Sunday, March 08, 2009

Positive reinforcement

This past Monday evening, we quietly initiated toilet "learning" (a term used by this author, as opposed to "training"). Leading up to this, we had attempted using the potty in late September. Tobin did well, using the potty over the course of about three days, including on a 12-hour car trip from Florida. But then one morning, he tearfully asked for a diaper, and I obliged. Since then, he had displayed little interest in using the potty--often telling us he would use it "tomorrow," which never came.

After doing some more reading and thinking and waiting, we created a chart for Tobin to complete in which he would get a star for each, um, deposit. Along with each star, he would get two yellow or brown M&Ms depending on the type of said deposit. If he got five stars, he would get a new Matchbox car. When I showed Tobin the chart and explained it to him, he seemed moderately interested, but honestly more enthusiastic about helping me color the chart. I asked him if he wanted to try the potty, and he told me, "When Daddy gets home." I didn't think much of this, because I'd heard it before.

Later that evening over supper, Tobin was showing the chart to Matt, who asked him, "Do you want to try to get a yellow star?" Much to our surprise, Tobin said, "Yeah, I do." So off he and Matt went to the bathroom while I started to clean up the dishes. They were in there for a while chatting, and the longer they stayed, the more I started to worry that T would be discouraged if he didn't get a star. So when Matt came out for a second to get a book, I told him, "Tell Tobin that he can get one green M&M just for trying." Matt went back in to deliver the message, and a few minutes later I heard them washing T's hands. When they came out of the bathroom, I fully expected to hear Tobin ask for a green M&M, but much to my surprise and delight, Matt said, "Guess who gets a yellow star!" We were all very excited about this accomplishment. Tobin enjoyed coloring his star and, especially, eating his two yellow M&Ms. As I praised him, I reminded him that he could get a green M&M for trying to potty, even if he didn't tee-tee or poop.

We called Grandma and Aunt Sarah to tell them the exciting news. After Tobin chatted them up, Matt continued talking with them and Tobin told me, "I need to go try the potty." I went with him to the bathroom, he pulled down his pants, and he sat on the potty. For three seconds. And then he said, "I tried. I want a green M&M." Which I gave him. He proceeded to do this three more times and, although I was able to coax him to sit for maybe thirty seconds one of those times, I could see that I was losing control fast. As I signaled to Matt to get off the phone--because I needed help!--Tobin came up to me and, with a twinkle in his eye, asked, "How you get red M&Ms?" I couldn't help but laugh and tried to compose myself enough to explain that red M&Ms were special treats for other occasions, but that he couldn't otherwise "earn" them. When Matt got off the phone, Tobin told him that he wanted to try the potty. Matt took him to the bathroom and with some gentle admonition was able to get him to sit on the potty for a bit longer. And, lo and behold, he peed!

It took another couple of days and many green M&Ms before Tobin achieved his fifth star. We promptly went to Target, where he picked out a white circa-1985 Chevy utility can. We've progressed, and our new charts require ten stars for a new car. On Saturday, Tobin became the proud owner of some kind of Matchbox "water truck," which he selected over Daddy's recommendation of a fairly cool police cruiser.

I don't want to jinx anything, but I'd say that, a week into this experience, Tobin's doing great, and his parents aren't too stressed about the process. And he's eating fewer and fewer green M&Ms.

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