Things were going so well on the potty training front. But suddenly your child has stalled -- or, worse, regressed. Don't worry; it's completely normal for children to take their time or experience setbacks. Your job is to accept and support them no matter where they are in the process.
The Art of Rewards
Rewards can be powerful tools when used correctly. But when used incorrectly they can backfire, shifting the emphasis entirely off potty training and onto claiming the prize. Follow these guidelines to keep things on track:
Keep material rewards small. Try rewarding your little one with a small treat each time he meets a goal. Go to the store together and purchase pint-size prizes: stickers, Matchbox cars, crayons. Place them in an out-of-reach but in-sight location so your child can keep his eye on the prize during visits to the potty. Hand out a reward only when he actually meets a goal; otherwise, you'll run through your gifts in a matter of hours!
Create a reward board. Older kids (generally those 4 and up) will understand the concept of a payoff after a series of successes. To track your child's progress, set up a "reward board," a visual reminder of what she needs to accomplish to receive a prize. For each day of the week that your child stays dry, for example, you could place a gold star (or other sticker) on the board. When she collects five stars, she gets a small prize -- a trip to the movies, say, or a stuffed animal.
Wow with color. Place a few drops of blue food coloring in the toilet bowl or potty chair. Show your child how adding yellow coloring -- the same color as his urine -- changes the blue into green. Once your child witnesses the magic change in color, he may be eager to make the color change all by himself.
Use a potty partner. Going to the bathroom is much more fun when you've got company -- such as a beloved stuffed animal, or a drink-and-wet doll. Encourage your child to show her potty partner how to use the toilet: Once she helps her companion master the task, she might be more likely to follow suit.
Make target practice a blast. To entice your son to learn how to urinate standing up (and to up the odds that he'll aim into the bowl), make a game out of it: Drop several Cheerios or other O-shaped cereal pieces in the bowl for him to "fire" at. You can also use paper targets. Create your own out of colored tissue paper, or purchase specially made, flushable targets in different shapes. (You can also use targets to encourage girls to use the toilet, although the game is less effective when the child is sitting down.)
Dress your child in easy-to-remove clothing. If your child has to fuss with too many snaps, zippers, or buttons to use the potty, he may give up on the process. Try simplifying your child's wardrobe -- sweats or other pants with elastic waistbands work well. During warm months, you may even want to let him run around without clothes. All he has to do is find his potty and sit!
If nothing you try makes a difference, your child is telling you he's not ready. In this case, the best thing to do is to back off and wait until he's physically and emotionally prepared to move forward again. Your patience and his readiness are the perfect combination.