Best rewards for children

Q: I have always tried to encourage my children in their development through praise of certain behaviors, though I don't believe in praise or criticism of the person. For instance: "I notice you are doing a great job being patient, or generous, working on your math sheets, finishing your class work, etc." Or: "Thank you for being so cooperative and respectful during violin practice and with your family. Great work!" What's your perspective on praise ?

A: In every workshop or coaching experience I have with my clients, I end the day with at least a short segment on gratitude and appreciation. I do this in part because I believe contributing to one another is one of the sweetest experiences in life, and I want to share with people how they might express their appreciation for such contributions to themselves and others. I also make sure to explore this topic because I believe it's important to reduce our dependence on praise and rewards.
One reason I try not to praise is because I see it as the exact mirror image of criticism. When I praise someone, I imply that I have the authority and power to judge their behavior. If I believe in moving away from judging something as bad, I want simultaneously to move away from judging something as good.
Here's a brief example. One afternoon, my family and some friends were throwing Frisbees outside. When my son, who was 3 at the time, threw the Frisbee, it flew in a long arc and landed across the courtyard. The adult friend who was with us said: "You're a great Frisbee thrower!" My son picked up the Frisbee, threw it again, and it flopped just a couple of feet from him. He said: "I'm a bad Frisbee thrower." It seemed to me at that moment that he got very clearly the message that the flip side of "good" thrower was "bad" thrower.
When we praise, we are implying that the "good" can turn "bad." I prefer, instead of good and bad, to try to connect with whether certain behaviors do or do not work for us whether they meet our needs and to make observations. "Good Frisbee thrower" might turn into expressing a simple observation: "That Frisbee flew across the entire courtyard." It might also include expressing my feelings and needs, in simplified language: "Wow, I like watching it glide in the air." Then, when the Frisbee falls flat, it's not a bad throw. Perhaps it's something like this: "That one fell close to you." And then, based on whether this seems important to the child, you might add an empathic guess: "Are you disappointed? You want to be able to throw farther?" Or, "Are you excited to practice more so you can throw it as far as you want?"
I have another, more serious concern about praise. Praise and rewards create a system of extrinsic motivations for behavior; children (and adults) end up taking action in order to receive the praise or rewards. I want to support children's intrinsic motivation to act their pleasure in taking a particular action for its own sake, because they are connected to the needs they want to meet such as learning a new skill. I don't want anyone to throw a Frisbee, clean the house, do homework, work, or help a person in need, in order to be praised or accepted.
I'd like people to do these things out of a desire to contribute to themselves and to others. The joy of contributing becomes the action's inherent reward; it's a great pleasure to see how our actions contribute to others. This deep sense of pleasure is lost when we act out of guilt, shame, obligation, fear of consequences or desire for reward.
Alfie Kohn wrote a book that I found quite helpful on this topic, called Punished by Rewards.
If you are interested in more insight into this topic, including how praise and rewards actually lower academic performance, I highly recommend this book. The one drawback to this book is that Kohn identifies the problem, but doesn't really suggest ways to address it. I like what the Non Violent Communication offers here (similarly to when our needs are not met): a powerful way to connect with people when we enjoy their actions, which is to express to them what they have done that has enriched our lives, our feelings about it, and what needs of ours were met.
Let's take the examples you, the parent wrote above and translate them into NVC (Non Violent Communication).
You wrote: "I notice you are doing a great job being patient." In NVC, you would look for a clear observation, because patience, generosity, etc., are all interpretations. So, you might say: "I noticed you occupied yourself the whole time I was on the phone without talking to me. I'm very grateful because I needed support to focus on the conversation."

(The tone of voice and eye contact, of course, would communicate more of the warmth of the feeling than the words can convey.)
And your second example: "Thank you for being so cooperative and respectful during violin practice. Great work!" Again I would first focus on the observation: what did your child say or do that you interpret as cooperative or respectful? For example: "When you practiced your violin today for twenty minutes without a reminder from me, I felt so happy because I appreciate cooperation and peace between us. I was also excited because I love sharing music with you."
Like anything else in using NVC, the precise language is not important. What matters is the intention to express our appreciation or gratitude not in order to motivate or judge, but as a way to connect and celebrate together. If we sometimes spontaneously call out, "Good job!", let's not worry about it. And let's explore a greater variety in expressing the pleasure and joy we take in our children.
When we express to people how their behavior contributes to meeting our needs, we give them the gift of acknowledgement and the sweetness of knowing that their actions have been a contribution. As Marshall Rosenberg says, "There is no sweeter game in town."

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Adriana Vermillion is the Founder and CEO of P.O.T.T."Y" Generation®, The Potty Whisperer™, a Lead Trainer and Parenting Coach with over sixteen years of experience in potty training special needs children and coaching parents. Adriana is a freelance writer, author and a frequent motivational speaker available for your event at

Potty Training a Special Needs Child

by Adriana Vermillion, The Potty Whisperer

Potty training a child is difficult under any circumstances, however before you can begin potty training, 

we suggest you take their abilities and delays into consideration if your child has special needs.
This may seem like a daunting task and if you worry about your child, believe he or she will take a long time to toilet you will be train if you take your time and prepare your child you can achieve potty training success!
The first step in potty training is to familiarize yourself with the basics behind the task. 
When you've got those basic concepts down (and I'm sure you're already aware of which tactics will work for your special child and which won't), you'll be ready to decide if your child is ready to begin potty training.

