Let’s face it. When you’re potty training your child, you may resort to sweet treats (read: bribery). Plenty of parents do. You may offer chocolate candies, jelly beans, or mini marshmallows. Any kind of sugary tidbit can turn into a “tinkle treat” — a reward you give your child for successfully using the toilet.
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But, if you go this route, you’ll eventually need to wean your child off of these treats. And, there are ways you can help your child transition away from needing or wanting them, says pediatrician Amy Sniderman, MD.
“Positive reinforcement in the form of treats can be an effective part of toilet training,” she says. “But, you only want to use them for short periods of time. Using rewards like this should only last for a month at most.”
Here’s what you should consider when deciding how you will reward successes during toilet training.
When can you phase out sweets?
Map out your exit strategy before you start.
Just as you must read your child’s interest and readiness for toilet training (typically between ages 2 and 3), you also must judge when your child is ready to give up the rewards.
There’s no set age or length of time for this process, Dr. Sniderman says.
She suggests keeping track of how long your child toilets appropriately. When you feel confident he or she is comfortable with the concept, you can start to phase out the rewards.
What else can you offer?
It may work just as well to avoid offering sweet treats from the start. Here are five options to consider:
1. Verbal praise. Instead of offering candy, give your child plenty of verbal reinforcement. Say how proud and excited you are about her success.
Never shame or punish your child for failure, Dr. Sniderman says. If there’s an accident, simply let her know she can try again next time, and you appreciate her efforts.
2. Non-food options. Instead of rewarding your child’s success with food, give him a sticker or a gold star on a chart. At this age, they’ll likely respond just as well to those rewards as they will to food, Dr. Sniderman says.
3. Healthy snacks. If you choose to give a food reward, avoid candy. Whole-wheat pretzels, crackers, raisins or even nuts (if your child doesn’t have a nut allergy) are good alternatives. Be sure your child can safely chew what you offer without risk of choking; nuts and raisins are considered possible choking hazards in kids under 3.
4. Space it out. Transition away from rewarding every toileting effort by limiting how often you give a treat. You can provide a treat every other time or wait until your child asks for one.
5. Make it a game. Turn toileting success into a game. Tell your child he must toilet successfully two or three times to earn a reward. Over time, the reward will fade in its importance, Dr. Sniderman says.
“Pay attention to when your children become consistently successful with potty training,” she says. “That’s when you can start to phase out any rewards.”
No matter what option you choose, make sure you limit the amount of sugar your toilet-training toddler receives each day.
“According to the American Heart Association, a child over age 2 should eat no more than 6 teaspoons or 25 grams of sugar a day — that’s really only about a cup of apple juice,” she says.