Friday, February 12, 2016

The Sticker Chart

We began potty training our Munchkin at about 6 months.  I'd read a bunch of stuff about EC (elimination communication) and the benefits of potty training early, such as a lower rate of UTIs in kids who are potty trained young.  Having experienced the misery of UTIs myself, since both my mom and I are prone to them, I did not want the Munchkin to have to go through that.  Plus, since we cloth diaper I figured that not having to clean out poopy diapers would be a huge benefit.
A lot of people who do EC will rave about how wonderful it is.  We are not those people.  In fact, if we ever have a second kid, I'm not sure I'd start potty training that soon again.  It would still be on the table, but it would be something we'd need to seriously discuss, the pros and cons and what we'd do differently.  
For the details: it took about a week for her to pee on the potty for the first time.  It was first thing in the morning and she was sort of wake-up crying.  When she started peeing she looked at me like, "Uh-oh," but I started praising her and she smiled like, "Oh, that's what you want me to do here!"  It was pretty incredible to be able to read her thought process on her face.  The next morning when I sat her on the potty she peed almost immediately, checking to see if I would react in the same positive way, which of course I did.  From then on I had to guess when she needed to pee, but we had frequent successes.  There were even days when we'd have only a few wet diapers.  Considering how frequently our child pees, that was a huge deal.
It took about a month before we got the first poop on the potty, but it met with the same success that peeing had.  When she realized that she didn't have to be sitting in her own feces, telling us that she had to poop (usually by pointing at the potty or crawling to it) before she went became her preference.
And then, when she was a little over a year, she stopped doing that.  We don't know why, but she stopped pooping on the potty.  It became a game with her, to withhold it.  And then, I think, the game overtook her and became something else, so that she couldn't make herself go on the potty.  In the past year, we've gotten her to poop on the potty once.  It was, to say the least, freaking annoying.
Even worse, recently she's gone to having daily potty accidents, then several times a day.  When we first put her in big-girl underwear, she'd be dry unless she was super tired.  Now we were having to deal with potty accidents more than once a day and we were at a loss.
So I started researching what to do for potty regression.  It tends to be something kids do when they're stressed out, and we suspect that our living situation (the constant chaos) is the source of stress.  Not much we can do about that beyond what we're already doing.  
But I came across the idea of sticker charts as an incentive for kids when potty training.  It's something fun and rewarding, a visual thing, and a reminder tool.  It's not quite a bribe, since those can be either wildly successful or can backfire intensely, but it's something she likes.
However, the most common iteration I've seen of this is a sticker for every time a kid either sits on the potty or goes potty.  That was right out, because our kid is smart enough that she would have gamed that system immediately, forcing herself to pee as often as possible for more stickers.
Instead, we made a chart basted on sections of the day: morning, nap, afternoon, and then a special one for going poop on the potty.
Glorious, isn't it?  There should be more stickers, but it was
originally down where the Munchkin could pull them off.
You know what?  It worked immediately.  She even pooped on the potty that first day!  If we think she needs to use the potty but doesn't want to, we remind her of her stickers and she usually goes potty without fuss.  Getting to put the stickers on the chart is such a success that she brings it up herself.  When she goes potty right before her nap she tells me, "Sticker!  My sticker!" and runs off to find the stickers, because she knows it's time.
The only thing I would say as a caution about sticker charts are the fact that it can also be its own source of anxiety.  We think that, when she did have an accident the other day, she got upset about the loss of her sticker.  So we've been careful to tell her that it's not a punishment to have the stickers taken away, and that accidents sometimes happen and that's all right.
Since we started the chart this week, she's only had two three accidents, one of which was my fault.  She went potty before nap time, then told me later that she had to go potty and I thought she was just trying to delay nap time.  Turns out she had to poop.  I let her know that it was all my fault, and thanked her for trying to tell me.  She didn't get a sticker, but she knows that that wasn't her fault and that's important.
Since I know plenty of parents who are facing potty training in the near future, I hope this helps.  For more experienced parents, any other words of wisdom about what helped your kids the most?  Did you try EC, and if so what was your success?

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