Saturday, June 30, 2007

Toilet Training and Incentives: Child No.3

This week marks the end of an era for us. For the past eight and a half years we have been virtually non-stop in nappies. Now I am happy to report that Child No.3, who is just about to turn 3, is out of nappies (at least during the day). And what is more, it was all done with the efficient management style that befitting parents who have been through this twice before.

Regular readers may recall that we have dealt with the strategic behaviour of Child No.1 and the dis-interest and the well-meaning gaming of Child No.2. Those were quite a work-out. So when it came to Child No.3 we adopted a strategy, ruthless efficient in its application and very light in terms of taxing our own energy: we outsourced the whole deal.

Now, by outsourcing, I don't mean that we just sent our daughter away to some service and then they delivered her back ready to go. Those, apparently, exist for dogs and I won't pretend that we wouldn't have availed ourselves of a human service had it existed. But it does not. Instead, we relied on her carers at child care to handle the entire exercise. They initiated toilet training, encouraged our daughter and eventually succeeded well before we did much at all at home. All we were left to do was to set her straight at home which, suffice to say, is not too hard once she had revealed her abilities to the wider community.

Child care is the perfect place for all this. First of all, the carers there have as much, if not more, incentives as we do to get children trained. They change more nappies and also have to potentially deal with them for years to come. They have no desired for a 'slow to train' child. Of course, our son had to leave their capable hands before he was done and was to move to a pre-school that required a trained kid. Suffice it to say, that dampened incentives somewhat. But give child care a time horizon with another 1000 nappy changes and we have a tight alignment of interests.

Second, and this goes without saying, they have seen it all. They are simply more capable in terms of knowing the signs, assessing readiness and doing all of the other crap (literally) that first time parents think but cannot do.

Finally, the children have peers. Now the power of peer pressure is something that can lead to good and evil. The evil usually becomes apparently as your child follows others to leap off a several metre high structure or starts sucking noodles up their noses. But the good can be equally as powerful. With all the other kids successfully going to the toilet, there is intense pressure to join in and do so in a meaningful way. Your child wants to get the same cheers their friends are getting for demonstrated activity. And they don't want to have themselves tended for to clean a soiled nappy up.

Even wearing a nappy can be socially difficult. A friend's three year old son, who wasn't in lots of child care, shed himself of a nappy when he was made fun of by a random older kid in a playground. Of course, in that instance, that meant no night-time nappy and a few difficulties for his parents as a consequence of that.

For our daughter, she shed herself of a nappy at child care. Indeed, in the early part of it, she would convince some of the more part-time carers that she didn't wear a nappy; although apparently those earlier forays met with unfortunate results. But it continued later on too. I remember being informed, having collected her and driven her half the way home that, "I don't have a nappy on." Being on the freeway there was not much I could do. So I went with it and all was well.

I won't pretend that we were totally free of obligation. For a while, there was a distinct difference between her behaviours at home and elsewhere. But once we got on the program, deployed a few incentives, we were done in a matter of days.

So the moral of our story is pretty simple. When you have (virtually) once-off activities for which you have no competence to manage, you should outsource it to those who deal with it regularly and also have plenty of experience. The end result is pretty much the same but with less stress, lower pressure and cleaner carpets.