Plague of the Sticker chart

Like them or loathe them, sticker charts have their place. They are a very visual and constant reminder of things well done, and a record of agreement between both parties. No doubt, children respond really well to them and they can work where not much else will. But…

I have a personal hatred of sticker charts. Deliberately I avoided them in my home and previously, as a teacher, in my classrooms. What do you think of them?

Let me tell you why I loathe them…
Mostly, because by the time children really understand them, and are really motivated to achieve the sticker, they actually should have developed the ability to self monitor, and do the right thing because it is the right thing. This stage around age seven, is when our motivation can be moved from extrinsic reward (what do I get out of this?) to intrinsic reward (I feel good about myself when I do the right thing.) In other words a three year can enjoy getting a sticker for sitting still at the dining table, but a seven year old shouldn’t need a sticker to monitor that level of behaviour.

Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with enjoying and working for reward. Let’s think about working all week, fortnight or month without a payday. ARE YOU KIDDING?

I just want you think beyond this. Always, as parents we are training for success today and for the better people our children will become in the future.

However, we are also called to do things that may not have obvious or immediate reward and even is actually sacrificial and may inconvenience us for the good of others. Deliberately training our children to do the right thing and do it well, even if that thing is not noticed, helps train in perseverance, in integrity and in genuine service. (Of course YOU can always notice them and appreciate them, as their number one FAN.)

Around seven or eight, most children develop an interest in justice. Most children from very young ages can tell you if something is unfair, if someone else has more than them, if someone else is listened to more, or whinges more. Just as most adults can recognise that in a group situation. Children are incredibly good at noticing, but the change in their thinking at around seven or eight means they can start to see ways to bring justice into a situation. I’ve noticed that children can offer solutions to problems, can start to develop their thinking to not only notice unfairness but how to shift it. Of course, all children get there at different stages, but I am talking about consistency here, a general pattern in each child’s behaviour.

This change in cognition can also be a time when delayed reward is learned, if it hasn’t been learned naturally beforehand. At some point most children decide whether they can manage their behaviour. Of course, they wouldn’t verbalise this skill like that, but we get a glimpse into how they manage themselves when the playing field is uneven. Some will complain, but some will just get on with it. Some will seek opportunity for recognition in other areas and some just don’t need the recognition. Getting to know your kids is the best thing you can ever do for them.

As an interesting aside, knowing what brings them internal pleasure can help you decide the most effective and swift punishment when it is required. ‘Time out’ for some children is a pleasant change from the noise and chaos of play with others, so sitting alone in their room is not so much a punishment as a pleasure. Likewise the same child may very quickly learn the consequences of their behaviour when the favourite toy spends ten minutes on top of the fridge where it can’t be reached. Knowing this, helps you, as the parent, bring punishment into its proper place of altering a specific behaviour. Positive affirmation is effective in achieving this same end, and this brings us back to sticker charts. As I said, they have their place, but like any parenting tool require consistency and lose their effectiveness when overused. Make up your own mind, and if you deliberately think about this topic you may just deserve a sticker yourself! If you decide to use them…


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