"My son, Michael, is 3 years old, and he refuses to poop on the toilet," Julie says. "We have been potty training Michael for the past eight months, and he has no problem going number one. It's just number two that he can't seem to get. He always does it in his underwear. It's so gross that I have to hose out poopy underwear all the time!"
Julie says she and her husband, Nathan, have tried everything from potty training movies and books to time-out, and they feel like they're at their wits' end. "Sometimes I feel like I'm a bad mom, because I can't get my son to poop in the toilet," she laments.
Dr. Phil displays the items Julie and Nathan have used to motivate their son to go to the bathroom. "You've got books, blocks, toys. This garbage truck is a big thing for him, right?"
"Yes. Michael is obsessed with garbage trucks. We go out once a week, whenever the garbage truck comes, so he can watch the garbage man. I thought that would work," Julie says.
"What do you think is going on?" Dr. Phil asks Nathan.
"Do you think there could be a mistake that you don't know you're making?" Dr. Phil inquires.
"I know the whole time-out thing was probably not right. We've discussed it with our pediatrician," Julie says. "When you're at your wits' end, and you're so frustrated â€¦ I thought I'd give it a try. It didn't work. We didn't do it again. Maybe I'm just pushing it too much, but he's going to be 4 years old in March."
Dr. Phil mentions that the couple has ruled out any medical dilemmas for their son's inability to potty train. "Is there any doubt in your mind that this is any thing other than a power struggle?" he asks. "This is a power struggle, and you're getting your butts whipped. This is something he controls."
Dr. Phil announces the big mistake that Julie and Nathan don't know they're making. "You have failed to discover his true currency," he says. "Everyone has something he or she values. When you're in a power struggle with a child, you want to appeal to their greed. With children and teenagers, greed is a good thing to know. What is in this for him? You need to figure out what that is, and it's something positive."
[AD]Dr. Phil explains the Premack Principle: Children will perform an undesirable act in order to have access to a more desirable behavior. "That's why children will do their homework, so they get to watch The Simpsons," he points out. "You've got to make sure that he knows that you love him unconditionally, so don't withhold love and support."
"No, we don't," Julie says.
"It's all about finding the currency. When you find it, and you will, this will be over in a day," Dr. Phil assures the couple.