Have you ever wondered…
“Is offering candy during potty training a good idea?”
“Is it best to save dessert for when a child has finished their meal?”.
If you have, you aren’t alone! This is why potty training your toddler and serving broccoli on their plate may feel like very similar processes! It’s the reward that is often offered in connection with them.
As parents we want our kids to learn to eat their vegetables and stay nourished AND we want them to learn how to use the washroom properly – from getting there in time, keeping everything where it is supposed to be, and washing their hands well at the end. Because of the intensity, stress, and chaos associated with both of these desires, chocolate, candy, and other sweet foods are often offered as a reward.
But when I answer the questions above, I always think big picture / long term.
If we offer children donuts, candy, chocolate (or any food item) in the form of a reward, it leads to a few concerning outcomes:
- The candy is on a pedestal and is seen as a strongly desired item. When children desire an item they tend to ask for it all the time. When children ask for things all the time we have to say no sometimes for various reasons, and this can further increase the size of the pedestal.
- When food is offered as a reward, children see it as a calming mechanism. Later in life this can lead to emotional eating in place of ideal communication and coping mechanisms that bring solutions and healing.
- We may be interrupting a child’s natural cues for hunger / satiety when offering reward for eating certain foods.
So how can we encourage children to eat more broccoli and make it to the potty on time without the promise of Skittles? Here are a few ideas:
- Remember that raising kids is not a competition or a race.
- Some children are ready for potty training later than others and waiting until your child is ready is key for success.
- Children’s taste buds are quite sensitive and it may take a while for them to find a flavour tolerable.
- Pressure to eat will often lead to resistance. Remaining calm at mealtimes increases the likelihood of a child trying a food.
- Read books with your child about children using the toilet.
- When playing with them announce when you are going to the washroom and that you need to take a break to go, but you will come back and play more afterwards. This will help them remember that they can take a break and come back without worrying play time will end when they stop to go to the washroom.
- Include children in the process of grocery shopping and play “I spy” looking for certain colours of fruits / veggies in the produce section.
- Ask your little one to help you wash the veggies.
- Let your child help add cut up veggies to a salad or stew.
- Offer non-food rewards such as stickers, stamps, and calling a loved one to share their success.
- Let them pick out their own new underwear.
- Sing a funny song while you wash your hands together.
- Serve food in new shapes.
- Play a “5 senses” game and ask your child what colour the food is, how it smells and feels, if it is sweet / salty / sour / bitter, and if it is loud or soft to eat.
- Create food art with fruits and veggies outside of meal/snack times.
If you are currently potty training or headed into potty training, another great strategy for success is to teach your child how to flush the toilet. It sounds simple, but it is novel to them. If you can use a hands-free one, even better! Less exposure to germs, easier to flush successfully, and a long-term novelty! We have one from American Standard Canada and I love it so much!
We added this to our home recently as part of a bathroom renovation and I will be doing a full review of it in the coming week. But wow do I wish we had it back when we were potty training! Even still, it has made a difference in the past few months. We find that the boys actually remember to flush the toilet more often, the lid closes quietly, and most importantly to me…it self cleans with every flush. Every mom’s dream!
This post was created in partnership with American Standard Canada. All of the thoughts, photos, writing, and advice is my own.