Toilet training rewards that don’t involve candy

Jill's brilliant take on toilet training bribery (we expect nothing less from her at this point):

Here's my best potty training hack. It worked for #1 and #2 is loving the process and doing well so far.

I bought large 2'x3' posters with lots of "stuff" on them. Son #1 picked antique locomotives, son #2 picked instruments of the symphony orchestra (interesting choice for a 2 y.o.?!) I taped squares of construction paper all over the items on the poster before they'd ever seen it. There are about four pieces covering each instrument/train. With one kid the issue was wetting himself, so at first each pee reward was one piece of paper removed. After a good week it took dry till lunch to get one piece, then later it was one piece for a whole day. By then we were almost done with the poster and the potty using was internalized.

Second kid is struggling with bowel issues, so he removes a piece of paper from his poster each time he poops in the potty (2x day here). I can't say I don't employ any candy (he actually just chose dried apricots instead tho), but we're all enjoying the slow revealing of this poster and can eventually put it in their bedroom.

I hope to be diaper free by 2007. [Success, Jill? — Ed]

What non-candy potty training rewards have best motivated your kids?

More: Potty training hacks


  1. Chaya says

    I bought a box of letters\numbers for the bathtub. Every time she sat on the toilet she got one. If she made she got two. Really though, that was almost pre-training–we did that while she was still wearing a diaper, for practice. Once she decided no more diaper, (by showing up at pre-school without it!) just her pride and our verbal reinforcement were enough for her. And….when she realized how much attention she was getting every time she said ” I need to make!” and I dropped everything to run her to the bathroom.

  2. says

    We’ve never used candy. Instead, I bought a sticker book and picked out a bunch of sets of stickers. I got a couple sets of “extra special stickers” (actually, those ended up arriving with a Doctor Who Adventures magazine my son reads – he’s a big fan). I got two jars and chopped up all the stickers. The regular ones went in one jar, the Doctor Who stickers went in another jar.

    At first, Kieran got a normal sticker for every time he sat on the potty and one special sticker for every time he peed (Pooping was delayed so we didn’t bother with that at first, he just held on till the nighttime diaper went on). At the same time, he was going bottomless all day long.

    He had a couple accidents in the first two days, but by the third day we had virtually total success. He was day trained within a few more days.

  3. says

    I’m with Chava on this one. We would just wait until after a meal when her diaper was still dry, put our daughter on a portable plastic potty and talk to her and play puppets. When she went we were effusive with hugs and praise, and let her help us put the results in the toilet and flush it.

    She got the hint about the toilet being where it went, and saw us going in the bathroom to go “potty” and decided that was where to go herself. Figured it out pretty good with just a little direction.

    You should see the pride on her face when she poops in the toilet! Holy cow.

    The love and hugs route has been pretty effective, and at 2 1/2 she only wears diapers to sleep. We’re hoping for 3 years old it will be all done.

  4. pella says

    our house uses the allmighty sticker. and if you can go the whole day without an accident, then you get a coin for your bank.

  5. says

    i love the poster idea. our kids have loved stickers. no fancy charts (they probably wouldn’t have understood that at potty-training age) just they get to choose a sticker and put it on a paper that we kept on the bathroom wall. As some of the above comments, we started first with every successful toilet use, then for every dry day, etc. here’s to being diaper free (sometime) in 2007!

  6. Ben C says

    Our (only) son just turned 3 a month ago, and we are having a miserable time trying to potty train him. He hates (hates hates hates) sitting on his potty, or on any potty. When I do get him to sit on it without crying and thrashing he never, ever goes. We just sit on it and read stories and try to play but eventually (after ten-fifteen minutes) his patience is gone, but he has not peed. I’ve tried doing this many times a day (I’m a stay-at-home dad) but it’s so frustrating. Candy bribery hasn’t even worked. I’m not even to the point of letting him wear underwear–I can’t even get him to use the potty AT ALL. Any advice? I’ve even bought some books from Amazon about potty training, which offers such gems as “take a break for a month or two.”

  7. says

    My daughter is 2 & 1/2 and is now, finally, fully trained. We started at about 20 mos and she had early success with peeing, we always celebrated with a silly dance and song about her new skill. Some times the celebration would last for 5 minutes! Her new ability for #2 on the potty developed when she started preschool in a class of mostly 4 year olds and she realized the other kids were not having the teacher change a dirty pull up while at school. We had tried everything… dvds… charts… stickers… and even treats in desperation. She accomplished this final phase of training at her own pace, something all parents need to remember if potty training becomes frustrating.

