Motivating Kids: Sticker Charts Revisited

by Ann Douglas

Anxious toddlerLet word of your toddler's new-found fascination with his potty make the rounds at the next family get-together and you're bound to find yourself on the receiving end of a lot of potty-centric trivia and advice.

All of a sudden it's which members of the family were hopelessly slow in the training department (and will never live down that claim to fame).

Then you'll hear about which potty-training methods helped cousin so-and-so to get out of diapers at a remarkably early age -- thereby earning him the much-coveted "genius" label within the family ranks from the time he first flashed his Batman underwear.

Odds are at least some of the advice that comes your way will focus on the importance of rewards and why you must design a sticker chart, buy the proverbial box of Smarties, and/or let your little guy sink Cheerios in the toilet in order to encourage him to perfect his aim.

What your well-meaning relatives might neglect to tell you -- or might be shocked to discover themselves -- is that rewards can backfire with children of certain temperaments.

A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience concluded that rather than motivating shy children, rewards can actually make them so anxious that they may decide to opt out of the potty program.

"Instead of enjoying the rewarding situation, we believe [the shy children] worried about performing, about making a mistake," says Koraly Perez-Edgar, a University of Maryland research scientist involved in the study, which was headed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

So before you recreate the same potty-training sticker chart that has worked for every child in your family for generations (at least according to family legend), you might want to ask yourself if a more laid-back approach might be more in keeping with his temperament.

Sometimes it just makes sense to go with the flow.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.

Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to publish granted to Pregnancy.org.