Why sticker charts AREN’T bad for kids (and when you should use them)
Recently newspaper and magazine articles have condemned the sticker chart. They claim sticker charts “only serve to reinforce to the child that they are under the control and power of those doling out the prizes” (Huffington Post) and “[could] prevent children from developing a sense of ‘doing the right thing’” (PBS Parents). But, sticker charts can be appropriate for your child or family. Today we are going to discuss why.
Recent criticism of the sticker chart centers on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. You can see intrinsic motivation (IM) when your child chooses to do something because it brings him joy or satisfaction. You use extrinsic motivation (EM) when you reward your child with a treat after going to the doctor’s office. IM is motivation originating from the self. EM is motivation from outside sources.
The concern is that sticker charts, by using EM, will decrease your child’s IM. We hope our children will be responsible and independent because of IM. It is frightening to think sticker charts will make our children demand rewards for doing what we want and expect them to do.
An amazing article by Melinda Wenner Moyer breaks down these recent articles and challenges the assumptions they make. Many of these articles site psychological research that measured participants’ IM and EM in various ways. Moyer argues these research studies did not accurately replicate situations we as parents would find ourselves in. Often these participants were doing an enjoyable task and then receiving EM from the researchers.
When we reach for a sticker chart it is not because we want our child to do something they already enjoy. This glaring difference makes it difficult to apply this research to your family situation.
Which family situations could benefit from a sticker chart?
Here’s a quick list of three:
- Beginning a new or difficult task
Your kids are learning so many new things all of the time. Some of these activities – like reading, playing the piano, or tying their shoes – can be tedious at the start. EM might be just what you need to help your child get through the difficult beginnings of these tasks.
- Undesirable tasks
Very few people enjoy cleaning up after themselves. It is a necessary annoyance. Your children might not be enthusiastic when you ask them to start cleaning their own rooms. A sticker chart can help turn these chores into future rewards.
- Forming habits
Forming new habits is difficult, especially when it’s something we don’t love doing. This is true for all ages. A sticker chart can help a new task become part of your daily routine.
Sticker charts are all about positive parenting. They can help form habits with positive reinforcement. They provide a visual reminder to be on the lookout for good behaviors. They help keep track of your child’s progress towards independence, one task at a time.
Sticker charts should not be a source of frustration. They should not be used to threaten your child into behaving well. They should not cause you to nag your child about accomplishing tasks.
These are signs something has gone wrong with your reward system. It might need to be tweaked a bit, or it might not be best for your child.
We hope this post has dispelled some of your concerns about sticker charts. Let us know how you’ve used stickers charts with your family in the comments below.