When we were potty training our first child we fell into the trap of offering him a toy as a reward to motivate him to use the toilet. This quickly became an untenable strategy; we are made of neither toys nor money. The boy had to learn a hard lesson about terms being subject to change without notice. It’s like when the cable company made you get a separate tuner box for each TV, advising you not to worry because you were not being charged for the extra boxes, and a few years later you find yourself paying $6/month/box. Potty training is good practice for dealing with the cable company.
Now, well into potty training the third child, we have lowered our game. This boy scored a few jelly beans or a tiny Tootsie Roll for doing the right thing. Using the potty is becoming routine for him, which means earning a candy reward for each occurrence has become unsustainable. It’s not that we’re yanking away his reward; we’re helping him realize using the potty is its own reward. If you think this is parental double talk, try pooping your pants at your next social gathering. The privilege of using a toilet beats three jelly beans any day.
Rewards should be reserved for accomplishments that are challenging. Remembering to go to the potty is no longer challenging for Big Man. It is nothing compared to the formidable challenge of keeping his thumb out of his mouth. He sucks his thumb when he’s tired or anxious. It looked like he was kicking the habit, but the stress of potty training must have made him fall off the wagon.
In the olden days, Big Brother adored his pacifier. It was a relatively easy addiction to break. The pacifier magically got lost one day. That was the end of that. I’m not sure I’m ready for Big Man to lose his thumb, so we’re working on other ideas.
The other day, he was incessantly reminding me he was due some candy for his pottying exploits. I explained that this was an obsolete reward system and then I made him a new offer. He would earn a piece of candy if he went the entire afternoon without putting his thumb in his mouth.
I didn’t think he could do it. We had to drive to pick up his brothers. The car makes him sleepy, and that’s when the thumb goes in.
He didn’t get sleepy that day. He kept himself awake the entire trip by chanting, “I want candy!” at me from his car seat of whininess. Annoying? Yes. That was an added benefit to him. Annoyance is the smallest wage I deserve for my duplicity.
He earned his candy. And then he felt free to suck his thumb. As extra tired as he was, he couldn’t stop himself. He’d missed his car nap after all.