Sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do. A while back, I wrote about our frustrations with potty training my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Rose. For eight months, we’d tried to get her trained. After four months it looked like she’d graduate, and then she backslid and I had to pull her out of potty-trained-kids-only summer camp.
When we first started her potty training, we tried positive reinforcement. My psych degree kicked into high gear designing her reward system. We had a sticker chart, a candy reward for each success, and cumulative rewards — a marker for every 10 successes and a Barbie for five days without an accident.
Rose ate a lot of candy and got a few markers, but she never got her Barbie. She never went five days straight without at least one accident. But she was asking to wear panties most of the time, and I thought she’d keep moving in a positive direction, and then, slowly, she started to have more accidents. Every day I’d send her to school in panties and every day she’d come back in a different outfit and a pull-up. At home, we’d have to coax her to the toilet, and then she’d pee right in front of it. We changed our method – told her to climb up the stool before she pulled down her pants. She peed on the stool. When she and I would argue, she’d go to her room and a few minutes later, tell me she’d peed on the floor. I got so tired of cleaning up pee, I just gave up on the potty training and put her back in pull-ups.
I’m not sure what caused her to backslide. She was getting all kinds of praise for pottying but we did start to forget to give her the rewards. I’m sure that had something to do with it. At first, she was liking pottying because it made her a big girl, but after a while she saw how much work was involved and was only pottying for rewards. Thanks a lot, B.F. Skinner. After I canceled camp, there was no incentive for me either, so, although I saw it as my personal failure, I was so burned out that I didn’t even care that she was back in pull-ups.
I dealt with the pull-ups all summer, but come school time a funny thing happened. On the first day, I sent her to school in a pull-up. A few days later I told her to dress herself and she came out in panties. I asked if she was sure she wanted to wear panties and she said yes. That day she came home in the same outfit I’d sent her in. The next day I told her to get dressed again, and again, she wore panties. And that day she came home in the same outfit too.
She kept wearing panties to school and she did come home in a different outfit a few times, but it was really just a few times. She still wore pull-ups overnight and would occasionally dress in a pull-up in the morning. And she started pooping in her pull-up occasionally. She hated when I cleaned her up and I kept telling her I wouldn’t have to clean her if she’d just go in the potty. And she was doing better with that too.
When I saw this batch of pull-ups dwindling, I had an idea. What if we just didn’t buy anymore pull-ups? What could she do? So I told her, “Sweetie, we’re running out of pull-ups and we’re not going to buy any more.”
“No more pull-ups?” she said, wide-eyed.
“Nope. No more,” I said.
She thought a moment, “Okay.”
And that was that. So far, she’s gone about three weeks without an accident. She does get gum for using the potty and it really works to our advantage to have that reward in place. She doesn’t like to go potty after her nap, and when that happens, we just say, “So you don’t want a piece of gum?” Then she gets this impish look on her face and she potties, and she gets her gum.
Looking back, quitting potty training was the best thing I could have done for all of us. It eliminated the power struggles, mellowed out the whole process, and let me off the hook for “failing.” I never thought that Rose would take the initiative, but she surprised me. And once she didn’t have anything to fall back on, she embraced the porcelain god wholeheartedly.
I superstitiously hope that posting this won’t lead to another backslide, but it was the only topic I had for this week, so I didn’t have a choice. Soon I’ll have another topic, though. Thanksgiving weekend we’re all giving up pacifiers. Wish us luck!