When it comes to children, they are not inherently wired to be disobedient.
But they do misbehave – and it is our job as a parent to guide them in the right direction when it comes to appropriate behaviours.
Teaching appropriate behaviours can be as easy as praising the good and ignoring the bad. However, some situations may call for a more visual approach to increasing these behaviours.
Introducing rewards, or tangible forms of positive reinforcement, can be an effective way of increasing the likelihood that a behaviour will repeat and strengthening that behaviour.
Take, for instance, the example of a child cleaning her room. Cleaning a room is not fun and she will likely avoid the task. Praising her when she does do it may not be enough to ensure that she continues to do it.
Providing a form of positive reinforcement, such as a sticker chart, will help her to work toward a reward while at the same time helping to organize that behaviour and make it routine.
We, as adults, function in almost the same way. You could think of a time-sheet as a grown-up sticker chart in which we fill in our hours worked (stickers) to receive a reward (getting paid).
Using A Sticker Chart
- Choose the behaviour you want to change.
Make sure you only choose one behaviour for the chart. Setting up a chart for multiple behaviours may be confusing, unless those behaviours are part of a sequence of events. For example, getting ready in the morning is a behaviour that requires multiple steps (wake up, get dressed, brush teeth, etc).
- Set up a chart.
You can set up the chart by breaking down the steps required to fulfill the target behaviour or simply track the behaviour by the days of the week. Add a sticker to each square as the behaviour is fulfilled. Here are two examples:
- Establish a reward and decide how many stickers are required.
In the beginning, you may choose to give a sticker every time the target behaviour is performed to establish the system. As the behaviour becomes more consistent, you can change the requirements to 2 stickers and eventually 3 and so on. This will help later when you phase out the chart altogether.
- Give stickers immediately following behaviour.
A behaviour has a better chance of repeating if it is reinforced right away. The mind of a child is a busy place, and they may not be able to successfully associate the sticker with the behaviour if given too late.
The Obligatory Warning About Sticker Charts
Sticker charts are a great tool to increase a desired behaviour, but they must be used sparingly and carefully.
One backlash that can rise from the use of the sticker chart is creating an expectation for your child every time they something appropriate. You may end up hearing “What will I get?” when you make requests of them. This is why phasing out the sticker chart, by reducing the number of stickers required to receive a reward, is important. Eventually, you want your child to perform the task without expectation of reward.
Another issue to consider is that tangible rewards may interfere with your child’s ability to do things out of kindness and caring. Constantly rewarding behavioural expectations with rewards may prevent your child from developing a sense of altruism.
In order to avoid the pitfalls of sticker chart use, pick and choose behaviours that are a particular struggle for your child. Try to coach them through the behaviour before implementing a sticker chart. For example, it may take a few days to get your child in the habit of brushing their teeth before bed, but after a while they will get it – a chart may not be necessary.
Also be sure to pair the sticker with natural, social praise. This will make it easier to eliminate the sticker chart altogether.