Posted by: Hannah | 03/22/2013

charting new territory

Recently, both Pixie and Louis have been testing both my ingenuity and my patience. (Not only mine; their parents’, too. It’s been a rough few weeks.) Louis, after a couple of fantastic weeks, started backsliding on the potty situation again. And Pixie, mostly because of her mom changing jobs and working longer hours, has been a sobbing, over-tired, tantruming mess.

It’s been a noisy, screamy, frustrating time.

Monday and Tuesday were bad – and escalating – and by Wednesday I decided to try something different. It was prompted, quite honestly, by Louis making a giant mess in his underwear and then denying anything was wrong when I called him on it.

I cleaned everyone up and put them down for naps, sat quietly with a cup of tea and thought about what I could try next. Both of them needed motivation to change their behaviours. Both of them genuinely want to please their parents, and me, and themselves. Both of them were turning the odd outburst into regular, habitual occurrences.

Their parents were asking me – as the expert, oh god, I am NOT an expert – what to do.

I went with one of the most common methods out there for ensuring toddler / preschooler compliance, but one I’d never used.

With Louis and Pixie looking on avidly, I made them sticker charts.

Louis (and yes, this has poop in it. Skip ahead if you’re as tired of poop as I am.)

Louis’ is for potty visits, because he is still only pooping maybe twice a week on average. As the days go by, his behaviour worsens noticeably; he can’t sleep, won’t eat, cries easily, and becomes very defiant. He is, clearly, afraid to go poop, and frankly if I only went twice a week I’d be a cranky irritable mess too. The goal with Louis, I decided, is to establish regular times of the day for scheduled potty visits, both here and at home. I talked with his mom and we worked out that he is most likely to have success immediately after lunch, and/or just before dinner. Perfect! I can work on one, mom & dad can work on the other.

If I announce “potty practice time!” Louis is required to cheerfully and without whining, crying, or kicking me go to the potty and sit for ten minutes. If he does this and nothing happens, he gets one gold star on the potty chart. If he poops while he’s there, two gold stars. (If someday he announces that he needs to poop, and then he does correctly, I’ll let him do three stickers, but I haven’t told him that yet because my hunch is that it’s just too much pressure right now.) If he kicks up a huge fuss, he still has to go and sit for ten minutes, but then he gets no stars. If he settles and poops within the ten minutes, he gets one star, because I’m trying to establish some regularity for the constipated little turkey.

Yesterday was the first full day with the potty chart, and he had a giant poop in the potty right after lunch with minimal fussing – he whined “I don’t WANT to go poop!” when I announced potty time, but that was it. And, more importantly, he did it under ten minutes, and called me in to tell me when he was finished. This is a major step forward. It’s been pretty clear from the get-go that he has little idea when he’s actually accomplished a complete bowel movement, so I was very encouraged by this sign of body awareness.

His parents are fully on-board with the new plan, and made their own potty chart the same day I did. So, with consistent and recordable policies at both home & dayhome, I have more confidence that we actually are all on the same page with regard to his training.


Oh, Pixie. I have a lot of sympathy for Pixie right now, but sympathy only gets you so far when your entire day is haunted by a small child standing in front of you in a full-body pout, just waiting for an excuse to escalate into frantic, top-volume wailing.

You can’t even turn your back to try and ignore the pout. She’ll move until she’s in front of you again. There is no escape.

Pixie’s problems all stem from the day her mom started a work term, rather than going to school. Pixie is now awakened a full hour earlier every morning. Her dad is now the one who dresses her, gets her breakfast, and drops her off. He’s also the one who picks her up at night, gets her dinner, and does most (if not all) of the bedtime routine.

From what I’ve gathered both from talking to her dad and from peeking out my window to see if mom’s car is home yet (it often isn’t until long past bedtime), Pixie is maybe only seeing her mom for a half hour a day through the week, and then on Sundays. (Mom works a part-time job all day Saturday). Circumstances are what they are, but it’s a huge transition for Pixie, and her parents honestly seem completely baffled as to why she’s suddenly become a very difficult little girl to deal with.

She has regular times of day when meltdowns are common; at drop-off, immediately after lunch, before nap, and after nap. It starts with pouting, progresses quickly to sobbing, and then moves into hysterical wailing. Once we hit that stage, there is literally nothing that will stop it except for sitting behind her on the floor, her facing away from me, and me (gently but firmly) immobilizing her arms and legs until she can calm herself down.

It’s no fun.

She watched the making of Louis’ chart with great interest, and then asked if she could have one. A-ha! My plan is working. We decided to make “Pixie’s Smile Chart”, and every time she can get through those usual fall-apart times with a smile and a pleasant attitude, she gets a star.

In her case, it worked REALLY well. Wildly exceeded my hopes. She had one episode yesterday, but it wasn’t at a ‘normal’ meltdown time – it was when we went outside to play. (She pouted and cried for 15 minutes because “the sun is too sunny”. She did eventually calm down and ended up playing for almost an hour.) She’s greeted me at the door the last two days with a cheerful “good mo’ning, Hannah!” She went for her nap without a whimper yesterday, and while she was a little shaky afterwards I just left her to stew quietly for a few minutes, and she got herself out of the pouting stage and back to smiling all by herself.


Now, we’ll have to see how this all works next week. I’m not declaring anything a magic wand after only two days. And lord knows I’ve had success with things before, only to watch it all fall apart once the novelty wears off. But for now, anyway, results are encouraging.



  1. I’m a big believer in sticker charts for some kids. Jake was extremely motivated by stickers (we potty trained him that way). Mark was not, but hey, can’t have it all.

    Aw. My heart just aches for little Pixie. Just such a busy situation with her mom and everything – hope things start to settle down soon, it will be best for everyone.

  2. Sticker charts aren’t just for toddlers, I’m using one for my Finals revision! Honestly, I’m far more motivated by the prospect of a rainbow of stickers than I am by getting a good degree. Probably that’s sign of some deep psychological problem or immaturity but hey, whatever works! I hope your charts keep working until they’re no longer needed.

  3. Good work, Hannah, Louis, and Pixie!

    • Thanks. Pixie’s doing great. Louis, not so much. But we persevere.

  4. Go Hannah. Sounds very wise. Eve’s caregiver stuck her on the toilet right after lunch and had another girl read her stories until she did her business – worked like a charm. Huge hopes that it keeps working. Does it seem like you have an unfairly large proportion of anxious kids? I guess any change in routine would affect most kids in some way, but…

    • I have a theory about that, which is that dayhomes generally have a higher percentage of anxious kids, because their parents a) don’t want them in a big daycare because of their anxieties or b) have more chaotic lives & schedules, so they need the flexibility of a dayhome to accommodate that. This is strictly based on my own anecdotal evidence, but…

      We tried letting Louis have company at potty time, but that didn’t work at all – no motivation to finish up and get back to playing, so he’d sit forever and do nothing. Forty-five minutes of stories, special toys, etc one day! He’s just an odd duck.

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