Should we offer rewards or bribes to encourage our child to use the potty?
Although you may feel queasy about the idea of bribing your child to use the potty, rewards often help children do what we want them to do. For example, if your child almost always remembers to use the potty when he's playing in his room but forgets to go when he's playing outdoors, the promise of a reward for staying dry may motivate him to come inside when he feels the urge.
However, if he's in the beginning stages of toilet training, you may want to hold off on using rewards. They tend to work best when a child needs extra motivation to do something he's almost ready to do on his own. But if your child has almost mastered toilet training, consider using one of these:
If your toddler is almost or already 3 years old, you can more easily tempt him to sit on the potty or use the potty if you offer him a goodie. Stickers, jellybeans, or even small prizes may work well, and could motivate him to keep practicing skills that might otherwise be less interesting to him.
Begin by offering a treat for sitting on the potty but then cut back to offering it only if your child actually poops or pees. Otherwise he'll work the system and will run to the potty every half-hour and sit for a few minutes just to get another cookie or toy.
These can help you and your child keep track of successes. You may want to place a check or a sticker on the chart every time your child accomplishes a task within his usual range of behavior. Otherwise, if the task is too challenging, the chart may have so many empty spaces that he gives up. For example, if your child usually makes it to the potty but has a few accidents every day, you could put a small star in the day's box for each time he gets to the potty in time and a big sticker for an accident-free day.
Some parents use a chart to show a child's progress over time. There may be a special reward, for example, for seven accident-free days. Longer-term goals are fine if you combine them with a way to recognize daily successes. Most young children can't stay motivated toward a reward that is days or weeks away.
Asking your child to promise to use the potty doesn't work well, however. Saying "If we stop at the toy store on the way home, you have to promise to use the toilet all afternoon" or "If I let you wear your Batman costume without a diaper you have to promise me you won't have any accidents" probably won't do much good. It's useless to ask a young child to stick to a promise in exchange for something he wants immediately.
A preschooler can understand only what he feels and wants in the present. He can promise a parent anything, but shouldn't be expected at his age to keep a promise, no matter what he says. Don't punish your young child for saying he'll do something later and then refusing; a preschooler's promise is not a legal contract.