  8. Sarah says

    I trained my daughter at 2 and 2 months using the put her in panties and don’t look back method. I planned a few days where we could be home all day and sent her to the potty about every 30 minutes. It worked wonderfully with her. I used stickers which she peed but pooping was a lot more of a challenge so I got lots of fun things from the $1 bins at Target, wrapped them up and let her open a present when she pooped on the potty. We did this for about 2 weeks and I told her that after she opened the last present she we would go to the door store and she could pick something out. She got the Dora version of Candyland.

  9. says

    We did both – candy and large poster for putting favorite stickers on. Both strategies intermingled worked perfectly with our daughter. Then, once she has the hang of it, you slowly start to ween her off of those rewards.

  10. says

    Ben, my sister recently met a women who runs a pre-daycare daycare for children preparing t go to centre daycares but who may have behavioural issues of need potty training.

    Her advice was to buy thick undies (she calls them waffle undies, but I don’t know) and put them in their undies and pants and let them soil themselves and don’t change them immediately. Allow the child to understand what soiling oneself feels like (wet, dirty, smelly, cold) and then involve them in changing and cleaning up.

    Her theory revolves around the problem that space age diapers leave kid’s butts feeling dry so that their instincts about wanting to keep clean are a little impaired through using disposables. Which makes sense since I’ve read that cloth diapered kids generally train earlier and faster.

    Myself, I went the pants-less route and for the first few weeks, kept a potty in the livingroom where my son sat on it like a throne to watch TV or eat his lunch. I wrote about it here:

    I’d also like to add that using pull-ups during the day to avoid accidents and reduce our (as parents) need to clean up messes always backfires by delaying training or making little recidivists out of the once-trained. Only ever use them for travelling, if you’re worried aobut soiling the car seat, or nighttime. I have personal experience with thsi little mistake :)

  11. says

    My kids are 7 and 5 now and we’ve been out of diapers for so long it’s hard to remember. I wish I had thought of the post idea … it’s great.

    We did stickers, tiny ones that we added to the family calendar with much pomp and circumstance.

    (Man, am I ever glad that everyone’s out of diapers!)

  12. SheilaC says

    Our kids are triplets, and our potty training process went on for months from age 3 to nearly 4 years old. They did eventually get the idea! Hang in there, those who are feeling very tired of the accidents. This stage will be over one day.

    We used stickers at first, collected on a special paper near the potty. We had to offer new styles of stickers regularly to keep up the interest.

    All three of our kids were reluctant to do a BM in the potty. Eventually we offered a small toy for this success. This really worked for our son: he collected HotWheels cars, and was thrilled to get a new one each day. (Fortunately he was a routine once-a-day guy.) Once he was clean and dry for 2 whole days he got new big boy underwear, and became quite consistent. After a little while we scaled back to plastic dinosaurs and similar cheap toys, until he stopped asking for rewards.

    The toy rewards worked for the girls too, a couple of months after their brother was trained. They continued to collect stickers for successful peeing, and a small toy for a BM. We got dollar-store necklaces, Little People figures, and other sparkly but cheap toys. The cost was trivial compared to finally getting rid of diapers and pull-ups!

  13. says

    My aunt claims success with that approach, mamaloo.

    She thinks kids don’t like to be dirty and a little bit on encouragement, regular underwear, and then entertainment while on the potty works wonders.

    She’s made the claim that she can train a child that’s ready in a few days.

    Which I guess let’s us off the hook. When the time comes, I’ll be packing my son off to his great-aunt’s house.

    But, if that plan falls through, this comment thread is full of great ideas. Thanks.

  14. says

    I remember reading on someone’s blog (can’t find it again, but I think it was Cynical Mom’s: about letting her kid “drive” the car as a reward. Not immediate enough in my house, but might work for a whole or half day reward.

    Also — too embarrassing to be a submitted hack — if you are demonstrating peeing with a toy to teach your kid the concept, you can use one of those baby nasal aspirators to pretend the doll/stuffed animal is peeing. Just suck up some water (if you want to be authentic, use yellow food coloring in in the water), and try to hide it in your hand behind the doll.

  15. Ethan says

    Here’s our dilemma. My daughter is two and a half. Around 26 months, we potty trained her. We did candy for a bit and then switched to stickers. No problems. After a couple weeks, we were at Wal-Mart and she had to go. Well, the auto-flushing toilet (the only kind in the store) went off while she was on the potty and she started reverting.

