BY ALISON MURRAY

No, I’m not talking about statistical linear regression or the downward spiral of society. I’m talking about potty-training. Splodges, puddles and soggy underpants.

See, you go through the whole rigmorole of potty-training – star charts, prizes, adulation, and then… SUCCESS!!! They finally get it. They know when they need to go and they go in the right place. Hooray! No more nappies and no more wet undies, or at least only on the odd occasion.

How can it be, then, that having finally arrived and having put all that behind you, it can suddenly and inexpicably become an issue again?

This is something my husband and I have been surprised by in the past couple of weeks. Our three year old daughter was fully toilet trained during the day and never an ‘accident’ did we see. We were just thinking about how to encourage her to stay dry at night so we could lose the nappies all together. Then, a couple of weeks ago as I helped her put her pants back on I noticed that her undies were damp. “Oh” I said, “These are a bit wet. Never mind, lets get some dry ones on.” A couple of hours later, I made the same discovery. And a few hours later, the same again. I became rather less understanding about it and said “Look, you know better than this. You need to go before you’re busting, okay?”

My husband and I are both teachers and have been well schooled (no pun intended) in the way that both positive and negative attention reinforce behaviours. We’ve been trained to emphasise positive affirmation of good behaviour rather than focussing on the negative, with the understanding that kids will often settle for negative attention so long as they’re getting it at all. It certainly became apparent to me in the past couple of weeks that my cross words, exasperated sighs and growls of frustration were not helping El to remember to go to the toilet in time. In fact, the problem became worse, rather than improving.

I knew we probably needed to go back to what DID work – giving step by step encouragement, reminders to go frequently, and celebration and rewards for every success. And yet, I felt a strange reluctance to do this. I didn’t want to congratulate her on something which I felt should now be taken for granted. And even though it did nothing to change the situation for the better, I still wanted to let her know how cranky I felt about all the extra washing she was creating for me. I didn’t want to show grace.

You know what though? A few days ago I finally got to the point of accepting the situation and adjusting myself to deal with it, and life has been so much easier! Not only have there been fewer accidents, it’s also worked against the friction that was building in our relationship over the whole issue.

The first day that I really set myself to have a proactively positive frame of mind we went for a shopping trip. When I asked El to go to the toilet before we left she resisted and I had to make a conscious effort to change my attitude and speech so that, rather than saying: “You need to go because otherwise you’ll wet your pants and I’m sick of washing them!”, I said instead (with an encouraging and conspiratorial grin) “But El, your mission today is to have zero wet undies (forming a big zero with one hand), and the best way to do that is to use the toilet when you have the chance!”

Do you know, I actually saw the stubborn expression melt off her face, replaced by a smile and a light in her eye that said “I’m up for that challenge!”

While at the shops she told me twice when she needed to go and as I helped her on to the toilet the second time I congratulated her on her still-dry underpants. “Great job, telling me in time! Well done, darling!”

She beamed back at me and said “You happy, Mum? That makes you glad?”

“Yes”, I smiled back at her, “that makes me very glad!”

Maybe she should know how to keep her undies dry without reminders now, and maybe she shouldn’t need to be affirmed every time she uses the toilet, but I guess grace is all about giving something that isn’t deserved. And while it might not always come naturally, accepting ‘how it is’ and responding with grace makes life that much sweeter for all concerned.

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