Don’t Make This Common Mistake in Potty Training
For more potty training tips, listen to our podcast episodes Nighttime Potty Training, Bedwetting & Relapse and Potty Training Readiness Signs.
The idea of undertaking potty training causes a lot of anxiety for most parents. They feel like they are getting ready to go into battle! There are 2 common mistakes I see when parents are potty training. The first mistake is, starting before the child is ready, not waiting for enough of the readiness signs and then embarking on potty training with their own agenda (understandably to get the child potty trained!) I’ll talk about this more in another post.
The other big mistake I see parents making is using rewards. Candy or another sweet treat like raisins are popular. Many times parents bring in the use of treats because of the first mistake, starting before the child is ready. So why are rewards such a big no-no?
Rewards are just thinly veiled attempts at bribery. Rewards increase external motivation, meaning doing the task for the reward rather than for pride of a job well done. You can already start to see why this is a bad idea when it comes to potty training. Rewards are almost always about the parent’s agenda to get the child potty trained. (Again, I totally understand the desire to reach this momentous milestone. I had 3 kids in, cloth – yes cloth, diapers at one time. So I totally get it!) However, many times these attempts to push our kids forward before they are ready, usually backfire and just makes the process take longer.
Several research studies have shown that rewards are rarely successful at invoking long term changes in behavior. Once the rewards stop, the behavior returns to how it was before the reward system was implemented. (Deci, E. L., and R. M. Ryan. 1985; Fabes et al., 1989) Sometimes, what can end up happening is that in order to keep the motivation going, larger and larger rewards need to be offered. We don’t want to have to continually reward our children for using the potty!
The goals of potty training is long term, to get your child to use the potty on his or her own when she feels like she needs to go. There should not be an external reward involved in this process because we want our children to have and keep that internal sense of motivation, a pride in self for mastering this skill, in having command of one’s own body! Kids this age naturally seek autonomy. So if the time is right and they are physically and emotionally ready this desire for independence is more than enough motivation to get the job done.
For lots of great information on potty training, how to know when your child is ready and what to do during each step of the way for a lower stress approach (and generally faster potty training overall), see our class on potty training.