Sticker Charts: Do All Kids Want One?

Sticker Charts: Do All Kids Want One?

This post is from Michelle Carchrae.

It’s become one of the ubiquitous symbols of modern childhood: the sticker chart.

Kids have reward charts at home, at school, at daycare and preschool and, as we discovered last week, at the public library.  When we staggered up to the checkout desk with our books, the librarian suggested that Beatrice sign up for the summer reading program.  So we did.  But when we got home, we discovered she has almost zero interest in colouring in the symbols that represent each 15 minutes of reading time.  In fact, I can barely convince her to do it.  I haven’t tried that hard, but still.  This reward chart isn’t doing anything to motivate my child to read.

stickerchart

So why do so many people in charge of caring for and motivating children continue to use reward charts?  It could be that my child is unusual in the way she doesn’t care whether or not she gets a sticker for reading.  But other parents I have talked to say that reward charts did nothing to convince their kids to poop in the potty or eat their dinner in a timely manner.  Children are motivated by many things, but filling in charts doesn’t seem to top the list.

Alfie Kohn has written extensively on the topic of motivating children, and his thoughts on the matter are what motivated me to stay away from using stickers, treats or other types of reward programs at home.  In our house, we don’t usually reward reading because we don’t have to.  Reading is full of rewards as it is: cuddling up alone with mom or dad, listening to an exciting story, looking at interesting pictures, receiving undivided attention and learning about interesting things.  No wonder Bea doesn’t want to colour in a chart to prove she’s done this.  The promise of a plastic library token is a far cry from all the rewards she’s already getting from reading.

Some things are inherently motivating to children, like loving attention, food, approval, affectionate touch, smiles and eye contact.  However, these are precisely the things we should avoid using as rewards and punishments with our children if we want to show them our love is unconditional.  Sure, I get cranky when my kids don’t do what I want them to, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less.  I have been known to remind my daughter that there were cookies at home to encourage her to leave the park, but that’s kind of a grey area, I think.  She’d likely get a cookie at home whether we left the park quickly or dawdled , but the idea of them helps get her feet moving.

I suspect that sticker charts and other systematic forms of rewards for children are something we are choosing to train our children to respond to, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Much of our adult world is based around systematic rewards for expected behavior  such as getting paid for showing up at work every day, and kids do need to grow up and enter the adult world of employment eventually.  However, there are many, many other meaningful things in life don’t have any kind of reward or recognition and people still get a lot of satisfaction out of doing those things for themselves.  I believe kids will learn about the importance of earning money as they grow up, whether or not we train it into them with sticker charts.  Learning how to find the rewards buried in the activities you love is a bit trickier, but knowing that you are doing what you love and being able to figure out how to make a living that way is priceless.  That is what I want to teach my children, and that is why we don’t often use sticker charts.

What do you think – Do all kids like sticker charts? Are sticker charts one of your parenting tools, why or why not?

More reading on sticker charts:

Rethinking the Sticker Chart by Kelly Bartlett

Lesson: Helping Kids be Successful by Bonnie Harris

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About the Author:

Michelle Carchrae is often asking those important life questions: “who moved the scissors?”, “how would you do that differently next time?” and “are you finished with the glitter glue?” Homeschooling two girls, ages 6 and 3, is her full time job. The rest of the time Michelle can be found blogging at The Parent Vortex, hiking in the forest or knitting and reading simultaneously. She recently published her first ebook, The Parenting Primer: A guide to positive parenting in the first six years, and moved to a rural island in the Pacific Northwest.

Image credit: abbybatchelder on Flickr
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8 Responses to Sticker Charts: Do All Kids Want One?

  1. I am an early educator and it really upsets me that teachers and parents are motivating their children extrinsically for things that are expectations that we set together. For example, it is an expectation in my Nursery class that the 3 and 4 year olds will clean up after they play and I model that for them too. I am a participant in the act too because we construct meaning together. It teaches children that you work towards a goal not because they want to but because there is a lucrative ‘sticker’ at the end of that grey rainbow. Great post though, thanks!

    • Hi Pooja, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. It is truly wonderful when children can see what is expected from others like teachers, parents, other children etc…the power of modeling and working together is fantastic!

  2. I love this. I first learned about Alfie Kohn in my Masters program for Elementary Education. I agree — children need constructive love and discipline. I always give my son two choices: You can sit nice at the table, or go in your room to be alone for a quiet time OR You can walk to me, or I can carry you, etc. etc. That has been working well for us. ♥ — I wrote a little on a Case against Praise on my blog here: http://wildflowerramblings.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-case-against-praise/

  3. My 3 year old enjoys sticker charts. Of course, he doesn’t understand anything beyond “I got a STICKER!!!!!” He gets so excited that he’s allowed to have a sticker and always needs a place to put them, so he’s happy to stick them on a chart, as long as it looks cool. Currently, he’s covering footprints, headed into a circus tent because he chose circus themed stickers. It doesn’t really make him that much more likely to do things, though. If he doesn’t want to do it, he’ll simply turn down the offer of earning the sticker. So we really just use it because he feels adequately rewarded for his efforts by a high five and sticker.

    • Elisabeth, thanks for sharing your experience with the sticker charts and how they are working positively in your home. It sounds that you respect your son’s choice not to earn the sticker which is really lovely. I often hear from parents that end up using the sticker as leverage and then it can create a power struggle and then doing or not doing something has that added element of struggle and children just give up 🙁 From what you said your son has the choice to turn down the sticker, personally I think that is really great.

  4. We are using sticker charts for peeing on the potty. Every diaper saved is worth a sticker. Eventually she gets a small prize. I know I can’t keep up the rewards forever, but the stickers have been highly motivating for her and the only thing that has worked thus far. Is that a bad thing?

    • Hi Lacey, there are many different opinions on using or not using rewards to motivate children. In positive parenting, rewards are not used. Instead, the approach relays on relationship building, taking time to teach the child, allowing mistkaes, and waiting until children are developmentally ready to take on each task. An alternative to using stickers as a reward is to simply dedicate 5 minutes after each sucessful use of the toilet to a short moment together,(regardless if the potty visit resulted in elimination or not), in that time you might make a picture, read a book, sing a song, have a big hug and high five… in other words do something special where the use of the potty is connected to positive attention from you and the child feels capable of using the toilet because she is capable,not because she receives the prize. That being said, I know this is a very popular way to help children learn to use the toilet and if you feel like this is what works for your family then do what works for you! On the other hand if the stickers are becoming a source of conflict or no longer motivation enough you may want to look into an alternative. best wishes!

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