    At first, she just refused to go anywhere except at home. The it was a complete reversal. Wet diapers never really bothered her in the first place so they certainly don’t motivate her to use the potty now (she still poops in the potty, though she waits until the last second). Here it is three months or so later and she still wants nothing to do with the potty unless she has to poop.

    Anyone have any ideas? How do you deal with stores where there are only auto-flushing toilets (we tried covering the sensor…didn’t work)? Anyone have anything similar happen?

  16. Shelly says

    Hi Ben,
    My son did not show ANY interest in potty training until he was almost 3 1/2. Starting at 2 1/2, I would make occasional offers to gauge his interest. Tried on a couple of occasions to do a BIG HURRAH STICKER thingy but he was absolutely so not interested that we didn’t get anywhere. One day, it was like magic, I offered (reminded him of the potty), he accepted and from then on it was all good. I speak from the camp of “when they are ready, it will happen, and it will be easy.”
    Good luck. It does all work itself out eventually.

  17. Charlotte says

    My son was 2years 3 months old when he would wait until I changed his diaper then he would pee in his new, clean diaper and laugh! He had been sitting on the potty occasionally but I wasn’t really concerned about having him trained at that point. I had thought he was still a little young. I would ask him why he didn’t tell me that he needed to sit on the potty and he would just laughed some more and say “It’s funny”. From that day on he wore underwear during the day (we still put him in a diaper at night for another 6 months) and when he would wet himself I would give him some paper towels and make him help me clean it up. When he would soil himself, I would empty his underwear out into the toilet and then put him in the tub with the water running and have him rinse out his underwear himself. This was torture to him and within a 9 days he was using the potty only. This will only work for kids who think that cleaning up after themselves is gross. Be warned, some kids think it’s fun!

  18. ksmce says

    The “pee-pee dance” has worked great at our house. It was our only motivation for our trained 4 yr old, and now that my 21-month old is flirting with potty training, we have been using it. We sing and dance in a circle to the tune of “ring aruond the roses” but the words are
    “Kate went pee pee in the potty
    Kate went pee pee in the potty
    She’s such a big girl,
    yeah yeah yeah!”
    Kate insists that everyone present in the house stop what they are doing and join in!

  19. says

    We’re members of the sticker contingent, too. No fancy posters or anything, just stickers.

    BenC–our son wouldn’t sit down, either, but standing up got him started down the path …. let him take advantage of his anatomy and make it fun … aiming at fruit loops is one way …

  20. Ingrid says

    Those days are pretty much behind us now, but while we were encouraging our toddler in her quest for diaper-independence, our dentist thought that I was a genius by rewarding her for a bedtime pee with minty dental floss. She loved to play with it during her bedtime story. One arm’s length for a pee, a double arm’s-length for a poop. (double your flavour, double your fun)

    Of course, the hands are always washed before the dental floss is dispensed. Personal hygiene is us!

  21. Lauren Snell says

    Ethan, re the auto flushing toilets, put a piece of tp over the sensor until she’s done and off the toilet. It won’t flush until you’ve taken it away. Hey, a hack!

  22. Chakolate says

    Ben C.,

    Tristan steadfastly refused to go on the potty, he was comfortable in his diapers and that was that. So we bought him some ‘big boy pants’ with his favorite Buzz Lightyear on them, and had him put them on under the pullup. He liked them, and wanted to keep them dry, but what *really* did it was that once they were wet or soiled, he wasn’t allowed to change out of them for about fifteen minutes. He *hated* that.

    After that he was trained in about six weeks. :-)

  23. says

    My daughter was extremely resistant to leaving diapers.

    What finally worked for her was the incentive of bubble bath at bathtime each day she used the potty every time.

  24. says

    My wife and I decided to skip the whole potty-training issue altogether and just teach our daughter to use the potty from the beginning. By 18 months she was only having accidents about 20-25% of the time, and she was totally “potty trained” by age 2. The process is called Elimination Communication (EC for short). You can find out more at

  25. Persephone says

    We used the computer. I had often put the kids on my lap and played around on Nick Jr. or children’s learning games with them. When they continued to resist toilet training, I told them that big boys who wanted to use the computer were big enough to use the potty. Within three days they were fully trained.

