Sticker Charts: Motivate Your Preschooler with a Reward System

Use a sticker chart to address specific behavior problems.

A simple sticker chart can motivate your child.
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It seems sort of silly to think giving your child a sticker will change her behavior. But, when done well, a sticker chart chart can motivate a preschooler in a big way.

When to Use a Sticker Chart

Although older kids usually require a more complex reward system, a sticker alone can often provide enough positive reinforcement to motivate preschoolers to change their behavior. If your child grows bored with stickers however, you can certainly allow your child to exchange stickers for other tangible rewards.

Sticker charts should be used when kids need a little extra helping addressing a specific behavior. For preschool age children, sticker charts can be a great tool to help with toilet training. Each time a child successfully uses the toilet, he earns a sticker.

Another behavior that responds well to a sticker chart is sleeping independently. If your child stays in his own bed all night place a sticker on his chart in the morning. Other behaviors that respond well to sticker charts may include brushing his teeth, getting dressed independently, or staying seated at the dinner table.

If your child struggles with a specific behavior such as aggression, implement a sticker chart to teach more socially appropriate alternatives. Give her a sticker each time she uses 'gentle touches' or when she uses 'her words instead of her hands,' when she's angry.

Preschoolers have short attention spans so they need frequent reinforcement to stay on track.

For some kids, that may mean giving out a sticker every 10 to 15 minutes..

Since it isn’t feasible to monitor kids and offer stickers every 10 minutes throughout the entire day, you can set aside a specific time each day to monitor the behavior, such as between dinner and bedtime. During that time you can monitor your child’s play with a sibling and provide a sticker in 15 minute intervals.

How to Create an Effective Sticker Chart

The more involved you can get a child in learning about the sticker chart, the more motivated he will be. Allow him to decorate the chart and pick out special stickers he wants to earn. For many children, a blank piece of paper is all that is needed and you can simply place a sticker on the paper each time your child earns one.

There are more complex charts that you can make or print out for free. More complex charts may include days of the week or columns to track your child's progress. But sometimes, simple charts work best.

Pick one behavior to address at a time. Frame the behavior positively so your child is aware of what behavior you want to see, not what behavior you don’t want to see.

Say, “Use your hands for kind touches only,” instead of “Don’t hit.” Just be sure to explain to him what “kind touches” means.

Get Your Child Motivated to Earn Stickers

Explain the sticker chart to your child in an easy to understand manner. Frame the sticker chart as a positive way to help him learn something new.

Say, “I’m going to give you a sticker on this chart every time you use the potty to help you learn to use the bathroom.” Allow your child to ask any questions and make sure your child has a clear understanding of how stickers are earned.

Sticker charts are most effective when kids earn a sticker immediately after a desired behavior. So if your child earns stickers for using the potty, give him a sticker immediately following each success.

If you provide stickers after a certain time frame, such as after 10 minutes of playing nicely, make sure to be prompt when giving the reward. You can cheer your child on throughout the 10 minutes as well by saying things such as “Wow, if you keep sharing you’ll earn a sticker in a couple of minutes.”

Celebrate each time your child earns a sticker. Provide lots of praise and make each success a big deal. When your child doesn’t earn a sticker simply remind him he can try again next time. Don’t take away stickers or use it as a punishment or he'll will lose motivation fast.

Phase Out Stickers

As your child masters a new skill, slowly phase out stickers. Once she's toilet-trained or sleeping in her own bed, choose another behavior to address.

If she's no longer motivated by stickers, consider a more sophisticated reward system. A token economy system can be an effective alternative.

Although it can seem like a lot of work to use a sticker chart, it will save you time in the long run. A sticker chart will hopefully mean fewer consequences, like time-out. So look at your child's sticker chart as a good investment and a way to teach her appropriate behavior for the future.

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