Time for a bribe?

I'm realizing that one reason to have more than one child is to keep yourself humble. Everything that worked well with the first one will inevitably fail miserably with the second. We're having that problem with potty training. S-Boogie was, frankly, a breeze to potty train. We put it off until she was a little older than three, then one day announced we were switching to underwear. After a few days she really got it and after that we were more or less accident-free. The end.

We tried to use the same approach for Little Dude. A few months ago we bought him some underwear (he'd been wearing pull-ups for a while and we'd been talking about potty training, so he decided it was time for underwear). I could tell that physically he wasn't quite ready since it took longer for him to figure out when he needed to go and to get to the potty in time. After two months, though, I'm realizing that the problem is no longer physical but psychological. Today we were discussing using the potty while I was (yet again) cleaning pee off the floor. When I asked him "when do you go to the potty?", he replied "when Mom and Dad tell me to."

That, right there, is the problem. Accidents don't phase him; he has no sense of the fact that you're 'supposed' to use the toilet. As long as his only motivation is Mom and Dad telling him, he's never going to use the toilet because as a three-year-old his main job right now is to find ways to assert his independence by defying what we tell him to do. I thought S-Boogie was pretty stubborn as a preschooler, and she was, but Little Dude is a whole different animal. Although S-Boogie is pretty persistent in what she wants, emotionally she is also very flexible. She adapts to new situations easily and gets over hurt feelings quickly. She's also a people-pleaser and is always interested in 'the rules'. Little Dude is none of these things. He needs a lot more time to process things, he sulks and broods, and he has a lot of anxiety. Moving, potty training, and having S-Boogie start school this year have been hard on him. I've realized that his potty issues are starting to become about his need for control and minimizing his anxiety more than anything else. Moving to yet another new house and having a new baby are not going to make things easier for him or me.

Hence, the bribe idea. Right now the way things go is that every few hours Mr. Fob or I will remind Little Dude to go potty. He will refuse and fight back, or sometimes go into the bathroom for a minute then come out and tell us "nothing came out" (when he didn't try). Right now his entire motivation is simply to either make Mom and Dad happy or to make himself feel better by fighting back. He doesn't 'own' the problem. Most of the consequences right now are supposedly negative, but peeing in your pants or being in time out don't seem to phase him. Even getting cleaned off in the shower (he hates showers) or having to wipe up the pee himself isn't doing it. I have never really used reward charts or anything like that with my kids. That's another post for another day, but I'm not big on external rewards for things and have found that usually the satisfaction of accomplishment is enough for them. But with Little Dude I think we need to introduce something positive into the equation before this gets to be a bigger issue. I'm tired of fighting him all day and I'm tired of cleaning up accidents. He loves candy so I'm thinking something simple and immediate like one M&M every time he actually goes in the toilet. My main concern is that it is still an artificial consequence, but none of the negative 'natural' ones are working. I hope it will simply switch the situation over to something more positive and will give him something positive to work towards, since right now going potty is mostly just negative.

Writing this out has helped me clarify my thoughts and I think I'm going to try this out to see if it helps. For anyone who has used rewards for things like potty training, when do you phase them out? Is that something that happens naturally? Should I not even worry about that at this point?

Comments

Desmama said…
Couple your candy reward with lots of praise and a hug from you. After a while, phase out the candy but continue to praise and hug. He'll get it. Maybe give him an M&M for every time he just tries and two every time he actually goes. For my kids, that motivated them to just try, even if nothing came of it. And sometimes they went even if they didn't think they needed to.
Gina said…
We did M&Ms, but the kid got to give one to everyone in the family (including himself) when there was success. It made it feel less like a bribe and more like a celebration, because everyone was genuinely excited to get the candy and so he got lots of positive feedback. I liked it. I found that after a few days, though, even the candy stopped really being exciting and phased itself out. But it did help establish the habit. Potty training. Ugh. I've got an almost 3yo I'm putting off training. Hate it.
AmyJane said…
We ended up using M&Ms with Patrick, towards the end, when he just needed a little motivation to finish up the training, when the novelty had worn off. I held off on bribes until then, but it sure did help wrap up the task. I did a similar thing as Desmama--I think we did one M&M for arriving at the potty dry and clean and trying to go, and another for a successful "deposit." When he was fully there, I just ran out of M&M's one day and he got over it pretty quickly.
I'm sure hoping that the conventional wisdom that boys are harder to train than girls proves true for me as well, since I'm looking down the barrel of training a girl this time! :)
Julie said…
Are you kidding? I can't get my kids to do anything without holding either or bribe or serious threat over their heads! Candy is simple and always worked well for me. It also phased out pretty easily, naturally and quickly as well. After a few days of success I would usually switch it to only getting candy when they went poop (as that was always a big issue with my kids.)
Emma said…
We used little treats, but once they got it they didn't even ask for them anymore. Maybe a week or two or treats, that's all. They were more excited that I was beyond happy and giving them hugs and high-fives, and they figured out how to control their body. Good luck. I know each kid is different.
Cricket said…
Whatever you decide, just be prepared for a relapse when baby #3 comes. It sounds like he isn't "getting it" a relapse is easier when the family changes. Rylee practically trained herself just before age 2. She amazed us. Then she got an ear infection and it relapsed- the second training was harder...
Samantha said…
We did the "celebration" thing, too--until I found DJ taking Adam to the potty every fifteen minutes just to see if it was time for more treats.

Something to think about though: Just suppose he's in his 50's and still rewarding himself with an M&M every time he potties--how bad can that be? He'll go to the bathroom four to six times a day...

In my book, six M&Ms a day isn't half enough. :-)
Josh said…
It's funny, Lolly and I had a similar struggle over rewards. In the end, we made a chart with stickers that led up to a movie that Anna wanted, and it was a powerful motivator for her. Also, that way, the reward had a finite nature (once it was done, it was done--well, actually we ended up doing two movies, so 30 successful potty experiences, 15 each). We also gave her a treat every time. Clearly, we were over the whole non-baby feces thing. The time had come.

Anyway, I was feeling guilt about this, especially when my practicum supervisor whose special expertise is parenting expressed how deplorable external reward systems are. I fessed up and told him what I had done to get Anna to use the bathroom and he said something like "You were absolutely right to do that. Potty training is the one exception. You've gotta pull out all the stops with potty training. It's something a child absolutely has to learn, and something that never has to be repeated in life, so an external reward isn't detrimental." So, that made me feel better about it.

As far as the candy thing, we'd give her an Oreo every time she went (in addition to the chart). As time went on, she'd forget to ask at times, but when she did ask we'd still give her one to celebrate her success, and eventually she stopped asking on her own. It was totally not a big deal. I've heard M&M's work just as well.

Good luck!
Evelyn Theresa said…
When I was doing my Early Childhood Education training we covered a whole lot of material on why it is developmentally harder for boys to potty train than girls. So there's good reason for it to be harder. Also, all of the changes make it an issue of control as you've noticed. Turning to an M&M idea takes the "battle of wills" out of the picture and helps him "own" the situation. If he wants an M&M, he knows the action to get it. Mom and Dad are out of the equation now, so the battle ceases. The candy will fade out on it's own, or you could give a cut-off date with some sort of celebration attached once he's got the hang of it. But I'd keep the candy going through the move and baby. It will be a good way for him to enforce getting attention - "I need an M&M now" rather than "I pee'd on the floor."

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