Updated: Apr 5, 2020
There are a lot of mixed feelings over whether or not to offer rewards during potty training. Maybe you feel like you don't want your child using the potty because you feel like you are bribing them to do so. Maybe you feel like you are willing to try anything to get potty success! As with everything parenting related, everyone has their own reasoning which is perfectly okay! But, I'd like to clear up some of the misconception surrounding the topic. Many would argue that there is no difference between bribing your child to use the potty and rewarding your child for using the potty. There are some subtle (yet very important!) differences.
Let's start with the Oxford dictionary definition of each:
Bribe: persuade (someone) to act in one's favor, typically illegally or dishonestly, by a gift of money or other inducement Feels kind of dirty right? Reward: a thing given in recognition of one's service, effort, or achievement That sounds much better!
There IS a difference between bribing your child to do something just because YOU want them to do it at that moment and you acknowledging their progress in the form of a reward. A bribe is a cause, a reward is an effect. Children are rarely motivated to try new things if there isn't some form of reimbursement for their efforts - it's a natural thing! Even adults are more likely to take action and do something if it means they will get something in return! Do you think of your Christmas bonus as a bribe? Of course not, you earned it!! See the difference?
A bribe is a cause, a reward is an effect. Children are rarely motivated to try new things if there isn't some form of reimbursement for their efforts - it's a natural thing!
There are some key characteristics of a good potty training reward:
It should be immediate. The reward should be offered immediately following the potty success for the best effect, not something build up to like with a sticker chart.
It should be consistent. The reward should be given consistently after each potty success* even if your child forgets to ask for it (*For up to the first two weeks. More on this to follow.). This shows that you are trustworthy and your child will appreciate your follow-through to what you've promised, making them more likely to use the potty again the next time.
It should be exclusive. The reward shouldn't be something that your child is able to get for any other positive behavior. Otherwise, you run the risk of them not using the potty and performing the other behavior in order to get it. Think of something new and creative that you can keep only for potty success to make the process more enticing for your child!
Do rewards charts work? It depends. Usually toddlers are too young to grasp the concept of time and
what's to come in the future. Therefore you run the risk of them losing interest, or not understanding what they are expected to do before you are able to get consistent results. However, for older children (typically ages 3+), and for children who are farther along in their potty training journey, a reward/sticker chart is a great idea! Having a visual representation of all their successes in one place is a great confidence booster.
Need some ideas for potty training rewards? You can go for something edible (like a sweet treat), tangible (like a small toy), or non-tangible (like an experience). Here are some of my favorite reward options!
Chocolate chips (morsels)
Yogurt covered raisins
Mini ice pops (freeze juice in ice cube molds!)
Small toys (bonus points for wrapping each one - most kids can't resist finding out what the "potty present" is!)
Charms for charm bracelet
Pom poms in a jar
Non-Tangible (and FREE!):
Painting fingernails (you can do one nail per potty success)
Trip to the fire station
Watching the garbage truck
Baking cookies (covers two categories!)
Trip to the pet store
Watching airplanes take off and land
Library story time
Getting to choose their daily outfit
Staying up an extra 15 minutes late
Obviously you don't want to be offering a reward to your child every time they use the potty for the rest of eternity but be careful about stopping rewards too soon, and don't go cold turkey when you do. It's best to ease away from the rewards gradually to avoid disrupting potty progress. So after the first two weeks or so, start setting longer term goals for your little one. Instead of each individual potty success, reward each successful potty day. Then week, then month, etc. Each time you increase the goal, increase the reward. So start off with small things like an extra TV show after dinner, and then move to museum, zoo, or amusement park trips for the monthly goals. By then, you will be okay to stop offering rewards altogether.
The moral of the story is - don't shy away from offering a reward to motivate your child to use the potty! Appeal to your child's natural desires and the experience is bound to be much more positive for both of you.
P.S. Don't forget to reward yourself - you deserve it! xo