“He’s two right?”
“Yes” I reply… “he was two in June.”
“Oh is he toilet trained yet?”
“No, I don’t think he’s ready yet.”
I had hoped the conversation would end there. After all, toilet training is the ‘do they sleep through the night’ of toddler-hood and since my toddler was obviously lacking in that area I assumed this conversation with the ‘nice-mum-of-a-similar-aged-child’ in the park would end right there, but it didn’t…
“Oh you need to do a sticker chart! Make a reward chart and every time he wees on the potty he gets a sticker, and then when he’s wee-ed ten times he gets a lolly! That’ll have him toilet trained in no time!”.
“Oh he’s not all that fond of lollies…” I muttered as the toddler in question pipped in with “Yolly? I have a yolly?”
“Oh then just use something else. He’s just manipulating you. He just needs a good shove to pee on the potty and you just have to find the right thing to motivate him. What about trains? Mine loves trains…”
I wonder if she saw the look on my face as I frantically tried to work out how to be polite, but not agree. I ended up lying…
“oh look the swings are free, lets hurry over because I know you really wanted a swing today…” and suddenly we had to rush off to the other end of the park…
You see the thing is, reward charts have never graced the walls of our home.
Not during the years and tears of helping the girls use the toilet, not when Izzy decided biting her sister was the best way to vent her frustrations, not when the big boy transitioned to his own bed and learned to go to sleep on his own, and not now that the toddler is magically two but still uninterested in the toilet.
Reward charts are not for us.
Why not? Well… lets see, what would I have said to that Mum in the park if it had been appropriate…
We choose not to motivate our kids using external and unrelated reward systems like sticker charts for a few reasons.
Reward charts tend to look at one tiny facet of behavior, and not look at the child or the situation as a whole. They assume that the child simply chooses to behave in one particular way and is able to change their behavior at the drop of a hat simply because they will get a reward. But behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
Almost always a child’s behavior is more than just what you see on the outside. It is more than just not wanting to go to the toilet, or not wanting to go to bed, and it is almost always not something they can simply turn on and off at will. Looking at the picture as a whole, thinking about why my child is behaving in this way, always works better for us than unrelated bribes or rewards. What is my child’s behavior trying to tell me? What need is not being met? What things can I change to guide them to more appropriate behavior? How can I support my child through this challenge?
When it comes to toilet training and reward charts the assumption is that the child is actually able to feel when they need to go to the toilet and control it, that it is a simple choice… that the child merely needs a ‘shove’ to ‘get over’ whatever is bothering them about using the toilet and they’ll be fine. I know from experience that is not always the case.
Had I used a reward chart for my girls when they were toilet training I would have been setting them up to fail. They simply were not physically ready for a long time, and dangling stickers or lollies in front of them wouldn’t have changed that fact. A reward chart would have become a punishment for something they had no control over and set us up for more anxiety and upset that we were already dealing with. Even with a normally developing child… even as an adult… can you pee or poop on demand?
I also don’t like to use reward charts because I feel it teaches my kids that the only things worth doing are those that get them some kind of reward.
I would rather my children learn how good it feels to accomplish something they have worked hard at, rather than how good it feels to get a sticker. I would rather my children learn how good it makes them feel when they do something for someone else, when they are kind, when they are helpful, rather than how good it feels to get a lolly. I would rather my children experience internal reward and pride, rather than rewards controlled by someone else.
Plus I am a lazy parent. I really don’t want to set my kids to up to always ask for a sticker or a lolly every time they do something good, that’s too hard for me.
I want to build my kid’s understanding and skills and intrinsic motivation so that in the long run they know what is right and wrong, and hopefully, behave accordingly. I want them to be able to listen to their bodies and know when they need to go to bed, or pee, or eat, rather than waiting for a reward to be dangled in front of their faces. Until then I will help them, remind them, support them, encourage them, show them, model for them, talk to them, and love them.
And lets not get me started on using food as rewards… because in my opinion food should never be a bribe or reward.
I am not saying that reward charts are evil incarnate. I think there may be some children and certain behavioral issues where a reward chart works wonders… but for our kids and when it comes to things like toilet training a two year old… reward charts are not for us.
So there you have it… that is what I would have said to that well meaning mum in the park… Except that it just isn’t appropriate to lecture someone you don’t know, just because their parenting ideas differ to yours…
That’s what a blog is for ;)
What about you? Do you reward charts work for you and your kids?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Leah Taylor says
What is it with potty training and people casting judgement?? My daughter is 2.5yo, shows very little interest in the potty, and I’m fine with that . But my sister, my parents, my in-laws, everyone seems to think this is something I need to ‘rush’ and pressure her in to. Why???! It doesn’t affect anyone else in any way and I don’t think she’s going to be running around in nappies when she is 18! I’ve had the same ‘advice’ to use reward charts, bribes, etc etc. Once my sister promised my daughter a sweety if she weed in the potty ; of course my daughter couldn’t do it, but she cried, distraught, because she couldn’t have the sweety in front of her. To me that is downright cruel and mean. Great post xx
I read this blog quite a while ago and just let it sit with me. It really was a thought provoking post. In fact, I thought so long and hard about it I ended up writing my own post… http://bit.ly/r3wardchart . I agree with so much of what you say, but I also think there is definitely a place for reward charts. In my opinion layering parental support is the ultimate solution and in our family we only use them in conjunction with other parenting strategies. We all have to do what’s right for our own families.
My daughter was nowhere near ready for potties at the age of two! I let everyone’s comments get to me though, and seeing other two year old kids peeing beautifully on the potty made me think I was doing something wrong, but when she did finally get it, just after she turned three, she was fast as lightning and cracked it within a couple of days.