  26. says

    With my oldest we tried everything – stickers on a potty poster, candy, cereal in the toilet to shoot for, you name it, we tried it. Finally, I resorted to bribery and it worked. All it took was three Thomas trains and a cranky the crane and we were in big boy underwear. We have been good to go ever since.

  27. oceanbreeze74 says

    what worked for my 3yr old was change. she loved playing with coins so I gave her a empty babyfood jar and everytime she went in the potty she got 5 pennies for her jar that when it was full she could trade it for a non candy reward like watching her favorite dvd, a trip to the park, etc. now that she’s trained we still use the money jar for when picks up her toys or eats all her food or goes all day without a tantrum.

  28. says

    Okay, I have a couple of things that I tried with my son, and I think it was the combo of all of them that finally worked. (He potty-trained just 2 weeks before his 4th birthday.) We call it P.U. (potty-university)

    Because we had a goal (his 4th birthday) we wanted to be very purposeful. (1) Buy a favorite salty snack (pretzels) and a favorite beverage (we like glacieu’s Fruitwater, not sugary but still flavorful.) This made him very thirsty, and the more he drank, the more “teachable moments” we had. (2) We packed up all of our diapers for my neice. I explained that since she was a tiny baby, she reeeaaally needed them. (3) We bought Thomas the Tank undies. He l-o-v-e-s Thomas, and “Thomas doesn’t like to be piddled on.” (4) We went the toy-reward route. In the past that didn’t work, he could just decide at any given moment that a Hot Wheels car/Bob the Builder toy wasn’t worth it. So we put a twist on it. We got some cheap little toys: wind-ups, cars, etc. and one really big toy: a remote control car, and I WRAPPED them! Just the added element of surprise was huge incentive. (5) Plus, we made a little sticker chart. One sticker for every piddle, two stickers for every poo. The first present was awarded after 5 stickers, the next after 6, then next after 7, 8, then 9, and the big present after 10. The big gift sat on the top shelf of the linen closet, and the other 5 were in a basket and he could just choose whichever one he wanted. (6) Negative reinforcement for accidents was done very light-heartedly. We would just say “That’s okay! Accidents happen!” But then he was in charge of his own clean-up. He had to rinse out his clothes in the sink, take them down two flights of stairs to the basement and throw them in the washing machine himself. Then he had to go back up two flights of stairs to his bedroom and pick out new pants and undies. It was pretty inconvinient, and he learned it just took less time to go on the potty when he first felt the urge. We only had a handful of accidents.

    By the time he got to the big present, it was a week and a half later, he was going totally on his own and washing his own hands.

    That was our magical routine! I hope it will work for someone else!

  29. says

    We found pull ups, as convenient as they were, acted like a diaper and actually hindered training. Getting the cheapest, nastiest diapers you can, that keep the kid wet and a bit uncomfortable before being changed provides some pretty good incentives to “move on”- very similar to the waffle underwear suggestion.

  30. says

    My two cents…

    I’ve employed two methods that I feel work well. One, put the child on the potty chair when they just wake up (if they will tolerate it) and before bath time (the water gets things flowing). Two, praise, praise, praise, and more love and praise.

    My son has been working on training, by his own request, since about 18 months old. He’ll be 2 yrs in just a few weeks. While he has accidents, he’s learning very well.

    One additional thing that I might mention, is that we don’t really use pull-ups or training pants very long. My daughter used them for about a week or two, and my son uses them off and on. Both children prefer underwear, and they both recognize that it’s a big step in “growing up”. They feel a real sense of pride in being able to wear “big kid” underwear, and it honestly helps them potty train better. I don’t know too many kids that like wet pants, so it’s kind of a quick way to learn that it’s not cool to potty in da’ pants (regardless of what Billy Madison has indicated).

  31. says

    Wow, what a great selection of ideas. Thanks, everyone! My 2 1/2 year old son loves the potty, we’re just really starting to get into it now. I heartily recommend the “Elmo’s Potty Time” dvd.
    (brought to you by the letter “P” and the number “2”!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. Kevin says

    My 3 year old son was highly highly resistant to going potty after a brief spat of early interest. We modified the poster idea a little, taking a couple tactics at the same time.
    We let him choose a poster, turned out to be Superman. Then we covered the ‘good’ parts (face, big S) with green post-it notes and the rest with yellow. When we asked him to go potty and he went without giving us a hard time, off came a yellow tag. When he went #2 he got a green tag and got to watch a half hour of a show on DVD of his choice, one of which was ‘Elmo Potty Time’. Within two weeks he was potty trained!!