Driving late at night when you have kids usually means a nice quiet ride. We were driving home after having spent the evening riding the Polar Express with the kids and other family. The good thing about keeping the kids up late when you are out is they usually fall asleep before you even leave the parking lot. Such was the case on this night. Having been on the road for 40 minutes, my wife was mostly asleep also. My two sons, at that time that is all we had, were snoring in the back of the van as I pulled off at our exit, only 15 minutes from home. “I have to go POTTY” suddenly came from the back of the van where my oldest son had been fast asleep only moments ago. My wife sat up straight and looked at me. At 11:00 on a sunday night we were faced with a critical parenting decision. We recently started potting training our oldest and he had been doing really good. The only thing we had to worry about was the night time. Before we left the parking lot from the train ride, we put his nighttime pants on knowing he should sleep until the morning. This sudden urge to go to the bathroom caught us off guard.
On one hand we thought about ignoring it since we were so close to home, we could just change him when we got home and let him go back to sleep. On the other hand we could stop and take him to the bathroom. The problem with ignoring his need was we could lose that window of opportunity for training his body to wake up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Stopping would not be easy since we would have to find a place that was open. Looking at my wife I knew what she was thinking and was glad we were on the same page. We pulled off at a fast food place known for being open until two in the morning. He and I ran inside, and he made it to the potty in the nick of time. His eyes were heavy, but he managed a “Woohoo” and gave me a high five. Leaving the restaurant he informed the cashier that he made it. She smiled and told him he did a nice job. By encouraging that behavior our son began waking up to go to the bathroom on his own fairly regularly.
That was the beginning of our log journey in the potty training arts. Yes I said arts, because for us none of our kids are the same. The motivations that get them on the potty, the process of getting them to wake up, all are different. We start with what worked before, but in the end we scramble to find a new method. Although we have found techniques we can recycle, each kid challenges us in new ways. The biggest challenge I think we face is actually getting the kids into the bathroom. Kids notice they have to go to the bathroom long before they need to go. Of course they can’t take time away from what they are doing to take care of a trivial task, so they dance around and tie their legs in knots in an effort to ignore the call. My youngest son will declare he has to go, will run to the bathroom then rushes back out yelling he doesn’t have to go. When I think of my kids dancing around I think about last Christmas. As we were leaving the mall we saw a Santa with a sign for a cell phone store, he was dancing around and when my sons asked what he was doing my wife said “The peepee dance.” That one comes back to haunt her all the time.
Positive reinforcement, a.k.a. rewards and praise, can also backfire. After taking one of my sons to the bathroom in a fast food place during the dinner rush he walked through the restaurant declaring his success with going poopie. Another time I was in a mall restroom when one of my sons demanded his candy for going, to which I heard the guy in the stall next to us say he wanted his also. Taking them whenever they ask usually means you get a lot of false positives as well. To ignore these as such is a bad idea. You end up with a minimum of a wet kid, at the worst with your shirt soaking wet. So you take them when they ask. On a recent trip to the mall I think I took two of my sons to the bathroom in each store we went into over and hour span, and not just once at each store. The concept of getting it all out at once just hasn’t hit home yet.
I love being somewhere and hearing a kid, not mine, yell out “I have to go POTTY!” A simple look and you can tell the victim parent “I know how that goes.” Those five simple words start the clock ticking, the question is are you up to the challenge. By the way, if you had to think about your answer I hope you brought some extra clothes with you, looks like you might have an accident on your hands.