Reward Charts: The Update

You may remember a recent post of mine talking about reward charts, why I didn’t believe in them and why I was about to start using one to help my son with potty learning.

Well, we made the chart. And now the chart is in the bin.

Oh, he was excited enough about the idea of it. He loved making it together and in the first day he was proud to stick three stickers in the “wees on the potty” section.

However, that’s about as far as it got. And now, he won’t take his nappy off or use the potty AT ALL.

Would I go as far as saying that the reward chart actually contributed to his regression in potty learning? Well, yes. Despite the fact that he was never once bribed, just gently reminded at nappy changes that if he chose to do his business on the potty that he would get to put a sticker on his chart.

I am not surprised, actually. I am kind of annoyed with myself for resorting to the damn thing in the first place. The whole concept of reward (and therefore punishment) doesn’t sit right with me and doesn’t fit with how we want to live our lives. How can we live an unschooled life whilst still clinging to these principles; whilst still using coercion? I don’t want to train my children; I want them to learn new skills because they want to.

So it looks like I am going to have to accept that although Monkey may be physically ready for potty learning, he is not quite emotionally ready yet. It’s hard to accept that we cannot control our children in the manner that we control everything else in our busy, modern lives but it has to be done for the sake of our kids.

Now, if only I could convince him to wear cloth nappies…


  1. stephanie mulcahy says

    i agree about letting them learn at their pace. i did with harry and i do now with ella. and when it comes to it, they get the hang of it alot quicker because they understand. the only deadline is clean for nursery. harry was and ella will be. so whats the problem i say xx

    • says

      Of course; in a perfect world kids would be able to set their own deadlines for everything but unfortunately it can’t always be like that – like you say, there’s nursery, school etc to think of. This is part of the reason why we choose to homeschool/unschool, but it’s certainly not for everybody! Hell, I’m not even sure if it will be for us yet, we’re just gonna have to see how it goes ;)

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. barbara says

    Hi Imogen,

    Well, my youngest are 12 and my eldest 16. I did succumb to stickers and rewards a few times (I am a slow learner!). What I found was that the children became focused on the reward and not the behaviour. They would do enough for the reward and no more, or demand greater rewards. Once, in an attempt to change some very undesirable behaviour I did use a sticker chart and the behaviour did change but I think it was because I was determined that the situation should change. The stickers probably had no effect.

    Alfie Kohn has written a book called “Punished by Rewards” in which he says don’t reward anyone for anything that you would like them to do without rewards. I still forget (I’ll give you 50p if you eat this vegetable. No, I’ll do it for £1. Okay, forget it!)

    Don’t get me started on the stickers that get handed out at school.

    It can be done, bringing up a child without extrinsic rewards.

    Barbara Childs

    • says

      thanks so much for commenting Barbara! i keep hearing of Alfie Kohn, in fact i bought a sample of Unconditional Parenting for my Kindle for iPhone app, i will get cracking on it soon.

  3. says

    I totally agree about letting kids learn at their own pace. However, I’m not at all opposed to reward systems. Some kids really thrive with them. Sticker charts gave my DD a visual reminder of her progress while potty training and added to her sense of pride in accomplishment. The chart wasn’t “required” and I didn’t nag or complain when stickers weren’t accumulating, but there was a small added incentive–a trip to the ice cream shop to celebrate when she filled the chart. I know not everyone believes in that kind of reward system, but it worked well for us and helped her learn about working toward a desired goal.

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