How I Made an Incentive Chart to Teach My Preschooler Responsibility and End a Power Struggle at Bedtime

Every night since my daughter was an infant, we have had a bedtime routine. We turn off screens, dim lights, do nighttime hygiene rituals, snuggle and read stories. It’s a nice, long, calm, and consist rhythm–the kind of rhythm that is supposed to prevent bedtime battles. Some of you know, even though you do all the “right” things, you may still have a bedtime battle.

Perhaps it’s knowing the fun day is coming to an end soon.

Maybe it’s a control issue.

Or maybe there’s just something your little one simply one doesn’t like doing.

Whatever the reason, they still give you a battle. It seems like no matter what you do, every night you’ll deal with the struggle. It’s hard to know sometimes how to break the meltdown cycle.

That’s where I was with the nighttime ritual of brushing teeth.  She hated brushing her teeth no matter how we did it, what brushes or pastes we used, when in the routine we did it and so on. One day she started to hate brushing her teeth and she was determined to show tooth brushing hate night after night for months.

I stayed the course and did the same thing day after day thinking she’d get the idea that it wasn’t going away. Didn’t work. I tried discipling when the tantrum got out of hand. Didn’t work. I tried making it fun. Didn’t work. So one day I tried an incentive chart. I pulled out my colored pencils, washi tape, and a stash of dollar store prizes to doodle onto the chart. I let her pick out the stickers and we talked about what good brushing looks like (and what it doesn’t look like).

I did small prizes so that she could see the instant cause and effect of the reward system. As she gets the idea how this works I want to move up to filling up a whole chart of good choices (whether it is chores, good habits, or accomplishing a goal) to win one grand prize. These trinket prizes were a baby step in that direction. Eventually I want to move past just material things to earning experiences like a fun outing. Anyway, it worked! Now to be clear, some nights there was still a bit of struggle like when she didn’t want the next prize on this list; but bit by bit it got better. Later, I received a tip that there are silly songs on YouTube to watch while you brush your teeth and we started doing that towards the end of this process. I don’t think the YouTube video would’ve worked in the beginning when the battle was much harder but after understanding that she needed to control her actions before she could earn her prize, she was then calm enough to see the video and enjoy it.

After 15 days of small rewards and another 5 days of playing a silly toothbrushing song while we brushed (1 min and 24 seconds long), we can now look forward to brushing our teeth quickly and without drama every night. She even gets excited and starts dancing with the song comes on and opens her mouth wide to brush her teeth.

Y’all! Do you have any idea what a relief this is? I’m so happy this worked. So if you have a daily struggle with something that has to be done, try your own version of something like this chart. You don’t have to be crafty, you just have to be consistent and remember that training is a process. I hope you find this encouraging!

Below, she is playing with her earned dollar store slime. It was a dollar well spent for me 🙂


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