The low down on stickers and rewards

Let’s talk about stickers and rewards.

It is very common for me to see a sticker chart or tick sheet stuck up on the fridge when I commence working with a family. So many parents are using stickers or prizes as rewards for positive behaviour modification.

Often parents will tell me that their child responded really enthusiastically to the sticker charts in the beginning, but very quickly lost motivation and interest. Or we can also start to see children only doing things because they know they are going to be rewarded for it, and prizes and treats become an expectation. We call this parenting from the Outside in.

Whilst I certainly agree that these behaviour management strategies can indeed play a very important role in the lives of our children, especially in younger children, they will really only ever be successful in the short term.

A great example of how stickers or treats can work brilliantly is when children are toilet training.

The most important part of knowing when your child is ready for toilet training is actually when their brains begin to register that their bladders are full. Once this essential step in their brain development has kicked in, toilet training your little one should come very easily and using stickers or rewards as a sign of success works brilliantly.

However, it is not just the sticker that is motivating your child to use the toilet. It is a cognitive shift in their brains, and the stickers add to the fun and excitement. The true sign of success is that once the skill is mastered, the stickers or treats are not needed anymore and children use the toilet successfully, independently and without any need to be rewarded for doing an everyday skill necessary for functioning in life.

This is why stickers, rewards or pocket money will only ever work in the short term. For children to make life long changes in their behaviour, they must be intrinsically motivated to do so. No amount of stickers or rewards will encourage them to make life long changes towards more positive behaviour choices.

What is intrinsic motivation? By intrinsically I mean – from within. From their hearts and brains.

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from inside an individual rather than from any external or outside rewards, such as money or stickers.

“The motivation comes from the pleasure one gets from the task itself or from the sense of satisfaction in completing or even working on a task. Intrinsic motivation does not mean, however, that a person will not seek rewards. It just means that such external rewards are not enough to keep a person motivated. An intrinsically motivated student, for example, may want to get a good grade on an assignment, but if the assignment does not interest that student, the possibility of a good grade is not enough to maintain that student’s motivation to put any effort into the project”.

We want to teach our children that their brains are responsible for all of the decisions that they make in regards to their bodies, the words that they use and the choices that they make. Only they can really ever have full control over that, but we can encourage and support them. The younger the child, the more support is needed.

We can say statements like “I can help you with your behaviour, but I cannot do it for you”.

When parents focus on teaching their children about the importance of making good choices by helping them understand how their emotions are linked to their behaviour, we start to see positive changes.

We call this parenting from the Inside out. If you are interested to learn more a great read about this is “Parenting from the Inside out – how a deeper understanding  can help you raise children who thrive”( By Daniel.J Siegel and Mary Hatrtzell)

Use stickers, rewards and pocket money by all means – kids love them, especially 2- 8 year olds! But use them in the correct way to create a positive change in behaviour.

Here are 5 tips for creating and implementing sticker charts and rewards for children to make changes in behaviour.

1.Keep it simple – the younger the child, the simpler the chart and keep it to only about 5-10 stickers. Try to give your child the stickers within a 3 day period as we want them to achieve success in a short time frame. Use lots of praise, smiles, hugs, cheers, high fives and encouragement when they  achieve them. Charts do not have to be fancy or coloured. A simple hand drawn chart will have the same effect as a colourful one as pictured here, if it is used correctly.

2. Choose only one specific behaviour to focus on at a time-Depending on the age of your child try to involve them(intrinsically motivated) in choosing which behaviour it is they need to be focusing on. For example – “I have noticed that sometimes you  find it hard to share with  your brother. It would make me very happy if you could try harder to be share your toys with him.(Don’t forget to give them examples of the types of behaviour you would like to see from them) Every time I  see you sharing your toys with your brother you will get a sticker.”

3. Check in and monitor regularly – once the goal has been set you need to check in each day with your child about their behaviour goal. Younger children will need more regular reminders (each hour) and encouragement, and even at times emotional support from you. If the length of time between the sticker and the reward is too long, your child will lose interest or motivation. More challenging behaviours need more regular check ins, reviews and discussions.

4. Rewards shouldn’t always have to be bought or cost you money – Time based rewards are actually more likely to have a profound and lasting effect on our children as we are demonstrating that our  relationship with them is incredibly important, and that we enjoy spending time with them.  Don’t forget about the element of surprise too! For example “I noticed that you have been trying really hard to try new foods at dinner time and I would like to take you out for a surprise reward. Let’s go and have some fun together!”

5. Focus on the positive – remember we are trying to encourage our children to make changes for the better. By constantly surrounding them in positive language, it is much more likely that the behaviour will eventually become second nature. We never remove or take away ticks or stickers that have already been earned as punishment for other undesirable behaviours. We want our children to always have something positive to work towards.

Also worth mentioning ….

It is important to move on when children have mastered the skill or behaviour. Stickers very quickly lose their currency if they are not used in short, strategically planned and well managed situations.

Don’t forget to “Catch your children being good” and “Set them up for success” as many times as you can so that they can be rewarded accordingly.

We always separate our child from their behaviour – “it is not you I do not like – it is your behaviour.”

And lastly, but most importantly – always reward your children with love, affection, affirmations, give them daily feedback about their behaviour choices and lots and lots of positive attention.

Love Chrissie xx

“The children who need the most love, will ask for it in the most unloving of ways”.

About the Author

Chrissie Davies

Chrissie Davies is an educator, author, speaker, child advocate, parent and founder of Chaos to Calm Consultancy. With more than twenty years of experience achieving positive, game-changing results for countless families under her belt she is a sought after presenter. Offering a fresh approach to understanding and raising children in a modern world, Chrissie is particularly passionate about creating happier and safer home and classroom environments.

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Chaos to Calm Consultancy would like Wadawarrung of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge the elders past, present and emerging -particularly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents who walked before us supporting and connecting their children to the earth, water and community. Always was. Always will be.

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