Do Rewards Work When You're Potty Training?

28/05/2009 12:28 | Updated 22 May 2015

When my son was potty training, we made use of the great parenting aid that is Smarties. So when he refused to sit on the pot at all, one little sweet was enough to encourage him to give it a try.

Then, as he became comfortable with sitting on the potty, we upped the ante, and the Smartie became his reward for actually making a deposit in the bowl.

That system worked fine for a few days, until he developed the self control to work it to his advantage -- so a few drops of wee would appear, followed by a demand for a sweet. A few minutes later, a few drops more, and another request for a reward. We soon got wise to that one.

I have always favoured the carrot over the stick when it comes to parenting. And so we welcomed a (frankly rather hideous) Power Ranger toy when we got to the stage of poos going in the toilet, rather than the nappy. Some rewards work because they make your child feel like a big boy, and consequently behave like a big boy too.

If your toddler looks like they might be ready to start potty training, then a small reward might be enough to encourage them to go for it. But if they aren't physically ready for it, no amount of rewards will force them into ditching the nappies.

If you've decided to reward potty training, here are some things to think about:

  • Make rewards immediate

    Toddlers aren't interested in rewards they have to wait days or even hours for.

  • Wait for success

    Toddlers can't keep promises, so if you reward them on the condition they'll stay dry all day, you'll both probably be disappointed. Reward them after they've kept dry.

  • Make rewards interesting

    Something they don't see, eat or use every day.

  • Take baby steps

    Don't try and urge them into too much too soon. Some kids will need encouraging just to sit on the potty, fully clothed, at first.

It doesn't have to be anything big or expensive to qualify as a treat to your child. And it certainly doesn't have to be sweets -- many parents and health experts worry that if you reward good behaviour with food, you're setting kids up for food problems down the road. The idea is that small children will associate sweets with feeling good, and that they'll turn to them later whenever they need a pick-me-up. This is the origin of turning to comfort food, which can be so hard to shake off as an adult.

At the end of the day, only you can know what reward is right for your child. Here are some non-food reward ideas:

  • Stickers: What is it with kids and stickers? They absolutely cannot get enough of them, and swell up with pride when they have a new one to display.
  • A special box of toys: Not for everyday use, something that you keep on a high shelf and take down occasionally.
  • A special DVD or computer time. Even better, a trip to the video shop to choose something themselves to rent out.

Did you or do you plan to use treats while potty training? Do you think they helped your kids ultimately become successful?

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