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Will Pee for Food

Nothing quite competes with potty training in giving parents a sense of urgency to get their children to perform, whether it’s pressure we put on ourselves, the rush to meet a child care mandate (“Your child can’t move into the next class until he’s out of diapers.”), or simply general societal expectations (“I taught my child to pee in the potty in less than a week before he was a year old!”).

Given the quest for potty training success, you’re sure to find that many popular potty training regimens recommend offering your child M&Ms, ice cream, or a favorite dessert as a reward. We’ve given this particularly tempting use of food a lot of thought, and we keep coming to the same conclusion: When you resort to dishing out treats morning, noon, and night in return for some well-placed pee and poop, you’re sending your child the wrong message. We therefore suggest you leave food out of your bathroom negotiations altogether, stick to using nonedible forms of reward instead, to help ensure food-free potty training success.

Choosing Your Food Rewards Wisely

Whenever you deem it necessary to reward your child with a food treat for whatever reason, we suggest the following:

Keep It Few and Far Between

If and when you find yourself unable to avoid the use of food as a reward despite being aware of the implications, we suggest you allow yourself to do so only for those instances that occur infrequently, such as sitting still for a haircut or doing a good job at the doctor’s office, rather than on a frequent or daily basis (“If you eat your dinner, you can have dessert.”).

Avoid an Overdose

Avoid using food to reward the common behaviors that you expect your child to perform on a very regular basis, lest your child get far more than his fair share of sweets. Examples of these often-rewarded behaviors include peeing in the potty, going to sleep without a fuss, eating one’s meal, and “take this cookie and be quiet while mommy is on the phone.”

Keep the End Result in Sight

Don’t forget to set an end date or a target result and then stick to it. Especially for behaviors that can take a good bit of time to accomplish, such as potty training, make it clear that once your child has mastered the skill, he will not continue to be rewarded indefinitely.

Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP
Last Updated
Food Fights, 2nd Edition (Copyright © 2012 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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