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Reward System For Toddlers – Yes or No?

REWARD_CHART.jpgI’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about reward systems.  At first, I was simply trying to devise a simple reward system for potty-training.  I picked up several items from the $1 aisle at Target that I thought Zach would enjoy.  I set out to establish some simple goals for him that could gradually expand as he reached each goal.  But then I got stuck (or maybe lazy) and never got around to making up a chart for him to use.

Shortly after that, my boy who was doing so well with the potty training started regressing.  At first it was just a little resistance, then it turned into an all out fight to get him to even sit on the potty.  However, the resistance seems to only be at home as he does fine at day care and has done fine at my sister’s house when she has him.  For now, I’m letting off of the potty training a bit because I don’t want to force it and make it a negative thing for him. 

Besides the potty-training, Zach has also regressed in other areas and they all pretty much have to do with personal care.  It is an absolute fight most days to brush his teeth, get him dressed, etc. unless I bribe him with getting to watch Blue’s Clues when we’re done.  If I had all the time in the world, it wouldn’t matter.  I could let him do things at his own pace, but most days we’re on a pretty tight schedule and I don’t have ten minutes to convince him to let me brush his teeth.

Now I realize that he is two.  He’s trying to establish his own routines and exert his own opinions.  The problem is, he’s two.  He doesn’t understand why he needs to brush his teeth no matter how many times I explain it to him, nor does he understand why he should do anything else that I tell him to do.  I don’t think my requests are unreasonable.  Most of the things that I want him to do he has been doing for a long time, he just no longer wants to do them.

I’m tired of threatening time-outs or other punishments just to get him to cooperate.  Basic positive reinforcement doesn’t seem to phase him.   I don’t want to bribe him with TV time because he gets more than enough of that as it is.

That’s where the reward system comes in.  I need to find some way to encourage him to follow directions and to do the simple daily tasks that he already knows how to do.  I’m just not sure whether to narrow it down to specific tasks or whether to make it more general.  I’ve consulted Dr. Google and have a few ideas that may or may not work with him.  I’ve seen a reward system work well for my 7-year-old nephew.  But, I’m just wondering how effective it might be for a 2-year-old.

If anyone out there has any advice or has tried reward systems with your own kids, please share your experiences.  I’m all ears.

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  1. we use the stop light system. Green is great, yellow is warning zone, red is BAD.

    If the kids have a green day they are allowed to pick out books for bedtime/tv time/computer time. Yellow is a warning, typically an age appropriate time out and less bedtime book reading. Red means no bed time story and typically some other privilege removed (tv computer favorite toy, outside playtime). We have a stoplight on our fridge and use a magnet for each child so everyone can clearly see and simply understand the chart and where they stand.

  2. Rewards haven’t worked that well for toddlers in my house. Sometimes an immediate reward will help for a short time, but not for the long term. And honestly, traditional timeouts really haven’t worked all that well either.

    We’ve had a lot of success with routines, choices, and games. So, every morning we do the exact same thing in the exact same order like little robots. Same for bedtime. Once the routine is down, the little ones will tell you if you’ve got it wrong. Loudly.

    Choices are good too. For example, get two tubes of toothpaste and let your child pick the flavor. The more in control the kid feels, the more cooperative he will be.

    Games can help a lot in cooperation too. You can sing “This is the way we brush our teeth” or something. Or take turns. It does take longer, but if you consider the time you lose waiting out tantrums, it’s really not that bad. Good luck! Toddlers are tough little creatures sometimes.

  3. We have encountered the same regression with potty training. He was a complete potty dynamo the first week and then NOTHING. He won’t even go near a toilet now, and yet he demands to be changed.
    I don’t get it. Bribes haven’t worked because he just doesn’t care if he gets one or not.
    The only reason he likes brushing his teeth is because I recently bought ice Lemon flavoured toothpaste for myself and he likes to use, scratch that, eat it.
    Please- if you figure this whole thing out- share the wealth.

  4. this is interesting conversation. I will definitely be anticipating other to share their strategies and eagerly find out what eventually work with your little Z.


  5. I cannot give advice. I can only validate you and make you feel like a normal good mommy. Because I have no idea what the heck to do either (especially with potty training a very resistant THREE year old) But I’m still a REALLY good mommy. 🙂

  6. Hope Hope

    I am a parent educator and I would like to put you at ease. Children haven’t developed the reasoning skills to understand long term consequences. “Why should I brush my teeth? I don’t care about tomorrow and how clean my teeth are in the future.” Children need short term positive praise, but it should be vocal so that children do not demand things that are not available to them, i.e. money, candy,unacceptable gifts. This also builds confidence and strengthens the relationship with the primary care givers.

  7. jenn jenn

    I was wondering where you found this chart

  8. dee dee

    @jenn – I’m not sure where the chart came from originally. I don’t own it, just found the image doing a search. Unfortunately, I didn’t cite where I got the image from in my post.

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