He can be taught! Just not by me.

Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 2/8/2019 7:00:00 AM

A few articles ago (April 2017 to be exact) I mentioned that I had been struggling with toilet training my youngest son.  I had tried EVERYTHING I could think of. Sticker charts, incentives, timers, reinforcement schedules, big rewards, small rewards, modeling, having his older brother train him, letting him pick his own underwear, salty snacks and movie days, and letting him run around with nothing on.  So I got advice from co-workers, family, friends, his pediatrician, past co-workers, and everyone had advice to offer. It was all great advice, and I tried most of it, but just could not get him to consistently use the toilet. I finally decided I was going to stop trying. I figured when he got tired of diapers, he would stop using them. I had tried everything and he was just too stubborn to take to it.  This was difficult for me because the majority of my professional career has involved changing behavior, in myself, staff and students. In an effort to preserve my self-esteem, I decided it was his issue and not mine.

Then my mom came back to visit. She arrived at our house on a Friday and by about Wednesday he was toilet trained. In underwear and staying dry. Just like that. Through gritted teeth, I smiled and said how thankful I was that she was able to train him.  And, while I am extremely grateful the job is done, a large part of me is super irritated that she was able to do it so easily. I mean, like SUPER irritated. In few days she was able to do something that I had not been able to do in over a year. The hardest lesson I learned from this experience was that it was not my son’s fault I could not teach him. I had to accept that my strategies, my approach, did not work. Maybe I was getting too emotional, or giving up too soon, maybe my expectations were too high, whatever it was, I was not able to get the job done.

My son, at three years old, had bested me for over a year, and my mom came in and fixed it in four days. As much as I hate to admit it, a big part of me wanted her to fail.  That would prove it wasn’t me.

I remember teaching some really difficult students and being so overwhelmed. Begging other staff to come into my room and do an observation, tell me what I was missing because I had tried everything.  I would be so frustrated when people would ask, “did you try a sticker chart?” I wanted to yell, “Of course I tried a sticker chart!” This is not my first hard student!” When it came down to it, everytime I had to ask for help I was admitting I could not figure out this kid. I always felt like a failure and that was hard to take. When someone provided a suggestion to me it was another reminder of something I could not figure out on my own.  

Angela Watson wrote, Extreme student behavior: 7 traps to avoid when NOTHING seems to work and I could see that as a teacher and a parent I have made several of these mistakes. There is no “silver bullet” strategy when it comes to changing behavior. No one suggestion can account for all of the variables that impact our success.


Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director