Rewards for Potty Training

Reward Charts can help potty training.

Reward Charts can help potty training.

When starting potty training it’s a good idea to think about how you’ll keep your toddler motivated. Some toddlers will simply want to be ‘just like my big brother/sister’; others will respond to lots of praise; others need something tangible to work towards and that’s where reward charts can be useful.

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

Reward Charts

Sometimes toddlers need a little extra positive reinforcement to start (or stick with) potty training. Reward charts can be a great way of helping them to see progress, learn about delayed gratification, and learn about working towards achievable goals at a young age.

There are lots of great ideas online for printing out your own reward chart that you can stick on the fridge (like these free to print charts). The important thing is to choose a theme that will tie in with your toddlers interests. I liked this magnetic one from Kmart because I knew Little Miss would like moving the magnets around.

Tip: If you have multiple children, it’s a good idea to instigate reward charts for siblings as well to prevent tantrums, jealousy, and rivalry! If your 2 year old is toilet training, maybe your 5 year old can have a reward chart for homework or chores.

Rewards

These need to be relevant to your child’s interests, realistic for your budget, and appropriate in scale. A trip to the park, a book, a small toy, are more realistic then promising a trip to Disneyland! Also, keep in mind that a reward comes after the action has been successfully taken (and a bribe comes before).

Sit down with your child and be really clear:

  • what they will receive points for (i.e. stickers on their reward chart),
  • what rewards they are working for, and,
  • how many points they need to obtain those rewards.

Encourage your child to brainstorm with you what those rewards are going to be. Possible rewards include:

  • Items (toys / books)
  • Activities (trips to the park, library, the zoo)
  • Food (jellybeans, McDonalds, restaurant)

You may want to start off with reward stickers for:

  1. each wee / poo in the potty (or toilet), and then move towards
  2. stickers for staying dry at home that day,  then,
  3. staying dry at kindy, then,
  4. staying dry overnight.

The important thing is to scaffold your expectations and help your child towards success at a pace that’s realistic to them. Remember that every child is different.

Items

Toys or books can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. It’s a good idea to have a mix of rewards that they can work towards (with larger or more expensive items requiring more points).  If you take them to a store to choose rewards, it’s a good idea to guide their choices by offering them a few options and letting them select one.

It’s also a good idea to guide them towards choosing toys that you were thinking about getting them anyway and which you can afford. Consider items that will encourage open-ended imaginative play and remember that you don’t need to buy ‘branded’ items for your kid to have fun.

We chose a (non-branded) My Little Pony and a wooden pizza – each slice and topping has to be earned so it has a good mix of short and long term gratification.

Activities

Again, these can be easily tailored to your child’s interests. You may want to have activities close to home, or that are free, cost fewer reward points and then have costly activities be something they have to save more points to earn. Not all activities have to be away from home either!

  • At home: build a tent out of sheets & chairs; make a collage; parent play with cars / dolls / animals / trains for 20 mins without distractions; have a tea party with toys; invite a friend over for the afternoon.
  • Free: go to a park; feed ducks; favourite playground; go to a beach; bike ride; art gallery; museum.
  • Paid: go to an indoor attraction (like a playground or trampoline park); go to zoo; go to observatory to see stars; movie.

Food

Food can be a controversial choice because it risks weighting food choices to show that some foods are inherently more desirable than others. In saying that, plenty of parents have chosen to use a jellybean or other small treat as a reward.

For more creative options, why not choose food related activities instead. Reward points could be saved towards things like:

  • doing baking together,
  • helping to make dinner (or choosing from a list of dinner options),
  • buying and planting vegetable seedlings, or micro-greens for the windowsill,
  • going to a cafe for a fluffy or scone,
  • going to a restaurant for lunch / dinner.
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What methods can I use for potty training my toddler?

Potty Training

What methods can we use for potty training?

Potty Training! It’s something that we all experience as parents as we help our children transition out of nappies. I’ve posted previously on:

 

Slow

The slow method is great if you’re wanting to stretch toilet training over a number of months.

Maybe it’s winter and you want to wait for warmer weather before fully embracing nuddy time; maybe you have an eldest only child who is showing signs of being ready but isn’t ready to embrace going nappy free; maybe you have a spirited child who responds badly to pressure, or a your family frequently faces change, or your child has health concerns or other stress factors.

I note this is the method I’m using with stubborn and spirited Miss 2!

