Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Heart Chart Success

I’ll just stick to my theme. Since I can’t seem to upload pictures right now, I’ll add one more post that is better without pictures.

We seem to have turned a corner on the potty training issue. We have been diaper free since January, only using pull-ups at bedtime. Some weeks have been more successful than others, and some days created a bulging load of tiny laundry. In late February, though, we instituted the Heart Chart, and that seems to have done the trick.

We tried several other methods.

Seat treats (usually an M&M or gummy bear) failed because she just kept forcing herself to go until she was full of treats and then she didn’t run in there when she really had to go.

A star chart (adding a star for each success) seemed to work for a bit. We even started adding stars for hand washing, as an extra incentive. Then, after she got 5 stars, she would get to go somewhere fun. Ultimately this failed, because it took to long to get to the treat. If she had a couple of bad days, but was just one star away from a treat, she might end up getting rewarded for one random success amid a string of messes. She just didn’t associate the stars with good potty habits.

The Heart Chart seems to provide the right combination of instant gratification, benign punishment, and reward.

I drew three hearts on one piece of paper and cut three hearts the same size out of a separate sheet. I taped the chart to the wall and clipped the hearts, along with a box of conversation hearts, to the chart. Each success was rewarded with a conversation heart, and she was able to tape a cut-out heart to the chart. Then, when she filled all three hearts, she could pick whether we went to the park, the Children’s museum, or just had a little ice cream.

I realize this is just a combination of the seat treat and star chart. But I added a twist. Every time she had an accident, we removed a heart. This was good for Joe and I, because instead of asking her “why” or reminding her about potty etiquette, we were able to say, “Shoot, that means you lost a heart… and we really want to go to the museum after nap.” It was good for her too, because visually loosing a star had as much impact as putting it on. After a few days, she was able to end each day with three hearts. Off to the museum we went!

We try to keep the rewards coming by making them a bit smaller and easier to fit into our regular schedule. Soon, though, she won’t need the incentive, or the punishment, that the Heart Chart offers.

I think the parents that claim their 18-month-old just decided to use the potty and never had an accident again have blissfully forgotten how it is to parent a young child. Or maybe they just never had a lazy day when they forgot to prompt their kid in time. Who knows.

I know we’ll still have accidents and setbacks, but she has ended the day in the same pants she started in for more than a week. That’s progress. I do know I’ll probably be interrupting playtime with “it’s time to use the potty” for years to come. What a funny thing to have to teach someone!

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