the law of unintended consequences, manifest in potty training

In my economics work, I have often heard of the Law of Unintended Consequences,  defined by Tyler Cowen as follows:

When a simple system tries to regulate a complex system you often get unintended consequences.

A few weeks ago, my wife gave our three-year-old son an incentive: every time he poops in the potty, he gets to watch a few minutes of a dvd of his choice.  He really likes watching and we severely limit him, so this seemed like it might work.

The next morning, I get up early with him while my wife and the baby try to sleep a little longer.  Shortly thereafter I hear loud grunts and groans coming from the bathroom.  I rush in to find our son sitting on the toilet, trying to make poop out of nothing at all, just so he can watch a few choice scenes of Thomas the Tank Engine.

We have since revised the incentive scheme.  Some.

4 thoughts on “the law of unintended consequences, manifest in potty training”

  1. That is so funny! I’ll have to store that experience away for future reference, but since our daughter is only 3 months old…we have quite awhile before the potty training stage!

  2. This morning we went through another round of grunting and groaning. I suggested to my wife that we eliminate our television but she’s less draconian (an excellent quality).

  3. lol that’s exactly what we did with our kids. Although for full time potty training we spent the first day completely naked in front of the tv with anything else they wanted to eat. Next day it went to 1/2 day. Next day after that they were tv’d out and wanted to get up but if they “spilled” they were back on the pot. I’ve done 4 kids like that. Yeah for tv especially when they don’t typically get it any other way.

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