In 2000, I wrote... I have a daughter who is turning 3 in August. We have been potty-training her for the last few months. It's been a difficult process; sometimes she goes for days without an accident, but other times she won't go potty unless we ask her every hour. We got the feeling that she was physically and psychologically capable of being potty-trained, but that she sometimes got distracted or lazy (depending on how you look at it).

Finally we resorted to positive reinforcement, or what non-psychologists often call bribery. We told her that every time she went potty, she would get a chocolate-covered raisin. This led to an immediate change in her behavior--not only does she start using the toilet much more frequently (sometimes with the words, "I want a candy...I'm going potty!") but she seems much more disappointed when she did have an accident.

I have wondered, however, what will happen when my daughter is potty-trained for good. I expect that it will take some effort to wean her off the expectation that she's going to get a candy every time she uses the bathroom, and that she'll be getting candy long after she doesn't really need it to motivate her anymore. I have this picture of getting a call from her kindergarten teacher complaining that she is having a temper tantrumin the girl's room because she isn't getting the Raisinette she's entitled to...

It occured to me that this little parental effort is not that different from a successful government program. The government often provides money to companies or individuals so that they'll do something useful. In theory these programs are meant to go on only for a limited time, to get projects off the ground. But since the recipients of this aid will complain if they're cut off, and since it will take other people a while to realize that the aid is no longer useful, it's practically a given that every government program will eventually turn into corporate welfare. We can try to reduce the useless lifespan of a government program, but we're not going to eliminate it--ever.

So she just entered kindergarten, and in fact she is totally potty trained. However, I think we weaned her off the Raisinettes because she had the attention span of a 2-year-old and, over time, forgot that she ever got the reward in the first place. So while I was able to avoid it in this case, I still find it to be a useful example.

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