If you ask for advice from Facebook moms groups or even your most trusted parent friends about behavior challenges you are having you’ll often see suggests on instituting rewards and sticker charts to motivate your child to do better.  Many people believe that it helps incentivize positive behavior. But, I’m sorry to tell you that rewards and sticker charts are not the way to go if you want to make lasting positive changes to your child’s behavior.

The problem with rewards and sticker charts:

1. They are fear-based.

We often see rewards as incentives – incentives to do the right thing, follow the rules – but when we tell a child to do something to get a reward we are only providing them incentive because a child is experiencing fear – fear of missing out on that reward should they not comply.

2. They don’t encourage responsibility.

When we use rewards or sticker charts to help change a child’s behavior we are teaching them to do something because we want them to and because of what they will get when they do it.  This doesn’t teach a child how to make good choices, a sense of personal responsibility or learn from their mistakes. Our kids need to learn to do good because it is good to do, not because they will get something out of it.

3. Rewards lose their shine.

We hear parents say that their child turned over a new leaf as soon as they instituted that reward or sticker chart.  But we don’t always hear what happened a week or two later. Was their child still following through or did their good behavior drop off? Or did a bigger reward need to be dangled? With rewards and sticker charts good behavior doesn’t tend to last.  It is a short term fix to a long term problem. 

A question I like to ask parents I work for is: “once a kid gets too old for sticker charts or small, cheap rewards what will you need to offer them to follow the rules or do something for you?”  It will likely be bigger and more costly than you want. And once they get out in the adult world there will be no rewards, so how will they learn self-motivation?

Rewards and sticker charts can sound like a good idea, but there are much better ways to gain cooperation and improve a child's behavior.

Instead of rewards, try these things:

1.    Encourage your child.

When kids get encouraged by their parents this can motivate them to do things.  Instead of saying when you finish your homework you can get X, let them know that you have faith that they can get it done.

Maybe you want them to change behavior. Celebrate each step along the way to fully changing.  Kids love when we see the effort they put it and it gets them excited to keep going.  

2.    Role model appropriate behavior.

We are our kid’s biggest role model.  If we act a certain way then they are likely to do the same.  If we are quick to lose patience, they will likely be too.

If our kids are having trouble, say with getting along, we can help by stepping in and role model problem-solving skills instead of offering a reward for getting along for a pre-determined amount of time.  If we role model problem solving with them as they grow they will learn to do it for themselves.

3.    Get them active in household management early on.

It isn’t unusual for parents to reward kids for chores around the house, but if we get them helping out early on they will be more ready and willing to help when needed.  Kids at 2 love helping – whether it be putting away groceries, sweeping the floor with you or emptying the dishwasher. So embrace it.

When we show our kids how much we need and love their help this sends a great message.  A message that the household just wouldn’t be the same without them, wouldn’t run as well.  

I hope this helps in understanding why rewards and sticker charts aren’t the way to go and alternative ways to encourage your child’s cooperation in different aspects of your life.  If you need more help, please schedule a behavior consultation. We’d be happy to help!

Mylee Zschech, Behavior Coach