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Sticker charts revisited

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Sticker charts revisited

Let 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: which members of the family were hopelessly slow in the training department (and will never live down that claim to fame); and 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—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 June 2006 issue of 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 The Mother of All Parenting Books and numerous other books about parenting including the recently published Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. Visit her online at