Friday, June 06, 2008

Stool Pigeon

Day three of the "there are no more diapers here" attempt at potty training Ada, and the start of project bribery:

By Day 3, Ada has dug in. No amount of chocolate bribery will get her to sit on the potty again, much less pee in it. Plus, she is a tantrum-throwing fool over the weekend. She is clearly stressed, and taking it out on us in a way that feels very unpleasant for all of us. Oh, and I am really starting to wonder how long she can go without a bowel movement before we have a problem.

Our morning centers on a child who clearly needed to pee yet refused to get near the potty, followed by a big puddle of pee. Mid-morning, we get a visit from a friend who happens to be a pediatrician. I ask for her advice, and she tells Ada and me the following story:
A long time ago I visited Buchart Gardens. Buchart Gardens has pigeons that ride bicycles. Pigeons on bicycles! Most pigeons do not like to ride bicycles. It is much easier for them to walk around saying "coo, coo". But these pigeons do ride bicycles. I was so amazed I asked the trainer how they got pigeons to ride bicycles. The trainer said that pigeons love corn nuts.
The pigeons get corn nuts when they get close to the bicycles. After a while, they want to be near the bicycles in order to get corn nuts. At this point, the trainer starts to give them corn nuts only when they actually touch a bicycle. When they master that, they only get corn nuts for putting a foot on the bicycle. Then they get rewarded when both feet are on the bicycle.
Once a pigeon has both feet on the bicycle, he might move his foot, causing the bike to move a bit. When this happens, the pigeon gets a corn nut. After this, the pigeon only gets corn nuts when he actually moves the bike around on purpose. And voila! The pigeons ride bicycles! They love riding bicycles, and they love getting corn nuts.
The doctor friend also talked to us about how many kids don't like to use the potty, because it is a lot easier to pee and poop in a diaper. But using the potty is what big kids do, and once kids start doing it they realize it is a lot better than using a diaper. So much less messy, and they can be so grown up by doing things themselves.

Ada listened to the whole talk, squirming a bit at times in a way that I made me wonder how much she understand the story. Was she making any connection between the pigeon and herself? Would she go for this? After our doctor friend left, Chris and I decided to try it out. Why not, right? Our "there are no pants" attempt wasn't getting anywhere except tantrum-land.

We tell Ada that we have found some diapers and she can wear one if she'd like. She's thrilled, and I feel like a jerk for lying about the diapers being gone, but that is part of the fun of parenting, right? We also tell her that she can get a chocolate if she sits her bottom on the potty, even if she has pants or a diaper on. She is intruiged, if skeptical.

Several times that afternoon, we remind her that she can get a chocolate if she sits (however briefly) on the potty. By the evening she understands the trade. We keep up the bribery all the following day. When I get home from work, Ada is more than willing to sit, repeatedly asking if she can sit and get chocolate. Eventually we go upstairs for bath time, and after she gets undressed Ada asks if she can run downstairs to sit on the potty and get a chocolate. Sure! Down we go. Same thing after the bath, when our bare-bottomed girl bounces downstairs to sit and be rewarded.

I put Ada to bed, thinking maybe, just maybe this strategy will work for her. And for us.

The following day Ada is very enthusiastic about the sit for chocolate plan. So enthusiastic that after an hour of chocolate eating no-pants time, we tell her that now she'll only get a chocolate if she sits her bare bottom on the potty. This is fine with her, and even after she puts pants on, Ada readily undresses to sit and be rewarded. She does it so much that I finally decide we need to leave the house before my sugar-fueled child runs paces holes in the floor.

Things are going so well that I am planning how many days we'll stay at this stage. I figure we'll stay 3 more days at this, then transition to giving chocolate only when that shes sit long enough to read a book. Except that by the following day, she's cooled to the process. She is not running over to get rewarded all the time. And by the day after, she barely notices the jar of chocolates on the dining room table.

A few more days of this are in order, I think. As is a recognition that it might not work after all. Even if it does not, doing this has been beneficial. It gave me a way to back off of my previous plan when it was not working and I was dug in. Now I can step back a bit and let things happen. If nothing happens for a while, I can handle that. (for a while, at least) I know she needs to do things on her own schedule, and the more I push the more she wants to resist. A friend recently suggested a parent's role is guide rather than leader, and I will try to take that to heart.


  1. If it makes you feel better, I don't know any teenagers who aren't potty trained.
    Hang in there!

  2. Progress! Yay!

    I know it probably isn't, but I wish the pigeon story was true.

  3. mmm.... I really want some cornnuts right now. But, maybe I'll just take a bathroom break.

    ps.. I am trying to toilet train our little guy. I am watching pretty close.