Virtue may be its own reward, but throwing in a few stickers doesn’t hurt. Although some parents worry that sticker charts teach kids to behave well only because they’ll get something, used wisely they can provide the framework for kids to form long-lasting good habits. Tired of battles over doing homework, cleaning up toys, going to bed? Providing positive reinforcement for things that your kid has trouble with can help make the desired behavior routine so that eventually it comes naturally. Here’s how to keep your kid’s eyes on the prize and use a reward chart to get results:

 

Keep it simple.

Start with just one to three behaviors you’d like your kid to work on. If your chart is too complicated, it’ll be too hard for you to stick with it and too easy for your kid to get overwhelmed.

 

Be specific on the behavior.

In other words, the behavior you’re targeting should be clear to you and your kid (for example, instead of “be nice,” try “share your toys”).

 

Be specific on the prize.

Make sure they’re excited about the prize, and let them know how many stickers they’ll need to get to the prize (unless your kid loves stickers, in which case the sticker itself can be the reward).

 

Choose small prizes.

Rather than having your kid save up stickers for a tablet or scooter, choose prizes they can realistically expect to earn after a week or so. Little kids aren’t good at delayed gratification, so frequent reinforcement is key. And make your prize a small toy or outing (a coveted stuffed animal or trip to the zoo, say) rather than sweets (which just makes sugary snacks seem even more desirable).

 

Be consistent.

When your child behaves the way you’re aiming for, go to the chart and put a sticker on immediately, showering them with lots of praise as you do so. If you’re out, keep a portable log, then transfer it to the chart as soon as you get home.

 

Keep it positive.

You want your chart to be for positive reinforcement, not punishment, so don’t take away stickers for bad behavior. It’s also best to set up the chart so your child gets a sticker every time they engage in the behavior rather than making it a daily yes/no chart. Unless your kid earns a sticker every day (which probably isn’t realistic), it can feel like a punishment and actually make them less motivated.

 

Plan to phase it out eventually.

After a month or two, once your kid has mastered the target behavior, you can shift the chart to something new you want them to work on — or phase it out. Tell your kid how proud you are of them for all the hard work they’ve done and explain that they’re so good at it now that they don’t need the chart anymore.

 

Set your kid up for success.

A rewards chart can help you build good habits with your kids, but it’s not a magic wand. Stick to a consistent sleep and meal/snack schedule to keep kids from getting too tired and/or hungry to stick with the program.

 

Stay tuned for the Q Wunder rewards chart printable, coming later this week!