, setting rules sometimes helps - you can just say "It's not's just the rules" which can sometimes alleviate the stubbornness. (I'm talking about a rule such as: You have to go to the potty every half hour.)

Also, re: the diapers - if he doesn't like diapers, you can use that to your advantage without the "big boy" stuff. You can tell him he has to go back in diapers because it's too difficult for you to clean up after him. If he wants to help you, he'll be more responsible with the potty, but until then, it's diapers. If he likes diapers...well, nothing works then.

Good luck, though - a lot of this can be about the spin you put on it.

Erin said...

Have you tried any type of chart or system of reward that builds up after many successes to a larger reward?

Even though we are not officially all in with training S right now, I do have a potty chart for him that I had used for the other children that has 15 circles for stickers on it. He gets a sticker each time he pees and two for poo. When he fills all the spots he will get a prize. Our prize will be a toy, specifically a hook up truck (something he really wants). You could make your prize whatever you want. You can also make the rules whatever you want, like taking off stickers for larger accidents. I have the chart laminated and use removable stickers.

If you're interested, I'd be happy to put the Boy's name on it for you and email you the PDF for you to print. Just something different to try...

Jennifer said...

I think I'm right where you are. My DD will be 3 10/9. She had several weeks of no accidents, but during sleep times (which is understandable) and then all of a sudden accidents again and NO pooping in the potty. It's SO frustrating. I think we've practically started over 3 least it seems that way. I'm just now getting her to go poop on the potty again and it is pretty rare when she does. She's great with pee if she's in panties, but will purposely pee in pull ups. Grandma watches her and she'll wear a pullup on purpose so she can pee in them all day.

I got frustrated and took the pull ups away and put a diaper on her for bed. She wasn't happy and took it off without my knowledge and pee'd the bed. I gave Gma the pullups for nap and she pee'd in that early in the nap and took it off. She woke up in a soaked bed. It totally back fired on us!

We've done sticker charts, bribery, rewards, etc.

Good LUCK. Wish I had some magical advice

MeTalk said...


For us, I could tell when Aurora had to go, if I saw that she was purposefully delaying going to the restroom to watch tv, play with a particular toy, etc. I would ask her if she needed to, she would respond yes, and I would say (and occasionally still have to).
"If you have to go doodle (our nickname for her) then you can go and come right back to playing". Most of the time she would agree to going to the restroom and coming right back.

If she continued to decline, then I would tell her that she would lose the toy for the day if she couldnt take the time to go to the restroom.

TMI here, but personally as a child I was very constipated. I think partially because I was often fed very unhealthy foods, but also because I was too lazy/stubborn to stop what I was doing and go to the restroom. There were times I was forced to have an enema and then sit and wait for it to take effect on the toilet.. I don't want this for my daughter, I want her to realize that she needs to stop what she is doing for a short time and then come back to it.