Everything You Need to Know About Potty Training Rewards, According to an Expert

A few M&Ms a day keep the diapers away

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If the thought of potty training doesn’t make you groan, you probably don’t have children. Indeed, this necessary developmental step is a dreaded rite of passage for both parents and kids. And most of the time, you can count on some resistance from your diaper-wearing spawn. So let’s talk about potty training rewards. The concept has been trending with parents as of late (according to Pinterest Predicts, interest is up 100 percent), but are they a good idea? Will a handful of M&Ms really help this intimidating process end sooner? We spoke to a potty training expert and got answers to all your questions on the subject. Read on for the full scoop (and Godspeed).

Meet the Expert

Allison Jandu is the owner and founder of Potty Training Consultant, the author of multiple potty training books and a mom-of-two. Equal parts overwhelmed and inspired by potty training her own kids, she set out to find a solution so moms wouldn’t have to guess their way through the process. After years of research, which is still ongoing, she created Potty Training Consultant—a judgment-free community where over 9,000 families have found the evidence-based advice and one-on-one expert support they need to achieve potty training success.

potty-training-rewards: a little girl sitting on a potty.
Manu Vega/Getty Images

Should You Offer Potty Training Rewards?

There’s some controversy over offering rewards for potty training, with some arguing that you shouldn’t reward kids for expected behavior (just like you wouldn’t reward a kid for sleeping through the night). But many parents find that rewards work wonders and Jandu is a fan. “Research actually shows that offering rewards encourages children to try non-preferred activities like using the potty,” she says. “In fact, decades of research tells us that using rewards does not decrease intrinsic motivation, can lead to long-lasting improvements in behavior, and improve the parent-child relationship, too.” There’s a catch, though. Per Jandu, “rewards can be a great way to motivate your child to use the potty repeatedly, so long as you’re careful never to use them as a bribe…and this can be a fine line.” In other words, you shouldn’t dangle a reward carrot-and-stick style to lure your toddler to the potty; in fact, you’re better off not making any mention of the reward whatsoever until the deed is done. That way, the expert explains, the child will understand the reward as the effect of using the potty, not the reason (or cause) for doing it.

potty-training-rewards: a little girl looking at a potty training schedule.
Manu Vega/Getty Images

What Makes a Good Potty Training Reward?

Parents should know that it’s important not to get sloppy with the reward system. Jandu tells us that the best potty training rewards are given immediately after a potty success (thus cementing the connection, a la Pavlov’s dog) and given consistently (i.e., don’t forget or wait for your child to ask). Needless to say, it’s also essential that the reward be something your child actually desires. As such, Jandu breaks rewards down into three basic categories: edible, tangible and experiential. Edible rewards need little explanation—it’s just candy (duh)—and work great if “food is your child’s love language.” For kids who “like to have and hold things,” Jandu recommends tangible rewards such as a small toy instead.

Finally, the expert tells us that experiential rewards are excellent for kids who don’t initially seem to be particularly reward-motivated—namely because these children might find more value in a reward that involves doing something with you. They're also a helpful way to tackle specific issues (if your kid is great about the potty except when it comes to poop, for example) and can be used to phase out instant gratification rewards when the child is ready for longer term goals, like going a whole week without a single accident.

potty-training-rewards: a baby sitting on a toilet.
vesnaandjic/Getty Images

Potty Training Reward Ideas

So what are some examples of edible, tangible and experiential rewards, you ask? Read on for our top picks in all the aforementioned categories.

Edible Rewards

  1. Marshmallows
  2. M&Ms
  3. Fruit snacks or gummies
  4. Popsicles
  5. Lollipops

Tangible Rewards

  1. Matchbox cars
  2. Stickers
  3. Mini dinosaur figurines
  4. Modeling clay packs
  5. Pop It fidget toys
  6. Books

Experiential Rewards

  1. Visit to a children’s museum
  2. Trip to the zoo
  3. Carousel ride
  4. Indoor play space
  5. Beach day

How to Stop Using Potty Rewards

So let’s say your kid is a sucker for stickers and has been doing a great job sitting on the potty—hurrah! But you obviously don’t want to give your kid a reward for going pee until they’re a teenager. Jandu says to ease away from the rewards gradually, lest you undo all the good work you’ve put in. “So after the first two weeks or so, start setting longer term goals for your little one. Instead of each individual potty success, reward each successful potty day. Then week, then month, etc.” Easy peasy.

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Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...