Keeping Little People Motivated to Potty Train

Using Non-Tangible Rewards

By Cynthia Noell

Many parents like to use stickers or candy as rewards, and if that works for your family, great. Others prefer non-tangible (sometimes called “intrinsic”) motivators: things that are not “stuff”. Perhaps a combination of the two will work as well. In this article, we’ll discuss some ideas for non-tangible rewards.

Sometimes we all need a little help staying motivated to get certain things accomplished and doesn’t it feel good to reward yourself once in a while? Giving yourself a well deserved night off after a hectic time, or going out on Fridays after a long week of work are ways we might reward ourselves for doing something that may be challenging for us. Sometimes we need something to keep us going. Kids need rewards, too – although their idea of what constitutes a reward might differ from yours! When it comes to potty training, rewards can be helpful – especially if your child needs a little extra motivation.

For you, the rewards for doing the work involved in potty training include having a more independent child, saving money on diapers, and best of all, not having to change diapers anymore! Little people who are potty training may not be naturally internally motivated yet, and are clearly not old enough to have learned that sometimes we have to do things that we may not always want to or that are challenging to us. We as parents have to always stay one step ahead so we can motivate our child to get the job done. The question is,” How to find the right motivation?”

For those younger potty trainers, you may be able to get away with some smaller incentives. For example:  one that always worked wonders in my house was the good old potty party. When my children were learning to use the potty, every time they were successful we would all yell, scream, and jump up and down and tell them how wonderful they were and what a good job they did.

Some of my kids enjoyed this so much they would try and go frequently just so they could get a potty party for themselves. I mean who in the world wouldn’t like to be told how wonderful they are all the time?! Life might really be a lot easier if we took a cue from children and told each other what a great job each other was doing occasionally. Younger children often benefit from smaller but more frequent rewards as they catch on to this whole potty time thing.

Another great intangible reward children love is spending special time with a parent. If they try or are successful at pottying that day they can get extra stories at bedtime or stay up late and watch a special show. After a certain time of being successful you could even offer them a special trip to the library or park, anything that they get excited about may motivate them. One of my children loved a book from the library on potty training that was in the little children’s section so much that we still had to check it out years after she was potty trained.

Some of the bigger incentives are for kids who are a little on the older side, who may know enough and understand the facts, such as they might get to go to a bigger kids class in certain things once they are potty trained. For instance, in some preschools you have to be out of diapers before moving to the “big kids class”. Also, many churches require children to be out of diapers to move out of the nursery and onto the older kids class.  Older children might also understand working towards a bigger prize, one they have to earn after several successful trips to the potty.

Sometimes it may seem that you just can’t find the right motivator. If that’s the case, there is always that chance that your child is just not ready to potty train. They do need to be physically ready as well as emotionally ready. So if they are not having much success, you may just need to wait a little while and try again in a couple of months. That may not always feel ideal, but kids have a wonderful, independent mind of their own, which is after all what we ultimately want them to have, and they will be potty trained some day!


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