  1. Regularly embrace talking about bodily functions. Talk about needing to wee or poo. Read stories about potty training.
  2. Storybots have a great video for toddlers about how the human body works, including how food gets turned into energy (and waste products!).
  3. Buy a potty and place it somewhere in the house where it’s easy for your toddler to access.
    • I was resistant at first to having it in the lounge but toddlers really do only think about what’s right in front of them. It’s good to put it next to their picture books, or in front of the tv, or by a window they can look out of. It’s also useful to have a plastic mat under it if you have carpets!
  4. Encourage your child to sit on the potty regularly. It helps if you read them a story to keep them occupied.
    • Try giving them regular naked time. This helps them get accustomed to their body and it also means they don’t have to grapple with clothes when they get to the potty. Watching themselves accidentally wee or poo can also help them form a connection in their mind between how they felt beforehand and what then happened (it’s not like they can see when it’s all conveniently happening in the nappy!).
    • Make a happy fuss about buying them underwear. Keep in mind that although different brands will use the same sizing on their labels, the real size and the way they actually fit will vary hugely. It can also help to buy underwear with decorative bows or buttons at the front so that they can easily see which way to put them on!
  5. See what works for you and your child.
    • If they’re having lots of accidents and you’re getting frustrated cleaning up messes, you may want to have them out of nappies just for a set time each day (i.e.  nappies in the morning and undies in the afternoon).
    • Maybe your child took an interest in potty training for a week or two and then adamantly decided they wanted their nappies back. That’s fine! Keep gently encouraging them to use the potty and offer them the choice each day of whether they want to wear nappies or undies.
    • Have a think about whether you want to use nappies, nappy pants, training pants, undies; or a mix. Some toilet training experts advise against nappy pants and say that they delay things but they are really useful as a parent and if you’re taking the slow approach anyway….
  6. Take time off and try again later.
    • Some toddlers won’t be ready on the first try.  You may need to wait 4-6 weeks and then try again. LOTS of parents find that their eldest will take the longest to potty train and that younger siblings will be much quicker (a big part of that is because they really, really want to be like their big brother or sister!).

Medium

Ideally, this method will allow you to toilet train in the space of 1 – 2 weeks. You do need to plan for it in your schedule but there’s a bit more flexbility in it. Make sure that your child is showing all the signs of readiness and they have good bladder control (1-2 hours).

It’s a good idea to do this during warm weather when your child doesn’t need to wear a lot of clothes. You can even put the potty outside and encourage them to use it while running around the garden naked.

It’s helpful to start this once your child shows clear signs that they are getting ready to do a poo. Some kids might have a ‘poo face’ that they start to make, some kids might have a corner they go and hide in (like in a closet or behind a chair), some might assume a squatting position.

Make sure that you stay at home for the first 3 – 7 days so that your child can relax into the change without the stress of accidents and distractions.

Have a think before you start about whether you want to use rewards as a potty training incentive.

  1. Make sure that you are starting at a settled time when there are no big changes to the family routine (like a new baby, moving house, starting kindy).
  2. Immerse your child in toilet training preparation. Go shopping for a potty and undies. Read potty books. Watch videos about using the potty. Talk about the steps for using the toilet.
    • You can even take photos of them practising each step and print these off. Encourage them to talk about each of the steps they need to take.
  3. Have your child in underwear all the time (except when sleeping). Encourage your child to sit on the potty at regular intervals each day and build these into your routine (i.e. when they wake up, 20 minutes after meals or bottles, before the bath, before bed etc.). Make sure that you stick with these every day so that your child comes to expect the reminder.
  4. Praise them when they’re successful and don’t make a big fuss when there are accidents. There will be accidents at first but these should decrease quickly if they’re ready.

Fast

In theory, this will help your child toilet train in a day or two. It is very reward orientated and won’t suit every child (or parent!)

Make sure that your child is showing all the signs of readiness and they have good bladder control (1-2 hours). Also, make sure that they are confident removing clothing and can easily pull pants up and down.

Decide in advance what rewards you will use.

You will need to be at home for a few days and may want to wait for warm weather so your child doesn’t need to wear lots of clothes.