When Is My Child Ready to Begin Potty Training?

There are a few signs that will let you know that your child is physically ready for potty training, however with the right preparation and training your child can start training at any time. For example, you may notice that your child's diaper stays dry for about two hours at a time during the day, their bowel movements come at regular times, and (usually) they stay dry through the night.
For normally developing children this will usually happen between the ages of two and slightly after their third birthday.
But it's important to remember that children with special needs move at their own pace and forcing potty training on a child who just isn't developmentally ready will not only be a waste of time, it will also be a horrible experience for both you and your child.
How will you know when your child is developmentally ready for potty training? Here are some signs to look for...

  • Your child can follow two-step instructions
  • Your child can communicate a need to go
  • Your child can imitate others
  • Your child is willing to cooperate
  • Your child shows a need to be independent
  • Your child can get to and from the toilet independently
  • Your child is aware of wet or soiled diapers
  • Your child is able to pull pants down and maybe even up
  • Your child is able to sit on the potty for 5 minutes without help
Of course, not all kids will be able to do all of these things, but you should have a good feel that your child is on the right track developmentally to handle potty training. If you feel your child is both physically and developmentally ready to begin potty training, then it's time to get started!

Adriana Vermillion is the Founder and CEO of P.O.T.T."Y" Generation®, The Potty Whisperer™, a Lead Trainer and Parenting Coach with over sixteen years of experience in potty training special needs children and coaching parents. Adriana is a freelance writer, author and a frequent motivational speaker available for your event at

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Potty Training Process

What is the right time frame for potty training? 

In a nutshell: we believe when you are ready! I know some parenting experts may disagree with me, however I believe potty training can be done like anything else, that’s why is called training. Unlike other developmental milestones, kids are programmed with one-of-a-kind schedules — some say it's crucial to let your child set the pace for when to start potty training, and I attend to some degree, however I also believe it is crucial to train your child as early as possible for several reasons:

·      School
·      Camps
·      Play dates
·      Development
·      Savings
If your child is past eighteen months you can probably look for some of the following potty-training
readiness signs:

1.    Changing fewer wet diapers

Until about eighteen months, kids pee so frequently that expecting them to control their bladders is probably unrealistic. But a toddler who stays dry for an hour or two at a stretch — and occasionally awakes without wetness — is physically ready for potty training, however knowing that practice makes perfect I suggest use the frequent potty breaks to teach your child instead of changing diapers.

2.    Your child's bowel movements are predictable

Whether your child has a BM in the morning, after meals, or right before bed, “a regular rhythm will help you anticipate when to pull out the potty — and thus boost his likelihood of success” some experts say, however what I say is use diet, rest and patience to get your child to have regular BM as well as get the timing just right, after all do you have a BM at the same time every day?

3.    Your child broadcasts bodily functions

Some children happily announce when a bowel movement is about to or through less-verbal means — say, by retreating to a corner or producing a preemptive grunt. No matter what the signal, if your child shows he's aware of his body's functions, he's ready for potty training, and I have some good news… your child did that the first time he/she had to pass a BM or urine.

4.    Your child despises dirty diapers

Every time your child has a meal, the child needs to use the bathroom and every time your child (as a baby mostly) cries because he/she is wet they communicate with you and you have an opportunity to train, however over time the child becomes desensitized and the diapers more absorbent. By the time your child reaches toddler stage or preschool stage he/she learn how to open the diaper and maybe even tell you they are dirty. As you can see the child communicates at every stage, however the parent needs to learn how to take initiative and start the training.

5.    He or She is able to perform simple undressing

If you would like for your child to be independent at potty training when nature calls, the potty won't be of much use unless your child can quickly yank down his trousers or underwear, and girls should be able to pull up their skirts in a flash, however if your child is younger and motor skills are still in development be of help, you will be glad you did.

6.    Your child understands bathroom lingo

Whether you prefer kid-friendly jargon like "poop" and "pee" or formal terminology like "defecate" and "urinate," your child's ready for potty training if he understands and is able to use the family's words for bathroom functions and any associated body parts.

7.    Your child demands a live demonstration

If your child has toileting on the brain, he'll want to see how the experts do it. So don't be surprised if your little one follows you into the bathroom to have a look.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions? Comment bellow and let us know. If you are potty training or thinking to start soon don’t forget to request our Top 10 Potty Training Tips on your right.

Adriana Vermillion is the Founder and CEO of P.O.T.T."Y" Generation®, The Potty Whisperer™, a Lead Trainer and Parenting Coach with over sixteen years of experience in potty training special needs children and coaching parents. Adriana is a freelance writer, author and a frequent motivational speaker available for your event at