Poop and Consequences

Tonight was a sad night. Our almost-4-year-old has been making great strides in potty training–a very slow, deliberate exercise that has taken us the greater part of a year to nearly master. At this point he knows how to poo in the toilet and mostly does it happily. He might go two weeks without any diaper deposits. But then, inevitably, he hits a bump in the road and starts putting his assets into savings rather than liquidizing them. …Yeah.

That’s what happened tonight, again. He was having too much fun running around playing with his daddy to take the time to relieve himself properly. My husband only discovered it after ushering J upstairs to get ready for bed in time to watch a little of the Olympics before lights out. J LOVES the Olympics, but he’s fully aware, by virtue of consistent reinforcement, that when he dirties his pull-up, he loses whatever privilege he was enjoying or about to enjoy: a toy, a favorite snack, a fun excursion out, TV, etc.

When I heard my husband’s voice drop in disappointment, my heart sank. I really did not want to inflict the consequence we both knew was the obvious follow-through to make.

After hubs and I dithered over it for a bit, wishing there were any other suitable privilege we could take away (and there wasn’t; he was going to go right to bed after watching Olympics, so nothing fun was left to deprive him of), we gritted our teeth, and my hubs dutifully broke the news to J.

Cue half an hour straight of wailing.

The consequence was made especially sorry for the fact that J’s little brother got to stay up to watch TV (he had also been promised Olympics and had committed no infractions himself).

Finally, with plenty of coaxing and firm reminders that throwing a fit would only make him feel worse, J did calm down and snuggled into his bed with his stuffed animals (he got lots of hugs and a tuck-in too). By the time we brought his brother up 15 minutes later, he was fast asleep.


When I was somewhere between 2 and 4, my parents tried repeatedly to spank the same problem out of me: I messed in my pants constantly and REFUSED to use the toilet. Between a DEEP-seated (haha) fear of the porcelain god (I was convinced on a wholly psychological level that it was a maw trying to eat me) and not-insignificant dietary issues, I was a far worse case than my son.

God bless my parents–and I mean that–I don’t hold these mistakes against them. They were doing the best they knew how; admittedly, it was a pretty bad job; but they were trying. Not everyone has parents who even put forth effort.

However, I have most definitively learned a better way to parent, having endured the experience.

We never spank our kids for problems involving bodily output. Yes, we do spank J–mildly, while fully clothed, with a pull-up on!–and we do our best to give ourselves enough space to do it calmly when we decide it’s necessary–for other things: hitting or shoving his brother, for example, or screaming repeatedly at the top of his lungs when he wants something he can’t have and has been warned to stop. J can generate a GREAT deal of volume and has terrific endurance, and we want him to learn that both screaming and pushing/hitting are not acceptable ways to treat people before he butts up against more dire consequences in the wider world. Our approach to spanking gets him to stand up a little straighter, take a pause, and think about whether his poor behavior is really worth it. It’s almost never enough to make him cry (unless he’s already been crying about something else); sometimes he’ll just say “ouch!” and kinda blink. So, yeah–pretty mild. Effective for getting his attention, though.

About halfway through his wail-fest this evening, after he had screamed several times (and well after he’d gotten all cleaned up), he did get a small spank for the screaming (and then lots of hugs and solidarity). He kept crying over losing the Olympics for awhile after, but he also stopped screaming to get them back. It actually seemed to help him focus on his sadness and process that by eliminating the distraction of trying to fight for what he couldn’t have.

All that being said: we don’t inflict spanks for potty malfunctions.

Your body is designed to poo when it’s ready to poo. If it’s just doin’ it’s thing and, for one reason or another, you had some trouble getting where you needed to go, oh well. It happens to all of us, even as adults (I’m raising my hand high here).

No need to add extra physical discomfort to an already physically uncomfortable situation.

However, as my husband and I concurred earlier this evening, we also want J to realize that messing in his pants is going to continue to have consequences that are more and more unpleasant (poo in his pull-up is really not so bothersome to him, as it turns out). He has great control over his body; he just needs to learn that consistent prioritization of and accountability for it is important. We really take care not to shame him over accidents; we just tell him it would have been better for him to poo in the toilet so that he wouldn’t lose video games/cartoons/whatever for the rest of the day. This has provided some solid positive motivation for him to make a better effort in future while still ensuring that he feels loved and accepted.

But the rubber meets the road when it’s the end of the day, you’re all tired, and he’s already been told he gets to have something he dearly loves just to have it taken away.

It was very sad.

But, it wasn’t horribly traumatic. J was thoroughly disappointed; but my husband stayed with him or nearby nearly the whole time he cried. J wasn’t left alone to feel unworthy or despised. He had physical comfort in his distress and knew that we were sad for him, too. He wasn’t abandoned while the rest of us had fun without him. And 25 fewer minutes of the Olympics will not scar him for life.

I have more thoughts on why I think this basic approach to parenting is really pretty healthy, but I’ll save those for another entry. Likely we’ve dumped enough grit (and things that rhyme with it) for tonight. ❤

Incentives Aren’t Bribes

Let’s be clear about something:

Bribes are rewards for doing something wrong.

Incentives are motivation for doing something right.

(To be read a la Stephen Colbert’s definition of a balrog:)

When I tell my kids, “If you eat your dinner, then you can have candy for dessert,” that’s not a bribe. It’s an incentive.

If I told my kids, “Hey, if you whack your brother in the face, I’ll give you a piece of candy!”–that’d be a bribe.

Don’t bribe your kids.

But give ’em a dang piece of candy when they eat their dinner sometimes. *Especially* if they managed to chew their meat.