Choose a Reusable Reward System for Toddler Triumphs

It’s been six months since I gloated about our daughter easing into potty training. To my great dismay, in recent weeks, at 2.8-years-old, she has learned to say, "I don’t want to."

My wife and I are great at talking our daughter into reversing a refusal to go potty, brush teeth or go down for a nap. Unfortunately, two weeks ago Mom snapped. She crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed. She offered an incentive.

Photo of the calendar on our bathroom wall and a close-up of notations reading: potty, teeth and naps. The photo caption reads: Our undated weekly calendar is updated sporadically as needed.I hate incentive-based activities and learning because the incentive can take over as a child’s motivation; it can become a crutch. Remove the incentive and the activity becomes harder to accomplish than it was before the incentive was introduced.

So here we are with a laminated undated monthly calendar taped to our bathroom wall with clear packing tape. We bought it at Staples to teach the days of the week, but now it serves to mark my daughter’s bowel, dental and hibernation habits.

"I don’t want to go potty!"
"But if you do, you get to mark an X on the calendar."

Or more accurately, scrawl a plus sign.

And that’s enough incentive. Although the calendar came with a variety of reusable vinyl stickers, she takes greater joy in picking up a pen to make her mark.

Notations reading "potty," "teeth," and "naps" are written at the start of the top three calendar rows. I said we are using a monthly calendar, but as you can see in the photo, we’re effectively using it as a weekly calendar. As the week progresses, we erase the previous week’s markings because they occupy the same row.

We are careful not to remind our daughter about the calendar. She forgets half the time and we only mention it when she fusses, and I in particular use it as a last resort. As a result, many of the calendar squares never get marked. Other times, I can double or triple the incentive…

"Hey look, you forgot to mark your nap and potty today. If you brush your teeth, you get to make three Xs."

When she grows out of marking an X, I may draw basic cartoon objects on the calendar with water-soluble pen. Then we’ll give her a color dry erase pen with which she can color the objects. We can wipe away her coloring each week, but retain the underlying drawing. I’m not talking about creating complex drawings. Make a hollow smiley face, an apple, a star, a cat or dog face, and so on.


2 Responses to “Choose a Reusable Reward System for Toddler Triumphs”

  1. scurvyann says:

    I love this idea! And I think C6 will love it, too. Thanks!

    February 22nd, 2007 at 10:07 am

  2. Sindie Allum says:

    Do you think that after three gold stars or x marking, providing an incentive like a cheap tooy car or doll etc is a bad idea?

    October 25th, 2007 at 1:49 am

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