Oh my goodness – I think I may have broken my children.  Again.  An article popped up on my Facebook feed a few days ago.  It was entitled The Dangers of Using a Sticker Chart to Teach Kids Good Behaviour.  I didn’t have time to read it straight away, but my first reaction from the preview was that, Child building a tower out of Jenga blocks. Sticker charts: short-term reward, or long-term discord?yet again, I was reading about a way in which a psychologist was telling me that I was damaging my kids.

We have used sticker charts in our house.  We used them for potty training, for staying at the table to eat meals, and for getting dressed before school.  On some occasions, they have been a life-saver for me.  There was one day a few weeks ago that I truly felt I could no longer parent my children and that it seemed to be a constant battle between their wishes and my expectations.

Setting expectations

I set up a chart with a list of expectations for each child, which were slightly different.  They Half-used sheet of small, round stickers.  Sticker charts: short-term reward, or long-term discord?both had “Come to the kitchen for breakfast and stay at the table”, plus things like “No arguing with your brother/sister as we get ready to leave for school.”  What I needed them to do was to remember the basics of home life without me constantly having to nag at them.  I think this is key: I used the chart to remind the children of my expectations.

In the past, the children have been rewarded for doing well on a sticker chart.  This time, I was a little meaner.  Each time they didn’t get a sticker, they would lose 15 minutes of TV time or, for my daughter, 15 minutes on her Hudl.  (What she didn’t realise is that I couldn’t totally enforce this as she only has 45 minutes a day, and there were seven stickers to get.  Nice one, Mum!)

I wasn’t bribing them to be nice to each other, I was reminding them that if they were not, they would lose something I felt was a privilege.

And it worked!  We didn’t use the charts for very long because their behaviour and levels of co-operation picked up.  So is this wrong?  Am I harming my children?  According to the article I mentioned earlier, I might be.

Am I harming my children?

It suggests that if children are constantly rewarded for good behaviour, then will not wish to Chocolate birthday cake with candles and smarties.  Sticker charts: short-term reward, or long-term discord?be nice to other people unless they can see a reward.  To some extent, I can see where this argument comes from.  If I told my children that they would get some chocolate if they were nice to each other for an hour, it might very well work.  I can also see that the next time I asked them to stop arguing, they might ask what was in it for them.

The philosopher Swedenborg suggests that we sometimes do things because of the fear of what will happen if we don’t.  Take, for example, the 20 mile an hour speed signs that are all over our estate.  When they first went up, it drove me mad!  I had to allow at least an extra minute to get anywhere in the car!  After a while, I began to appreciate the need for this new speed limit, and the safety it offers my children.  And now, I am furious if I see someone “racing” down the road at 30 mph.  How dare they?  I have made it my own, and my thinking, not just my behaviour, has changed as a result.

Making it our own

Perhaps this could be the answer to my concerns about the sticker chart.  I won’t use it as a long-term measure, for starters.  It will remind my children of what is expected of them, and there will be clear outcomes for non-compliance.  I will only use it sparingly, and actually talk to the children about how much nicer it is for us all if they treat each other with love and respect.

Perhaps their thinking will change as they experience life with more harmony.  Of course, they are still growing people, and they learn by resolving disagreements.  Without this, they may struggle to achieve fulfilling relationships as adults.  I hope that we can find a happy medium, with them co-operating a little more and arguing a little less.

No doubt as soon as I hit “publish”, a further post will come up on my news feed telling me that I am doing it all wrong in the parenting department – again!

How do you feel about the use of sticker charts?

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  1. One thing for sure is they are effective- reinstated them to address fussy toddler eating and practising handwriting a week or so ago. Who would have thought a sticker could incentivise so much? There is always an opinion somewhere that will critique something that actually works for you. For me, my stress levels reduced loads once I had a plan and a structure and my kids generally seem happier when I am less stressed and feeling positive!

    1. I am glad you are feeling more positive! I think we have to do what works for us. Someone will always find something to criticise. I think I need to put my “filter” on when I am scrolling through my news feed and remember that I am doing my best.

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