Saturday, May 27, 2006

Toilet Training and Incentives: Child No.2 (Part I)

In my last post on toilet training (over three years ago) on our experiences with incentives on our first child, I ended with the following hope:
... the management process was painful and it is unclear whether this wouldn't have all happened of its own accord anyway. Next time around we will wait a little longer, check for signs of readiness and go for a big bang behavioural change. Let's see how that goes.
It is time to report just how it went. The answer, very very mixed.

Our son proved to be a very different ball game from our first daughter and not for gender differences. Our daughter possessed several qualities that lent her to the useful application of incentives. First, she was highly strategic and easily understood what rewards meant. Second, she had some basic motives -- most notably food -- that made it easy to give her high motive rewards.

Our son possessed neither of these qualities. He was not strategic and hardly had a self-interested bone in his body. He didn't care about much that was material. For him, toilet training was something that was going to please us and for that reason he was interested. Read him a book and he will stay on the potty. The attention would do.

Nonetheless, despite this, very little has happening. So we decided to implement our more explicit incentive system that had worked well with Child No.1. But there was a twist: Child No.1 was around and in many ways we need her help. So Child No.2 would receive a sweet reward -- one or two jelly babies as the case may be. But also where he was successful, Child No.1 would receive the same. We viewed all this as a team effort and Child No.1 was part of the team. To align her incentives we gave her a share of the pie.

That part worked swimmingly. She encouraged our son to sit on the potty and spent time showing her books. It seemed that we may have efficiently outsourced this activity: something valuable in our time strapped lives.

Alas, it was not quite to be. We had to put a stop to it all when we discovered Child No.1 feeding Child No.2 copious amounts of water to help the process along! (By the way, in case you are wondering Child No.1 was 4 years old at the time).

Nothing seemed to work with Child No.2 and a deadline was looming. He was turning 3 and could go to pre-school so long as he was toilet trained. We were three weeks away and desperate (Not just for us but for him. Pre-school was much more fun than child care).

So we established Toilet Training Boot Camp. The nappies were confiscated. The rug was removed from our wood floors and we would do this as long as it took. He understood the basics but just needed intensive experience and so that is what we provided.

Now you may think that this seems somewhat cruel. Well, I did some research and this was nothing compared with a book tantilizingly entitled, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day by Nathan Azrin. This book is ranked in the top 1000 of books sold even today. But if you read the reviews the results are definitely mixed and even those who liked it said it took many more days than one. I didn't buy the book and we persisted with our methods.

The first week was tough: he definitely wanted his nappie back and we had to buy more cleaner. The second week had more successes and we were getting close: 100% results on number 2 but still problems with number 1. But in the final week he got it.

We turned up to school and announced our success. They then told us pull-ups would have been just fine. So much for rules. Sigh.

In the end, it was the attention and intensive experience that did it but all indicating a message: it will happen when it will happen.

But we were not done yet: incentives came back inforce when we moved on to night training. A much longer story for another time.