I’m pregnant again now and I know this time I’ll be so much more patient and wait until he/she is ready, and it’s made me realise that kids really are totally unique and are ready at different times.
Kudos on dealing with pushy park mummy by the way! :D
Good for you! It is tough to hear all the well intentioned advice on potty training and not feel the pressure. But, I just kept telling myself that I was there to help my daughter when she was ready. …and that she would not be wearing a diaper to prom, no matter what I did or didn’t do during potty training.
Congratulations and good luck! :-)
I started searching for “reward” ideas online because my 1st Grader has gotten up, dressed and ready for school two days in a row with little prodding from me along the way. I’ve never been completely comfortable giving outright rewards. Natural rewards (like natural consequences) is more my style. But, I really wanted to celebrate these very successful two days with somehing special.
Well, when typed “reward ideas for kids” in the online search field and I saw all the reward charts pop up, I was really taken aback.
I’ll concede, there may be times when a reward chart is the best answer (although I haven’t run across the need yet) but, it appeared they were being used for everything from potty training to picking up toys to doing homework.
Using a reward system like this seems extremely superficial. Does it really teach my child why she needs to be responsible or kind or honest, for example? To me (and I understand I may be a minority here) using a reward chart is similar to dangling a carrot in front of a horse. His entire focus is on the carrot.
I want our daughter to do and behave and make decisions based on her own sense of self and her desire to be a valuable member of a family and community – not because she can win a prize.
I will be celebrating my daughter’s steps toward a more independent morning routine the same way I’ve celebrated her many other successes – with smiles, hugs and positive affirmations. Maybe we’ve just been really lucky, but it seems to work for us.
Andy Cook says
Brilliant. Thank you. I’m a Foster Carer in England. We’ve been told to use sticker charts and I’m not a fan. The Foster Child has Learned behaviour needs and Developmental delays following abuse. Our own child is the same age and he’s a wizz kid at school with no behaviour problems. We’re expected to put both kids on these charts. Why our child qualifies just because he’s a child I don’t know. Both children are now set up to fail or gain at the others expense. Can’t get anyone to understand that it’s not right for these two. I showed a few people your blogg as it says what I wanted to. Thanks again.
Wow! What a tough situation!
I can see how reward charts may help some kids with specific behaviour or developmental issues, but pitting one child against another, especially a child who has had less opportunities and more struggles… that seems like a sure fire way to make trouble to me.
I think your foster child is very lucky to have a carer who is striving to do the best for them, even when it goes against what others are suggesting.
Deb @ Bright and Precious says
Bravo Kate! You’ve articulated this so well. My question is, how do you deal with the reward charts/gold stars being used so much in the school system? I’m struggling with that at the moment. My daughter loves getting her gold stars and prizes, but it makes me cringe as it goes against everything we’ve done at home.
Our school doesn’t do a lot of that kind of behavior modification, though some teachers do have a reward type system in place… and in the beginning it did grate against me a little (especially when one twin got a ‘prize’ and the other didn’t which caused trauma!) , but we decided to put our kids into mainstream school for lots of reasons, and we knew we wouldn’t love absolutely everything about it… so I just tend to chalk this down in the ‘not perfect, but the benefits out weight the negatives for us’ section and let it go… or try to :)
I do think our kids can deal with different expectations and systems in different circumstances and I feel that a strong foundation and strong values at home won’t be ‘un-done’ by different expectations in other places (well up to a point – we all have our deal breakers) so I tend to just smile and say ‘that’s cool’ when someone gets a reward at school and not make a big deal over it.
Deb @ Bright and Precious says
Thanks for taking the time to answer that one, Kate. Yes, I keep thinking that hopefully the value at home will stay with her regardless of what happens at school (like you said, won’t be ‘undone’). I’ve got to learn to let it go more often than I do.
I was just working my way down the comments to make a similar point to this. My daughter is in her first year at school and I struggle with the fact that her favourite teachers are those that have the most stickers to give out or the special ‘surprise box’ to give out goodies. I have been thinking about talking to the teacher about it but wasn’t sure how to approach it. I am hoping it slows down a bit as she progresses through school.
It has been good to hear what you have both had to say about it.
It does get easier to let things go more as time goes on… promise.
I also think it helps to talk about these things with our kids too. One of my girls came home with a lolly yesterday for ‘helping clean up’… I HATE the fact that schools are even allowed to reward with food/lollies but I kept that to myself and just said ‘but did you clean up to get a lolly or just to help?’ and was pleased to hear her say ‘I cleaned up because I really like Miss B and wanted to help her… the lolly was just a bonus’. So now I know that my girl still does things for her own reasons not for rewards and my girls knows that I think that is still important…
Sorry to ramble on about this… obviously I have not ‘let it go’ as much as I might have hoped! LOL
Deb @ Bright and Precious says
So good to get your follow up on this Kate! It’s reminded me that I need to focus on reinforcing the reasons why my daughter does it – having that debrief about the motives is a great idea.
Anna Donald says
You can try to ‘train’ for months. IMF the kids not ready then they are not ready. That being said I had my older son out of nappies at 2.5 by using stickers on his potty. We used potties as toilets are scary. My twin girl decided she didn’t want anything to do with nappies at 20 months and I was given the odd look when she decided the toilet was for her. She trained, nighttime too with no problem. Her twin brother… Well we can say he is day trained at 3.5 but don’t distract him! He creates the most laundry but no fuss is given, he just takes off his wet pants, puts them in the bucket in the laundry and goes and gets clean ones.
I was one of these parents who wouldn’t feed her children this or that, no tv after so many minutes…. Threw that out of the window pretty quick…. We all do what we can
Anna Donald says
We still have nappies for the boys at bed time…no pressure there…. No competition