Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Keeping Mattel in Business

**Gross-out alert** - this is about potty training, and it gets ugly.  Read on at your own risk.

The importance of cars and trains to toddler and preschooler boys cannot be overstated.  It makes you wonder what little boys did before cars and trains were invented.  The moment Joey saw a toy train for the first time, he was transfixed.  Since then, cars and trains have held a fascination that is truly amazing.  Joey will even sit and watch DVDs of trains going by - that's all they are - no muppets, no singing or cartoons - just one train after another coming down the tracks.

We learned early that Joey's attachment to his toy trains and cars could be used to reward and punish him.  Threatening to put away even a single car is just slightly less of a provication than when Germany invaded Poland.  I've learned that you don't have to threaten to take a car - you can just threaten to TOUCH a car and you'll get Joey's full attention.

During Joey's potty training, we've used Hot Wheels cars as rewards ("potty presents"), but it's been going on so long now, the number of cars he's amassed is ridiculous, and now we're wondering if it's time to try to phase out the potty presents.  I know what you're thinking - "well, of course it's time -you shouldn't be bribing him anyway" etc. etc.  Well, Joey is a very emotion-driven boy, and we're very worried that he'll backtrack if we make a change.

At one point, we tried a very intensive two-week potty training approach recommended by Joey's daycare.  It involved putting him in underwear rather than diapers, allowing him to have accidents, and bringing him to the potty every half an hour using a timer.  This period shall henceforth be known as the "boot camp" or as I like to call it, the "Days of Whine and Dookie."  I don't know if Joey learned much other than that his parents were a-holes, but I sure learned a few things:
1) Sh*t is relative.  With a diaper on, Joey had one or two BMs an evening, easily dealt with by two very experienced diaper-changers.  While wearing the underwear, he seemed to be going every five minutes, and it seemed like all surfaces in the house, including our bodies, were contaminated - and no amount of soap would remove that feeling.  Underwear with a full load is a tricky thing.  You can't throw it out, and you can't just throw it in the washer.  Your only recourse really is to pre-clean it in the toilet.  I will leave it to you to imagine the indignities involved with that.
2) You can only ask so much of a two-year old.  A kid Joey's age basically plays all the time.  He plays at dinnertime, he plays himself to sleep, etc.  If you ask for his attention, he generally gives it to you, and does pretty well, provided it's just for a minute or two, and it's not too frequent.  Now, try to drag him to the potty every 30 minutes, plus each time he has an accident.  After a while, he just gave up trying to pay attention and was ignoring us and trying to play during potty time.  This caused a sort of escalation, with Mom and Dad resorting to more an more extreme measures to get his attention and getting extremely frustrated.
3) Sometimes, the "experts" are wrong - at least for your kid.  For the duration of the potty-training "boot camp," I had the feeling that we were taking the exact wrong approach for Joey.  Joe is the type of person who doesn't like to be bossed around, but can do great things if he feels like it's his idea or at least that he's a participant.  It's no wonder that his daycare had us sign a "contract" agreeing to try the system for two weeks - it was an awful experience, plus I think it probably did more harm than good in terms of Joey's progress.

Now as Joey is becoming more consistent in his use of the potty and we try to wean Joey off the constant stream of car and train toy rewards, we're fearful of another big negative reaction and the potential for backward progress on the potty training.  Is it too soon?  Are we being inconsistent?  Are we coddling him?  Will I lose my mind if I step on another toy car?  Why do they put pointy spoilers on those darn things, anyway?

Well, at least it seems like we're in the home stretch, and there will be a little less #2 in our lives.  Recently, Trish and I received an email from a friend about a very nice dog that needed a home.  All we could think was "unless it's the incredible non-pooping dog, we'll pass!"


  1. "Days of Whine and Dookie" - hee, hee! As usual, I approve of your methods (including bribery). Joey may wonder why he thinks about little cars when he goes to the bathroom 20 years from now, but who cares. I think you have a good balance of positive and negative reinforcement. It will all work out OK.

    I encourage you to keep up your blog. I look forward to the next installment.

  2. BTW - those cars are COOL! I know they aren't expensive, so, your bribery "bang for the buck" goes a long way.