  1. Make sure that you are starting at a settled time when there are no big changes to the family routine (like a new baby, moving house, starting kindy).
  2. Immerse your child in toilet training preparation. Go shopping for a potty and undies. Read potty books. Watch videos about using the potty. Talk about the steps for using the toilet.
    • You can even take photos of them practising each step and print these off. Encourage them to talk about each of the steps they need to take.
  3. The Day Before: Tell your child that tomorrow will be a special day and that you will be having a toilet training party. Practice the steps of toilet training with a special doll that can pass water. Explain that the aim is to stay clean and dry, and to do all wees/poos in the potty. The night before show them the special treats they will get the next day.
  4. The Big Day: Give them lots of fluids when they wake up and at breakfast. Take off the wet nappy and put on new undies/knickers. Introduce a reward chart and tell them they will get stickers on the chart for keeping their undies/knickers clean and dry by using the potty.
  5. Roleplay with the doll straight after breakfast. Go through the steps of toilet training. Have your child feel inside the doll’s underwear to check if they are clean and dry. Praise the doll and clap. Ask your child if they are clean and dry; check and if dry, praise them and put a sticker on reward chart. Give the doll a drink and then have the doll wee in the potty. Praise the doll and give the doll a treat.
  6. While sitting next to the potty, ask your child if they need to wee or poo. Have your child sit on the potty. You may need to read a story or sing a song to encourage them to stay on. Praise them for practising sitting on the potty. If they do a wee or poo, flush the waste down the toilet, wash hands, and then give them an instant reward.
  7. Set a timer and sit them on the toilet every 30 minutes. Praise them if they have stayed clean and dry, put a sticker on the reward chart. Praise them for sitting on the potty. If they do a wee or poo. give them an instant reward.
  8. Give your child lots of fluids, foods that will make them thirsty, and foods with lots of fibre. Keep practising with the doll. If they accidentally wee or poo in their underwear, don’t make a fuss just quietly clean them up and remind them to do wees/poos in the potty.  Let them associate receiving attention with using the potty.

How can I help prepare my child for potty training?

Potty training

 

You’ve decided that your child is developmentally ready to potty / toilet train and you want to pave the way for starting soon; or, you have a younger sibling who wants to understand what all the fuss is about and be involved (me too!)

Here are some things that you can do to help get them thinking about their body and the potty:

Read books about potty training. Often there are lots of picture books at the library so read a few until you find ones that work for you. Miss 2 is quite fond of Pirate Potty, (the same author also does Princess Potty) and Dinosaur Doo.

Talk to them about their body;  Storybots have a great video for toddlers about how the human body works including how food gets turned into energy (and waste products!). If they have particular ‘tells’ that they are about to do something in their diaper (like squatting, grunting, pulling a face, going to find a quiet place) then call their attention to their body’s signals and the ‘feeling’ that they need to wee or poo. Encourage them to tell you as soon as they have wet or dirtied a nappy so that you can change it straight away.

Get into the habit of talking to them about your own toileting habits; i.e. “I need to stop washing the dishes and go do a wee on the toilet.” It might feel a bit ridiculous at first but no more (hopefully) than pretending to be a monkey, or having your umpteenth imaginary cup of tea, or answering ‘What’ and ‘Why’ over and over and over again. The lesson that your modelling is that your listening to your body, stopping what you are doing, and going to the toilet.

Have an open door policy at home (if you can) and let them come to the toilet with you; let’s face it, most toddlers want to anyway! Talk about needing to go to the toilet and verbalize the steps (like flushing, washing hands etc.).

Get a potty and have it available. For a long time, I had it in the bathroom because I wanted that association of needing to go a particular room to do wee / poo. I’ve learned that it’s far more effective to have it on a plastic mat in the lounge, where she can see it all the time and it’s easy to reach, now that we’re actively potty training.

Ask them each day if they’d like to sit on the potty. Sometimes they might want to just sit on it, fully clothed + a nappy, and roleplay wiping their bum with toilet paper. This is fine! Just keep an eye on the toilet paper because they will happily unwind an entire roll.

Encourage them to roleplay with a doll/teddy. Help them to undress their toy, sit it on the potty, wipe its bottom with a cloth, and praise the toy .

Provide easy access clothes (i.e. no more overalls!). They need to be wearing pants they can pull down easily or a skirt that they can lift. Play games to see who can pull their pants down the fastest when getting changed into pyjamas at the end of the day or encourage them to pull their pants down themselves before each nappy change.

Ask them each day if they’d like a nappy/diaper or undies/knickers. One day they may surprise you and say ‘Undies!’.

Sometimes they will ask for undies before they’re ready to use a potty (because their friends are wearing them). That’s fine! Let them wear underwear over their diapers and get used to the idea. Encourage them to practice putting them on and off themselves. Let them help you choose ones that they like (i.e. they think are pretty / cool / exciting / awesome).

 

When should we start toilet training?

Toilet training.jpg

Potty! Starting toilet training.

