FOOLING MOTHER NATURE

Last summer, some friends, who have a small child and large dog came to visit. It was a beautiful day. Everyone (including the dog) was indulging in the splendid food and drink. After a while, the adult Humans asked if they could discuss a sensitive and somewhat embarrassing problem they were having. Apparently, neither their son, Sean, nor their dog, Buster, was "house broken." In fact, the two seemed to have their signals crossed: Buster would relieve himself in the house and Sean would inevitably succumb to the urge when he was outside. I was even treated to a demonstration to illustrate the point! While mother, who had heard Sean crying outside because he had an accident, went to investigate, Buster struck out on the staircase carpet. Now, everyone was either angry or embarrassed (except Buster, who was helping himself to the remaining Brie and crackers). As we were cleaning up, the topic of training was broached. They had apparently read an article in which suggestions were offered such as, frequent trips to the potty chair (or backyard) before it was too late; praise for appropriate elimination and, watching for signs of emotional stress which could be incurred from toilet training. While rewarding appropriate behavior seemed reasonable-- as rewarding any behavior tends to increase its frequency-- the problem is that the behavior in question was not happening frequently enough for the child to feel he had met with success on any occasion (and forget about the dog)! Thus, I made some suggestions to them about this rather unpleasant topic which you may find useful. First of all, what a child and animal have in common is, (a) shortly after eating, they are going to have to eliminate and, (b) since that process is under their control and not yours, it can be quite frustrating for you to have to figure out when that will occur. A much more useful strategy is to bring the process under your control until such time as the training has been completed. The goal is really one of discrimination: This place is acceptable, that place is not. Hence, appropriate elimination is a social more than a physical phenomenon.  Children (and animals) learn to make such distinctions from the consequences that follow their behavior. If you reward a child for a specific behavior, that behavior is likely to occur again in the future. However, since the elimination process occurs far too infrequently for a child to make the connection between the behavior and consequence, it is useful to arrange for it to occur more often. Then as the reward follows such occurrences, the child has an increased likelihood of being successful!  “How can I make my child have to go to the bathroom; much less my dog?”  Designate a couple of days that you can be available to your child in and around the bathroom. Provide plenty of salty snacks and other foods that will ultimately make him/her thirsty. Follow this with generous quantities of his favorite beverages--soda, juice, etc. Place the child in the bathroom at least once per hour. Read to him, talk, but most importantly, have him inform you when he has to relieve himself. If he does so appropriately, reward him with more salty snacks and beverages (and a kiss). “Wait a minute!  I need to bribe my Kid to toilet train him?”   Not exactly.  Bribery, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, is, “offering payment of some type for performance of an illicit act.”  If you consider teaching your child (and/or dog) proper toileting as being “an illicit act”, then I guess you are bribing him; otherwise, read on… If he fails to eliminate after a few minutes, remove him from the bathroom until the next trip. If he soils or wets his clothing, direct him with as little attention as possible to change and place soiled clothing in a designated place. If he needs assistance doing these things, help him but, make sure he participates in this rather unpleasant process.  There are some adults who believe that creating an organized system for purposefully teaching toilet training can cause a child serious emotional upset, and prefer to allow the child to "mature" and develop these skills over time. However, what is frequently overlooked is the embarrassment and frustration incurred by both the child and parents at such times as an "accident" occurs! Besides, more often than not, "emotional upset" for compliance with such a program is a feeling of the parent which is projected onto the child as a form of sympathy. What is essential here, is teaching an individual (or pet) what is acceptable behavior; that appropriate control must be exercised when Mother Nature calls. Perhaps by helping the behavior to occur more often and then reinforcing it, you can teach your child to make the necessary distinctions...and fool Mother Nature.  -30-