June 8, 2010

Don’t Potty Train your Toddler or Dog—Potty Train Yourself.

Insights On Potty Training Puppies…and Humans…at 3 a.m.

The voice of Mother Nature sounds something like this:  “Daddy, I have to pee!”

So, last night (or this morning, depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person), I was awake with my 3-year-old son, Dash, in the bathroom. We’re “potty training”—which means being available whenever nature calls.  So while I was sitting there next to him on the cold bathroom floor, bleary-eyed, I started thinking about the last time that I had to potty train anything, which was 13 years ago, when I had to teach my dog Nola how to do her business outside.

My son had no interest in the potty until we introduced…The Sticker Chart. The way it works is fairly simple and low-tech—he gets a sticker for every successful use of the toilet, and every five stickers he gets to pick a surprise from the stuff-we-picked-up-from-the-free-bin-at-the-yard-sale basket—I mean, the prize basket. And it’s working really well. Even at three in the morning.

Back to my dog, Nola. She learned housetraining (btw—shouldn’t it be called “yardtraining?”) the easy way—which was essentially by taking her out every hour or so, waiting for her to do her thing, and then bringing her back in. Somehow she just “got it,” without any sticker chart necessary.

Why was it so much easier with Nola?

That’s when I suddenly realized: the sticker chart is for me.

If I zealously transported Dash to his potty every hour or so, it probably wouldn’t take him long to get the hang of the experience. So why didn’t I do that with Dash, just like I had done with Nola so many years before? The answer is simple: incentive. In order to change my son Dash’s behavior, I needed something to help me change my behavior.

Let’s face it, if I had just left doggie Nola to her own devices, it would have created a lot of pain for me—mess after mess in the house to clean up.  That would definitely not have been conducive to the vibe a 22-year-old bachelor was trying to convey in his apartment. So it was worth it for me to get up and take her out, hour after hour, until she got it right.

But diapers are so easy

On the other hand, with my son in diapers, the opposite was true. For the most part, diapers are pretty easy to deal with. You can just focus on playing, going on walks, having a picnic, digging in the dirt—without having to worry about bodily functions, except for a cleanup now and again. Quite easy.

In fact, I’d probably be fine to just keep on keeping on with the diapers and the status quo (minus the nagging and disparaging remarks from my grandmother).

That sticker chart, it gives both of us something to strive for. Because not only does it give Dash incentive (collect and stick cool stickers, get cool prizes), but it gives me something important: I get to help my son succeed. The sticker chart is motivating me to get with the program, because now it’s not just “potty time”—it’s a way for me to bring joy to my son’s life.

And ultimately, isn’t that what having other people, other beings in your life is all about?

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