Motivate Your Kids Without Bribery, Candy, or Charts


Back in the day when I only had one child, I motivated her by making colorful charts for the refrigerator and cheering her on while she worked on “going potty” or “saying please” or pronouncing “sh” correctly. I could affirm her and help her to reach each every great aspiration. I took photos and rewarded her with a little treat after a few weeks-worth of hard work.

These days, with five kiddos to keep track of, there are no more charts.

I’ve tried to use motivational charts – oh, I’ve tried –  but I’ve concluded that it must be humanly impossible to parent 5 children and consistently track and reward incremental growth in even one of those kiddos. I am just waaaaay too distracted.

So I moved on to candy: quick, easy, instantly-satisfying candy. This I could do with 20 kids.

“Mommy, I went potty!”

“Oh, good! Here’s an M&M.”

Easy-peasy. But then everyone had to start writing books and blog posts about how sugar is poison… how it’s more addictive than cocaine…. how being hooked on sugar is like living in a blur, but living without sugar is truly bright and vibrant living… how giving candy to children is the worst possible thing parents could do.


What to do now?

Recently, I had to come up with something brilliant to motivate one of our children to finally get the whole bathroom routine…

Our well-rehearsed script just had to go. You may know it well:

Q: “Did you put the seat down?”

A: “Ooops…” (runs back to bathroom; loud crashing sound)

Q: “Did you flush?”

A: “Ooops…” (runs back to bathroom; flushing sounds)

Q: “Did you wash your hands?”

A: “Ooops…” (runs back to bathroom; hand-washing sounds)


Yes, it was time to move on. But I needed a new source of motivation because charts, candy, and bribery were out of the question.

That’s when I came up with the most simple solution in the world when I just happened to think “…kids love to ring bells…” (In fact, everyone loves to ring bells. Just think about the little bell-ringing system at Trader Joe’s. It gets everyone so excited to “Help!” “Dance!” “Wear a Hawaiian Shirt!”)

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce our successful chart-free, candy-free, bribery-free solution…


This little sign and this little bell have changed everything about “going potty” in our house.

It totally works!

It’s a shiny reminder to follow each step. It’s a satisfying reward that the individual gets for him- or herself. It’s not poisonous! Not addictive! AND, I can hear it from across the house and know that all-is-well concerning toilet seats, toilet bowls, and clean hands. Even if I’m doing five other things, I can echo the little bell and say, “Hey, I heard that bell! Good job!”

(Do you want to know the best thing about it? Everyone uses it. Including guests. They excuse themselves for a moment and then we hear that endearing little, “Ding!”)

Who could resist?