Toilet training often varies from country to country; it may be impacted by culture, environment, and personal experiences. In New Zealand, the average age for children to be toilet trained at night is 3-6 years, statistically boys take longer. I’ve met people from other countries where toilet training occurs much earlier; it sounds like various countries in Asia often start quite early and I’ve met people from the United States who’ve commented that it can almost feel competitive there to have your child toilet trained as early as possible.

In general, in New Zealand we tend to be a bit more relaxed about it. Please remember that toilet training can be immensely stressful for your child. Disposable diapers are now so efficient that often they stay feeling dry even after doing wees; there’s a convenience in being able to wee while you eat breakfast, or play in the sandpit, or chase after your friends. Toilet training means having to stop what your doing, go to another room, fiddle with clothes, undertake a series of steps that everyone expects you to remember, and then go back to whatever you were doing. It can be annoying. It can be scary. It can be miserable wetting your clothes. It can simply feel strange feeling an empty space underneath your bum. It’s important that your child is ready and that they feel safe, supported, and encouraged.

When is my child developmentally ready?

Watch for the following signs:

  • They show signs of bladder control.
    • They can go 2 hours without doing a wee.
    • They can stop & start their wee.
  • They wake up dry from a nap.
  • They show an interest in the toilet and others using it.
  • They have enough language skills that you can teach them words that will form part of your toilet training process (i.e. potty / toilet, wee / poos, flush, wash hands, dry hands, help me).
  • Can follow simple instructions.
  • They feel happy and settled; they are not going through any other changes.
  • Note: Toilet training can be impacted by genetic inheritance (surprisingly!). If one or both of the parents took a long time to toilet train (especially at night) then your child is more likely to do the same.
  • Note: My experience (and talking to many other families) is that the eldest child will often take the longest to be ready to toilet train (sometimes not till after they’re at kindy and seeing other kids use the toilet); younger siblings will often want to start earlier (sometimes at 18m) because they want to be like their big brother or sister.

 

Does gender make a difference?

Yes. In New Zealand:

  • Girls will often show readiness between 20 – 26 months.
  • Boys will often show readiness between 24 – 32 months.

 

How I can help my child feel ready to toilet train?

  • Have an open door policy at home (if you can) and let them come to the toilet with you; let’s face it, most toddlers want to anyway! Talk about needing to go to the toilet and verbalize the steps (like flushing, washing hands etc.).
  • Get a potty and have it available. Ask them each day if they’d like to sit on the potty. Ask them if they’d like a nappy/diaper or undies/knickers. Most days they won’t; persevere – it took a year before mine decided that we were actually toilet training rather than just her having a passing interest.
    • Sometimes younger children will want to roleplay – especially while you’re using the toilet. Let them practice sitting on the potty fully clothed and ‘wiping’ themselves with toilet paper.
    • Sometimes they will ask for undies before they’re ready to use a potty (because they’re friends are using them). That’s fine! Let them wear a nappy over their diapers and get used to the idea. Encourage them to practice putting them on and off themselves. Let them help you choose ones that they like (i.e. they think are pretty / cool / exciting / awesome).
  • Some experts will encourage cloth nappies (so that they can feel being damp) or training pants but discourage nappy pants as delaying / confusing things. Personally, I advocate doing what works for you. My daughter is strong willed and does not respond well to change so I’m going for the long & slow approach; it’s far more practical (and cost effective for me) for her to be in nappy-pants if we leave the house, bare bum / underwear at home, and a nappy at nap / night.
  • Read books about potty training. Often there are lots of picture books at the library so read a few until you find ones that work for you.
  • Consider adding incentives. We started actually potty training because Miss 2 decided that she wanted to see the magic doggy appear. She loves looking down and seeing the doggy appear, then saying ‘Bye Bye Doggy’ as it gets emptied & washed. Apparently the WeePal stickers are also a great way of teaching little boys to aim!

    WeePal stickers

    WeePal stickers

 

When should I see a doctor?

  • If your child has ongoing constipation.
    • Sometimes get scared / uncomfortable about doing poos in the potty. They can get so worked up about it that they literally hold it in by sheer force of will. Talk to your doctor (for help with loosening up that blockage) and let your child know it’s okay to do poos in a nappy until they feel ready to let it go in the potty!
  • Your child says it hurts to go to the toilet.
    • Little girls will more commonly get Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) than boys. Ouch!
  • Frequent little wees.
  • No day training progress by 4 years (to rule out any physical / medical issues).
  • If they are not night trained by 5 or 6 years (again, to rule out any physical/medical issues).

 

For more great tips about toilet training, check out Laura Morley’s workshops, or her FAQs blog on LooLoo Toilet Training Solutions.