Potty Procrastination

Caveman turned three at the end of September. By the time Princess was this age, we had been rid of diapers for some time and only used pull-ups at night. Caveman, however, seems happy to be in a diaper and shows little more than a passing interest in the potty.

I’ve been to all sorts of parenting workshops, from positive reinforcement to practically no reinforcement at all (“don’t punish and reward your kids—that treats them like dogs!”). I’d say I fall somewhere in the middle. Or, more accurately, I fall into the “if it works, do it” category of parenting. When gentle suggestions and new superhero big boy underwear weren’t doing the trick, I thought I’d try a chart.

I was shocked. The moment I put the chart up, Caveman was into using the potty. All he got for his efforts was a sticker on the chart, but that sticker sure did make his day. Still, he only went if I asked him. I had a brilliant idea: why not give him a bigger reward when he fills in a row of stickers? While we were out shopping for an upcoming birthday party, I found two toys he really wanted and bought them as his rewards.

Let me tell you, Caveman really wanted those toys. We got home and he immediately added a sticker to that row. Within half an hour, he had filled the row and was happily playing with toy #1. That’s when things started to fall apart.

Caveman has always been a determined and persistent child. I should have seen what would happen before I started this brilliant plan, but alas, I did not. Bound and determined to get that second toy, Caveman insisted he needed to use the potty every 2 minutes. It was clear to me that he could not possibly produce anything else to put in the potty, but he was not moved when I pointed this out to him. He managed to get one sticker on the second row and was unwavering in his desire to complete it. When I finally took him off the potty and forced a pull-up onto him, he became hysterical. This was not “I want something you aren’t giving me” spoiled brat crying—it was hysterical “you said if I did this I’d get that toy and by gum I’m going to do it” screaming. In other words, this situation was totally created by me and my hair-brained schemes, and Caveman was just trying to follow the parameters I created for him.

It took about 30 minutes of cuddling, shushing, and rocking in a dark room for him to calm down and stop screaming, “I go potty! I go potty!” Feeling like the world’s worst mother, I tucked him in and vowed that when he got up, he’d get that damned toy, and that I’d never try anything like this with him again.

I know this method works with lots of kids. Caveman just isn’t one of them. He is incapable of understanding delayed gratification, especially when the object of that gratification is right in the kitchen on a shelf, beckoning him to play with it. I am sure he will learn to use the potty. However, there is no deadline set in stone, and I think the best bet for us, for now, is for me to back off and let him set the pace.

So yes, I have a son who is now three but looks four who is going to go to preschool in pull-ups (hooray for flexible preschool teachers). I know plenty of people will shake their heads at that, but since I’m changing him, it really does not matter. I’m doing what is in the best interest of my child—my whole sweet, impressionable, resolute child. That’s more important to me than being rid of diapers.

Even though I really would love to be rid of diapers.


About Sarah

Sarah is obviously in love with chaos, as she has actively sought it since her daughter "Princess" was born in 2006. A cross-country move when Princess was four months old landed her back in the Silicon Valley, where her computer geek husband, Hubby 1.0, could dwell with his kind. In 2007, she decided to go to graduate school, which she’s completing as slowly as possible. When her son, "Caveman," arrived in the fall of 2008, life just got more entertaining. An aspiring librarian, Sarah is often found at story time bribing Caveman to pay attention with granola bars and goldfish. She's also on a quest to find a haircut that requires absolutely no styling and still looks good on those days when a shower just doesn't happen. In her spare time, she picks up toys, does laundry, cooks, checks facebook obsessively, submits photos to "$*%# my Kids Ruined," and organizes play dates with a great group of moms who keep her sane.

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