Despite their simple appearance, sticker charts are worth their weight in gold at my house. My kids, ages 3-and-a-half and almost 2, have a hard time listening unless they hear the words "snack time" or the Paw Patrol theme song. This can make for tense situations at home. (Think: Hamilton-style duels in the living room.) On any given day, you can catch them throwing trash on the floor, forgetting to take their plates to the sink, and throwing epic tantrums over picking up toys. It's totally awesome and 100 percent the reason I drink wine at night. But lately, things have been shifting, and it's all thanks to a simple sticker chart.
I was first introduced to sticker charts when my sister made one for my oldest when he was learning how to potty train. It worked like a dream! Seemingly overnight, he went from screaming every time we tried to get him to sit on the toilet to calmly sitting there and going potty to get a sticker. To make it more fun, he didn't just have gold stars. He had superheroes, Hello Kitty faces, cars, hearts, princesses, dinosaurs, and any other type of sticker we could think of. She used a blank canvas and painted lines in a swirl pattern (like a game board) that had about 40 spots for stickers. We told him he could get one every time he went potty on the toilet, and when all the spaces were filled, he would get a new toy. It — and I can't emphasize this enough — actually worked! We kept it right in the bathroom and made it consistent. By the time he filled the spaces, he was overjoyed with his new toy and potty training was a habit. He no longer needed the stickers to use the toilet!
Fast forward a year, and I decided to create a new sticker chart to help with the latest headache in my life: getting my kids to do chores. Although they are still both young, there are plenty of age-appropriate chores that they can do and weren't doing, no matter how much we threatened, lost our temper, put them in time outs, or took away toys as punishment. Look, making my kids cry isn't high on the list of things that makes me feel good as a mom, but I want to teach them responsibility. I needed a solution that would make chores fun (I sound just like my mom), make my kids excited about them, and make it a habit. I needed the magic of the sticker chart once again.
Using simple construction paper and a marker, I made a sticker chart with a few chores I wanted my kids to do on one column: "Brush Teeth" with a picture of a toothbrush, "Make Bed" with a picture of a bed, "Pick Up Toys" with a picture of a car, and "Plate in Sink" with a picture of a plate. Then, I wrote the days of the week on the row at the top. After completing each chore, they get to choose a sticker to put in that box. After one week, they get to choose a special treat for their snack that day or get a small book, toy, or craft at the dollar store. It's no different from giving kids an allowance, but it puts it in terms they understand (dollar bills just don't excite them at this age).
Some people have problems with this method, as they think of it as paying or bribing kids to do something they should already be doing. However, the CDC says that "behaviors are more likely to happen again when followed by a positive consequence like a reward," and my personal experience has proven this to be true. My kids absolutely love doing things for stickers, knowing at the end of the week they get a prize. Giving them something is a much bigger motivation than taking things away, which makes my kids cry, sulk, and less likely to do anything we are asking them to do.
Also, it's OK if you don't have it in the budget to give your kids a new toy or book each week. You don't have to for the sticker chart to work! Let them have ice cream cones from the freezer. Let them stay up an extra 15 minutes and watch their favorite show before bed. Read them an extra book. Take them to the playground. There are plenty of ways you can entice and motivate your kids without spending money, but still reward them for their good behavior. You just have to do what works for your family.
If you think about it, my kids' love of sticker charts makes sense. After all, adults are just bigger kids, and we love rewarding and motivating ourselves with colorful habit trackers and bullet journals (and cute stickers!). I will literally check a colorful box when I've drank enough water or exercised that day, often rewarding myself with extra reading time or coffee. It's literally the same concept, just tweaked slightly for kids. If stickers can lead to this much family harmony, then I will sing their praises all day long! Try it for yourself, and if it works with your kids, then be sure to reward yourself with something special for such great parenting. You deserve it!