Thursday, August 13, 2009

Letter to the Editor

The August 2009 issue of Parents magazine contained an article entitled, "It's Pottytime!" (pp 117 - 118) by Suzanne Schlosberg. In this article was advice from "experts" (only 3 were mentioned, a Ph.D., an M.D., and an author... sounds like a bad joke, I know) on effectively toilet training a toddler. As a behavior analyst, I try to shy away from articles like these. I find the advice to be eye roll worthy or watered-down. Unfortunately, with this topic, I couldn't resist. Of the many things in the article that upset me, when I read the small box on pg. 118, I became infuriated. You can ask any of my co-workers who received 3 minute long rants on their voicemails. The box contained the following statements:
The Bottom Line of Bathroom Bribery
Though countless parents have lured their kids to the potty
with the promise of a few small candy-coated chocolates, the experts I talked to
hated the idea. "It may work in the short run, but using food to reward your
child for a natural physical event is a slippery slope," says Dr. Peter
Stavinoha. "Ask yourself: Would you give your child candy for walking or
bathing?" he says. Parents may swear by it. "But giving prizes means taking away
the opportunity for kids to feel proud about what they've achieved,"says Deb
Lonzer, M.D., a pediatrician in Cleveland.
After about a month of talking to my peers in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (and well, let's be honest, living a life with a 4 month old in a spica cast), I wrote a letter to the editor. I have to thank Rebekah for her honest and helpful information on writing a letter to the editor. While there were many things that I felt needed to be addressed (parents do reward bathing -- with bath toys, bubbles, and other fun things!!!), here is what I wrote to them (fyi, if anyone else feels compelled to contact them regarding this after reading the article of course, emails go to
To the Editor,
As a parent and professional working in the field of Applied
Behavior Analysis, I wanted to express my displeasure over your August 2009
article, "It's Pottytime!," by Suzanne Schlosberg. She called the use of
"candy-coated chocolates" bribery; in fact, this is reinforcement, more
specifically positive reinforcement. By definition reinforcement increases the future likelihood that a behavior will occur; it
is vital in teaching new behaviors (toileting included). In the article, the
expert suggested that praise and high-fives may be all a parent needs for a
people-pleasing child; this is also reinforcement. Additionally, on page 140 of
the same issue, in "The Give-It-Up Guide," the magazine suggests, "Do use
rewards... they [kids] do want to ... get prizes!" The type (candy, praise,
tickles, etc.) of reinforcement used depends on the learner. Just as with
adults, children enjoy different things. In order to effectively teach any
behavior, we need to identify what those items are and use them. This concept is
based on science and research and has been discussed in such forums for over 50
years. Additionally, Ms. Schlosberg mentioned that it takes 4 - 6 months to
toilet train a child. I invite her to read "Toilet Training in Less Than a Day"
by Drs. Azrin and Foxx. Again, the techniques identified in the book are based
on science and research. As distributors of a magazine read by many parents,
methods based on research should be a priority when recommending something as difficult as a toilet training program(s). I noted that Dr. Stavinoha, the
expert interviewed in the article, did not reference any research when
suggesting "Naked Time" and would be interested in viewing the data showing its
Thank you for your time,
Alicia Richards, M.S., Ed., BCBA

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