Professionally, I do a decent amount of project management. I've studied project management as part of my MBA courses, I've been mentored by some very successful project managers, and I've spent the past decade applying everything I've learned on actual projects. I understand how important it is to set clearly defined and attainable goals. I understand the importance of tracking performance to meaningful metrics. I'm well acquainted with the risks and benefits that go along with using incentives to achieve a desired result. I develop complex performance measures and track them on a weekly basis using sophisticated computing systems.
Surely this means I'm qualified to develop a potty training chart for my three-year-old, right?
It's a simple chart made with construction paper and a crayon. It has eight blocks. I explained to Michael that he gets one sticker for pee, two for poop. Once all the blocks are filled, I'll take him to the toy store and he can pick out a toy. How could that go wrong?
Michael has been using the potty before bed almost every night for several weeks, so it should be a given that in eight days he'll get his reward, or so I thought. He used the potty for two nights and I made a big deal out of placing the stickers on the chart. I expected him to get excited and was hoping that he would ask to use the potty this weekend to get extra stickers. I really thought that we would be making a trip to the toy store yesterday.
The chart did not encourage Michael to ask to use the potty, so I occasionally asked him if he wanted to use the potty. "NO". I reminded him that he would get a sticker. "NO". I dropped it so as not to push his contrary buttons too hard.
On Saturday he asked me if we could go to Toys R Us. I explained that we would go when his potty chart was filled. He accepted the explanation happily and we went on with our day. In the afternoon, he talked about needing to fill the potty chart before he could go to Toys R Us. He demonstrated a clear understanding of how the chart works. I was really impressed until bedtime rolled around and Michael refused to use the potty. I reminded him that he would get a sticker. "NO". I didn't make a big deal out of it; I just casually changed his diaper.
Yesterday afternoon I asked him if he wanted to use the potty. He broke down in tears and fell into my arms sobbing and saying he doesn't want to use the potty. His response was so strong you would have thought I had asked him to give up Shirt, not simply said, "Would you like to use the potty". I held him and reassured him that he didn't have to use the potty if he didn't want to.
At bedtime last night I risked mentioning the potty again. He flat out refused. In a matter of days from starting the potty chart Michael went from peeing on the potty once a day to crying and refusing to use the potty at all.
So much for that idea. As we headed upstairs to brush Michael's teeth I contemplated what to do. Do I keep up with the chart and hope we can get it filled in so we could head to Toys R Us and Michael can actually see the reward? Do I take down the chart and pretend that none of this ever happened? Do I leave the chart up and only mention it if he actually goes potty again? How did such a simple thing become so difficult? I just wanted to scream.
When Andy was finished helping Michael brush his teeth, Michael turned to him and told Andy that he wanted to go downstairs to use the potty. Never underestimate the power of the bedtime stall tactics. Instead of letting Michael run back downstairs, we offered him TWO, yes TWO stickers if he would use the potty insert that we gave up on a few months ago. Bingo! In mere minutes he went from refusing the potty to asking to use it and using the insert that he has always refused.
I'm going to keep the chart up for now. He only has three more boxes to fill and I'm hoping we can do that without further breakdowns. If not, I just keep in mind that it's unlikely that I'll be sending him off to college in diapers. ANd, if he is still in diapers by then, at least I won't have to change them anymore.