Potty training children is difficult. It’s enough to take the calmest mom and dad and force them to get clever, sometimes cruelly so. We find ourselves using swear words – potty training bringing out our potty mouths. Or, perhaps, we regale our children with scary stories: there’s an alligator in the toilet named Charlie who’s getting thirsty. And Charlie’s angry when he’s thirsty.
Still, while we find ourselves frustrated by the flush, a positive reward system is much more effective.
A reward system is different than a bribe – this is an important distinction. A reward follows behavior while a bribe precedes it. Rewards are very useful in toilet training, but only if they’re given with expedience. If you wait too long, your child may fail to make the connection and any positive reinforcement you would have gained will be lost.
So, what kind of potty training rewards are worth your time? Take a swipe (or a wipe) at the following tricks:
1. Simple Praise
Children respond to things that are easy; thus, keep your praise as simple as possible. There’s no need to make a deposit into their college fund every time they poop in the potty – clapping, dancing, or squealing with delight will all suffice.
2. The Happiness Jar
Your child will respond to tangible items (such as a new toy). But they’ll also respond to their favorite activities. Use this to your advantage. Write down some of the things your child loves to do – a trip to the zoo or finger painting in the garage – and place them in a jar. Then when your child uses the potty, allow them to pick from the jar and reward them with whatever activity they’ve chosen.
Using books in the bathroom is helpful for many reasons. For one thing, reading on the toilet helps your child stay entertained – Hansel and Gretel are more fun than staring at the wall. Books also help them get comfortable with the idea of using the bathroom. Keep a stash of potty books nearby and reserve them for potty time only.
4. Potty Doll
Potty dolls are designed to drink and then wet themselves. Buying one for your toddler helps them learn about the concept of urination. Encourage your child to teach their doll how to use the potty; they’ll teach themselves in the process.
5. Offer Special Time
Kids love attention (until they’re teenagers). Providing extra tender loving care is a good way to help your child acclimate to the potty. Each time they have a successful day, reward them with special mommy or daddy time.
6. Lollipop Tree
“The Lollipop Tree” is a song by Burl Ives, but it’s also something you can use to help the – er – flow of things. Simply put: kids will be a sucker for it. Why? Because most children love treats. Create a lollipop tree and reward them each time they use the potty.
7. Use Visual Representation
If your child is visual, break out the marbles! Keep a container nearby and allow your child to add marbles each time they use the bathroom (let them add more for going number 2). Decide on the reward they’ll get when the container is filled. Making it something big – like a new bike – will help them along.
8. Celebrate in the Evenings
Each day your child stays dry, use the evening to celebrate their success. You might take them to the park or out for ice cream. Make sure they understand why they’re being rewarded.
9. Have a Block Party
Use blocks to lock in the concept of potty time. Like the marble idea above, this provides visual representation. Legos are best as they stick together. Allow your child to add a Lego with each successful potty trip and then reward them with a prize when the tower gets high. Some kids will focus on the prize; others will love the idea of watching the tower grow from their successes.
10. Potty Log
A potty log is also a great way to reward your child. No, it’s not really a “Dear Diary, Mary pooped in the potty today!” sort of thing. Rather, it’s a story that catalogs your little one’s journey from diaper to potty trained big kid. It’s a story where, naturally, they’re the hero.
11. Use Food Coloring
Food coloring turns toilet water into the color of your child’s choosing. They might not want to go in a clear bowl, but a bowl that’s blue? Bring on number one and two!
12. Print out Potty Tickets
These tickets act as punch cards for your child. Each time they go, the card is marked. When it’s filled, they get a surprise. If they refuse, they get another kind of ticket: a one-way pass to grandma’s.
13. Purchase the Poop N’ Pull
It might sound like something that you have to do when you don’t eat quite enough fiber, but the Poop N’ Pull is a potty training reward system where your child pulls a string for a toy each time they go to the bathroom. Some kids might only pretend they need to go, so make sure they’re not pulling your leg as well.
14. Have Consequences and Incentives
The idea behind this is simple: grab a jar and, for every dry diaper, give them something to put in the jar (a ping pong ball, for instance). Once the jar is full, they earn a gift. But, for every soiled or wet diaper, make them take a ball out. They’ll probably struggle with this concept, but they may as well learn now: if you crap in your diaper, life craps on you.
15. Buy a Potty Prize
If your child is particularly motivated by prizes, congratulations: they’re easier to manipulate! This is especially true in regards to toilet training: take your kid on a shopping spree and purchase potty related items (such as big boy or big girl underwear) and a few prizes. Then wrap these prizes in enticing and “must have right now” paper. Place them somewhere visible and remind your child that they’ll earn the prize when their potty training goals are achieved. Just like some horses need a carrot dangled in order to walk, some kids need a trinket before they’ll tinkle.
16. Make a Potty Training Sticker Chart
Children love stickers (for some reason). Posting a sticker chart outside your bathroom and rewarding them whenever they go is a great way to make sure they “stick” to the program. You can even celebrate how long they’ve gone: Days without an Accident: 2…scratch that, 0.
17. Break out the Chocolate
If there’s one thing that we as human beings respond to, it’s chocolate. And children are no different. Each time they go, reward them with a small treat: M&Ms or a Hershey Kiss. Because, let’s face it, certain types of chocolate make a good segue to poop. Remind your kids, for instance, that if they drop a Milk Dud inside a petting zoo, it’s best to assume it’s gone forever.
18. Personalize the Potty
Let your child decorate their throne. Stickers or colors or even drawings taped to the bathroom walls make the porcelain a bit more welcoming. After all, toilets aren’t all that inviting. And that’s probably why so many men seem to miss the bowl completely.
19. Bring a Friend
If your child has an attachment to a toy, a doll, or a blanket, summons it to help you. This added friend gives some kids the security they need. So, bring their teddy bear to the toilet in the early years. In the later ones, try to swap it out for a magazine.
20. Search for Treasure
Placing a treasure chest on top of the toilet is a perfect way to get your child interested in using it. When they do, allow them to blindly pick a prize. If they don’t like that particular prize, well, they may always come back for more after a nice glass of prune juice.
Maybe, someday, parents will band together in a movement to make potty training easier (the Bowel Movement). But, in the meantime, we do what we can. Many children respond to the potty training rewards above, making your life a little less crappy.