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Potty training, for most parents, probably starts with thinking their toddler is getting a bit big for diapers now, and may be ready to go diaper free. T

The child may have expressed awareness of bodily functions and have dry diapers for longer periods of time. When these signs show up, you go to buy a potty... and think up a reward system using stickers, chocolate, or lots of praise. Right? Well, there are alternatives to rewards, and reasons not to make your child's potty learning process reward-focused too.

First, why should parents of potty learning toddlers be looking for alternatives to rewards? Aren't rewards wonderful? Learning to use the potty is a big physical and psychological milestone. Your child is learning something very important, so why shouldn't she feel that way? I'm not advocating against parents going to buy some "Big Kid" underpants and commenting on how big she's become.

It's the rewards giving following each successful use of the potty that can cause problems. Don't believe me? Your kid may love stickers, M&Ms, or whatever it is you were thinking about giving. Mine did. She'd also squeeze out tiny little amounts of pee every few minutes so she could have a sticker, and cry when I announced we were out of them.

Oh, and potty accidents increased when we didn't buy the "nice" stickers she liked. Oops. Every child is different, and obviously not every potty learning toddler will react the same way that mine did. Now let's look at why one would reward for successful potty trips. I know why I did: I was expecting my daughter's baby brother shortly and didn't want two in diapers.

I wanted Big Sister to be using the potty successfully before the baby got there, and was willing to put some fire under that with those stickers. It did work, in the end. To be fair, my daughter was diaper free right before her brother was born (then we switched to cloth diapers, and I couldn't have cared less whether she still needed those, because it wouldn't have been any extra hassle or financial burden).

But, rewarding successful potty trips can cause stress, introduce bribery as a valid manner in which to get what you want, and can make your kid only want to pee for the reward (though, of course, that's only a temporary side effect). It may make the toddler feel bad about mistakes too. We took a much more relaxed approach with the second kid, partly inspired by a friend who practiced elimination communication (a diaper-free baby). In the summer when he was one and a half years old, I just took off his cloth diapers and showed him where the potty was.

No rewards, no punishment, not a lot of comments at all. When he peed himself, I'd point it out to him: "Look, you have peed, let's get you cleaned up and change your clothes." He'd already make it pretty clear when he needed to poo, so we had very, very few accidents with that. By the winter of that year, he was completely proficient on the potty. And he did it all by himself. I loved the ease of that process. Potty learning turned into a natural milestone achieved by the child when he was ready, rather than am intensive parenting gig. There was no stress for him, or for me.

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